Brake system locks up after 2-3 min

Discussion in '5th Generation 1998-2001' started by Witch Doctor, Mar 21, 2009.

  1. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    I have a question about the VFR's horribly complex brake system; I'm having a hard time understanding Honda's manual, and I haven't found anything online describing my symptoms.

    About a month ago, I changed my fork seals, and while the forks were off I figured I'd fix a stuck caliper pin. Ended up rebuilding the front brakes and front brake/clutch master cylinders for good measure.

    I had to re-order a new secondary master cylinder piston kit because the existing one's rubber seal was torn. I THINK I reinserted the teal filter-thingy into the secondary master cylinder port in the correct orientation. I don't know what this thing does; it looks like a filter or valve of some sort.

    While I was repainting/rebuilding the forks, the bike sat in my garage for 3 weeks, with the front brake lines wrapped in cling wrap to prevent moisture intrusion.

    When I put everything back together, the front brakes were AWESOME, especially with the new pads I put in. The rear brake was spongy. I took the bike on the freeway to test it out (only 1 mile from my house) and almost as soon as I got on the freeway, I found that the brake seemed to stay engaged. When I slowed down, the bike would slow down FAST, and I had to ride in 2nd gear just to keep the bike moving at 50mph. Anyways I took the next exit after about 2 miles, to get the heck off the freeway.

    On the exit, the bike stopped even more dramatically when I let off the gas. Stop-and-go traffic was almost impossible. When I was riding along at 25 or so at 4000 rpm, if I pulled in the clutch, the engine would bounce to the rev limiter, it was working that hard.

    Got home after another 2 miles (why does the ride home on a bad bike always seem to take hours?) and my brake rotors were burning hot. I could barely push the bike; it felt like the brakes had locked completely. I would say it felt like the entire "secondary" rear brake system (two pots in front, one pot in back) was engaged, rather than the front brakes or the primary rear brakes (two pots in back as I understand it).

    Fast forward to this morning. I rebuilt the rear caliper (it already looked fine) and bled the rear brake system completely, which took hours, but finally got a nice short pull on the lever, no squishiness. Seemed great in the garage with no "locking" behavior. Took it on the exact same route. Same exact behavior, almost worse this time. I actually couldn't even push it into my garage; I had to use the engine just to move it forward. The rear brake was smoking.

    Secondary master cylinder? Rear master cylinder? Faulty proportional control valve? Delay valve? Which of the VFR's many brake subsystems could it be?

    I'm going to check the secondary master cylinder next, because the way it got worse and worse, I feel like the secondary master cylinder is sticking, then locking itself against the front brake, which causes more sticking, and so on... thing is, those are new parts in there, and I didn't see a pinhole relief valve in the cylinder, so I'm not sure how it can even become stuck, unless that teal thing is involved somehow...

    What a horrible, maddening design. (I know it functions great, but it's a PITA to work on!) I wouldn't actually mind spending the 10+ hours I've already spent if it was all documented properly, but nowhere do I see docs for what that teal button-thing, the delay valve, etc. actually do, so it's like shooting in the dark. Anyways, if anyone has heard of a similar issue, replies would be greatly appreciated.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2009
  2. SLOVFR

    SLOVFR Member

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    Replace the upper master cylinder and should fix your problem. Happen to a friend here on his 6 gen,
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2009
  3. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    There's no "upper" master cylinder on the Gen 5. There's a front master cylinder by the brake lever, a front secondary master cylinder on the left caliper, and a rear master cylinder by the rear brake pedal.

    I disassembled and cleaned out the front master cylinder, again. No change.

    I disassembled the secondary master cylinder on the front left caliper, and opened up the teal filter-thing. It's a one-way spring-loaded ball valve. I flipped it around (so that the "Y" plastic molding is facing out) and put everything back together, re-bled the brake system, etc. It seemed to make a slight change, but that could be my imperfect bleeding job. An hour to bleed everything each time I make a change...

    The first time, when I did the front master cylinder, the rear wheel had so much brake it would start to slide out on me.

    The next time, after I just finished rebuilding the secondary master cylinder, there was still plenty of rear brake (making the handling pretty scary) but at least I didn't need to run at 10,000 RPM in 1st gear just to get up the street.

    Both times, I only needed to take the bike 2 blocks (that's 2 stop signs) and the brakes would be completely locked by the 2nd stop sign. I could not push the bike no matter how hard I tried.

    Can anyone tell me if this is normal for new pads? It's like the calipers are one-way... the pads are not just dragging, they're really stuck.

