Tuesday 26 April 2016

Low tech

IMG_20160413_141657497One of the things I enjoy about working on old bikes is  that you can (and often have to) do the work the low tech way.

IMG_20160417_151141861Having free labour and not being under the gun to meet performance targets means you can do things differently. As an example, the shifter shaft on the S65 was bent. A replacement is readily available but I have a friend with a hydraulic press, so instead of simply ordering a new part we spent 1/2 hour or so gently bending the shaft back into alignment. If I was a shop owner there’s no way I’d allow my technicians to be “wasting time” doing that – put in a new part and be done with it. As a consumer paying $100 an hour to the shop I’d probably agree. And when parts just aren’t available, repairing what you have is the only option.

IMG_20160416_143013302IMG_20160416_140729225Likewise with tools. Every motorcycle shop manual I own has a section in the back listing all the special tools needed to work on that particular make and model. But with some ingenuity and time it’s pretty easy to either make do or fabricate something that will work just as well. One of the more common special tools is a socket to remove a notched clutch locknut. I don’t have one but I did have a piece of 1” black pipe and a file. Voila – special tool! And it worked a charm. (I have a similar tool for a 1974 Kawasaki Z-1 that I’m hanging on to “just in case”.) To remove the valve springs a C-clamp and a home-made spacer did the trick.

I’m sure there’ll be lots more opportunities to be creative and improvise but one in particular will be when I jury rig something to take a slight twist out of the stamped steel frame. My friend with the press was in the body shop business many years ago and describes straightening bent auto frames with one end chained to a tree and the other to a tractor – then eyeballing when it got “close enough”.

I probably won’t need the tractor, but chaining one end to a tree might give me the leverage I need. Stay tuned for that experience.


Monday 25 April 2016

Having a passion.

This meme crosses my desktop every so often and usually I chuckle and move on the the next bit of silliness serious information being shared through the interwebs.

Money for Drugs

However, while the message is clearly tongue-in-cheek, there is a lot of truth being conveyed here in a light-hearted way. Finding a passion, and finding it early, will give a person (at any age) some direction and a challenge that will consume not only any spare cash they have but also any spare time.

It’s the perfect antidote to “I’m bored,” and “There’s nothing to do”.

Monday 18 April 2016


Every so often I am confronted with an image that causes me to lean back in my chair and contemplate a place or a time far different from the one I currently occupy. I don’t know what, specifically, catches my eye and why it evokes such a reaction for it’s a pretty eclectic mix, but it happens.

A few days ago just such an image appeared in a friend’s Facebook post. 


Taken back in 1939, this is a photo of two streamliners running side by side while traversing the Thomas Viaduct on a run between Baltimore and Washington. The train on the left is the Coronation Scot, a British passenger train on a publicity tour of the US, and the one on the right is B&O’s Royal Blue.

While stunning in their own right, this picture represents more than just a couple of very photogenic trains on a Roman-inspired bridge. At the time the world had spent nearly ten years living under the brutal constraints of a punishing depression and facing, with increasing certainty, a European war that would eventually become global. It was a tough spot to be in – “a rock and a hard place” doesn’t seem to do it justice. Yet for all that people still found a way to live and innovate and be optimistic and create beautiful things.

Not a bad lesson I think.

Saturday 16 April 2016

In for a penny….

First thing I did was check the compression. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise given the age of the machine and the fact that someone had put it away 40 years ago for some reason and not looked at it since.

I pulled the engine from the frame and started the dismantling process, only to discover that some hack had been there before me. IMG_20160416_140823996Phillips head screws were chewed up, 1/4” bolts were jammed into 6mm stripped thread holes, a snapped off timing socket bolt was deep in the cam end, bolt heads were rounded off, and so on. Some people should never be allowed near tools. Perhaps instead of licensing cats and dogs the government should license hand tools. (Step 1: Prove you are actually responsible and mature enough to own this screwdriver.) Also makes me wonder if the 7,000 miles on the odometer is real. No reason you should have to open up these engines that soon, so now I was really suspicious.

The head looked good but when I pulled the valves to clean and reseat them I found a broken exhaust valve guide that will have to be replaced. I think I can salvage the valves. The cam and followers all seem okay – or will be once I get the broken bolt out of the cam.

Removing the cylinder brought more surprises as two of the piston rings fell out in pieces. Hard to get compression when the rings aren’t doing their job. Cylinder walls are scratched a bit but still pretty good, so hopefully a hone job and a new set of rings will fit the bill. The piston is already .50 over, again raising the question about the real mileage on this motor.

IMG_20160416_152037701Since I was this far, or in for a penny as they say, I cracked the cases to see what the gearbox looked like. I knew the kick start shaft was stripped and needed replacing but I wasn’t ready to find a bent shifter rod and a broken shift fork. Someone had also welded up a break in the case where the shift rod seats in an inner wall. It looks like at some point this engine took a major blow on the end of the shifter shaft which bent the rod and cracked the interior case. And then someone did a half-assed repair job, never got it running again,and parked it.

As I write this it occurs to me that working on a 50-year-old engine with a questionable history is much like Christmas – just one surprise after another. But I think all the packages are now opened and what I got is what I got.

So now with my (longer than I’d hoped for) list of needed engine parts it’s time to start the search.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

And the fun begins.

I decided to go with the 2 vintage Hondas. Of course neither was in my immediate neighbourhood so Saturday morning found me on the road to points west to pick up the S65 (the red one). An overnight stay in a cheap motel and then Sunday I picked up the C65, met up for lunch with an old high school friend I hadn't seen in 50 years, and headed back home, arriving at the same time as the latest April(!) snow storm.


