Wired For Safety: Because if the stuff falls off…

…we’re not going to have a good time.

I don’t know what it is about safety wiring, but the task seems overwhelming and insurmountable and a big pain in the backside when you think about it; not to mention it is confusing when you first are faced with a list of stuff to secure properly to pass Tech at a track. I’ve been procrastinating this safety wiring project for the better of six months and I finally decided to tackle the subject in small increments.

Let’s start off with the important stuff:

The Tools of the Trade

  • Safety wire pliers: This is a specialty tool that is technically not necessary, since you could clip the wire to size with wire cutters and twist the stuff with a pair of needle nose pliers. Technically. Do yourself a favor and buy one of these puppies! You’ll thank me later. No, seriously! Miss Busa is making these mandatory!
  • Safety wire: The thickest wire I am using is 0.041″ T-304 stainless steel marine-grade lock wire, which is a perfect match for those 1/16″ drill bits. However, I use various thicknesses for different applications. I also use 0.032″-diameter and 0.02″-diameter wire. The skinnier the wire, the easier it is to work with, but due to its lesser tensile strength, it’s more likely to break. I like to use the thick stuff for places that have to be wired and are very unlikely to have to be undone. A medium-thickness wire is a pretty good all-around choice and I use it for most of everything that needs to be wired up. The skinny wire is great for wiring up such things as grips and rearset components.
  • Racing safety pins: Completely optional, but they make life at the track so much easier. I like to use these in places where the wiring has to be undone and redone quite often, such as the oil fill cap, the radiator cap, the oil filter, the rear axle nut. Pay attention to the rulebook though, you may not be able to use these in certain places; the oil drain plug would be a common exception to their allowed use.
  • Tab washers aka safety wire washers: Also completely optional, but these make things much more enjoyable. Also keep some of these in your tool box, you’ll never know when some extra-anal white-gloved tech inspector wants you to secure this or that and now you’re hard pressed to fix the problem since your drill is at home, no anchor point is within reach and your day could have just went down the tubes if it weren’t for these little lifesavers. 🙂 I like to use them where points of attachments are difficult or too distant to be feasible. You use them like a washer, torque the fastener down onto them, then use pliers to bend the tabs up around the bolt’s head. You can then secure your safety wire to the tab that has the hole in it. Obviously, you cannot use them as anchor points for safety wiring the exact same bolt you are attaching them to. That would be silly.
Tools for Safety Wiring

Tools to safety wire your bike: safety wire pliers, safety wire, tab washers (aka safety wire washers), and racing safety pins.

  • Safety wire drilling jig: This is another specialty tool and a must-have item if you do not have a drill press and have to manually drill the holes into the bolt heads. Miss Busa is making this a mandatory purchase as well! No whining. Just order the jig set when you order the pliers and the safety wire.
Safety Wiring Drill Jig

The safety wiring drill jig is a must-have tool if you do not have a drill press.

  • QUALITY 1/16″ drill bits. I mean it. Buy junk and they’ll break or won’t get you all the way through to the other side before they turn dull and useless! I’ve bought some DeWalt 1/16″ Split Point Cobalt drill bits which are claimed to have “maximum life in metal” and are rumored to “start on contact”. I can attest to both of these statements being fairly accurate so far.
Say NO! to cheap drill bits!

Friends don't let friends buy cheap drill bits! Just because it says "titanium" on the package...

