© Copyright 2023, R. Fleischer
Bing carburetors float needles, whether used in the pure slide type carburetors, or the CV type carburetors, have come in several varieties. In general, TWO versions will fit all the Airheads carburetors. Very early carburetors had a solid metal needle. That needle was available in more than one 'style', but for all, there was NO rubber (or, Viton) tip. The other type of needle, that most of you Airhead owners have, is similar to the photograph, below. The needle shown in this photograph has a spring loaded plunger with a hole in it, with the easy-to-lose wire clip, and RED tip material. GRAY-BLACK tipped material will also be seen. I suggest purchasing the stock type needles from your BMW parts supplier, and not Bing themselves.
The all-metal needle used on early models is a different size, and will not properly fit later carburetors, and, vice-versa. Be sure to get the correct needle. If you want to install a Viton-tipped needle in a carburetor that used the Bing all-metal needle, Bud Provin who owns http://thenickwackettgarage.com/bmwtwin, says to use the very common float needle used on many old Amal carburetors, as used on old British bikes. The part can be found on a simple internet search, for float needle 622/197; or, as 013, 622/197.
This article INCLUDES reports of testing I did that went on for many years, including some super-long testing that continued for many years. The testing results were published in 2003, and testing ended in 2015.
Bing ORIGINAL STYLE STOCK FLOAT, a 1-piece assembly. Here, this float is OLD, discolored, medium brownish.
ALL of the Bing carburetors used on all of the Airheads, which means Bing 1/26 (model 53, not a CV), 64, and 94, with STOCK floats, have a brand-new specification of 10 grams. After they have been in use they tend to get heavier. About 13.5 grams is near the maximum allowable. If they get heavy enough, the carburetor float bowl fuel level will get high enough to overflow onto your boots. This has nothing to do with the problem of dirt getting into the floats needle & needle seat, which prevents that 'valve' from shutting off as fuel level rises to the adjusted value. While you CAN adjust the floats to compensate for float weight increases, & you may be able to do this several times; eventually, you will have to replace the floats. MY recommendation is to NOT adjust floats to compensate for their weight increase, but to replace them, at least if the depth of color is even close as in the above photo. It is possible for floats to be overly heavy and NOT badly discolored! Replace if they get too heavy, even if not heavily discolored. The BEST test is place the float in a clear glass container of gasoline, so you can see how much of the Bing float will be above the fluid surface. This is a better test than weighing the floats, although that should also be done; ....see information in this article.
My extensive testing on floats. Information on failures. Alcohol in fuels, etc. :
The stock dual 'one-piece' plastic float assembly, as in the photo at the top of this article, does not always fail by getting considerably heavier; yet when bad, it will sink in gasoline (essentially hardly any will be above the surface in a container of gasoline in which the float, without its metal pin or anything else, is trying to be floated). Once it deteriorates & begins to sink, your mileage will get worse & worse, eventually perhaps with fuel flowing onto your foot. You can adjust for this only so much by adjusting the metal tab. I advise NOT doing that; and, that new floats adjustment be done in the normal testing/adjusting manner, gas flow stopping at the point the top of the floats are parallel with the body of the carburetor.
Floats are not consistent in how they fail. That may be due to the types of gasoline they are used with and unequal density distribution. New floats weigh ~10 grams. A very badly sinking old float that almost sunk totally was measured at 18 grams. Most stock white one-piece floats will get heavier as they age and the reason is not 100% clear, as the heavier weight generally remains, even if the floats are 'dried' for years. Once they are removed from gasoline & very thoroughly internally dried (which can take a lot of time), they may lighten considerably, & then not gain much weight if again put back into gasoline; at least for a month or two period of time after drying. It is inconsistent. It is clear that once the floats get heavy, that they can NOT be reclaimed by other than shaving or sanding, and doing that is fraught with problems...although a few die-hard folks have done it successfully!
The reason for floats failing is not completely understood. It SEEMS to be a change in weight, but also, perhaps, a shift in mass (BUT the OUTSIDE dimensions do NOT hardly change). We KNOW that the floats mostly fail by increasing their weight. What confounds trying to understand the exact problem area, is that we have no database, nothing even close to one, that can compare float failures since the USA changed its fuel to nearly 100% ethanol-added (typically 10%), with non-ethanol fuel; nor, with any prior fuel sold for many years before ethanol additive became the norm. We know little about gasoline composition changes, besides "ethanol", often just called gas-o-hol. We have only anecdotal 'remembrances', and not even information on sales of floats in various time periods. It is now my belief, if tentative, that floats get heavier by absorbing strange, perhaps even new, components in our gasoline's; OR, the percentages of things is such that there is a synergistic result. It is my belief that ALCOHOL, specifically Ethanol, is NOT LIKELY THE MAIN CULPRIT. Gasoline's contain many compounds, some for anti-corrosion, some for helping to keep clean the underside of valves & other areas; some to ensure that other components stay dissolved (these are usually called CO-SOLVENTS). I believe they are to blame.
