Tuesday, October 30, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 7 -- Some Progress!

I've been getting just a bit frustrated working in the garage lately. Parts were breaking, and I was watching the cost of replacements ratchet up while the funds I have to spend fixing up the bike have been dwindling. However, in the couple of days that I've been working in the garage since my last update, I've made some real progress.

First, I got started cleaning and rebuilding the carburetors. For the most part, the carb work was pretty straightforward. The K&L carb rebuild kit that I bought was very complete, and the parts in the kit appear to be very good quality. I was a little perplexed by this, however:
Where, exactly, does the little o-ring go? I looked at the parts diagram at Power Sports Plus, but the only o-ring they show is on the "main nozzle" -- which is about two or three times larger than the o-ring. In the photo above, I've shown the o-ring next to the needle and needle seat to give an idea of the size. In fact, the o-ring is exactly the same size as the needle, making me think it probably should go on the needle somewhere, but 1) there was no o-ring on the needle when I disassembled the carb (and I've cleaned two of the three carbs on the bike as I type this), and 2) the parts diagram doesn't show an o-ring on the needle, so I'm puzzled why K&L would include this in the kit, since I can't find it anywhere. <shrug>

Edit: With the help of the great people over at Yamaha Triples, I finally identified the o-ring. As I believe Sherlock Holmes once commented to Watson, "Once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the answer." There is only one o-ring on the parts diagram. Therefore, there is only one possible o-ring that the tiny little donut in the K&L kit could possibly replace, even though it seems too small. I tried it, and sure enough, the o-ring will stretch to fit over the main nozzle.

I ran into one additional snag, as well: despite claiming to be a fit for XS750's, the Emgo pod filters that I wanted to use have a lip inside the rubber gasket that partially blocks some of the small ports in the intake side of the carb, at least on Mikuni Mk. I carbs that I have on my bike. I tried to cut away some of the lip to open up the airflow to the ports, but I didn't realize that under that lip is a recess that hold the gasket onto the air filter. When I cut away that lip, I cut into that recess, weakening the gasket, and possibly allowing unfiltered air into the carb. I'm still trying to decide if I can engineer a coupler to allow the Emgo filters to fit on my carbs without restricting the air flow to the ports, or if I should just suck it up and spend the extra money on the K&N filters.

Edit: K&N filters are on the way :)

Edit 2: K&N filters have arrived, and are installed. Yes, they are triple the cost of the Emgo filters, but the K&N's don't have a restriction inside the filter that blocks air flow to some of the ports inside the carburetor inlet. If you are reading this while researching pod filters for an XSx50, my advice is to just pony up the extra cash and buy the K&N filters. They're worth it.

However, I did make some progress in the garage tonight. First, the FZR750 front brake perch and master cylinder that I ordered on E-Bay finally arrived today. I fit it on the handlebars, and it not only fits great, but looks good, too. I had to clip the brake switch wires to fit, since the clubman handlebars are much (MUCH!) lower than stock, but that was easy.

Next, I was finally able to get the piston out of the front, left brake caliper. I've been soaking the brake parts in Liquid Wrench, trying to get the old brake fluid and oxidation to break loose, but while I was able to get the piston about an inch out of the calipers, I just couldn't get it all the way out, no matter how hard I tried. Finally, last night, I had an idea. On my wife's bike, I attached a hose from my air compressor to the bleeder valve, and the compressed air blew the piston free. However, I broke my bleeder valves off in the caliper (yes, on both the LH and RH brakes, grrr...)

However, I managed to match up the diameter and pitch of one of the banjo bolts at Lowe's -- it's a metric 8mm x 1.25 bolt -- and bought a couple of new, plain bolts in the same diameter and pitch. Then, holding the head of one of the bolts in a monster Crescent wrench that I own (seriously, it's got to be like 18 inches long!), I drilled a hole lengthwise through the bolt. Then, I used a drill bit that was just slightly smaller than the nozzle on my air compressor to radius the hole in the head of the bolt, screwed the bolt into the caliper, and pressed the nozzle into the bolt. It took a couple of tries, but finally, there was a sound like a gunshot in the garage as the piston broke free of the caliper. Woohoo!

While the inside of the piston looks pretty gnarly, the inside of the caliper is surprisingly clean, as is the outside of the piston. If I can find new pistons that aren't terribly expensive, I'll probably replace them, but if not, I think I can clean these up enough to reuse.

