If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Here's the culprit:

One motorcycle immobiliser, made by Meta Systems, model M53T, fitted to the mini-Beemer at three months old, in September 2004.

I don't like alarms and immobilisers for bikes.  Give me a big, tough chain and a disc lock any day.  Let's dismiss alarms first.  They don't work.  Any vehicle with an alarm sounding is merely an irritant for everyone in earshot.  No-one pays them the slightest attention any more.  They assume it's faulty, or the result of a gust of wind, and they walk on by.  Experiments have shown that it is possible for two men to physically lift a parked motorcycle into the back of a white van, on a crowded street, with the alarm shrieking away, and no-one will do anything at all about it.  Especially if the van has 'Mick's Motorcycle Repairs' Dulux-brushed on the side.  So there is  no point whatsoever in having an alarm on your bike, except perhaps if you have to park it on the street outside your house.  You will know the bike is being nicked, but you are then faced with the choice of staying indoors like a wimp, or going outside and getting killed.  I'd rather remain ignorant, thanks.

Immobilisers should be better, and insurers do like them. You stop the bike, take out the key, and walk away. 45 seconds later, the immobiliser self-arms, and no-one can start the bike.  Not ever.  These things are so fiendishly complicated that it takes a PhD in Applied Electronics to even touch the wires.  Er, no.  I have just removed the immobiliser from the GS.  It took me three hours, and most of that time was spent in taking off the bodywork and air filter housing to get at the wiring, something I had not done before, and which was accomplished with a Haynes manual in one hand and a can of Blackthorn in the other.  To someone who has done it before and is both familiar with the bike and quick with a soldering iron, and I would reckon 15 minutes, tops.

And they go wrong.  Oh yes they do.  Bike forums are filled with horror stories of bikes with a myriad of mysterious complaints (mainly, It Doesn't Go) which are cured by ripping the damned immobiliser out.  And what if the immobiliser goes faulty while you are riding?  This one cuts (or, rather, cut) the 12V supply to the fuel pump and coil.  Imagine being in the middle of a fast corner, on the edge of the tyres, and suddenly no power.  On any bike, you are in a heap of trouble.  On a big single, that's you upside-down in the hedge, that is.

But, worse than that, this one at least was a complete pain in the arse to use on a daily basis.  It came with a little fob which attached to the key ring, about the size of a USB thumb drive.  Here was the procedure if you wanted to actually go anywhere:

  1. Press the brake pedal.
  2. Wipe the fob across the bodywork over the hidden sensor.
  3. Put the key in.
  4. Start the bike.
Sounds not-too-bad, although I wonder who, in the concept meeting at Meta Systems, thought that putting the rider through that rigmarole every journey was a good idea.  In reality, it was more 'entertaining':
  1. Put key in ignition out of habit.
  2. Remember and remove key.
  3. Bike on side-stand, so ready to mount from the left.
  4. Remember the brake-pedal gimmick and go round to the other side.
  5. Press brake pedal.
  6. Ask self, was that hard enough?
  7. Press brake pedal again.
  8. Hold key-ring so that little fob thing is sticking out.
  9. Drop key-ring, take gloves off, retrieve, try again.
  10. Wipe fob against dash plastics.
  11. Wipe fob again much more widely and vigorously, as uncertain of exact location of sensor.
  12. Return to left side of bike, ready to get on.
  13. Put key in ignition and switch on.
  14. All dash lights come on.
  15. Press starter button.  Nothing.
  16. GOTO 4.
After three days of this, the death warrant for the immobiliser had been signed and passed to the Praetorian Guard. Today was my first free day in two weeks, and out it came.  Here's the corpse:

I'm not going to go into detail here about how I did it, for obvious reasons.  But let's just say that with some basic tools and a bit of common sense it was a pretty easy job.

I'll make an admission here (and see if anyone shouts "me too!").  I've been messing about with bikes and cars for over 40 years, and I'm reasonably confident that I know what I am doing and don't make major blunders.  But every time I do something that involves crippling the vehicle (by which I mean, if I get it wrong it won't go until I swallow my pride and take it to a proper bloke) I still have a moment of apprehension when everything is back together and I press the starter for the first time.

And when it does fire up, I'm back to being the 14-year-old who was given a Triumph Tina scooter (total wreck, no bodywork, hadn't run in living memory) and made it go.



  1. "But every time I do something that involves crippling the vehicle (by which I mean, if I get it wrong it won't go until I swallow my pride and take it to a proper bloke) I still have a moment of apprehension when everything is back together and I press the starter for the first time." I can sure relate to that comment. There's nothing worse than having to go hat-in-hand (or parts-in-hand) to the "proper bloke:" and admit you screwed it up big time. A fate worse than death.
    Glad you didn't have to this time. :)

    1. Not sure about the "this time" part! To be fair (to me) it hasn't happened so far, well not with anything important, but it's a constant fear. Keeps me on my toes :)

  2. Nicely done Richard.

    Kudos to you for making it four days of that. I would have been trying to rip it out by day two, lol.

    1. I was only tinkering, cleaning up one of the switches, but then the red mist came down.

  3. "'Mick's Motorcycle Repairs' Dulux-brushed on the side." - it wasn't me!!

    Aftermarket alarms and immobilisers never seem to be made to the same standard as OEM modules. Having repaired a few in my time, even the basic electronic design often has flaws. Also as you have noticed, because it's not an integrated part of the bike electrics, it's completely removable.

    One of the biggest gripes in the modern world seems to be security, be it for a vehicle or for PC software. It's simply something else to go wrong for the honest majority, and not much of an obstruction to the class of people they are intended to foil.

    It is possible to make an alarm/immobiliser that is unobtrusive and easy to use; just step into any modern car. I've had a look at the OEM immobilisers on a few sports bikes and they are just as good as the four-wheeled versions. You can never prevent someone from picking up your pride-and-joy to carry it away, though, and don't start me on the design fault in the BMW 335d security....

    1. I wasn't thinking of you, honest. Although subliminally ...

      You're spot on about OEM quality. I half-excused the immobiliser on the grounds of age. But then I remembered that my car is only 2 years younger than the GS and has a built-in passive immobiliser which is totally transparent. I never know it's there and it doesn't interfere with my use of the car one iota.

      I guess these aftermarket devices are good for deterring the opportunist, but no use whatsoever against a pro. And living where I do, the cost/benefit equation is deep in negative figures.

  4. Mine has a Meta "security" device fitted but all I have to do is press a key fob button and the bike will fire up. The previous owner also fitted a scotoiler and a switch to extinguish the always on headlight. 1 out of 3 of the above I had to remove to get German registration (the light switch) but I have no clue about the Meta (which I would like to dispense with....)

  5. I think your security device will be a lot more modern than this one, which was installed in 2004. I would guess that feedback from riders wasn't good and they made efforts to make it all more user-friendly. I press a button to unlock and disarm my car, and that's not a problem. But the rigmarole described above was just nonsense. The worst part was that none of the stages had a confirmation signal. If the little light had flashed, or a sounder beeped, when the brake pedal was pressed or the fob swiped correctly, it would have been fussy, but not outrageously so. But you never knew if you had done the action successfully, so you always did it twice.

    Well, for a few days anyway.


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