The Yamaha FJR1300 "Ticker" Problem in Depth

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The Yamaha FJR1300 "Ticker" Problem

The "ticking" problem in the Yamaha FJR1300 line of motorcycles (also known as "knocking," "top-end noise," and "excessive exhaust valve guide wear") affects a small percentage of FJR1300 units across several model years, including (at least) the 2003, 2004, and 2005 model years in the USA.

Important note:
2006 and newer FJR's do not have this problem!
This is about "Gen 1" FJR's, not "Gen 2."

This article was written in February, 2006 and has been revised slightly since then. Some of the material may be out of date, or new information or clarifications may be available.

A word about my source material

In this article, I summarize information I've gleaned from the Internet and from my own experience as the owner of a ticker which was repaired and then began to tick again. My "re-ticker" is currently (February 4, 2006) in the shop for what I hope is the final, permanent, ultimate repair of this problem. [Update: it's June, 2006 now and my re-repaired re-ticker is doing fine.]

The entire FJR1300 owner's community is deeply indebted to Dale "Warchild" Wilson (see www.fjrtech.com) and his local dealer Sunnyside Yamaha in Sunnyside, Washington. With the help and support of the dealership's owner, Dale investigated (more properly, exposed) this problem after it happened to his beloved FJR, which he then dubbed "Timex." Much of what we (the owners' community) know about this problem and much of our ability to get attention and resolution from Yamaha USA is thanks to him. Another major information and discussion outlet is the FJR Forum, a message board that's currently hosted at fjrforum.com. Finally, information about the major online mailing list for FJR1300 owners is at www.micapeak.com/lists/fjr1300). In addition to my own experience, in this article I have relied heavily on information that I got from those locations and the people participating in those communities. Misinterpretations, omissions, extrapolations and errors are entirely mine.

The actual underlying causes are unknown, at least to the owners' community. In this discussion, any statement like "X causes Y" is my speculation.

How many FJR's tick?

Not all FJR1300 bikes have this problem. There is no good data on the percentage of units that show the symptoms, but it appears to be less than 10% - possibly much less, in the 1% to 7% range. (Yamaha might have some idea, but they aren't telling.)

If the problem is going to happen to a particular bike, it generally starts being noticeable after 4,000 to 9,000 miles. Some online surveys have suggested that if a bike doesn't tick by 10K or 12K miles, it never develops the problem at all. Other first-time tickers have been diagnosed as late as 30K miles, but it's possible those bikes had been ticking for some time.

The symptoms

The first major symptom of this problem is a "ticking" sound, audible at idle when the engine is warm, that wasn't present when the bike was new. Gradually, over the course of several thousand miles, the sound becomes more prominent as the problem gets worse. The sound is louder on the left side of the bike. It's sometimes misdiagnosed as cam chain noise: one sign that this is different is that cam chain noise comes from the right side. The sound has resisted most attempts to record and capture it for others to hear. You can refer to this thread on FJR Forum for the best sound sample in captivity. (There is also an older thread with the previously-best audio capture, plus a listener's guide.)

Until the problem is quite advanced, the sound usually only noticeable when the engine is warm. There is sometimes an RPM range you can reach in neutral where the sound is more pronounced. The sound becomes easier to recognize with practice and as the problem gets worse.

How to listen for the tick

The sound is usually not present when the engine is cold, so just starting 'er up and listening won't do it. One technique I've seen suggested for people with garages is to go on a ride, then return home and stop in your driveway with the engine still running. Remove your helmet (and earplugs if you wear them) and ride slowly into your garage. As you move inside, listen for a rythmic metal-on-metal ticking sound that becomes more pronounced as the garage walls bounce it back to you. Do this once in a while (every 500 miles or more), and see if this sound gets louder or more pronounced over time. Sounds that stay the same from month to month or year to year are not "The Tick": it always gets worse with more miles.

The sound is hard to describe. Despite its correlation with the exhaust valves, it does not obviously change in pitch or frequency as you change the engine speed. (At least it wasn't obvious to me.) It's more rythmic than a random "clatter." It's "sharper" than the general engine noise of an idling FJR. It is called a "tick" because it sounds more like "tick" than, say, "clack" or "clang" or "clunk." It's repetitive and each repetition is identical: with the engine at a given speed the sound doesn't change as you listen. It's a "top-end" noise, both literally from the top end of the engine and figuratively at the "high" end of the engine's overall sound signature.

Most especially, it is more audible on the left side of the engine than the right. This fact has spawned endless speculation as to its causes or relationships with engine heat, oil circulation, etc., but no firm conclusions.

Another quickie diagnostic technique I've heard of but never used is the mechanic's stethoscope. (You can also put your ear to the handle of a screwdriver with a long shaft.) Touch the probe to the exhaust header mounting bolts in turn. If the engine sounds on the left-side cylinders are different from the right, and if they sound "wrong," you might have The Tick. It might pay to have a very young (under 4,000 miles) or "known" non-ticking FJR available for comparison.

