Life on the chain-gang

We were in­trigued by Paul Ber­ry­man’s tale of his DR600’S cam-chain woes that we asked him to find out more about the mys­ter­ies of cam-chains and the man him­self: Tony Galea.

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - WORK SHOP -

Tony Galea started his spe­cial­ist in-frame cam-chain re­place­ment busi­ness 31 years ago, in the hey­day of Lon­don couri­ers, and has been at it ever since. Make no bones about it – Tony knows his sub­ject in­side out. Tony’s dad got him twid­dling span­ners with a pur­pose when they did up push­bikes to­gether for a lit­tle ex­tra money as Tony grew up in the East end of Lon­don dur­ing the 1960s. Al­though his dad sadly suc­cumbed to can­cer when Tony was just 14, his legacy was that Tony found him­self happy work­ing on his own mo­tor­bikes when he turned 16. First up, an FS1-E he ham­mered around Beth­nal Green and even Tony ad­mits this was a great first bike as it was as near to a push­bike as a mo­tor­bike can be! From then on there were spells at a tim­ber dry­ing plant and a mo­tor­cy­cle courier be­fore he started in a lo­cal bike dealer’s work­shop and it’s from here that the germ of an idea came to him. Tony ex­plains: “I kept hav­ing to take per­fectly good en­gines apart on CB250S to change the cam-chain. What an­noyed me was there was noth­ing wrong with the cam-chain it­self, or even the func­tion of the ten­sioner. The only prob­lem was the ten­sioner ran out of ad­just­ment long be­fore the chain was knack­ered.” From this seed of dis­sat­is­fac­tion grew the

idea to of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent that would come to dom­i­nate his life from then un­til now. By 1985 (and a spell in R&D at Mo­tad exhausts) he de­cided it was time to set up his own busi­ness. Spe­cial­is­ing in quicker, cheaper cam-chain re­pairs from the off, Galea Cam­chain Ser­vices had a very clear idea about what it was go­ing to do – in-frame cam-chain re­place­ment us­ing the of­ten frowned upon split chains and rivet links. To start with he spent as much time con­vinc­ing po­ten­tial cus­tomers that split link cam-chain re­pairs were pos­si­ble as ac­tu­ally do­ing them, but af­ter he’d done enough guar­an­teed jobs to prove what he was

say­ing was true, the busi­ness grew quickly. While he started as a mo­bile ser­vice it wasn’t long be­fore he needed his own premises. He had a cap­tive mar­ket in Lon­don’s couri­ers and made hay for the next 20 years.

End­less vs split – and why cheaper can also be bet­ter

‘Why does the per­ceived wis­dom around cam-chain re­place­ment sug­gest that a split chain and rivet isn’t as good as an OE end­less chain would be?’ I reck­oned im­me­di­ately that I’d asked the right ques­tion. I could see this was go­ing to be good. “Lis­ten,” starts Tony. “There are a few things about this that need set­ting straight – firstly, let’s say that every chain in the world from a neck­lace to a drive chain to a cam-chain – none of them were made end­less! At some point all of them were joined. The dif­fer­ence be­tween an OE ‘end­less’ chain and a split chain and rivet is only where and how the end links be­come joined. The poor per­cep­tion of us­ing split chains and rivet links comes from many cases where the join has been done so badly that it fails; usu­ally that has less to do with the link be­ing loose and the chain com­ing un­done, and ev­ery­thing to do with the join­ing link be­ing over­riv­eted, over-tight and caus­ing a point of fail­ure as it’s not been done right!

In­ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple can be so freaked out by us­ing a split chain and rivet link that they go way too far in try­ing to make it not come apart! Whilst it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to get it wrong, it has never hap­pened on any­thing I have worked on. I have guar­an­teed every cam-chain re­place­ment I have ever done and none have ever come back. And that’s thou­sands! Ob­vi­ously I know how to do it right and I have ex­actly the right tools to make sure I can do it time and time and time again!” In one last flour­ish he also points out that some bikes, like Yamaha’s XS750 triple left the fac­tory with a cam-chain joined us­ing a rivet link, so they can’t be com­pletely dys­func­tional can they? With that point clearly made, he con­tin­ues onto another sub­ject – that of OE chains “When peo­ple spec­ify they only want an OE cam-chain fit­ted, be­cause they think it’s an ex­tra mark of qual­ity, they miss an im­por­tant point; Honda do not make cam-chains, nor do Yamaha, nor do Suzuki, or Kawasaki. How­ever, D.I.D do, and Tsub­aki do and the man­u­fac­tur­ers use them, as do I. I use the best grade of chain I can, al­ways. Cam­chains are a rel­a­tively cheap item, but they go to work in­side a very ex­pen­sive en­gine. Good ones aren’t hugely ex­pen­sive, and it’s false econ­omy to use any­thing other than the best avail­able chain that will work with an en­gine. That of­ten means I end up us­ing a higher grade

of chain than the bike left the fac­tory with.”

