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Ticking and Low Compression

Started by bunzelburner, December 05, 2023, 03:01:15 PM

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Have been trying to diagnose a ticking noise on my 1996 Tiger. I know at this point it's definitely not the valve clearances as I have adjusted them and checked them numerous times in the last month. My next step was going to be check the cam chain tensioner when I decided to do compression checks for the heck of it. I got 60 psi on 1, and 90 psi on 2 and 3. I can't remember what values I got back earlier this year from when I did a compression test but the values I've seen elsewhere suggest even 90 psi is quite low and the 30 psi difference is definitely not normal.

I'm going to start taking the head off this week to see if maybe there are further valve issues or the piston rings are suspect.

There may have been slight coolant loss going on, it was tough to say for certain as I was dealing with a faulty radiator cap for a bit so I was putting coolant in often. So head gasket may be a culprit as well.

Bike is at 74000 miles and it's hard to say what was done to it before the 61000 mile mark (when I bought it). The previous owner had it briefly and only did some cosmetic work on it (the guy he bought it from had tried to turn it into a sport bike so he mainly just reversed all of that).

My question is, with those symptoms, a ticking noise and low compression, what all should I be looking at with the head off?


Ticking is usually valves/cam chain. The free length of cam chain tensioner spring should be 74mm I think? Someone correct me if I'm wrong.  You can use a washer to take up the slack. Sprint manufacturing sells a spring.  Also check your valve timing to make sure it's not off by a tooth. Double check the cam cap torques as that can affect clearances.
  Check to see if the oil is milky from a head gasket leak. 70k is getting up there in miles but others have done more.  How it has been ridden and maintained can lend to its longevity.
  If you do decide to pull the head, make sure to run through the procedure in the manual.  There are some good videos online. Some years (98)? had problems with valves receding into the head. To my knowledge, Valve seats are not replaceable due to the way they're put into the head at the factory (liquid nitrogen?).  I'm not sure if there is an oversize option for pistons if the cylinders are worn past the limit.  Depending on your location it may be easier to source a low mileage engine or head.  If getting a different head make sure to get the cams and cam caps too as they are mated to the head at the factory, although at this stage most engines have widened tolerances at those areas and may not be as critical.
  Others will chime in with actual experience doing these jobs that may offer helpful hints and/or better information.  Check the FB pages for T300 and Tiger 900 Steamer for more contacts, parts, info and manuals.


Thanks for the info. I'll start with checking the chain tensioner and timing before proceeding with head removal.


Some good news, I think. The cam tensioner spring is definitely below spec. It was at about 69mm when the spec is 73.7

Furthermore, it looks like timing is off. Picture below shows cams at TDC for cylinder 1. Arrows are supposed to be lined up and clearly aren't

Gonna order a new spring from Sprint.

What is the best way to go about adjusting the timing back into place?

Could anything have been damaged by this that I should look into?


That spec 69mm is about what they all are once they have some miles.  A new spring or washer will make some difference.  The arrows will never line up exactly unless with a new cam chain due to stretch. Not sure that is a tooth off as it looks like just a few millimeters. You may consider a new chain at your mileage. The procedure would be the same as replacement. I'm not sure which shims you have in the valves but from factory I believe they are all in the 270 range? I can't remember exactly from what I've read here or elsewhere. 
  Other than the ticking, the low compression and possible head gasket failure would be a bigger concern.
 Here is a thread about valves service limits and remedies. Nnt that this is your probably but may be a consideration.  Mustang on this board was the Guru for many, Sadley he has passed away, but his knowledge lives on.,7586.msg52412.html#msg52412


Thanks for the further info. The spring should arrive in 2 weeks which is perfect because I'll be pretty busy in the meantime with other things. Going to do one thing at a time to avoid over spending here.

I'll see what a new spring and adjusted timing does to my compression and ticking and start to work further with maybe a new chain and then taking the head off.

The picture isn't the best. It is definitely off by at least a tooth, maybe more. - This would cause compression issues would it? I don't know if it accounts for the variance in compression between cylinder 1 and the others.

My oil has always been good in color and never had any milky look to it. Nevertheless, with the mileage I may do it anyway. Too cold here in Wisconsin to be riding anyway. I've got until May when I need to drive it out to Nevada.

