What do I need to know about keys?

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By Eric R, professional locksmith and 250 pit crew chief

Get a copy - save the original

Are you using the one and only remaining factory original key to ride (or drive)?

I cannot count how many times I have had someone come into the shop and request to have a "better working key" made from the worn-out one they are using. This is followed by the look of bewilderment when it is explained that a *copy* of their key is just that. This happens with intelligent, successful, educated people. Then comes the real entertainment for the locksmith - watching them wiggle and jiggle the "new" key when they have decided to just have a copy made for $3, instead of getting a key made back to factory specs for $20.

I kid thee not. This happens all the time.

"Okay, then," they say, "I will make a copy of the key to my new car and put it away in case I wear out or lose the originals".

Well, consider a Photocopy. The first copy looks pretty near perfect, right? What about the tenth copy of a copy of a copy (and so on)? Starting to get dark and blurry and illegible? The same thing happens to keys. NO COPY IS PERFECT. No matter how good your locksmith is at adjusting his machines, locks work within tolerances of a thousandth of an inch. Every generation of copies adds and multiplies the imperfections of the previous generation. A couple thousandths of an inch off, and the key might start working "funny". A hundredth of an inch off, and the key might cease to work entirely.

Solution: If you have bought a new vehicle, you will usually get two copies of the key. Feel free to use one of those keys and put the other away somewhere relatively safe and easy to remember. Sock drawers or that junk drawer in the kitchen, where the dead batteries and twist ties breed, are good for this.

Any time you need a copy, take the time to retrieve the "virgin" key and have the duplicate made from it. Then put it back. If you do this, and also routinely lubricate the locks, you will most likely never have trouble with the locks or keys on that vehicle.

If you choose to carry a spare key with you at all times, make sure it's not the ONLY spare key. People who lose both keys tend to feel rather silly when confessing this to their locksmith. This does happen. Really. Losing both keys and not having your key code written down is even more embarrassing.

A short story:

Circa 1991
I get a call to repair the ignition switch on a Ford Ranger. The key won't turn. After having a look at it, I ask the fellow for the whole story. He had been having gradually increasing difficulty with the key in the ignition (likely the key wearing out) and it felt "loose" to him. He went to the hardware store to get something to help with this and chose...

I really didn't know how to break the news to him.
$250 in parts and labor. I still feel sorry for him.

Getting copies made

So, you are convinced that you should get a copy made of your good key, then hide the good key. Where should you get this done? You have two choices: a dealer or a professional locksmith. The dealer has one advantage: You can get that little plastic piece on the end that says "Kawasaki". Kawasaki doesn't make their own keys, of course. They come from a supplier, just like shocks or tires. There is nothing better about Kawi keys than the Ilco aftermarket one your local locksmith has, most likely at a much lower cost. Someone on the board reported paying $13 to their dealer for a blank, when a locksmith's price should've been in the $3-4 range, including cutting the key.

Note: A hardware store is not a locksmith. Locksmiths cut keys all day long. It's their job. Go to a good locksmith the first time and reduce the margin of error.

If you can't find a key blank locally, you can get them online. You'll still have to have a locksmith cut it. Try:

You shouldn't have to order the blanks just to have an extra key; most decent lock shops should carry a selection of motorcycle key blanks, including the Ilco X103. Be sure to ride the bike to the shop and immediately test the key. Not only is it possible for a miscut to occur, but some of the blanks may have to be modified slightly, especially to work in the ignition. The ignition has more cuts in it than the other locks on the bike, so make sure you test whether the new key will turn there.

Finding key blanks

For a detailed overview of the keys available for the EX250F, see EX250F key blanks.

What if I lose all my keys?

Well, hopefully you read this and did some preparation. There is a key code that comes with the keys on all new vehicles. If you do not have the code tag that should have come with the keys, take the time now to unlock the helmet lock, unscrew the one phillips head screw that holds it on, look on the back of it, and write down the number you find (usually ZXXXX) in a couple of good places, one of which is the inside cover of your owner's manual. It's much easier to take the helmet lock off when you have a key than it is to destroy it should you somehow wind up with no keys.

This is a picture of the backside of the lock assembly. The locating pin on the left fits into the frame, and the Phillips head screw seen on the right actually comes in from the other side of the assembly and secures the assembly to the frame. The screw is protected from tampering or removal from the bike by the sliding rod that you hang your helmet D-ring through when securing your helmet. The key code is in the whited-out area.

IMG 5418-2.jpg

If all you have is the key code, you will have to go to the dealer or a locksmith. I suggest getting 2 keys cut at the same time. They can cut them both from the code instead of cutting one off of the other. Two originals, no copies! You shouldn't expect to pay much more than $20 for a code key, and some places are much less expensive.

If you don't have your key code, a locksmith can still make you a key, but it will be significantly more expensive.