The floating in fuel test, noted above, is the "only perfect test" for determining if a carburetor float is usable, unmodified. This simple test, which assumes the float has been in gasoline for some time, and not dried out for years, will be additionally explained in this article. However, you can get a pretty decent idea about the floats by removing the float bowl and checking the fuel level, if you KNOW the level was previously set properly, and now it is high.
Information from truly extensive testing on a large number of floats was completed, after many months, on July 13th, 2003. I had accumulated a goodly quantity of used Bing plastic 'one-piece-assembly' floats, for which I hereby give special thanks to all those who sent them to me. These floats came from both slide & CV Bing carburetors, some were very old indeed; others not very old at all. Initial testing took quite a few months. I actually did some tests for YEARS, concluding only in 2015, yes, 12 years of additional testing! Since the floats were fairly well dried out when I received them (At first I hardly understood the problem THAT brought about), I had to take measurements of various sorts & then put them in sealed glass containers with various fluids, & let them soak at least a month; then retake many measurements. Weight was a primary concern, but I was also interested in mass, distribution of the weight/mass, dimensional changes, etc.
There were some surprises. I had expected to find that some common solvents would start visibly destroying the floats, but this did not happen. All sorts of liquid solvents were used, many of which were known ingredients in gasoline's from across the country. I also obtained samples of gasoline free of alcohols, free of MTBE, free of ETBE ....etc. ...as well as gasoline's WITH those additives. I did testing of the floats in specific liquids/chemicals. I also did some testing by MIXING various chemicals/solvents, as just putting floats into a single solvent is not adequate to establish all possibilities. I hardly think I exhausted all the possibilities, but I sure did most.
Some background discussion follows, then the float testing results, and then more discussion.
Some additives are used as 'co-solvents', that is, Refiners add them to ALLOW other components to MIX with the gasoline, that might not mix & stay mixed (dissolved) by themselves. Yes, they do this to even allow SOME water to mix with the gasoline, among other things. Some additives are used mainly for oxygenation purposes. Theoretically, under some conditions, adding something that contains more USABLE oxygen, per unit of volume (or weight) will allow a fuller burning of the fuel. Under SOME government mandated test routines, they lower a component of 'smog' output of the engine, BUT, they USUALLY cause a DROP in mileage, causing more smog of some other type, from just that alone. SOME types of emissions ARE actually increased per mile traveled ...they are just not the one's the government agencies exhibit a priority on. Use of alcohol containing fuels (and several other additives) will USUALLY result in a LEANER burning condition, generally meaning higher engine temperatures, & if severe, can lead to burning up pistons, problems with the valves, & even engine seizure. While it is true that alcohol has a higher octane availability, that is not much usable because the compression ratios are not high enough; and, using 10% ethanol alcohol requires, for the BEST combustion, somewhat more VOLUME of alcohol, hence LOWER fuel mileage. In order to maintain more consistent burning, one really should change one's jetting (needle clip setting up one notch at very worst case, but usually just a modest needle JET change, and possibly 5 points or bit more larger on the main jet) if alcohol fuels were used all the time, & the fuels were reasonably consistent in formula. This would REDUCE gas mileage very slightly more than the uncompensated-for 10% alcohol fuel, but driveability & cooling would be enhanced. For Fuel Injection vehicles, nothing need be done, since they have compensating devices, although alcohol-laced fuels MIGHT deteriorate earlier FI vehicles rubber, etc., parts.