That only leaves the busted bleeder valve in the calipers, and I think I know how to repair them. The passage from the brake cylinder to the bleeder valve is completely blocked (at least on the LH caliper; I haven't checked the RH caliper yet) with dried brake fluid and/or rust. I am currently trying to drill it out with a small drill bit. I have also spent a little time trying to drill out the remains of the bleeder valve. Once that's done, I'll pick up a slightly oversized (9-10mm) thread cutter, and install a plain bolt where the bleeder valve used to be. SV Racing sells banjo bleeders -- banjo bolts with brake bleeders built into them -- for under $20 each. Rather than use a separate bleeder and banjo bolt, I'll just use the banjo bleeders to bleed the front brake lines, and block off the opening where the bleeder valves used to go.

Gotta say...after several days of breaking parts and finding out that components I've spec'd for the bike won't work out of the box, it was nice to make some progress tonight :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 6 -- Rusted Parts, Obsolete Parts and an On-line Parts Diagram

My usual source doesn't have the parts diagram for the XS750, so I was pretty happy to find someone else with an on-line parts diagram for the bike: www.powersportsplus.com. 'Course, a lot of the parts are no longer available, sigh...

Edit: Found another parts diagram/cross-reference index at www.benefiscal.co.uk.

This wouldn't be much of an issue, except that I broke the bleeder valve on the right front brake caliper last night. I couldn't even get the remains of the valve out with an easy extractor. Oh, yeah...and the piston is still stuck inside the cylinder. I went to Mike's XS to see how much a new caliper cost, and they were out of stock. There are a couple of calipers available on E-Bay, but I've already replaced the master cylinder with the master cylinder from a Fazer 750 (well...I will once it gets here). I'm ordering new stainless steel brake lines from SV Racing, and now I need new calipers, too?

Which raises a very good question...rather than try to source 35 year old parts for the bike, why don't I just retrofit modern brakes? If I'm wanting to build a naked sport bike from the XS750 frame and engine, wouldn't it just be better to retrofit new parts wherever possible? I'd have to fab up a brake caliper adapter to convert the bolt spacing on the replacement calipers to the spacing on the forks, but that's doable.

However, there's that whole "integrated system of related parts" concept that I figured out a little while ago. I measured the rotor on my DL-650, and it's about half the thickness of the XS750's brake rotor, which means I can't just slap on a pair of Tokico brakes like I have on my DL-650 unless I also replace the rotors, but the rotors have to mount to the carriers, and the carriers have to mount to the hub...

I read a build thread somewhere on-line about a guy who swapped the entire front end from an SV-650 to his XS750 -- wheel, forks, triple-tree, and brakes. He did some research and found that the SV-650 has the same size steering bearings, so it was a direct fit. That might be the best way to go, since it would give me a more modern suspension and brakes that I could actually, you know, find parts for. The down side, however, is that his front wheel had three spokes while the rear had...well, however many the XS750 has (hint: it's more than three, by quite a bit). The bike looked great, except for the mismatched wheels. I really don't like those three spoke wheels Suzuki puts on its bikes (just don't tell my Wee-Strom!).

Maybe I'll just pick up some used calipers on E-Bay after all. It's a lot easier, and I don't really have the tools or the knowledge to fab up a bunch of custom parts right now. Or, I guess I could always try to drill out the bleeder valve in my calipers, get a helicoil kit and repair the threads and install a new bleeder valve. I still need to break the piston loose, though. Maybe some penetrating oil and a hammer might do the trick? I also read about a way to repair rust inside a fuel tank by filling the tank with a solution of baking soda and water, and applying an electric current to reverse the oxidation process...maybe that would work on the brake piston? Okay, maybe as a last ditch effort if the penetrating oil and hammer don't do the trick, so I've got nothing else to lose.

I'll document the process here as it occurs :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 5 -- More Miscellaneous Work

USPS' tracking web site tells me that the parts I ordered from Bike Bandit have arrived in Anchorage, AK but they still haven't arrived at my mailbox. So, having a little extra time today, and not having worked on the bike for the last two days, I took some time to take care of a few details I've let slip so far.