    Next weekend I will try putting the original piston back in the secondary master cylinder. The linked brakes make this thing pretty hard to isolate. Having spent something like 16 hours on the brake system alone, I'm at my wit's end and will probably just take it into a shop if that fails.

    EDIT: I'm thinking of anything else that may cause this to happen. I did have to use compressed air to push the pistons out in all three calipers. They weren't corroded. I did use brake grease on the piston seals before reassembly. Finally, all pistons in all calipers are pretty hard to push back in when there's brake fluid in the caliper... I have to use a tool to lever against them to push them back in. I thought this was pretty normal.

    EDIT 2: I finally found a similar issue here. I tried a quick version of what they recommended (torque the wheel while it's in midair) but as I don't have a front stand (yet) I wasn't able to make a change. Whatever it is, it doesn't start suddenly... it takes about half a mile to a mile to start locking up.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2009
  4. SLOVFR

    SLOVFR Member

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    SO if there is no upper then they are all at the same level? Of course the upper, layman's term, is the one on the RIGHT handle bar.

    As stated I said Replace for a good reason and from anothers experience with the same issue. Rebuilding is usually not a good option on any master cylinder. If you dont have a spare to try I can send you the one that was used to diagnose the last brake lock up on Tori's.
     
  5. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    Ah, thanks for clarifying! I guess "upper" could be seen as the one on the handlebar, or the one on the front left caliper (as it is higher than the rest of the assembly). Anyways.... I will check my front fork/wheel alignment tomorrow, and see if that's causing it, then maybe I'll take you up on the offer if that is fruitless.

    The weird thing is, I've rebuilt master cylinders before and they've all worked just fine. All four master cylinders on this bike (including the clutch) had almost no "gunk" buildup, and the pistons were in very good shape... but yes, it is basically acting as if the master cylinder's return hole is clogged.

    I have pumped the brakes (including secondary master cylinder) while the bike is stationary, and I cannot get the pistons to lock up... they work great. It's only when the bike is in motion.

    The good part of all this is that I can bleed front and rear brakes in one hour!
     
  6. Lgn001

    Lgn001 Member

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    Kind of funny how we sometimes get really good at something we do not really WANT to get good at. :smile:

    I know this feeling...
     
  7. steven113

    steven113 New Member

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    I have the exact same problem with my 5th gen right now... Very frustrating!!! I do all work on my bike myself and I am stumped with the problem, not sure where to start and dont want to start just throwing parts at it until the problem is solved. Actualy concidering taking it to the stealership and taking the hit in my pocketbook :( If anyone knows the solution or has had this problem before PLEASE POST! Thanks in advance :)!
     
  8. Misspent Youth

    Misspent Youth New Member

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    Two things occur to me:

    1. Plugged return hole in front (on handlebar) m/c will cause this. Could have stirred up some gunk during the rebuild. Doesn't take much.

    2. If it's temperature related, meaning, it occurs only after the brakes are used and get hot, consider that your front m/c rebuild may have repositioned the adjustment screw on top of the m/c piston. The lever makes contact with this screw when you apply the brake.

    A problem can occur when the screw is adjusted so as to not allow the fluid in the system to expand when heated by repeated brake applications. I've not rebuilt one of these, but I recall you don't want to adjust the adjuster all the way "in" upon reassembly.

    When it's locked up, you might try loosening the adjuster to see if that fixes it.

    Otherwise, I'd recommend a thorough re-clean of the entire front m/c to ensure no gunk's in the return hole.

    EDIT: With regard to No. 2, above, I don't think it's clear I'm talking about the adjusting screw located in the lever, not on the m/c, itself. Sometimes people think they're helping the braking system by moving the adjuster in to make contact with the m/c piston top, thereby removing the stock gap. Then, when the heat is transmitted to the fluid from the calipers, the expanding fluid pushes back through the m/c (assuming the return hole is open), but is now stopped by the over-adjusted lever screw, which puts fluid pressure against the caliper pistons, which then presses the pads against the rotors, applying the brakes.

    The fact that it take several minutes for the brake to start locking up suggests there's a heat-related aspected. I know on some Goldwings it happens because the rear brake line is run too close to the exhaust system.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2009
  9. RWB25

    RWB25 New Member

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    When I encounter a PITA problem like this, I like to rule out the completely dumb-ass obvious first, before I start ripping parts of the bike. :rolleyes:

    So 2 questions come to mind.....

    1) Are BOTH the front brake lever and rear brake pedal in their "home" position?
    2) Are your brake lights on while just idling in the driveway or turn on after riding for a bit? Or stay on after you first apply the brakes?