Use of alcohol-laced fuels should absolutely NOT be used in PREMIX type of 2-stroke engines, as the alcohol & water can separate from the oil & the engine then can seize from lack of lubrication. In the Airheads, it is not a big problem at up to 10%, but alcohol CAN cause 'driveability problems' ....poor throttle response, hiccuping, jerking, lousy warmup. If your bike is already lean running, & Airheads from the 1980's, especially those exported to the U.S. are like that; you might have WORSE driveability problems ....or ...some overheating. Testing for alcohol can be done rather simply, but it is a PIA to do at every fillup, & this type of testing (mixing in a test tube, with a known amount of water, shake very vigorously, and WAIT to see if water level rises) also will, unfortunately (or fortunately??) show up MTBE, and some other additives that absorb water. California's reformulated gasoline's are a bigger problem, and this has spread SOMEWHAT to other States, although California has made use of MTBE illegal in every part of the State due to its disastrous effects, if spilled/leaked, on underground water supplies. Testing for alcohol content is now not all that informative unless you suspect a special problem with, perhaps excessive alcohol, etc....BECAUSE: Alcohol-laced (Ethanol, or gas-o-hol) fuel is now STANDARD in the USA. It is typically difficult to find alcohol-free fuel, and when you do, it is $$ extra. It is a political football. If you have been reading & thinking here, you may wonder about the reduction in smog/pollution emissions, with 10% ethanol-laced fuel, in light of MORE fuel having to be used per mile. Well, it is nearly a total wash, that is, equivalency. Thus, putting ethanol into fuels, except for MAYBE big dense cities that have a particular smog COMPONENT problem, is a total waste of resources; and, might be a waste in big dense cities too. The major benefit of ethanol in our fuel is to enrich certain very large farmers (of, usually, corn) and huge industrial businesses like Archer-Daniels-Midland....and, of course, & some politicians wallets from contributions. The use of corn, yes, even the special type of corn used for making alcohol, results in higher feed prices for chickens, turkeys, beef, ETC. ...reflected in increased cereal prices as well as for meats.
There are three 'common' types of what non-chemists think of as "alcohol". These are isopropyl (rubbing alcohol), ethanol (drinking or corn alcohol), and methanol, sometimes called wood alcohol since that was one old way of making it, nowadays it is made from natural gas; and, it is very poisonous and quite corrosive. Generally speaking, methanol can cause corrosion of aluminum, & can be VERY hard on rubber & brass & plastic parts. Bad for the hoses too. THAT covers just about everything in your Airhead's carburetors but the steel pin, needle metal & the diaphragm (might affect those too). All those things can be affected by water in the mix. Other additives are not great either: ketones, ethers, etc. Common 'gasohol' has 10% alcohol as ethanol, but may contain LOTS of 'other things'. The alcohol in gas-o-hol could raise the octane, but its usage leans the mixture in the stock jetted bike. Because of the slight octane improvement by adding 10% ethanol to gasoline, the refiners are able to REDUCE the 'nicer for us bikers' higher octane improvement from additional refining, as the refiners are primarily interested in the FINAL octane RATING. Most fuel injection cars can get away with using 10% and possibly a bit higher % of ethanol containing gasoline, at a cost in mileage & some power, because of their engine's sophisticated controls, but many older carbureted vehicles may not. The better of the alcohols is isopropyl, it tends not to separate out & is fairly stable. Isopropyl, however, is not the alcohol of choice of the vested interests that grow or sell corn or the politicians who also have vested interests in this area.
It is somewhat difficult to give solid 'always do this' recommendations on storing today's gasoline's, such as short term...a month or three....or, over the Winter....or, very long term. BMW has issued quite a few Service Information bulletins to its dealerships warning about the use of alcohol-laced fuels, including warranty disclaimers. Generally, with the use of a product such as Stabil (etc.), something approaching one year is the best one can hope for in storing your motorcycle with gasoline left in the system. It is possible for gasoline to be manufactured that is storable for many years. Aircraft gasoline is of that quality. This is not a recommendation to use it, as it has problems if used in our bikes. The best thing to do if storing your bike for the Winter, or longer, is likely to just clean and then dry out the system, including the tank. Cleaning the fuel tank thoroughly should already be on your scheduled maintenance list!...a YEARLY chore. Because of the horrible additives used in gasoline's today, gasoline can NOT be stored as long as it used to be, not even with an additive you purchase such as StaBil, although it does help. The gasoline will deteriorate, not good for tanks, petcocks, 'rubber' hoses, and, of course, the carburetors. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE INJECTORS ON YOUR CLASSIC K BIKE, NOR THE INSIDES OF ITS ALUMINUM FUEL TANK NOR THE COMPONENTS OF THE FUEL PUMP. Today's fuels tend to gum up and also leave hard surface deposits during deterioration. There is a tendency for the alcohol (etc.) to separate from the gasoline, particularly if there are nighttime temperature and humidity changes strong enough to produce dew condensation on things ....which also means dew (water) collects INSIDE the tank, and the moisture condenses into droplets that then flow down where they accumulate on the inside of the tank walls that are not covered by gasoline. The water droplets go into the liquid gasoline ...and if the liquid gasoline cannot absorb enough, then the droplets come to rest at the bottom ...rusting ....& eating away at your steel tank! Has a bad effect on aluminum tanks too. fiberglas tanks may have alcohol-detioration effects. A particularly bad effect on Airhead steel tanks is that the moisture percentage gets large enough that the special fuel co-solvents cannot handle it, and things begin to separate out, and the water sinks into your tank seams, and serious rusting can begin, tank coating or not.