My shims are all right around 2.7 with one being at 2.5. Otherwise the rest are in the 2.6-2.725 range


Sorry, I didn't realize you were Stateside.  I'd do a shopping list on needed items from Sprint to save on that shipping! My wife is from England so I had her bring stuff back to me when she was over this summer.
 I've heard their gaskets aren't that great and the (good) head gasket comes from someone in France.  I did order a bottom end gasket kit from them when I did my sprag clutch and the paper gaskets were a bit thin.
 The cam chain may be causing ticking, but it shouldn't affect compression that much. It may just be worn rings and not a head gasket problem.  A leak down test would be your best bet to diagnose the faults. Air hissing in carbs/exhaust is valves, hissing in crankcase is rings and hissing gurgling in radiator is head gasket.
 I'm down in South Carolin and got a ride in yesterday.  There were only less than 1500-2000 imported to the U.S. for the Gen 1 Hinkley Tigers during the 3 years they were here. 95-98.
P.S. I use Hermy's for stuff and they're good on price and shipping/service. They're in Pennsylvania and have been in business since the early 60's, family owned. Baxter's is also supposed to be good.  I ordered my Sprag clutch from Fowlers in Bristol UK because it was still cheaper with shipping than getting one over here.


I looked around at what else Sprint had and everything seemed comparable in price to what I could get online here or at the Triumph dealership nearby. Guy at the dealership gives me a bit of a discount too - probably out of pity as he's listened to me gripe about some things that had me held up for awhile. I look around for the French connection on the gasket you speak of.

I had some time last night and released all the cam caps and re-aligned the timing marks.

You mentioned before about putting some washers in for the spring. Figured I might try that while I'm waiting on the spring. Again just curious to see what corrected timing and spring does to my readings before going at the head.

Where would I put the washers in here?

I'm assuming at the red arrow in the picture below on the bolt essentially. But I guess you could also put some inside the tensioner unit at the green arrow?

A leak down test would be nice. Not crazy about the price of the units and I don't own a compressor. For some reason auto parts stores don't rent leak down testers. Might just build one though and get a compressor over the holidays.

Saw a fair amount of used heads available online should I need to go that route. 


Washers goes at the base of the spring (red arrow). I bought my leakdown tester at Harbor Freight but Amazon has them for $25. No compressor is a problem, you don't need a big one and you can find them used on FB marketplace pretty cheap.


Well, I corrected the timing, and put a few washers on the tensioner spring... compression improved by maybe a few psi. So, off with the head it is.

Going to look around for a compressor and do a leak down test first just to get a feel for what symptoms point to what. Hopefully start taking the head off after Christmas. Will report back with what I run into. Thanks for the help thus far.


If you pull the head you may need to reseal the cylinder bases with Hylomar.  The cylinders are sleeves that are held in tension with the head bolts to seal at the base to create the water jacket.  There is a manual in the files section over at the Steamer and T300 FB page.  You can get some good advice on the procedure over there and here as a couple people have done a tear down.  Check YouTube for videos as well for pointers. I don't have contact info on the head gasket but they do on the FB page.


I don't think you will have an issue with the cylinder liners by just removing the head, as mine were in very tight, and required some creative tool use to remove.
I am not sure where you are located, but I used a machinist in Schenectady NY to do my head, and he returned it better than new. In fact, I think he had a Steamer head that he had finished, and the owner never came back and paid for it? Might be worth a call(if he is still in business; this was pre-covid)

Here is my thread, with some pictures and more details:,16342.0.html
I may not be big, but I'm slow.


Good info.  How is the OEM head gasket? I've heard they aren't as good as some others.


So I got a new head gasket, piston rings, and cam chain ready to go. But I'm having the hardest time getting the head actually off. Head bolts are all out. Those three screws on the right side outside of the engine are out, the exhaust system is off. Frame bolts are off. I hit the head seam with WD-40 penetrant and been whacking it with a rubber mallet. It looks like it's budging ever so slightly on the edges but I cannot get the damn head to actually life off. I understand there are some dowels in there but they're not real big from what I see on the parts diagram.

Any suggestions for getting this thing to budge?


Did you get this sorted?  Maybe some heat with a heat gun may do the trick. Check over on the Facebook T300 and steamer site, there may be someone with a similar problem.