    If both of those are ok, then it must be something internal to the brake system and the first thing I would check, like Misspent suggests, check the return hole.

    I wish you luck. Post up the final diagnosis and fix.

    .
     
  10. steven113

    steven113 New Member

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    nothing is wrong as far as hang ups mechanicly. It is defenitly an internal problem. I was going to start with rebuilding the rear caliper(or at least cleaning it well).
    the next step was going to be the check valve followed by master cylinders lower than upper. The problem is even with pressure test equiptment it only occurs after the bike has been on the road for a few miles. once it cools down for an hour or two everything works fine. In my case the bike had been sitting in a shed for 7 years and the fluid was badly coagulated, I flushed all of the old fluid out and replaced it with new and that is where my problem began. Thanks for all of your input!
     
  11. mello dude

    mello dude Member

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    If anybody gets far enuff to want a 5th gen front bar master cylinder - I have a spare one I can sell. It hasnt been used in a few years. PM to me if interested.

    MD
     
  12. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    Hey all! Steven113 PM'd me with his above message (he has the same issue and doesn't know where to look) so I thought I'd post my reply so we can all use it.

    Steven: No dice yet. Troubleshooting has been pretty difficult for me because everything is linked. I had gotten a good deal on a second-hand Ducati Monster around that time and so have been putting time into that. I know, neglecting the poor ol' VFR. :redface: The good part is that because I have another "fast" bike, it means I can take it easy with the brake troubleshooting without having to go to the Dealer.

    What I can tell you is that after I rebuilt my rear and front-left calipers for a second time, it didn't seem to affect my rear brake anymore. So I've ruled out sticky calipers on the rear. I have not rebuilt my front-right caliper yet, but I hope that that is causing it.

    I used brake grease on reassembly to help get the pistons into their bores. It's soft enough grease that I don't think it would cause a problem, but to be safe I will be rebuilding the front-right caliper with no grease, just brake fluid.

    If you ever get to the point where you can tell me the orientation of the one-way valve in the secondary master cylinder (teal in color on my bike), I'd appreciate it. I should have documented it when I took it apart; the manual doesn't note it. There's a side with a "Y" shaped molding, then a plain side, and an O-ring that I believe fits on top of the valve once it's in its bore. Currently I have the teal valve in the bottom of the bore, with the side with the "Y" facing out, then the O-ring on top of it, and finally the banjo fitting bolted on top of it with the two small bolts.

    I should mention that before I do the right-side caliper rebuild, I am going to check my pad alignment. When I reinstalled my brake pads, I did not use grease on the edges - the parts that fit into the metal anti-squeak pads. This is the most obvious solution for me. The brakes engage just fine, but it feels like the pads/pistons are not retracting.
    --- snip ---
    'Youth and RWB, thanks for the info on the adjustment screw! I will check that out. It's exactly as you describe; I can pump the lever all I want when it's in the garage, and the brakes will act normal. Once the pads are hot, it acts as if it has a plugged return valve and the lever becomes extremely firm. I have checked the return valve; wouldn't hurt to clean it again, I suppose.

    So, tomorrow morning: check lever adjustment screw, grease pads, and test. If no dice, take Ducati up Highway 1 to let off steam! :thumbsup:
     
  13. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    I finally worked on my VFR's brakes tonight. The valuable postings here, combined with doing it at night, took away the pressure of "getting it done quickly," so I just fiddled with it and patiently regarded the various parts.

    First thing I noticed: the front brakes were still locked up after 5 days.

    Turns out the brake pads were not binding on the clips, so I didn't bother greasing them. Doesn't look like they should be greased in any case.

    Misspent Youth, I looked at the brake lever settings. Things became interesting. There is no free play, regardless of how it's adjusted; all the way in, all the way out, or in the middle: does not matter. The part of the lever between the piston actuator rod (goes into rubber cup) and the lever itself seems to have a limited amount of travel, so the piston can't go out all the way. The part I mean is the one that trips the brake switch to activate the rear brake light. The clutch side does have free play... that is, the master cylinder is all the way out when the lever is "at rest." Not so for the brake lever... after removing the brake lever, to get it back on I had to push the master cylinder in about 1-2mm. When the lever was on, I wasn't able to push the front pistons back in; when it was off, I could do it with some difficulty, and the pistons moved smoothly.

    I checked the return hole for crud and actually ran a 0.25mm bit through it to verify it was clean (which it was). No change in brake behavior. There is very little travel in the master cylinder piston; it only moves about 4mm, or 1/8", before becoming too firm to push further. Pressure seems to build up as well, as if the return hole is not working.

