Safety Wiring Your Motorcycle
If you don’t race motorcycles, you may not think of using safety wire to secure fasteners. However, safety wiring in non-competition situations may is not a bad idea.
Safety wiring fasteners goes back quite a ways, and it has provided assurance that fasteners that remain absolutely in place. This is no knock against chemical thread locking compounds, lock washers or plastic snubber nuts; they all have their place and are quite effective.
Safety wire, however, comes into play as a good option when extremes of temperature, vibration, shear, tension, torque or other high-stress factors may be present.
In motorcycle-racing competition, rules require safety wiring of various components such as axle pinch bolts, oil-pan drain plugs, oil filter covers and other caps and points of closure. Some track day organziations also require safety wiring for the quickest classes.
So, in the context of long-range touring, back country adventure riding and even day-in-day-out all-around riding, using safety wire on some things may not be a bad idea. It may also be a very good way to assure that those $300 carbon fiber body panels or other bits you paid for can’t part company from the bike if those tiny minimally invasive fasteners don’t hold.
With that in mind, we offer our top five tips for safety wire.
1. Safety wire is not just any wire.
Lest a person be tempted to drill out some bolts and just use some lightweight wire you may have around the shop, it is important to note that safety wire is a specific high-tensile strength type of product. It is tough, but malleable corrosion resistant stainless steel. In this example, it is 0.041” T-304 stainless steel material. Be sure to wear personal protective gear such as safety glasses and gloves when working with it as the cut ends are very sharp and it tends to spring when released. Other grades or sizes may be useful for a given application.
2. Safety wire pliers are not just any pliers.
The safety wire twister has special knurled jaws to better grip the wire and a side cutter. It also has a spiral shaft similar to the driver in a child’s toy spinning top as well as a sliding jaw-lock. To use the pliers, lay the two even-cut ends of the safety wire in the jaws side-by-side (if they crossed in the jaws, it makes locking the jaws a real test of grip strength). Squeeze the pliers down until the locking tab goes into the lock and slide the lock handle back to lock the jaws onto the wire. To begin twisting the wire, let go of the handles of the plier and pull back on the knob at the end of the twister tool. After each pull, grasp the plier handles again and let the twister knob retract into the handle and repeat the process until you have the tightness of twist you want.
3. Drilling the fastener or item to be safety wired takes care.
Have a number of high quality drill bits handy of the size appropriate for the fastener and application. This is because you may go through a few, especially at first. Dimple the face of the hex or fastener you want to drill with a punch for a starter point, and start the drill straight in to form a pocket for the bit to fully engage in before you turn the bit to drill across the hex corner from one face to the adjacent face. It is at this point that bit breakage can occur. Take your time and use moderate pressure to drive the drill in.
4. Plan carefully for the length from the fastener to the safety wire anchor point and beyond.
It’s necessary to plan the length of the wire to go beyond the anchor point because more wire twist must happen to secure the wire to the anchor point.
5. Be sure to have the safety wire travel from the fastener to the anchor point in the direction that fastener would be turned to tighten it.
This is to put the safety wire in position to oppose movement of the fastener in the direction it would have to turn to loosen. Minimize the slack between the fastener and the anchor point.
Granted, safety wiring bits on your bike may not be something you’re inclined to do for all sorts of things, but for those things that absolutely, positively must not come loose, it’s a cheap, simple and certain way to go.