The great, enormous, terrifyingly complex radiator catastrophe of 2019

Last week I rode home from work on a slightly-above-average temperature day and thought to myself, "Boy, my engine feels a bit warm around the legs. I'm sure it's all in my head though." It's a thought I've had a few times in the last month, as the heat from the engine somehow seems more... radiant? Stronger? Burning with the power of a thousand tiny, beautiful explosions?

But on the flip side, actual engine temps had been well within range. Maybe a few degrees higher than average but certainly not dangerously so. (I have a digital temp gauge. Have I mentioned recently that modern bikes with actual functional gauges on them are THE TITS? Thank you #TeamHonda 🙌)

And so I rode on. I got stopped at a major intersection near my house and had to sit through the cycle three times before I could get to the other side, with only a few blocks between us and the garage.

As I pulled up the driveway and killed the engine I could hear something—A SOUND. A low, grumbly sort of... BLurbBLuRBRUrB—Wait, what exactly IS that sound? Is that... coming from my bike? Oh it's definitely coming from my bike. I dismounted and removed my helmet and earplugs. I knelt down, turned my head, and moved my ear towards the sound.

Ah, yes. That, my friends, is the sweet, sweet song of my coolant boiling.

It was just down there doing its best, working up an fervent rolling boil in the overflow reservoir, inches from the inside of my left thigh. Let me describe how I felt at this moment in great depth, it goes like this: FUUUUUUUUCK.

I stared at my bike. It stared back at me.

Boiling coolant spurted three feet out of the side panel. Impressive.

I went inside and let it cool down ALONE because sometimes we all need a little privacy when our underthings are all a-bubblin'.

Common sense told me that we had a few options here: #1 - My radiator fan is not working + coolant gets too hot = barf. #2 - My temp gauge is not working, coolant is way hotter than it says it is/doesn't kick on fan = barf. Fan was easiest to debunk. I went back out an hour later, started it up, and let the engine warm until the fan kicked on. WE GOT FAN. Ta-da! Cross that off the list.

Gross, bro.
In mentioning my detective work to Shannon, she suggested it could be a bad radiator cap. It happened to a friend of hers on a trip recently, and they used to see it at the shop. Loss of pressure in the system causes the burping and ineffective cooling. All the points lined up. After letting the bike cool for a couple hours, we pulled off the radiator cap and YEP. There was all kinds of funky sludge around the edge of the cap where it was deteriorating.

Rarely in my motorcycling experience has a problem been so easily resolved. It almost feels wrong. You go to change a light bulb and find out it's short in the wiring; your chain is rattling and you try to tighten it but turns out you need to take the swingarm completely apart instead; you need to charge your freaking battery but the panel bolt is stripped.

This is the age-old law of motorcycling. It's a law we must love, and fear, and obey in equal measure.

So for once, the most difficult part of solving my problem was just finding a new cap. Did you know that no one stocks them because they, and I quote directly, "NEVER FAIL." Fancy that! "I haven't even bought one of those in 24 months," said one local dealer, "but I can order one. It will be here in 32,847 days." BULLY FOR YOU.

(We did finally locate one at a shop that's done some work for me before, whom I probably should have just called in the first place. "Oh I always stock at least 5-10 of them," said the infinitely reasonable person. "Because no other shops do and they fail all the time." 😑)

If only everything in life were as easy to fix.