    The rear brake works fine, and the pistons spring right back when the pedal is released. I have verified that my right front pistons are not seized. I didn't remove the monstrous left front caliper today to test that side. In any case, I don't think it's the pistons at this point.

    I read somewhere that brake lines themselves may jam up, causing problems like this. I did leave them semi-exposed (not hermetically sealed with banjo bolts) for 3-4 weeks while I took care of other things. Fluid looked pretty good coming out of them, though.

    Be that as it may, I'm thinking the front master cylinder at this point. I will take it apart and examine all the components; it feels like a blocked return hole, but without the blockage. Perhaps it's something with the rubber / orientation of the master cylinder piston.
     
  14. Misspent Youth

    Misspent Youth New Member

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    It sounds like you understand the concept I was attempting to convey, but I want to confirm we're talking about the same adjuster. I'm NOT talking about the lever adjuster that's used to adjust the lever's distance from the bar. I'm talking about a much smaller adjuster that will appear as a screw head (I recall) located in the lever itself, the other end of which makes contact with the m/c piston top. It sounds like that's the one you're talking about, but you mentioned "adjusting" it, not "unscrewing" it, which made me think you were talking about the lever adjuster.

    You should be able to get a gap between the m/c piston top and the lever actuator, though I don't know offhand what the gap should be. If you're looking at the right adjuster, and you've unscrewed it to try to create some gap and can't do it, then your problem is beyond my diagnostic ability, as that shouldn't be able to happen (unless the lever is from a non-VFR bike??).

    The lack of gap supports my thought that the brakes begin to drag only after the fluid heats up via application, and the expanded fluid has no place to go at the lever (due to no gap), so it expands back toward the caliper pistons, applying pressure to the pads, creating the drag.

    Good luck, and please do report the eventual solution, which sounds like it's close.
     
  15. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    Thanks for the replies, everyone. It's literally the only thing keeping me sane on this issue. I seem to have fallen into an alternate universe where my Honda is a total PITA to fix, and the Ducati has become the "daily driver" with zero issues. It screws with my mind. :biggrin:

    Misspent Youth, looks like I don't have the small screw on my brake lever. Here's a rough description: Mine appears to be the OEM lever, and it's divided into 2 parts. The small part, which contacts the brake-light switch as well as the master cylinder, contains a little "cup" that fits over the end of the brass (?) rod that then pushes against the master cylinder piston. This casting is attached to the other casting for the brake lever, and the dial adjuster sits between the two. The lever does have a circular insert with a double-ended arrow; it sort of looks like a Philips head screw, but it appears to be only there to show that you can turn the dial adjuster to set the gap.

    RWB, you're right about one thing: the brake lever does not "sit" the way I would expect it to. Very far out and when at rest, it's pushing in the master cylinder piston by a few millimeters. One could say the piston is always engaged somewhat as a result. The weird thing is, this wasn't the case before the rebuild.

    I spent my weekly 5 hours on this issue again today. :rolleyes: Rebuilt the front brake master cylinder again, and bled the front brakes. I went a little crazy with the brake fluid; used about 24 oz; those lines, calipers, and the master cylinder are completely solid, no air bubbles. No change in behavior. I didn't even bother taking it out to test because I can just tell how firm and unnatural the lever feels. At least the pistons seem to be retracting, barely, but that won't be the case once it heats up.

    Specifics of the rebuild: I used no grease, only brake fluid. I carefully inspected and cleaned the piston, spring, piston seals, bore, and both main and return holes, as well as all threads and fasteners (circlips, bolts, etc.) All parts looked and felt perfect. Normal wear on piston, no deep scoring. Piston slid smoothly in the bore. When it was all the way out, the end of the piston was still visible through the main hole... it doesn't retract far enough to disappear. (Hope that makes sense.) One thing I'm beginning to wonder about is if, somehow, the clutch and brake pistons were swapped during reassembly. That's the only explanation I can think of for a perfectly good master cylinder to suddenly act like this.

    OK, done with inspection, on to reassembly. The brake lever feels incredibly wooden. I have about 1/4" - 1/2" of travel before the brakes are completely locked. I can get it to go another 1/4" if I squeeze harder, but the brakes are already locked at that point. Before all this craziness started, the brake lever would go the usual 1" - 1.5"... nice progressive brake feel. Now it's like, you touch it with one finger and it's locked. One other bit of info, I have to push the piston in about 1/8" to even get the brake lever fitted. It's like there's no slop in the brake system.