For starters, I decided to remove the old, brittle, busted wire protection over the wiring bundle from the left side hand grip and replace it with some spiral wrap I had laying around. I don't know if it was the previous owner, or if Yamaha labeled all of the plastic wire bundle connectors, but whoever it was, I really appreciated it as it made it super easy to put things back the way they were supposed to be after wrapping the bundle.

...and here it is snapped back with the rest of the wires, and routed under the metal stays on the frame.

After wrapping the wire bundle in spiral wrap, I decided to sand one of the side panels down to bare plastic and try painting it with some Krylon Fusion rattle can paint I had on hand. I got about this far with it when I found...

...a crack about an inch to an inch and a half long -- on the far right hand side of this photo. I used some "extreme plastic repair" cement to bond it back together; we'll see if it works. If not...I dunno...maybe I'll have to order some carbon fiber from Aircraft Spruce and Specialty and start making aftermarket side panels? :)

(Edit: Just to be clear, I didn't ever get around to painting anything. The paint on the side panel in the photos is what I was trying to remove.)

Finally, considering how grungy the front brake system looked, I figured I'd better drain and bleed the rear brakes. I picked up a pretty simple brake bleeder kit from NAPA while working on my wife's CB750A, so I connected it up to the rear brake on my XS750.

The concept is pretty simple: slip the hose over the bleeder nipple, crack the bleeder, and start pumping the brake pedal, adding more fluid to the master cylinder as you pump fluid out of the caliper. While it will work if you simply pump the brake (slowly), it does work better if you can close the bleeder valve before you release the brake. Fortunately, on the rear brake, this is no problem, since the caliper is maybe two and a half feet from the brake pedal. I filled the little bottle, held to the muffler by a magnet in the photo, about half-way full before calling it good.

Unlike the front brake, the rear brake seemed to be in pretty good condition. The fluid was definitely darker than the Prestone Synthetic I added, but didn't look too bad.

I almost hate to confess this in print, but...well...I did use an open can of brake fluid this time. I know, I know. When you open a can of brake fluid, water vapor gets in, and your brake performance suffers. However, I have no intention of riding the bike until I bleed the brake system again. I've got stainless steel brake lines marked for the bike, both front and rear, and I also plan to get master cylinder and caliper rebuild kits for both the front and rear brakes. The only reason I even bothered to bleed the brakes at all was to start flushing out any gunk already in there and to find out how neglected the rear brakes were. Since they appeared to be in pretty decent shape, I suspect the previous owner just couldn't get the cover off the front brake master cylinder, and therefore neglected them.

Anyway, that was all the work I got done on the bike this weekend. Hopefully my new parts will be here after work tomorrow, and I can start knocking some of the major items off the to-do list.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 4 -- Odds and Ends

I didn't get much work done on the Yamaha last night. It was kind of a busy evening, and I'm mostly at a stopping point until parts arrive. However, I still need to order replacement clutch and throttle cables. Motion Pro sells custom cables, but they need detailed specs, including length, cable free play, size, location and shape of all fittings, etc. According to their web site, drawings showing this information, in addition to a textual description, are requested.

Consequently, I spent most of the time measuring and drawing out representations of the clutch and throttle cables on graph paper. I'll post drawings here as soon as I have converted them to an electronic format.


This is the drawing and the dimensions of the clutch cable I need to fit the bike with the Clubman handlebars.

...and this is the drawing and dimension of the throttle cable for the bike with Clubmans.

After completing the drawings, I removed functional-but-...well...unaesthetic? :) ...rack from the rear of the bike, which kind of brought home a point that was obvious in hindsight, but that I hadn't really realized before: a motorcycle isn't just a collection of parts bolted together. It's a system of interworking, inter-related parts that work together to produce a functional whole. Well, yeah. Duh! However, when I started this project, I had a rather naive project plan that involved ripping and replacing parts as required to create the vision of the final product that I had in mind.

But it's not that simple.

Consider the rear rack, for example. In my mind, all I had to do was loosen the acorn nuts that hold the rack to the bolt that goes through the rear shocks, remove the mounting arms for the rack, then put the nuts back on the bolts so that the shocks don't fall off while riding. What I didn't consider is that the mounting flange on the arms of the rack is about an eight of an inch thick, and acorn nuts have a maximum depth to which they can be tightened on a bolt. After removing the rack, I had about a sixteenth of an inch between the acorn nut and the shock, meaning I either need to replace the acorn nuts with regular nuts that I can snug up against the shocks (maybe keeping the acorn nuts to lock the regular nuts in place?) or I need to buy some washers that I can use as spacers between the shocks and the acorn nuts.