The great cam-chain con­spir­acy?

Another thing I’d wanted to ask was about why man­u­fac­tur­ers get cam­chains and ten­sion­ers wrong, es­pe­cially back in the 70s and 80s. Tony refers back to the very thing that started him off in this trade – the con­tin­ual re­place­ment of good cam-chains in dozens of Honda CB250S. He has a the­ory: “It’s such a sim­ple thing to get right that I’m con­vinced they (Honda) could have done it if they’d wanted to. I think they chose to build in an el­e­ment of ob­so­les­cence by mak­ing the cam-chain much less long-last­ing than it could have been with a bet­ter ten­sioner sys­tem.” To put num­bers to that, he reck­ons the OE ten­sioner gave up on the cam-chain with a third of the cam-chain life left in it. He adds: “Think about it – the man­u­fac­tur­ers and deal­ers have never re­ally made huge profits on bike sales, it’s the af­ter­care, the work­shop bills, the ser­vice items and all the as­so­ci­ated

running costs that gen­er­ate profits long af­ter the bikes have left the show­room that keep busi­nesses afloat. If you build a re­li­able bike, and the CB250S were un­doubt­edly that, but then insert this ab­so­lute need to get it back into a dealer work­shop once well out of its war­ranty pe­riod, then you have another op­por­tu­nity to strip the en­gine, sell not just the cam-chain but a gas­ket set, maybe a set of rings and a few other bits and bobs along the way too. I re­main cer­tain that is why they didn’t rush to fix things.” It’s not all doom, gloom and sub­terfuge in the world of cam-chains though, Tony adds. “Mod­ern cam-chains and mod­ern syn­thetic oils are fab­u­lous – cam-chains last so much longer than they did, and im­proved ten­sioner tech­nol­ogy is also

de­liv­er­ing trouble free miles.” As a man that raised his (six) kids on the back of chang­ing cam-chains en-masse, Tony could have been dis­ap­pointed by this new found longevity, but he saw the warn­ing signs com­ing early enough and moved away from Tot­ten­ham in 2002. Tony ac­knowl­edges that his busiest days were when the Lon­don courier scene was boom­ing and to­day that scene is about 10% of what it was even in the late 1990s. But, he’s still the man to go to for cam-chain swaps, but is as busy these days with restor­ing mod­ern clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cles as he is with mak­ing camshafts turn at the right time. If you have an in­ter­nal en­gine chain re­lated prob­lem (be that cam-chain, al­ter­na­tor chain or other) then Tony is a good first point of con­tact. CBX750 own­ers al­ready beat a path to his door for the al­ter­na­tor chains he makes that Honda has long since stopped pro­duc­ing. You’ll read on the ear­lier pages about the cam-chain change Tony did on my DR600, which went smoothly and swiftly and was about as good an ad­vert for in-frame cam­chain re­place­ment as you could imag­ine. All for £199

in­clud­ing parts and labour: I never had to see be­yond the rocker cover box and had the bike back the same af­ter­noon – all of Tony’s cam-chain swaps come with a look at the valve clear­ances too – “Once you’ve flipped the top off a mo­tor it’s daft not to take a look in­side and do them – it’s rare that I don’t find some­thing that needs do­ing, or that wouldn’t ben­e­fit from a lit­tle shim swap or ad­just­ment.” This pro­vokes a whole new line of thought about hav­ing valve clear­ances done. It makes me won­der if it’s not a bet­ter value propo­si­tion to get Tony to do a cam-chain swap and wash up valve clear­ance is­sues as he goes, than book a valve clear­ance ser­vice at a dealer that would likely cost more and still re­tains the old cam­chain! You’ll need to do the maths your­self, but it’s worth think­ing about.

Tony Galea is a top bloke and can be called on 01268 735355 or 07860 152188. His work­shop is in Wick­ford Es­sex which is in be­tween Basil­don and Southend. He doesn’t have a web­site and doesn’t re­ally want one, which makes me like him even more!

The last face thou­sands of knack­ered cam-chains have seen.

Com­pare to the black and white above!

The world was black and white when Tony started prov­ing how much side play a knack­ered cam-chain has!

A sleepy cor­ner of Es­sex in 1989. Well, 2016 ac­tu­ally, but you can barely tell!

Care­fully does it.

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