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Emergency Shifting Tools....
FOR ONLY BMW Airhead Motorcycles with 5 speed transmissions

Copyright 2020, R. Fleischer (see note near bottom of this article)

If your Airhead 5 speed transmission is stuck in gear or neutral; will not shift into another gear; the lever "seems disconnected" inside the transmission, etc...... you may just have a 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 it backs 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 means you are stuck in whatever gear the transmission happened to be in. This tool allows you to shift the transmission into a usable gear & leave it there; so you can ride the bike to get it to a place for repairs, whether that is home or otherwise.

It has been said that you can remove the fuel tank, turn the bike upside down, & move the shift mechanism to another gear.  I have said that I did not know of anyone who has actually done this ...whom I could quote.   However, on 07/27/2016 I was informed that the procedure had been done, but they only managed to get the transmission into 5th gear.  Here is what I received; and, the photos definitely confirmed the procedure ...the bike was upside down, being lifted by several guys:
"A bloke from the West Australian club recently went to South Australia with the vintage club and had this problem. As you can see by the photos the remedy they attempted. It was stuck in 2nd gear and they hoped to get it to 4th, but 5th was all they could manage and he rode it back to Perth in 5th, around 2000 miles. Yes the box had to be repaired. I have attached a couple of photos. Yes I asked the bloke and he was fine with me forwarding the pictures to you."

The Tools shown in this article actually work, especially the one Bob Sipp modified with the filler plug, etc.  It is not easy to use any of these tools.

A discussion of Pawl Springs, Shift Kit levers, and other things appropriate for background information, is here:    You will need to skim through that entire article for reasonable comprehension, as information is scattered throughout.


If you make one of these tools with the intention of taking it on your motorcycle for use if the pawl spring breaks, I cannot emphasize enough that you should practice using it, before you need the tool.  You need to know ahead of time the hand motions and feel that is required.  IF/When 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 a cover is off, so you can see what is needed, but most will  practice with the transmission still in the bike, or on the workbench, perhaps at time of spline cleaning and lubrication?  Ideally, you will practice on a transmission that someone has opened-up for repairs; or, on a cut-away model at SuperTech.

Since the purpose of the tool is to enable you to continue on your journey, the gear that you will leave the transmission in depends on your desire & circumstances.  That gear may be 1st, 2nd or 3rd, 4th or 5th.  2nd gear is more likely the best.  You would not want to ride constantly in 1st, unless only a few miles; and you wouldn't likely want to start out from stops in 4th or 5th.  If in 1st, you might not be able to go fast enough to keep you happy for any distance, and if in 4th or 5th you would likely put a huge amount of wear on the clutch if you had to do many stops and takeoffs.  I could envision a serious off-road situation, where 1st might be the gear to select.   Using 2nd, carefully, means you can travel considerably faster than the low speeds of 1st, yet the clutch won't be excessively slipped (avoid starting and going up hills).   On the other hand, using 4th or even 5th, you may wear out the clutch; but, how important is that, cost-wise?

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 repair shop or dealership.
(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 tried to ride 1000 miles without using anything but 5th gear and ruined your clutch because most of your takeoffs were on hills, trying to go upwards.
(6) You like hanging strange things on the wall of the garage and relating stories.
(7) ??

Here is how the tool is used (this may be enough to convince you to NOT have the tool!):

(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 an un-needed bra, 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, 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 both of the ones listed just below will be more difficult to use than the ones I have sketches for later in this article.     The Wunderlich tool is probably harder to use. You may want to look at the Wunderlichamerica site, which has some photos you can click on and thereby enlarge.   I think you will find this one also considerably harder to use than the ones later in this article.  Note the same part number as for Wunderlich's.

The biggest problem in using the tools is to understand what you are trying to do, and how to go about it.

I have included a photo of the Al Vangura type tool as modified by Bob Sipp, which incorporates some changes the modified filler plug.   The Al Vangura tool is a bit tricky to use.

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 practical.

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, then later in day 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.
06/08/2016:  Final update of meta-codes, minor cleanup, etc.
07/27/2016:  Added text regarding a bike that WAS turned upside down to shift the transmission.
10/31/2017:  Went through entire article.  Updated/reduced HTML and fonts and colors. Clean up layout.  Slightly improve clarity in a few places.

Copyright 2020, R. Fleischer (see notes)

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Last check/edit: Tuesday, December 15, 2020