Another example is replacing the handlebars. In my mind, all I had to do was remove the components from the old handlebars, remove the old handlebars themselves, install the Clubman handlebars, and reinstall the components on the new handlebars. However, the real world being far more complex than the simplistic model I had in my head, I found that the new, lower handlebars caused me to have too much loose clutch and throttle cable, so not only do I need to replace the handlebars as I originally intended, but I have to replace the clutch and throttle cables, too.

In my reading, I have also discovered that the pod air filters that I want to install will necessitate re-jetting the carburetors, since they flow more air. And so on, and so on. Every change to a component on the bike has implications for other components as well, because every component is related to every other component. Like I said, it's obvious in hindsight, but isn't something that had even occurred to me beforehand.


I knew this would be a learning process before I got started, and school is now in session :) That's a good thing. As I commented to a friend once, there is no point in embarking upon some process that is supposed to change you if you intend to come out of the process exactly the same as you went in. I imagine the process of rebuilding this neglected -- but seriously cool -- motorcycle into the vision I have is going to result in some changes us both. I can't wait to see how we both turn out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 3 -- Removing the Tank, Carbs and Air Box

It all started with the clutch cable...

After breaking the ball-end on the OEM clutch cable, I decided to see if I could remove it so I could measure it and order a replacement cable. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the clutch cable out unless I first removed the gas tank. Well, okay...I need to repaint the tank anyway, so taking a deep breath, I grabbed my socket wrench and set to work.

There is a single bolt that holds the tank in place, just underneath the seat. Once that bolt is removed, it is simple to lift the rear of the tank to get access to the fuel line (the coil-wrapped hose near my thumb in the photo) and the vacuum line that regulates the flow of fuel from the tank to the carbs (the smaller hose near my finger in the photo). WARNING: when you remove these lines, the petcock will begin to drip gasoline, unless you have replaced the OEM petcock with a manually operated valve that has an "Off" position, like my CB550 had. I resolved this problem by running a piece of 1/4" hose from the outlet on one petcock to the outlet to the other.

Here's the bike, sans tank. I next removed the seat, since 1) the seat pan is rusting to pieces (grrr...I had planned to reuse the pan), 2) the seat needs to have the padding lowered by about ten feet :) and 3) once the extra padding has been removed, it needs new upholstery, too.

This didn't give me warm fuzzies at all. The high-tension wire from the coil to the spark plug on the left-most cylinder was routed between the frame and fuel tank. Am I just paranoid to be concerned about the insulation wearing out between the spark plug wire and the fuel tank?!?! I really wonder if this is the way Yamaha originally routed the cable, or if this was done by a backyard mechanic (like me, lol).

You can see that the wire has already been chafing on the frame enough to wear through the paint on the frame in a couple of places...

This is the wire bundle that goes to the turn-signal/high-beam/horn switch housing on the left handlebar. The wires appear to be in good shape, but the plastic protective sheath is dry, brittle, and cracked open in places. I'll be replacing the sheath with some spiral wrap, which I fortunately have lying around somewhere here in the garage.

The protective sheathing over the throttle cable is worn through, too. I don't know if I would replace the throttle cable for this alone -- I can see an argument going either way -- but the throttle cable is too long, now that I've installed the Clubman handlebars, so I'll order a brand new, shorter cable from Motion Pro.

The rubber hoses that connect the carburetors to the cylinders are starting to crumble around the edges. Fortunately, I found replacements at Mike's XS and Old Bike Barn. Prices at both sites are fairly reasonable, but Mike's was a little cheaper (and they took PayPal), so I bought a set from them.

At this point, I ran into a bit of a dilemma. I don't have the budget to rip and replace all the parts I want on the bike right now, so this build is going to occur in a series of stages, (hopefully!) keeping the bike in running condition between stages. However, if I am going to pull the carbs to clean them, it seems silly not pick up a carb rebuild kit and replace all of the gaskets, o-rings and other parts that deteriorate with age at the same time. Likewise, while I've got the carbs removed, it seems silly not to go ahead and replace the air filter with a pod-type filter, too. On the other hand, pod filters were kind of a low priority. The stock air box works as-is, so I had originally intended to leave it in place for now.

