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.
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.