Wiring Basics Plus some Part 1

Wiring is one of the many misunderstood subjects in our hobby.  A hack can make a nightmare for the next owner or himself.  Having an electrical failure 2/3 of the way through a corner when you need the bike to run properly is not only a safety factor for yourself, but also for the guy behind you, or they guy your trying to pass. Having the bike fail halfway through a trackday, race day, or on the commute to work, because of electrical issues can ruin the day and become a serious inconvenience.  There have been whole books dedicated to wiring and sub subjects of wiring.  Remember to work safe!

Simple circuit
This is your basic DC circuit. The flow of electrons must complete the trip from positive to negative. If there is a break in the flow of electrons through the conductor, lets say at the switch, the powered accessory will not work. Every accessory must have a power source ( + ) and, every accessory must have a ground ( – )or go back to the opposite pole the accessory was powered with. Usually, but not always, the negative pole of the battery will be connected to the frame or chassis of the vehicle (this is considered ground).

 

The Right Wiring Tools

  • Wire Strippers – There are several different kinds of wire strippers to choose from.Some strippers work by cutting a ring around the insulation in the wire and then manually pulling the insulation off with the cutter still around the wire.  Doing this takes some skill and practice to reduce the chance of cutting the strands of wire and to get it done correctly. Cutting the strands of wire just below the insulation will result in a slightly thinner wire, and thus a restriction in flow of current, and a reduction in the amount of AMPs the wire can handle. Some strippers work by gripping the wire with two clamps, the left one for holding the wire and the right one for stripping it with a sharp edge. Closing your grip on the handles, both clamps lock down on the wire, then when you completely close your grip on the handles, the two locked down clamps then come apart, stripping the wire. at least in theory.  The latter has a more consistent finished product of the stripped wire. Some strippers work on a table in a bar.
  • Soldering Iron – The preferred soldering Iron when soldering the smaller gauge wire together is a pencil style soldering iron.  There are times though that joining 4 or 5 wires together in a bunch will require a much larger soldering iron to bring the solder and wire up to temperature quickly. There are 2 types of large soldering irons. One is electrical and the other is a butane torch attachment.  The butane attachment works extremely well and quick, but isn’t recommended for tight spots or odd positions.
  • Multimeter – A good multimeter can help you troubleshoot a multitude of automotive electrical problems anything from identifying low charging voltage to a parasitic battery draw.  a good accessory to have with your Multimeter are alligator clamps for the test leads.
  • Test Light – A test light is good at telling you if you actually have power at a specified location.  DO NOT poke through wire insulation with your test light. Poking holes to find juice will only create problems later.  The hole will allow moisture to enter the wires protective insulation and allow it to corrode.
  • Wire Terminal Crimper – A good quality crimper are a must.  and even though we solder most of our terminals, its important to have a good crimp or physical connection first.
  • Heat gun – I use the heat gun to shrink the shrink tubing, a butane torch can also be used, but extra caution needs to be taken because the wires insulation and shrink tube can easily become to hot and burn.
  • Terminal Tool Kit – Used to remove the terminals from their plastic housing.  Sometime trying to get them out with a screwdriver or pick can result in damaged terminals.  Using a terminal tool helps reduce this risk.

Splicing Two or More Wires Together

Everyone that has to lengthen a wire or branch a wire off is splicing a wire. There are little blue connectors that do this, but they are bulky and do not give a very professional or clean finish.  These little connectors allow the wire to be exposed to water and atmosphere, and will allow the copper wire to turn into a nice green funky copper carbonate.  This corrosion process is will speed up when the wire has current running through it.

crusty corroded wire

These splices or repairs need to be sealed from the outside atmosphere and weather, but before we get to that point, we must make strong connections. Just twisting the wires together, throwing some tape on them, and calling it a day will get you by, but for the long term it is not good enough.  The wires must have good physical contact with one another, interlock, and be SEALED from the weather and outside atmosphere.  If the wires are not sealed the copper carbonate or “green funky corrosion” begins to grow, and before you know it, the nice copper wires turn to a much less conductive copper carbonate.

Bad trailer hookup wiring job using various preinsulated butt connectors and scotchlok connectors and horribly done splices.
Bad trailer hookup wiring job using various preinsulated butt connectors and scotchlok connectors and horribly done splices.

There are several correct methods to get a good connection between two wires.  One method is to interlock the individual strands together and then wrap the strands with an extra strand the wires are then soldered and shrink tube is used to cover the joint.  This method gives good contact from one copper wire to another.  The process is very time consuming, and takes more practice than other processes. The second process consist of twisting the bare ends of the wires individually first, then twisting them together, after that, they get soldered together and finally the joint get a piece of shrink tube.

 

The wrap method

The wires are stripped to prepare it for the splicing process.
The wires are stripped to prepare it for the splicing process.
Single strand is inserted into the strands perpendicularly.
One end of the single strand is inserted into the strands perpendicularly. Now is the time to place the shrink tube onto the wire.
The wires are butted together, trying to mix the strands as much as possible. Notice the harvested single strand perpendicular to the rest. A piece of shrink tube is slipped onto the wire, before the connection is made.
The wires are butted together, trying to mix the strands as much as possible. Notice the harvested single strand perpendicular to the rest.
The single strand is then wrapped around the joint, bunching up the loose ends.
The single strand is then wrapped around the joint, bunching up the loose ends.
The single strand is clipped and the wires are then soldered together to secure the joint.
The single strand is clipped and the wires are then soldered together to secure the joint.
shrink tube is slid over the joint, warmed up, and secured.
Shrink tube is slid over the joint, warmed up, and secured.

NOTE: The sharp ends of the wires can poke a hole through the shrink tubing.  Take the extra time to make sure those jagged corners are tucked away.

Quality shrink tubing will have a glue or sealer that will ooze out when it is properly shrunk onto the wire.  This seals the copper away from harmful elements and insulates the joint.

The twist method

The wires are stripped of the insulation. I usually go about an inch back for this method.
The wires are stripped of the insulation. I usually go about an inch back for this method.
The strands are twisted together on each wire.
The strands are twisted together on each wire.
The wires are then placed in an X position like so.
The wires are then placed in an X position like so.
The wires are then twisted together.
The wires are then twisted together.
Solder is then used to bind the wires together.
Solder is then used to bind the wires together.
The shrink tube is then slid over the joint and heated until properly secured.
The shrink tube is then slid over the joint and heated until properly secured.

I do not use preinsulated butt connectors, because when they are crimped, the insulation gets punctured.  When the insulation gets punctured the integrity of the insulation to protect the wire is always questionable.

Chad

Riding motorcycles and wrenching since my preteen years, I have moved from motocross to street bikes. Being a teen back in those days it was tough to get me off of the bike. Now days even though I am very busy being a dad I still have my weekends and go to the track to race and on occasion will do a track day or two.

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