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Emergency Shifting Tools
As used only on BMW Airhead Motorcycles with 5 speed transmissions

Copyright 2013, R. Fleischer (see note near bottom of this article)



NOTE!  If your Airhead transmission is stuck in gear, or neutral and will not shift into another gear, and the lever seems disconnected inside the transmission, and you have a shift lever (at the transmission itself), that has a Allen screw in its SURE that screw is moderately tight....if they back out much, the lever will move and do nothing!   The article below assumes you have ALREADY checked for this. 

Why this tool?.....
If you have a pawl spring breakage in the middle of nowhere, you are stuck with whatever gear the transmission happens to be in.  Rumor has it that you can remove the fuel tank, turn the bike upside down, and move the shift mechanism to another gear.  I honestly do not know of anyone who has actually done this (who 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:    transmission.htm     You will need to skim through that entire article for reasonable comprehension, as information is scattered.


The purpose of this tool is to shift the transmission into a more usable gear, and leave it there; so you can ride the bike to get it to a place for repairs, whether that is home or otherwise.

AFTER using this tool you replace it, and the modified filler plug which is part of the tool, with the original filler plug and its original gasket.  The GEAR that you will leave the transmission in, depends on YOUR desire and 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 mile or a few, and 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 BMW dealership
(3) you are a World Traveler, and 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, and making up stories about what they are
     for; and, besides, you forgot to put it in the bike tool tray.

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 advised to try using it ahead of time to get an idea of the hand motions required. 
If you NEED the tool, you will not have the luxury of seeing the rear cover off, as in the photos below.
It is VERY 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. 

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.
(5) Insert the tool and 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
(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, just rotate the rear wheel back and forth a bit and 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 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, and works easier, and is likely reasonably practical.
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 have received approval to post the photos and designs from both Bob Sipp and 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.

Copyright 2013, R. Fleischer (see notes)

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