  • Automatic (spring-loaded) punch:  Mine was broken, so I had to make do without; which isn’t a big deal IF you bought the aforementioned QUALITY drill bits. Tell me you didn’t buy junk!  This is an optional item, unless you didn’t listen and bought a ten-pack of “titanium nitrate” bits for $1.98, then it becomes mandatory. This tool is used to make a little indentation for your drill bit to sit in to get you started and to help prevent the bit walking all over the place while you attempt to do so.
  • Drill: I have some housewife-grade cheapie by Black & Decker. Variable speed, quick-release chuck, reversible. It does me just fine with those DeWalt drill bits.
  • Vise: You either have to have one of these or try and talk your buddy into holding the piece for you while you come at them with the drill. 😉 I use a little suction cup mounted articulated hobby vise I got at Harbor Freight. I have no garage or workshop, so this little guy is prefect for the occasional Tool Time session.
  • If you’ve got the cash to burn and the workshop to go with it, you might want to forgo the whole vise-and-drill thing and go out and get yourself a decent drill press. Way more accurate and way quicker, but overkill if all you’ll be needing it for is drilling a few holes into bolt heads to stick some wire through. Have a friend who has one? Pack your crap, hop on your bike and go see him. Don’t forget the pizza and the beer.
  • Cutting oil: If you’re trying to find “cutting oil” you’ll run yourself nutters. Some people use WD-40 to cool down their bits, others use machine oil, or multi-purpose 3-in-1 oil. You get the picture. You’ll need something to keep the drill bit from overheating and to ease its passage through some of the tougher stuff you’ll ever find yourself drilling holes through. If the bit gets too hot, it’ll break.
  • Safety glasses: This goes without saying. A scratched eyeball hurts like hell and you can’t ride motorcycles when you’re half-blind. Put ’em on!
Tools for Safety Wire Hole Drilling

Tools for drilling safety wire holes: drill, 1/16" drill bits, cutting oil, drill jig, automatic punch (no pictured), cotton swabs, paper towels, rotary tool, and safety glasses.

Let the Fun Commence

Today, I’m doing caps and calipers. Since I have a short attention span and find learning how to safety wire almost as coma-inducing as teaching myself suspension tuning, I can only handle this mess in short spurts. I already have my axles, oil filter, and oil drain plug done. I will have to write them up later. Fear not, as this comes together I will re-organize these posts and work them into a proper how-to. This is really just something to get you started, to give you time to gather up all the tools you’ll need and give you a general idea of what is coming. I will take the mystery out of this subject yet. Because this is one of these things: You’re totally lost when you see the list of junk in the rulebook you have to properly secure, some of it makes sense. Some of it is vaguely familiar and some of it has you drooling form the corner of the mouth, mumbling incoherently. “Oil gallery plugs” anybody? As luck would have it, those beyotches may be secured with RTV silicone; a girl can do that laying on her back in two minutes flat. 😉

  • Always take the parts you need to drill off the bike. Before taking them off, a lot of people like to mark their fasteners when they are properly torqued, so they know where to drill the holes for the wire. Plan how you are going to wire up the fasteners that you are taking off. Remember that safety wiring has to tighten one bolt as another tries to come loose, so the tension should always be to the right of each fastener, which will route the twisted safety wire in an s-shape between them once two bolts are wired together. Plan on drilling your holes accordingly. Some people drill more than one set of holes for just that reason, but I bet those are the same peeps who also own one of those snazzy drill presses. (I will post pictures of every secured bolt on my bike when I’m done. A pic is worth a million words and a hundred google searches!)
  • Secure the part in your vise. Make sure you don’t bend or break anything. Always wrap your part up in a shop towel or use soft vise pads to avoid damaging anything. That’s one reason I decided to thread the bolt into the drill jig, even though my vise has soft rubber-capped jaws. That’s not exactly how you’re supposed to use the thing, or is it?!?
Closeup of Brake Caliper Bolt (Drilled)

I used the safety wire drill jig to hold the bolt in the vise for drilling to prevent potential damage to the bolt's threads.

  • Mark your fastener with your automatic punch, if you have one.
  • Put a drop of oil on the drill bit and on the bolt.
  • Carefully start drilling, making sure that your drill bit stays put and doesn’t wander around. With the DeWalt bits I mentioned earlier this is not a problem, they stay put, even without a punch to mark the spot. Once you have the hole started, speed up the drill and add a little bit of pressure, not too much, though, if you bend the bit you’ll break it. Let the bit do the work for you. Be patient. You’ll see metal shavings piling up, I prefer to clean those out with cotton swabs, wipe the drill bit off and add some more oil, then I resume drilling. Each bolt took me about 5-6 minutes to drill. I didn’t break a single bit either. 🙂 Remember those “titanium” cheapies? Yeah, I tried those first. After 10 minutes of nothing much happening, I finally admitted defeat and changed to the DeWalt’s. A world of difference! The no-name bits are going to have to be re-dedicated to drilling holes into wood or styrofoam… they suck!
  • I decided to drill straight through the bolt heads, using the first hole as a guide to start the second hole. I thought that this may be a mistake and would make me break a bit, but it worked like a dream. The holes are nice and clean and perfectly aligned, which will make wiring these up a cinch, no matter where they end up in relation to each other. And I did a way better job than the ex-BMW dealer did on my axle nut, if I dare say so myself.
Closeup of drilled safety wire hole

I decided to drill the hole straight across to make it easier to wire the two bolts together later.