What's happening inside

The problem is much worse than just a new noise. The ticking sound seems to be caused by one or more exhaust valves closing at an angle, and then "jumping" into place. This kind of faulty valve closing it possible because, in those bikes where this is happening, the exhaust valve guides have worn far beyond their design specification in a very short time, and the valve stems are able to move around much more than they should. (This cause-and-effect analysis is based on the Australian service bulletin referenced elsewhere in this article.)

Tickers also exhibit oil in the exhuaust system. That is, there is un-burned oil that comes out of the exhaust side of the engine. The current (February, 2006) diagnostic procedure recommended by Yamaha for this entire ticking problem is to remove the exhaust headers and look inside the exhaust ports of the engine for signs of oil. It's not clear where this oil comes from, but the combination of oil here and excessive exhaust valve guide wear suggests that the exhaust valve guide seals may have deformed. But that's speculation.

An untreated ticker will eventually show oil stains at the rear muffler outlet ports. By then it's possible that the unburned oil in the exhaust system has damaged the catalytic converter.

Also, possibly because the exhaust valves are not closing completely at the proper times, tickers appear to have less power than a "healthy" FJR1300. This conclusion is based on the experience of multiple ticker owners who have had their bikes repaired: after the repair, the bike feels more powerful and "snappier." There does not appear to be a sudden drop in power when the ticking starts: like the worsening of the sound, the loss of power seems to be gradual. Riders often don't notice until the repair restores the bike to its youthful vigor again. Without dyno results this must be considered anecdotal, but multiple ticker owners (including myself) have reported it.

These facts are important if you are in the position of educating a dealer who has never heard of this problem before. If you just complain about the noise, the dealer might tell you, "Heck, I've heard R1's louder than that" and dismiss your concerns. You want the repair because of the oil and power problems described above, not to fix the noise for its own sake.

Which ones will tick and which ones don't?

A lot of work has gone into looking at the factors that lead to a bike being a ticker, and the bottom line is that no factor stands out as an indication. Dale "Warchild" Wilson surveyed ticker and non-ticker owners and found no correlation based on choice of oil brand or type, engine break-in procedure, riding style, climate, or a number of other factors. If there is a factor that's under the owner's control, nobody's ever identified it. It is reasonable to suppose that Yamaha has looked at manufacturing records for confirmed tickers to find a common thread, like the lot number for valve guide seals or subassembly manufacturing dates, but they aren't talking.

The Australian Service Bulletin

There was a service bulletin from Yamaha Australia for the 2001 and 2002 model years that appears to be about this exact problem. Here is a copy of that bulletin.

The Australian service bulletin is the only official public description from Yamaha of a problem even remotely related to this - and it appears to be very closely related, if not the exact same problem. Yamaha does not publicly acknowledge a widespread problem at all, or that the present "tick" problem is the same as the one described here.

The repair described in the Australian bulletin does not appear to be effective. That is, the replacement of the valves, even with "new" ones (that is, new in 2002, with a different part number and different markings), is not always a permanent fix. Most important, Yamaha continued to manufacture units that ended up being tickers long after they specified these new valves.

Yamaha and Dealers' Service Departments

(This section is a little more speculative even than the others. I don't actually know what is said between a service manager and the people at Yamaha's "Tech Line" or other folks the manager can talk to. I know what I saw in my case, and what my dealer said Yamaha had said to him, and what the people at Yamaha Customer Service told me about the notes that appeared in their computers about their conversations with my dealer. I think this section might be helpful for owners in understanding this situation.)

In countries besides Australia and for other years, Yamaha has not published a service bulletin or made any other official acknowledgement of a problem. A dealer's service manager will often not be told of a known "excessive exhaust valve guide wear" issue in so many words even if they call the "Tech Line" with specific symptoms or questions. For a time around November, 2004 at least, it appears that dealers were given diagnostic instructions (including checking valve clearances and the cam chain tensioner) without being told outright that there was a known situation regarding this symptom. They were instructed to call back if checking the valves and tensioner didn't fix the problem, but apparently in a routine way rather than a way that provided them with any urgency or focus for the task. Without specific confirmation from Yamaha that there was really something going on here, some dealers (including, apparently, mine) dropped the ball at this point and dismissed the owner as an Internet hypocondriac.

This silence from Yamaha has created a lot of frustration on the part of owners and even dealers. Thanks to the Internet, an FJR1300 owner can be armed with excellent and accurate information, but might not be believed by a dealer. I'm sure dealers face a lot of keyboard jockeys who think their bikes have every ailment they've seen mentioned online, and they demand to have them fixed today, for free. That can't be easy for a service manager to deal with day after day. But in this case, the FJR owner can be completely and correctly informed about the problem, but since Yamaha doesn't acknowledge it when the dealer calls, the dealer continues to think the owner is full of it.

That's the rock that FJR1300 owners and especially ticker owners are still having to push uphill: dealers who don't believe in this problem, and a lack of confirmation of it when they call Yamaha.

