Well, tonight Pete and I tested our theories a bit on the bearing issue, here's what we found out:
First, this is a two-tiered problem.
The first, is that the flange assembly is just designed poorly. Honda, apparently unable to find a bearing that fit the application (I can't find one either) used a stacked pair of bearings and a distancing collar to make the pilot for the driven flange. Using the stacked pair means a the bearings are extremely sensitive to alignment issues when being seated.
The second, is that the bearings must be seated in a very particular order, and using tools especially made for the purpose. Your average bearing shop is not going to have these tools, and indeed, we have to question whether Honda themselves are doing this correctly - given the large number of reported failures, and the absurd number of bad factory parts we ran across. Every single flange assembly we could find in the Dallas metroplex was seated incorrectly, and the inner bearing of the pair was distorted - and would certainly fail in short order when installed on a bike. The characteristic "click-click-click" on the new and un-installed parts was a dead giveaway.
After seating a few sets of bearings, and producing a few sets of "click-click-clickers" ourselves, Pete and I sat down and worked out a way to install the bearigs without distorting them. This required making a couple of specialty punches to ensure that the seating force was not distributed into the balls themselves during seating - the thing which causes the bearing distortion.
The correct procedure is:
1. Drive the bearings onto the distancing collar first, using a drift machined to exactly fit the inner race, but which does not contact the seals. The tool must clear the inner collar, but not by much - you want to spread the seating force over as much of the inner race as possible. Nothing whatever can touch the outer race during this operation.
2. Using a tool that exactly matches the dimension of the outer race, and supports the inner race (the punch must be exactly square), drive the assembled bearings + collar down into the driven flange. The flange must be supported so that the bearing sleeve is square to the press ram face. Note that this tool prevents distortion by holding both races square during seating. It takes considerable force to seat this assembly. The key here, is that although the assembly is being pressed with vigor, the balls themselves are placed under no axial load. It is this axial load applied to the balls that is distorting the inner bearing. The design of the flange assembly makes it very difficult to avoid this.
Once we worked this out and made the tools, we were able to install bearings without distortion, and that was the end of click-click-click.
That's the good news. The bad news, is that fixing this problem is going to be difficult for most riders. Your options are:
1. Buy the flange assembly from Honda. Inspect each part by careully spinning the bearings while feeling for the clicks that indicate a badly pressed bearing. You may have to go through a few parts before you get a good one. If your dealer is willing to fix a blown bearing under warranty, you should demand to inspect the assembly in person before it is installed on your bike. Note that in our case - the dealers all claimed each of the factory bearings was "fine" even though we could clearly feel that the inner bearing in each part was distorted.
2. Buy the bearings, and find a good bearing shop in your area. Explain the problem with the assembly to them before they toss the part in a press and seat them in the usual way. You may find one willing to make a set of punches to do this. Or not.
3. Pete and I are considering doing some kind of parts exchange or 2-way shipping thing. If you're in a hard place right now send me a private message, and we'll work something out. I have no idea what to charge for it, and I'm a bit leary, since it seems likely that a certain number of bearings are going to distort (at ten bucks a pop) no matter how careful we are. More on this later.
Hope this helps.