A product often called 'dry gas' is sold to car owners in wintry areas, as it, an alcohol ...usually methanol or isopropyl, mixes with any collected water at the bottom of the tank & in fuel lines, enabling the water to be 'burned' ...so to speak. Adding that product MIGHT increase the alcohol & water content of the gasoline to a critical level ...causing a worse separation process ...& water & alcohol will now be at the bottom of the tank, rotting out the tank ....or, worse with a premix two-stroke engine, the oil could separate out, and the engine would not get lubricated. USUALLY that does not happen by just adding 'dry gas' products.
Types of liquids I tested:
Isopropyl alcohol, high 91% as well as mixed with water (as in home type, which is 70%).
Ethanol....medium %, as well as 154 and 191 proof; plus, above with varying water content as well as chemically dry (anhydrous).
California MTBE-containing gasoline (no longer available for testing now).
Known standardized Chevron 91 octane fuel.
California reformulated fuel, which has alcohol added and is known as Gasohol.
Leaded fuel (yes, aircraft fuel containing TEL)
A solvent consisting of a light aliphatic complex with naptha's, toluene, xylene, methanol, acetone and MEK.
Common denatured alcohol.
MTBE high concentration.
A solvent consisting of toluene, n-butyl acetate, 2-butoxyethyl acetate, & a few other things.
RESULTS OF MY ABOVE MANY YEARS OF TESTING (including extended work ending in 2015:
Weight change (weight is in 'grains'; because I used a sensitive gunpowder scale; there are 15.43 grains per gram):
Used floats tended to be in the range of 185-255 grains when well dried out. After soaking for weeks in various chemicals, solvents, and gasoline's, one particularly bad set of floats was almost 262 grains immediately after removal from MTBE containing gasoline (allowing a couple of minutes to evaporate the surface liquid). This was a very bad set indeed. But this set was 255 as I received it. This means that whatever change happened to these floats, it was mostly permanent. Typically the weight change occurred during the use on the motorcycle, with only some more moderate increase when put in the various liquids. This suggests that the aging is very slow. MTBE is only ONE of many harmful substances. MTBE has been phased-out, due to ground water...water table ...contamination.
Some folks sent me information on weights that I could not duplicate. I was rather suspicious, & then I made an interesting discovery. If a float was never dried out thoroughly from first being put into service, UNTIL removed & replaced, & then sent to me, then the weight might tend more to agree with information I was given, as that weight was taken right after removal. My conclusion was that it is that the first (since brand new) and constant immersion in fuel changes the float in weight/mass movement vastly more on a percentage basis, than after the float is dried out from some years of being in service, & re-placed into gasoline. This might show up as a smaller effect if my testing had gone on for MANY months in the various liquids. MIGHT. I was a bit intrigued by this idea. I did some experimenting with cutting open & drying a few float assemblies, but NOT loosing any of the material...and it appears that my hypothesis may well be correct. While someone could compensate their floats for this effect (by measuring actual depth in the float bowl and adjusting for that ....AFTER drying the floats really well after long usage ....it is a moot point, as I do not really recommend this. Saying this all a bit differently: it APPEARS that a brand new float, once put into gasoline & kept in gasoline (except perhaps for very short periods allowable without gasoline ...such as carb bowls off, perhaps for a day's overhaul), does change internally; the internal change is permanent...or if not, it takes a VERY long time for the change to revert in any substantial amount. I also believe that if a bowl is emptied, perhaps for Winter storage, and the bowl replaced immediately after emptying, that there is enough fuel fumes inside the lower carburetor and bowl area to maintain a high floats weight during storage.
Tests were done to determine if there was a shift in the concentration of mass. This WAS found to be so, BUT was not initially thought to be excessive. BUT, combined with an over-all change in weight, it was more prominent than might be expected. A small change in mass movement, plus a small change in weight, would be enough to cause a float to sink a fair amount. I thought about the mass change effect a lot, and suddenly my brain recognized something so simple, that I am surprised I had not thought of it early-on. The floats are pivoted at one end, not in the middle. Thus, a small mass and weight change will have a very much proportionally larger effect than imagined. I think I proved this to be so, with some additional measurements. This would also account for the ANGLE at which the floats 'floated in gasoline' in my lab beakers, that ANGLE being not what would be normally expected, from new float to old float.