    I did install new pads as part of the rebuild, but as the system is self-adjusting it should not make a difference as far as lever travel. I will swap the old nasty glazed pads back on to test.

    I think at this point it's safe to say it's something with the master cylinder. If anyone has any spares (SLOVFR?) then that would be the next logical step for me, once I verify I haven't swapped the pistons round accidentally and tested the old nasty pads. Mello Dude, thanks for the offer on the master cylinder; if it turns out mine is knackered I may have to take you up on it! :thumbsup:
     
  16. Jabba

    Jabba New Member

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    Just a tip on rebuilding calipers...

    Its the friction between the piston and the rubber seal that retracts the piston/pads at brake release. So not a good idea to polish those babies or use a lot of grease ... go with the fluid.
    I have worked at PBR for 35 years .. we make brakes for Corvettes etc ... I can recall an instance a few years back where we had to increase (roughen) the surface finish on the rear pistons on the Firebird because the cold winters you guys have over there hardened the rubber in the seals causing bad retraction and drag!

    To me .. sounds like your problem is related to the master cylinder piston and the cup seal. You mention it could have been "swapped" if the seal is in a different position on both pistons that is probably your problem?

    Good luck
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2009
  17. e cabrera

    e cabrera New Member

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    Hello¬° some years ago it happened to me with another bike but in rear brake, the problem was debris in the piston inside the caliper, i remove the brake pads and push brake pedal enough to clean piston with contact cleaner, change brake fluid and put new pads and the problem was resolved, in your case i think you should check the hole for liquid return and maybe the is too much brake fluid in the system.
    i hope i can help you... Greetings from Mexican VFRist
     
  18. porcupine73

    porcupine73 New Member

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    Sometimes on cages the rubber brake lines with age collapse a bit internally and then sort of act like a check valve, letting fluid in but not completely letting the pressure back off and making the brakes hang up.
     
  19. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    I figured it out!

    You guys are going to laugh me off the board. :thumbsup:

    Pulled both the clutch and brake master cyls off the bike this afternoon, and took 'em into the house so I could "piddle" with them. (Click that word for hyperlink to Dan's incredible MC page.) Around 1 in the morning I started playing around with them on the kitchen table, just taking them apart and putting them back together, watching how the pieces fit together. I had the answer fifteen minutes later.

    The problem lay in how my brake lever actuated the piston; I'll explain. On both the brake and clutch master cylinders, there is a small metal rod, approx. 1" long, that fits into a "cup," or dished area, in the end of the piston. The other end of the rod fits into a corresponding "cup" in the end of the lever. This little rod is held in place by a rubber seal which press-fits into the end of the master cylinder.

    Now on the clutch side, the rod has one bullet-shaped, rounded end (for fitting into the "cup" on the clutch piston) and one flat end (which goes into a matching hole in the lever). It's very obvious which goes where.

    On the brake side, however, the rod has two rounded ends, one with a larger diameter than the other. The smaller diameter end fits into the piston, and the larger diameter end fits into the lever. I had this part reversed. When reversed, the larger part appears to fit perfectly into the piston. It's when you really take a good look at it that you realize it's getting stuck part-way down. When the lever is installed (and you can feel this when putting it back together) it pushes the piston in by about 1mm. Given that the piston's total travel is only about 5mm, this is a big deal. Flipping the rod around lets the piston travel all the way back. Essentially I was riding with the equivalent of the lever squeezed slightly, and when the fluid expanded, it had nowhere to go, so it forced the pads even harder against the rotor... which caused the linked brake system to kick in... ugh.

    I haven't reinstalled it on the bike yet, but I just know this was the issue. While I'm in there, I'll pull off all my pads and deglaze them with sandpaper... they "blued" my discs from the heat.

    And I consider myself a decent wrench. I told you I'd be laughed off the board! :biggrin:

    It's going to feel good to ride a "well mannered" bike again. The Ducati has been fun, but it's just so clunky and beastly... which is nice, at times, but I miss the VFR: the turbine-like whine, the fuel injection, the fairing...
     
  20. Witch Doctor

    Witch Doctor New Member

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    Yep, it works

    Took the VFR out for a 60 mile ride today. Works flawlessly. Thanks for all your help, everyone... you made me realize it must be something in the master cylinder.

    I think the reason it was such a bonehead mistake was because I strung out the initial rebuild over time. I had pulled the brake and clutch MC off the bike, disassembled and cleaned them, then stored them, disassembled, for several weeks while I brought the rest of the bike up to spec (replacing a stator, doing some other work). When it was time to reinstall, I got it backwards.

    I made a (probably completely unnecessary) diagram:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2009
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