Diagnosis

At one time, Yamaha's recommendation for diagnosing a ticker (after a valve clearance check and cam chain tensioner replacement didn't fix the noise) was to remove the cylinder head and measure the exhaust valve guides. This is an expensive and time-consuming procedure, and head reassembly requires still more time and a number of replacement parts for single-use gaskets and bolts.

As of February 4, 2006 or some time before that, Yamaha is recommending a different procedure to dealers: remove the exhaust headers from the engine and look inside the exhaust ports for signs of oil. The fact that Yamaha recommends this now instead of the previous procedure suggests that they know that both problems - the tick (which you can hear) and the oil in the exhaust (which you can't usually see) - are linked and will be fixed by the same repair.

This new diagnostic step is much cheaper and less intrusive than the previous one. This is an important advance for owners who are not sure whether their unit ticks or not.

If you think you have a ticker and want to be sure, a dealer might want you to authorize the cost of the tear-down and diagnosis. If they find something wrong that Yamaha covers, you shouldn't have to pay for the diagnosis: it'll be part of the covered claim. If they don't find anything wrong, though, you'll be on the hook for the disassembly and reassembly costs. This is the deal my dealer made with me for my first repair, and it seems pretty reasonable for the dealer: make the hypochondriac pay for any unnecessary diagnosis. In my case, I wasn't even going out on much of a limb: I'd had Warchild himself listen to it and he pronounced it a ticker. Still, it was an awful lot of money (upwards of $800) to wager on them finding something specific and objective like the exhaust valve guides worn measurably out of spec. (In the end they found exactly that and Yamaha paid for the repair.)

This approach is a lot more palatable for an owner who wants to know for sure, now that the cost of the diagnosis is much lower - on the order of $200 instead of $800 for the full cylinder head removal. I expect it's easier for an owner to put that much money at risk in order to confirm a ticker.

Repairs

The Australian bulletin describes a repair involving replacement valves which are different from the original ones. This is not currently regarded as a correct fix. It might have seemed to work because tickers, once repaired, sometimes develop the tick again and sometimes don't.

My own ticker was repaired in March, 2005. Yamaha asked the dealer to remove the entire cylinder head from the engine and send it to Yamaha USA for analysis. The dealer replaced the head with a whole new one. As far as anybody knows, the parts in the new head were just like the parts in the old one - the new one didn't have any modified parts designed to combat this problem, because nobody knew what the underlying cause was.

Like some other repaired tickers, my bike became a "re-ticker" within the first 6,000 miles on the new head. On the other hand, some repaired tickers never tick again. I imagine it like rolling a pair of dice: if you roll snake-eyes, you get a ticker. When the dealer put in a new cylinder head, it was like rolling the dice again: either they'll come up snake-eyes again or they won't. (That's pure speculation, however. The facts are that some repaired tickers have developed the tick again, and others have not.)

Current theory (February, 2006) focuses on the exhaust valve guide seals. Most significantly, Yamaha appears to have a new part number for FJR1300 valve guide seals, and they are instructing dealers to double-check their parts list with the Tech Line when making this repair - presumably to be sure they order and use the new ones. This gives me hope that this second ticker repair will stick: it's an indication that Yamaha believes they've identified and resolved the problem by redesigning the seals. Of course, I can't know whether they're just guessing, because Yamaha isn't telling.

Repair costs

When I had my re-ticker repaired (paid by a third party warranty), I asked the shop to print out the bill so I could see it. Here's what I got:
 

Item Qty Price Total
rubber mount 8 3.36 26.88
head cover gasket 1 12.11 12.11
cylinder head gasket 1 27.03 27.03
valve cotter pin 32 1.20 38.40
valve stem seal 16 5.35 85.60
tensioner gasket 1 1.10 1.10
intake valve guide 16 18.91 302.56
intake valve 16 8.18 130.88
exhaust valve 16 17.37 277.92
spark plug 4 6.64 26.56
       
Total parts     929.04
Labor (hours) 17 75.00 1275.00
Total parts and labor     2204.04

I'm not sure this includes the cost of the subcontract out to the head shop that removed the old guides and put in the new ones. That would add another chunk to the bottom line.

Warranty and Non-Warranty Repairs

Many owners of FJR's that exhibited The Tick have had their "tickers" repaired at Yamaha's expense, sometimes even after their Yamaha warranty or extended service contract had expired. That was the case for me, in March of 2005, when my original warranty had expired the previous November.

Others have reported that Yamaha has repaired units that are still in the original one-year warranty or covered by a Yamaha Extended Service contract, but that Yamaha has rejected some ticker owners' claims when the bike was out of warranty.

In other words, your mileage may vary. I don't even know what distinguishes those whose repair is covered despite an expired warranty vs. those whose repair is not covered. It could have to do with the dealer or the customer or the Yamaha person they talked to or some other factor. There is also the true Internet Hypochondriac factor: it's possible that some owners of bikes that don't tick believe that they do, and won't take "No" for an answer. I don't know the specifics so I can't say.


This page was last edited September 17, 2008.