Change in dimensions of each float assembly, both sides, and top and bottoms, were measured for width & length and height. There was a small variation noted even with brand new floats. One surprise was that the dimensions changed very little from new. I theorize that the outside of the float tends to harden some, & become slowly more impervious, whilst the nastier fuel components get inside & do their damage on the float inner portion and MIGRATE somewhat, to the LOWER part of the float. I tried to prove this, but measurements were difficult, but there SEEMED to be some truth in the matter, which further made me confirm my thoughts on mass effects.
Later work, ending in year 2015, tended to strongly show that the float weight increases are caused by absorption of some sort of additives in the gasoline, that were NOT changes by the solvents I tested, & I believe are not any sort of solvent causes at all (or, minimally), but are various metallic or otherwise additives that can add their weight, even if in miniscule quantities, to the float material itself, and are accumulative. In other words, SOMETHING discolors the floats & adds weight, & some things may & do add weight to the INternals of the floats, & those substances may not be the same that discolor the outsides. NO formal laboratory tests were run, due to cost; although I thought I had a spectroscopic analysis lab lined-up for the work at one time for free. It was an unfortunate omission, as it turned out. There was another omission too, my 'friend' at Chevron, who would discuss things so long as I did not use his name, etc., ...retired, and then died of a heart attack. I dearly would have liked to discuss the effect of additives on Bing Floats with him. I should have done this many years earlier!
INternal discoloration was NOT noted on some, but the worst were ALWAYS discolored (and, outside too, considerably darker). Almost no truly bad float-sinking reports by owners were still white on the outside (although some were INternally a bit darker).
As the floats became worse....that is, they tended to sink in gasoline more & more, this means they became heavier ...the INside of the floats tended to turn into a somewhat MUSHY & almost granular mixture, even if left out to dry for a considerable period of time. ONCE cut open, they would dry out, although this took a fair amount of time ...several hours, & not fully for a few days. The OUTside tended to be a harder 'shell'. The conclusion is that whatever the exposure medium was, it tended to migrate INside and make changes to the contents, & generally INcreased the internal mass weight. Mushiness and granularity were not the only changes noted. There was a small shift ...a mass movement to change the CG. The worst floats tended to have small voids in the floats (bubbles or similar). My suspicions are strongly that something, ...perhaps something in gasoline I did not test for (dyes, metallic compounds, etc)....may be modifying the insides of those floats. It is also possible that the initial brand-new float change to the interior is actually the effect of the things I tested for, but would take many many more months. There was absolutely no doubt that MTBE containing gasoline made the interior of the floats mushy.....but surprisingly, since Bing touts its dual-independent floats as 'alcohol-proof', I did not find big changes with alcohols of any common type! My suspicions are that some dyes and various special combustion cleaning additives may be the cause. I also believe that metallic and non-metallic compounds imbed themselves into the OUTER surface.
I did an interesting test in late Summer and Autumn of 2005. This was 10 years before I stopped all testing. I obtained a float & I measured only weight, & the only liquids being tested with the floats, after a couple weeks of soaking, were hi proof ethanol; anhydrous methanol; and a refinery product of mixed solvents/items that I obtained from a refinery worker!!....this type of mixed solvent is a byproduct, generally, and is often mixed into batches of motor fuels, to get rid of it ...for pecuniary reasons. Also, in this particular series of tests, only the SAME float assembly was used, thereby exposing it to a series of solvents. The float assembly started out as 197.2 grains, and no matter what solvent, nor at what period of time, the weight never exceeded 210 grains. I was able to obtain some other exotic solvents, and did some brief testing on them. Same results, tad worse.
Conclusion: I am almost certain that the heaviness and sinking problems with the stock one-piece float assembly is one of very long term exposure to a mixture of various solvents & additive compounds in today's common gasoline's. The shift is in both weight and mass (which tends to shift more on the lower leading portion of the float, so the float weight change is amplified in carburetor effects). The only answers are to replace the floats when needed; or, go to the problematic and expensive Bing dual-independent kits; or, shave the weights a bit.
One final word:
I failed to do a couple of tests that I've noted in this article, but also one other. That would have been a test done right from the beginning, but I did not think of it. I would have tested a brand-new float for years, weighing it now and then, with it ONLY in 100 Low Lead Aviation fuel.
© Copyright 2023, R. Fleischer
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Last check/edit : Wednesday, September 27, 2023