Decisions, decisions...

Finally, I decided to rip the stock air box out while I had access. If I were to keep the stock air box, I would need to replace the air filter anyway, so why waste the money if I really wanted a pod filter? Originally, I intended to go with K&N filters, but they are really pricey compared to some of the alternatives. An equivalent Emgo filter, for example, is only $8 compared to $39.95 for the K&N. Plus, I need three filters, so that's really $24 for Emgo vs. $119.70 for K&N. I'll gladly pay the extra if K&N filters really are better, but I don't want to just throw my money away...I already did that when I bought this bike :D (okay, not really -- it's gonna be a sweet ride when I'm done!) I'll spend some time doing some research, then decide which brand to go with. Until then, I placed Ziploc sandwich bags over the intake ports and the crankcase breather opening, and secured them with copper wire twisted together. Okay, yeah, it's a little hokey, but all of my screw clamps were too big, sigh. They were designed to fit over rubber hoses which fit over the openings; without the rubber hoses, they were too big to clamp down on the Ziploc bags.

At this point, I was pretty much done for the night. Once again, I'm at a stopping point until parts arrived, so I bade the bike sweet dreams, and called it a night.

And no, I didn't even measure the clutch cable that was the reason I started pulling the tank in the first place, lol.

Monday, October 15, 2012

XS750 Restoration, part 2 -- Clubman Handlebars

While waiting for the front brake parts to arrive, the Clubman cafe racer handlebars I ordered showed up. If you are ever looking for motorcycle parts on E-Bay, I highly recommend TheAlphaMoto. The handlebars I ordered appear to be well made, both the shipping and product prices were reasonable, and shipping speed was beyond fast.

Having never replaced a set of motorcycle handlebars before, I didn't know how difficult to expect this to be. As it turns out, for the most part, it wasn't too bad, but there were a couple of snags...but I'm getting ahead of my story :)

I started by loosening the bolt that clamps the clutch control and left-hand rear view mirror to the handlebar, loosening the two screws on the underside of the turn signal/high-beam/horn switch housing, and removing the left hand-grip. The hand-grips should be pretty snug on the handlebars, so I tried a trick I had learned of while installing heating grips on my V-Strom: blowing the grips loose with compressed air. It worked like a charm!

I don't yet have the brake lever I ordered from E-Bay, nor do I have the stainless steel brake lines, so I had to come up with some way of keeping what little brake fluid there was in the lines from making a mess all over the garage floor. Seeing no better option, I wadded up a paper towel and inserted it in the banjo fitting on the brake line, and stuffed another paper towel in the reservoir. Here's where I ran into my first snag: I could not figure out how to remove the brake light switch from the brake perch. I finally pried it loose with a screwdriver, but not without breaking the switch itself.

Next, I removed the throttle from the handlebars, removed the four allen bolts that tighten the handlebar clamps to the triple tree, and removed the handlebars. It kind of looks like Medusa here, with wires and cables and such flying every which way :)

I began installing the new handlebars by sliding the clutch lever perch on, then the turn signal/high-beam/horn switch housing, and finally the left hand-grip (although the hand-grips will be replaced by E-Bay replacement gel grips).

In this photo, I have the throttle housing back in place, even though I am still waiting on the brake lever.

The (almost) complete installation. I couldn't believe what a difference simply replacing the handlebars made on this bike. Before, it was just another vintage UJM, with a bad paint job, a really ugly seat, and so-twenty-five-years-ago handlebars. Now it's just another UJM with a bad paint job, a really ugly seat, and some seriously cool cafe racer handlebars :) Okay, that was a little harsh. In my opnion, the new handlebars make the bike look at least 50MPH faster than the that's-so-seventies monstrosities that Yamaha put on the bike, but I'm a proud papa, so take that for what it's worth :D

Best of all, I was pleasantly surprised with the comfort level of the new bars. With the rake and anhedral on the bars, I expected them to be mildly to somewhat uncomfortable, but they honestly weren't bad at all, at least for the twenty minutes I spent sitting on the bike in my racing leathers making "vroom-vroom" noises (I kid, I kid!). I'm not saying I'd like to make another twelve-hour, 450 mile marathon ride with these handlebars -- I'm limber, but I don't think my back would tolerate that much abuse; after all, I'm over 40 now :) -- but for commuting back and forth to work and such, these should be just fine.

