Emergency Shifting Tools
FOR ONLY BMW Airhead Motorcycles...
with 5 speed transmissions
© Copyright 2013, R. Fleischer (see note near bottom of this article)
If your Airhead transmission is stuck in gear, or neutral, and will not
shift into another gear & the lever "seems disconnected" inside the
transmission; you may have loose shift lever (at the transmission itself),
if your shift lever is the type that has a Allen screw in its center.
Check that the screw is moderately tight....if they back out much, the
lever will move & do nothing! The article below assumes you have
ALREADY checked for this.
Why this tool?.....
A pawl spring breakage in the middle of nowhere means you are stuck in
whatever gear the transmission happened to be in. This tool allows you to
shift the transmission into a more usable gear, & leave it there; so you
can ride the bike to get it to a place for repairs, whether that is home or
Rumor has it that you can remove the fuel tank, turn the bike upside down, &
move the shift mechanism to another gear. I honestly do not know of anyone
who has actually done this (whom I can quote!).
The Tools shown in this article actually work, especially the one Bob Sipp
modified with the filler plug, etc.
A discussion of Pawl Springs, Shift Kit levers, and other things appropriate for
background information, is here:
http://bmwmotorcycletech.info/transmission.htm You will need to skim
through that entire article for reasonable comprehension, as information is
IF you make one of these tools with the intention of using it if the pawl spring
breaks, I cannot emphasize more that you should practice using it,
before you need the tool. SO: If you really ever need this tool, you are
VERY HIGHLY advised to try using it ahead of time to get an idea of the hand
motions required. You can do it at any time. If you NEED the tool, you will not
have the luxury of seeing the rear cover off, as in the photos below.
It is helpful to have practiced this on a transmission that is a cutaway; or at
least the cover is off, so you can SEE what is needed.
AFTER using this tool: you replace it & the modified filler plug which is part
of the tool, with the original filler plug & its original gasket. The GEAR that you
will leave the transmission in depends on YOUR desire & circumstances. That
gear may be 2nd or 3rd, seldom would it be 1st or 4th or 5th, as you don't want
to ride constantly in 1st, unless only a few miles; and you don't want to start out
in 4th or 5th. If in 1st, you couldn't go hardly fast enough to keep you happy for
any distance, and if in 4th or 5th you would likely wear out the clutch starting off
from stops. However, I could envision a serious off-road situation, where 1st
might be the gear to select. Consider mileage from where you are, to where you
need to go, and MY GUESS is that you will use 1st or 2nd gear. Using 2nd,
carefully, means a bit more than quite low speeds of 1st, yet the clutch won't be
excessively slipped (avoid starting and going up hills!).
Who should own one of these tools?
(1) You are the 'just gotta have it type'.
(2) You worry about having a breakdown more than 2 miles from a
(3) You are a World Traveler & expect to be in Siberia or middle of
the Australian Outback.
(4) You wake up at night dreaming you drove 250 miles in first gear
(5) You wake up at night dreaming you ruined a clutch because your
bike got stuck in 4th or 5th gear when the spring broke.
(6) You like hanging strange things on the wall of the garage; making
up stories about what they are for.
(7) .... you forgot to put it in the bike tool tray.
Here is how the tool is used:
(1) Put the bike on the center-stand, and/or find a way to have the rear
tire not touching the ground.
(2) Use a bungee or rope or lots of turns of your belt (or?), to hold the bars
clutch lever full back.
(3) Remove the transmission filler plug on the left side using an Allen wrench.
(4) Put the transmission into neutral....if you can.
(5) Insert the tool & rotate it, handle downward, lightly pulling so the tool
stops on the shift plate side. The tool should now be positioned under
the shift pawl.
(6) Rotate the tool clockwise to raise the pawl. Should be a click noise
when the pawl contacts the shift pin.
(7) Try shifting. If no shifting, then rotate the rear wheel a bit, to align the
gear's shift dogs. Try shifting again.
(8) Will likely take some time playing with it until the pawl moves (to the
shift pins, technically) and you get it to shift.
(9) If you get a false neutral, rotate the rear wheel back & forth a bit & it
will go into gear.
The information, above, on how to use the tool (steps (1) through
(9), are for the Sipp tools, especially the last version.
Besides what is shown lower down this page, there are emergency shifting
tools being sold:
I THINK you will find them MUCH harder to use than the ones later in this article!
The Al Vangura tool, shown below, will work, but is a bit tricky.
The Wunderlich tool is probably harder to use.
The biggest problem in using the tools is to understand what you are trying to
do, and how to go about it.
You may want to look at the above Wunderlichamerica site too, which
has some photos you can click on and thereby enlarge.
I have included a photo of the Al Vangura type tool
as modified by Bob Sipp,
which incorporates some changes ...like the modified filler plug.
I have also included a second design by Bob Sipp, it is located at the bottom
of this article.
That design has been tested, & works easier, & is likely reasonably
The information, above, on how to use the tool (steps (1) through (9),
are for the Sipp tools, especially the last one.
Here is the original design by Al Vangura.
Yeah, yeah, he was being 'funny' with that 40.0000° bend.
In the below photo, the shift pawl is dis-engaged.
In the below photo, the shift pawl is raised to engage the shift pins, hold, can then shift.
Below is the latest version of the Bob Sipp Rev.1 tool:
I received approval to post the photos & designs from both
Bob Sipp & Al Vangura.
Any information in text form is copyrighted by Snowbum or
by them, or both, depending on whose words, etc, 2012.
That's about as wishy-washy as I can do!
R.I.P. Al Vangura, It was a PLEASURE
to know you. I will treasure the lamp you
made for me, forever!
Initial release: 07/15/2012
07/15/2012, later: add more notes
07/17/2012: add purpose of tool in more depth.
08/09/2012: describe how to use the tool in more depth
08/28/2012: Add Bob Sipp's Rev. 1 tool; improve description of using tools.
09/19/2013: Recheck, make very minor text changes for slight additional
clarity. Add bmw2valve link.
02/16/2016: Update meta-codes, justify things more to the left, narrow the
article, add photo of the lamp, very minor other things.
©Copyright 2013, R. Fleischer (see notes)
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Last edit of THIS page: Tuesday, April 26, 2016