Getting a 2-sided key cut

It is a simple matter for any competent locksmith to cut a "dual" key for you. This is a key with one pattern on one side and another on the other side. You would do this if you wanted to have one physical key which operated two differently-keyed locks. Ask your locksmith; it should cost about the same as getting a normal key made. You will then have to remember (or mark) which way the key goes into different locks, but it would potentially be more convenient than having two keys.

Getting the locks re-keyed

This will be considerably more expensive than getting a 2-sided key made, but it is possible. It might be more convenient for some, especially if you've replaced one of the locks and have two keys. I've had all the locks except the ignition from the EX250F off and apart. The helmet, seat, and gas cap locks are all simple to disassemble, and they use the exact same wafers as an early-to-mid-eighties Toyota. All the locksmiths I know refer to the key used in those cars as T80R, so that's what I'd make reference to if talking to a locksmith about getting this done.

Replacing the ignition switch

See this article

What lubricant to use

There are two main camps on this topic: graphite and non-graphite, and it's just about as religious among lock people as oil is on the board. The graphite pushers say that liquid lubes "gum up" or "attract dirt". To some extent this is obvious and correct, but I contend that graphite is nothing more than really slippery dirt in the first place. I've never found graphite to be effective in a wafer lock (the vast majority of modern vehicle locks) and only effective in a pin tumbler lock when it is BRAND new and in perfect condition. Otherwise, people have a tendency to apply *way* too much graphite again and again until it builds up and literally prevents the key from going all the way into the lock.

Short version - I recommend WD-40. It's really lightweight and contains lots of solvent to wash away any crud that has collected. Favored alternate: Break Free (gun oil!). For really wet or even saltwater environments, some people might like Tri-Flow (check a bicycle shop); it's a bit heavier and stickier and has Teflon in it.

Now, there are a lot of people who don't like WD-40. Some day people will get over this silly aversion. It matters more that you lube on a somewhat regular basis than what you use. No, not beeswax, shoe polish or graphite. ESPECIALLY not those evil graphite-in-oil-mixes that are sold as lock lube, and even more ESPECIALLY not Loctite. Otherwise, if it reasonably fits the definition of "light machine oil" -- WD-40, Tri-Flow, Break-Free, cable lube, 3-in-1, Marvel Mystery Oil, Sewing Machine oil, blah, blah, blah... then use it. No, not olive oil, peanut oil, or veggie oil of any stripe; just evil old petrochem.

Frequency of lubrication is the point. It's kind of like thirst and hydration: by the time you have a symptom of lubrication needed, it's actually late. Get in the habit of lubing your locks as part of your oil change, or every other change. It's usually not necessary that often, but making it a regular pattern sure can't hurt.

If, for any reason, you think the oil you've been using is gumming up the works, a good flooding with your favorite carb cleaner, degreaser, or electrical contact cleaner will set things back to rights in a jiffy (take care to not get it on some plastics or finishes). Then re-lube. The degreaser/cleaner solution can help with those graphite-plugged locks, too. If your locksmith can't show you a can of cleaner and a can of spray lube that s/he keeps handy in the shop/service vehicle, then run away.

I've worked in a retail shop in the past, but now I'm "institutionalised". If I work on a lock today and it quits working tomorrow, then it's my problem. I don't like problems. I use WD-40 in locks almost every day of the week.

How to lubricate the locks

Take your can of spray lube and stick the straw in the cylinder. On a motorcycle lock, you should be able to get the straw deep enough into the keyway to get all the lube where it counts. It only takes a little bit, so a twitch on the spray valve should do you. Then work the key in the lock: in, out, turn a few times, done. Keep a rag handy for runs and overspray. If for any reason you think you didn't get enough in there, do it again. Should the lock still not work well, you have another problem entirely.

Something I usually do with the spray lube straw is to cut it down so it only protrudes a little past the edge of the can. This gives more control and (if you store the leftover straw bit in a good place) two or three more straws for those days when the one you have been using goes on permanent walkabout.

Proper use of the key in the gas cap

Don't touch the key when closing the gas cap. Push down on the edges and the key will turn on its own. Once the cap is latched, pull the key out. If yours doesn't work this way, lubricate it. Putting a lot of pressure on the key while closing the gas cap is a good way to bend or break your key off in the lock. Preventive maintenance is always best.

One more thing

If you don't want your top triple clamp to look like this,

1996 072607 16a.jpg

just use one key while you're riding. Put your other keys someplace else.

If you have such a bike, there is one thing you can do if you don't want to go to the mess of repainting it. Cut a cardboard template, then transfer the design to a stick-on vinyl sheet. Apply the vinyl with soapy water and squeegee in place.


Or you can paint it. This is Rust-Oleum Hammered black. It's closer to a very dark gray and not a perfect match, but better than bare metal showing through. Just remove the stem head bolt if you like, lightly sand, mask with newspaper and masking tape, and do 3 or 4 coats.