Unfortunately, I also discovered that swapping high, swooping handlebars with low-slung cafe bars isn't simply a plug-and-play affair. The clutch cable had to make a pretty tight curve to exit the way it was originally routed, and it was a good six inches too long now. Likewise, I have excess electrical wire, and the throttle cable needs to be adjusted and possibly rerouted as well. I didn't realize how significant these changes were until I started playing with the clutch and found it remarkably stiff. It was so stiff, in fact, that I actually broke the ball end loose (I think it was already frayed) while trying to work the clutch. So...I'll have to add a new, shorter clutch cable to the parts list, and maybe a new, shorter throttle cable as well.

XS750 Restoration, Part 1 -- Inventory and Front Brakes

When I purchased the Yamaha, it was in rough shape. It was dusk as I was looking the bike over, so I didn't notice all of the details, although I did get a pretty good idea of the overall condition of the bike. However, before I got started working on the bike, I decided to do a more detailed inventory.

And...it needs work. A lot of work, actually.

Here are the "before" photos:
The Grand Overview.

The front brakes are inoperative;
The banjo fittings on all three brakes are corroded;
Yeah, I drove home at 70MPH on these tires. If I had only known...
This is just cosmetic. I'll probably fix or replace these, but it will be one of the very last things I do on the bike, since it will be rideable even with the dents and dings in the gauges.
I knew about this one before I left Eagle River...
...but I didn't know that this one was also busted (it was bungeed to the rack).
There's some corrosion on the swingarm, and check out that classy muffler bandage :)
...and that makes me wonder how bad the muffler is underneath the sheet of tin.
Small ding on the front fender.

Starting is optional, but stopping isn't. Consequently, once the inventory was complete, I decided to start by taking a look at the front brake. I dug out a Philips screwdriver and...couldn't get the brake fluid reservoir lid off the front brake master cylinder. With a little pushing, pulling and swearing, I was finally able to get the lid out of the way, even though I couldn't completely remove it, and -- oh. So that's why the front brake wasn't working. Isn't there supposed to be fluid in there? And what is that odd colored powder all over everything? Is that rust, or dried-out brake fluid?

With the help of a flat-blade screwdriver, I pried the reservoir off the master cylinder, and found that it was pretty corroded, as well. You can see the fluid passage on the right is completely blocked.

I had already decided to replace the twenty-five year old brake hoses with stainless steel. I have ordered brake parts from Blair at SV Racing Parts in the past, and he's a great guy to work with -- I highly recommend him (and no, I don't get a kick-backs from him for saying so or for linking to him here :) so I queried him about getting some custom brake lines. He confirmed that he could get a set of Galfer brake lines for my bike, even though it was neither an SV nor a DL. However, after seeing the condition of the master cylinder, reservoir and associated fittings, I decided not just to replace the brake lines, but to also replace the master cylinder rather than try to clean up all the corrosion on the stock parts. Blair sells a really cool system for Suzuki riders, but it was outside my budget. In fact, it was nearly equal to the purchase price of my entire bike (okay, that isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, but still...) Fortunately, I found a brake lever perch, master cylinder, reservoir and brake lever off of an old FZR750 on E-Bay for $44.95 plus shipping, so I bought it. Unfortunately, that meant brake work had to stop until the parts arrived. Gotta resolve those dependencies before proceeding with the installation, even IRL :)


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Hunt

My third summer on the Wee-Strom is quickly coming to a close, and after three years on the Strom, I am more convinced than ever that it really is a great bike. It's done everything I've asked of it, and when I've reached the limits, it's almost always been *my* limits, rather than the Strom's. I've touched the pegs in tight corners -- several times -- for the first time this year. I made it to the end of the "motorized vehicles allowed" section of the trail on Canyon Road. I took a ride way the heck back Petersville Road, and over the top of Hatcher's Pass. Suzuki really did a great job engineering this bike. Neither a sport bike nor a dirt bike, it nevertheless seems to reach a phenomenal balance between both extremes without overly compromising performance in either category.

Nevertheless, I found myself wanting a smaller, nimbler, lighter, more balanced (weight-wise) steed this summer.