After unloading and getting the snow and slush mostly off, a more detailed inspection was in order. Unfortunately the little blue one, the C65, was in rougher shape than I expected, but to offset that the S65, was better than expected. So that’s the bike I’ll focus on first.

The idea I had was not to do 100% authentic frame up restorations but rather to build a couple of neat old bikes that will run well and be fun to ride.  Not only is it significantly cheaper that way but also easier as after market parts are more readily available. Having said that though, I will not be making any changes that cannot be undone if someone wants to take them back to original condition in the future. So there will be no chopping, cutting off of tabs, or other permanent modifications.

Before spending any significant amount of time and money on replacement parts, job 1 is to check the state of the power train. If the engine is toast I do have a couple of choices. Lifan is a Chinese company that makes bolt-in replacement motors for most of these old Hondas, so that’s one option. The other would be to part out the bike to others who need some quality frame and body components. I don’t like doing that to old bikes though as I’d much rather see them on the road. Fortunately I'm still a long way from making that decision.

Time to dig in.


Wednesday 6 April 2016

My next project?

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a glaring omission this winter – no projects! The Dyna is pretty close to where I want it and with the US-Canada exchange rate being where it is paying a 40-50% premium on discretionary parts and accessories from the US is a significant disincentive for any frivolous upgrades.

That’s not to say I haven’t been looking for something, but interesting and cheap motorcycles that I can work on and play with have been in short supply this year. Until now.

Honda VT500FT  1Back in 83-84 Honda had 2 versions of the 500cc Ascot for sale in North America. I had one of the single cylinder models – the FT500 – for a while, having bought it for the spousal unit to ride, but that turned out not to be a good fit and so it had to go. The v-twin variant, the VT500, was water-cooled and shaft-driven and offered significantly more power and had a better reputation for reliability. I don’t really care for the style but it would make a great café racer or dual purpose bike with a few mods such as better shocks, fork springs, and knobby tires. The downside is parts can be hard to come by and, as a result, tend to be expensive. Still it’s an option worth considering.

VT500 cafeA gorgeous VT500 café racer

Then there’s Plan B which trades utility for interesting. I’ve come across a couple of mid-60’s Hondas – the kind you met the nicest people on. The prices are good and parts are readily available as tens of thousands of these models are still on the roads in Thailand and other points East. Dead simple to work on these bikes won’t win any races but they have the fun factor in their favour.


What to do? Make a decision before some other buyer steps in and makes it for me.

Saturday 2 April 2016

Spring is here – or not

Well here we go again. The bike has been parked for the past few months and its owner (that would be moi) is beginning to suffer the pangs of PMS (parked motorcycle syndrome). But never fear, spring is here … or is it?

Early March was beautiful and unseasonably warm, leading to dreams of an early start to the riding season. A few hearty souls even managed to get their bikes out of storage for a quick spin during those few golden days. But then came the dreaded polar vortex, sweeping cold air down from the Arctic in a weather pattern that, like your mother-in-law, is destined to overstay its welcome.


To use a travel metaphor, we’ve pushed back from the gate but are still on the tarmac, waiting for a takeoff slot to open. The least they could do is serve drinks while we wait.

Friday 1 April 2016

The motorcycle collector’s world

I have been involved with motorcycles and motorcycling for many decades now and have a pretty good appreciation for most aspects of the culture from riding to competition, from street to dirt, and have participated in many over the years. But what I have never done is considered a motorcycle as an investment. 

Bonhams’ Spring Stafford Sale is coming up at the end of April and the catalogue is available online here: http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/23600/?department=MOT-CYC#/

It starts out reasonably enough with a few offers of ‘projects’ consisting of little more than frames and a few bits. The estimated prices don’t seem totally unreasonable to my uneducated mind, but I am also aware that there are many, many thousands of dollars and countless hours to be invested before any of the bikes offered as projects actually become complete, running motorcycles, if ever.


Then there are the boxes of bits. The bidder has no idea what is contained therein, but they would be good collections to use as traders at rallies or auto jumbles, hopefully for parts the collector actually needs. A few hundred dollars might not be a bad investment considering what it could be leveraged into.


Modern era vintage bikes are, it seems to me, priced optimistically – at least from a North American perspective. But if one really has his heart set on a 1977 Honda CF400F perhaps it’s worth $7500 CDN ($5500 US) to relive one’s youth. However there are better deals to be had on this side of the pond IMO.


And that’s about where the riff-raff might as well pack up and go home because we now enter investment territory. $11,000 for a helmet worn by Barry Sheene back in 1974 is only worth it if you expect to sell it for more in a year or two – or if it’s the last piece needed to complete the Barry Sheene shrine in your man cave.


Feel like something a bit more exotic that could be a daily rider? Lots of Vincents on the list, including this Black Shadow expected to fetch a sum slightly south of $100K.


Then there’s anything Brough-Superior. What looks like a barn find, missing only the pigeon crap, is expected to bring at least $150,000 CDN.

Collection 8

While a restored example of the marque can command prices in excess of a quarter-million dollars.

Collection 9

In this rarified atmosphere these motorcycles, helmets, and so on are worth only what the next person is willing to pay. And by the time you add in the auction house’s take on top, as well as the VAT, that person must be willing to pay something like 25% to 30% more than you did or else you are now out tens of thousands of dollars. Or you have a very expensive motorcycle as an artistic centrepiece in your living room.

So, no, this is a world intended for much stouter folk than me – and with much deeper bank accounts. Interesting though it is, I will happily watch (and lust) from the sidelines.