  • The caps were easy. I decided to drill the radiator cap from the back side, so in case the bit slipped I wouldn’t scratch up the “pretty side”. That was probably a mistake, since I had to use my Dremel to deburr the side the drill exited, which is probably going to cause it to rust. We shall see. If I had to do it over, I’d drill the holes front to back. I drilled both sides of the cap because I couldn’t remember which was the one I had decided to drill. Should have marked it, but thought I wouldn’t forget. I put the racing safety pin on the side that I’m betting on. We shall see if I didn’t drill that extra hole for nothing.
  • The oil fill cap is plastic and was done in a few seconds. It took me longer to put the part in the vise. I decided to drill both sides, because the cap could end up at a number of different angles in relationship to the safety wire’s anchor point.
Parts Drilled

Parts that I've drilled today: the four front brake caliper bolts, oil fill cap and coolant fill cap


11 Comments on “Wired For Safety: Because if the stuff falls off…”

  1. Mr.Slow says:

    My baby does drill well.

  2. WAHAHAHA! This is awesome. Incremental steps, I like this. I always get overwhelmed by a project because I see the project in it’s entirety. One step at a time, I must remember this…

  3. Jack Riepe says:

    Dear “The Girl Gets Around…”

    I am writing to you from the kind of institution where they think twice about giving me crayons, let alone tools. My mechanic makes me sign a document saying I have not attempted to fix anything on my bike before bringing it to him, thereby minimizing potential damage. But I really enjoyed this piece you wrote, and got a kick out of the photo where you are holding the bolt with flawless red and black nails. You are the queen of understatement and the implied gesture.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack Riepe
    Twisted Roads
    The Motorcycle Blog For Raw Aventure and Romance Like Broken Glass

    • Miss Busa says:

      Jack, thank you. I’m sure that I will be gently informed, next trip to my BMW dealer, that I have voided my warranty long before its mileage (or time). 😉

      They think twice about giving you crayons? LOL I’m on sharps precaution, they won’t let me play with scissors. *giggles*

  4. Marianne says:

    Awesome! You should see my rear axle nut, it is scarred with a few attempts. I didn’t use the jig or tabs, I just flipped the bolt head upside and held it in the vise. It worked well. I put off the drilling until a few days before the race. it is a pain in the arse but I am glad to be done with it. Besides, it’s a rite of passage. You’re not supposed to put your race numbers on until after you drill! it’s an earned reward, chica! 🙂

    As always, you rock!

    p.s. Love the nails 😉

    • Miss Busa says:

      Oh crap! I didn’t know I couldn’t put my competition numbers on my bike BEFORE swiss cheesing several critical fasteners on my bike. Well, give me the meatball and pull my ass over. 😉

      But since when have I ever done anything proper or in order? Track days? I don’t need no steenkin track days… *giggles*

  5. Michelle Linton says:

    Excellent detailed post! Now I just want lessons on how to wrench with those nails on. I tried and I can’t do it. I end up breaking one then filing them all down (cussing the whole time because then one of my fingers hurts like %$^$).

    • Miss Busa says:

      Oh, you should have seen me when I tried to get the Dremel box from the top shelf with oily fingers. It slipped I barely caught it by the tips of two of my nails. That hurt like #$(**q42! I think I would rip a nail out before these puppies break off. I couldn’t keep my natural nails healthy or strong. Constant glove use and wrenching had done them in, they eventually just refused to grow. 😦

  6. Darryl Dyer says:

    I can’t seem to find the company that makes the small industrial safety clips, can you give me any idea as to who sells them or where I can order them from?

    • Miss Busa says:

      If you mean the ones that look like oversized safety pins, I have seen them at Harbor Freight. I think I got mine at Kurvy Girl, but can’t recall. The washer type, I ordered online somewhere, but again not a clue where. Sorry I can’t be of more help, but a google search should turn up a few web sites that specialize in racing/track supplies.


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