To a large degree, this is due to my new interest in moto-gymkhana. I am quite fond of my Wee-Strom, so I really don't want to drop and damage it. However, accepted wisdom among those who've been doing gymkhana longer than I is that if you want to get good, you will drop your bike. You can't learn where the performance limits are if you don't cross them once or twice. I've come close a number of times, and so I finally realized that I'm eventually going to come up snake-eyes if I keep rolling the dice with the Strom.

Also, when practicing, I have found that I am frequently lugging the engine, unless I slip the clutch, but slipping the clutch wears it prematurely. And, I'm almost always riding the rear brake -- S.O.P. in gymkhana -- which has caused a considerable degree of wear in the brand-freaking-new Galfer organic pad I installed at the end of July. The OEM pad lasted two summers; the Galfer is almost worn out after two MONTHS. (To be fair, I hadn't done a good job keeping the brake piston clean, and I am reasonably sure it was sticking, meaning that it was wearing considerably faster than it should have.)

Because my Wee is my only bike, I found myself deferring maintenance that would take it down for more than just an evening. I commute to and from work, to the store...pretty much everywhere I need to go throughout the summer in Alaska. The riding season up here is rather short, so every day that the bike is down for maintenance, I'm losing riding time. For example, I lost a week of riding while waiting for replacement brake pads after the OEMs wore out this summer. I also have a wheel bearing that is going bad, but I haven't pulled it yet because I'm worried that once I start working on it, I might not have the bike back together for a couple of days. I've only got another two weeks to ride this year, so I am loath to lose even a couple of days' riding. Therefore, I keep hoping the bearing will last just a little longer.

Lastly, and related to the point above, I wanted a project bike. The Wee is great as-is. There are a few things I've thought about changing, but truthfully, it serves its intended purpose very well right now. Tweaking things in the ways that I've considered -- such as removing the fairing -- would require trade-offs that I don't really want to make with such a well-rounded bike. And, as much as I love tinkering on bikes, I like riding them even more, so as I've already mentioned, I don't want to spend the short riding season doing maintenance and installing upgrades.

The end result is that I found myself dreaming of something in the 250cc to 450cc range this year. Specifically, I wanted an old Honda CB like some of the bikes my dad owned back when I was a kid.
Yes, that's me and my dad back when I was about six years old.

Additionally, I also wanted a project, a bike that had a good engine and frame, but needed a little love :) In my mind, I envisioned a cafe/streetfighter styled, small-displacement UJM geared with a huge rear sprocket to maximize acceleration and allow me to do the gymkhana-thing without lugging the engine and/or slipping the clutch all the time.

Fortunately, I had a little cash squirreled away from the sale of the engine, prop, instruments and intercom out of the experimental airplane my dad and I bought in 2004. We got a wet, heavy snowfall late last winter, and by the time I got out to the airport to check on the airplane, the weight of the snow on the wings had snapped the fuselage(!). While I am saddened by the loss of the airplane, the silver lining is that the money I have raised by selling the parts from the airplane that are still good can fund my motorcycle project.

Spousal approval finally obtained :) I set out on the hunt for a suitable project bike. I pored over Craigslist ads. I found a Ninja 500 that had had the fairings damaged and subsequently removed, but at $1000, it was too expensive and wasn't a vintage UJM like I envisioned. Next, I drove out to Eagle River to look at an early '70s CB175 for $250 -- eventually down to $175 -- but it was smaller than I wanted, the top end had been removed from the engine, and the seller had neither title nor keys (alarm bells starting ringing at this point). I considered a beautiful, pristine '74 Suzuki TS185, but it was a two-stroke dirt bike, and at $800 was at the top end of my budget. Next, I drove out to the valley to look at a decrepit '74 Kawasaki 250 dirt bike, but again, I wasn't really looking for a two-stroke dirt bike, it wasn't running, the seller again had neither title nor keys, and it needed a *lot* of work. At $100, the price was good, but I passed on it anyway.

I really got excited by another '74 Kawasaki, this one a KZ400 with a rebuilt engine, for $300. Cosmetically, it needed quite a bit of work, but it was exactly what I was looking for. The ad was posted after I left for work at 8:00 that morning. I called shortly after noon and left a message. I called again shortly after 5:00 pm and got voice mail again. I called at 7:30 pm, once again talking to the answering machine. Finally, at 8:45 pm, a very sweet-sounding lady called me back. "I'm sorry dear heart, we've already sold it." (Yes, she actually called me "dear heart"...it was kind of odd, but, well, <shrug>). I cursed and moped for a day or so, then started searching Craigslist again.

Funny thing is, I kept coming back to this one ad over and over again. Another seller in Eagle River had a 1977 Yamaha XS750 with a hideous beige and charcoal seat that looked like an overstuffed sofa, a rather poorly done metallic blue and white sunburst paint job on the gas tank, and high, swooping '70s handlebars. I checked out the specs on the bike: shaft drive, so I can't change the rear sprocket to alter the gearing for gymkhana; physically smaller than my Wee-Strom, but 100cc bigger displacement; 512 pounds wet weight vs. 478 for the Wee...about the only two checkboxes this bike matched were cost ($500) and '70s Japanese bike. I called the owner anyway, and made an appointment to go check it out.

As soon as I pulled into the owner's driveway, I was interested. It was like the first time I met my wife -- something was there, something I couldn't define or explain. It just felt...right. Then, the owner fired the bike up for me and I was sold. That Yamaha triple had the most incredible sound. Loud, but not obnoxiously so, with a deep, bass rumble. Yeah...that's what a motorcycle is supposed to sound like! We did the obligatory looking the bike over, discussing things that needed to be fixed, dickering over price, and a loop around the block (during which I stalled the engine twice), but these were mere formalities. I already knew, this was my bike.

The laundry list of things that needed to be fixed was long. The tires were shot; the rear looked like a racing slick, and the front was significantly weather checked. After riding the bike home from Eagle River, about 30 miles or so, I found that the cord was showing through the front tire sidewalls! The front brake was 100% inoperative. The engine idle was all over the map, so low that it stalled on me at one intersection when I released the throttle, but idling at 3,000 RPM at another intersection. The starter button was missing, so the previous owner had been shorting out the contacts with a key to start it. When the engine stalled on the way home, I didn't have any keys but the single ignition key, so I had to bump start it to get going again (still not sure why the kick starter didn't seem to be engaging, since it works fine now). Two turn signals are broken, and then there's the aforementioned paint and seat that needs to be addressed. There's light corrosion all over the bike, and the rear rack needs to come off. The left rear-view mirror is missing, and the right one shows me a great view of my shoulders, but not much of the road behind me.

And then, there's the handlebars. I'm firmly convinced that Yamaha recruited the ghost of Torquemada himself to engineer the handlebars. Despite being just a touch over 6 feet tall, I am nevertheless not a particularly large guy, yet I felt like a linebacker flying in economy class on the way home due to the width -- or more accurately, the lack thereof -- of the handlebars. I literally had to scrunch up my shoulders to ride home, they were so narrow. And those graceful, swooping curves...yeah, they were apparently cleverly crafted to put your wrists in the precise location to most quickly induce carpal tunnel syndrome. The poor wrist angle coupled with a heavy clutch made it virtually impossible to feel the friction zone, and difficult (at best) to hold the heavy clutch handle against the bars at stop lights.

But that engine...Oh my, what an engine. It has torque out the yin-yang. Whether I was lugging it at 3000 RPM or had the engine singing at 7000, twist that throttle and the bike instantly responded. It had power to spare, and the sound coming from those twin pipes was like the Heavenly Host in chorus. Such sweet, mechanical music!

I can't honestly say that this bike is exactly what I was looking for, but I think it may turn out to be far more fun than I expected. I'm looking forward to the build. I've already spec'd out a boatload of parts, and created priorities for each of the items on the list. At the top of the list are things to get the bike road-safe, like tires, turn signals and brake fluid. Next are things to get the bike comfortable and reliable, like handlebars, oil and an oil filter. Third are the components and materials to address some of the more egregious aesthetic issues, like new paint and bar-end mirrors. The lowest priority, once the bike is rideable and at least minimally presentable, are the components that will shave weight, improve performance and/or really transform the bike from yet-another-vintage-UJM to my dream cafe racer/streetfighter, like K&N pod filters, suspension upgrades, a 3-into-1 exhaust, HID headlight, anodized aluminum brake and clutch levers, racing rear sets, etc.

Stay tuned...I'll keep posting as work progresses!