My shop is in an over-sized two-car garage attached to my home. My work is a calling, in the theological sense of the word. Ethical and moral questions arise every day – they are hard, sharp, unambiguous and unavoidable.

So you think you want a custom cafe racer?

Posted: November 19th, 2012 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Forks & Steering, Frame & Body, Fuel & Air, Ignition, Timing, & Electrical, Motorcycle Repair, Random Things of Interest, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | Tags: | No Comments »

Greetings,

The following in the first installment of correspondence between me, a would-be cafe-racer builder, and one of his customers. The customer was so appalled at what was delivered to him that he forced the builder to bring the bike to me and pay me to put things right.

Caveat emptor!

Chris


John and Casey,

This is the first in a short series of illustrated reports on my findings and work on your bike.

It will be difficult reading for both of you – and it is difficult work and writing for me. I began work on your bike last evening and had to quit after 1 ½ hrs. as what I was finding was making me increasingly angry.

In short, this bike was built/assembled by a dangerously incompetent person who should never be allowed to work on a vintage motorcycle again – unless they are willing to apprentice for a couple of years with someone who knows what they are doing.

Report – Initial Inspection:

Compression test: L = 190 psi and R = 175 psi. on a cold engine.

Since the spec on a new engine is 175 psi., these numbers suggest a substantial build-up of carbon on the piston crown and head. I will put a bore scope down the spark plug hole today and have a look. Also I’ll do a leak-down test. For the price of this bike – $7k – it should have a freshly-built engine, not just a freshly-painted engine.

The electronic ignition module is located in the worst possible place on the bike – directly in front of the leading edge of the rear tire with no intervening fender or other shield to protect it from the grit/crud/spray hurled at it by the spinning rear wheel. I will relocate it or shield it.

The front brake is dragging badly – and it’s a simple drum brake – the adjustment of the cable/actuating mechanism is just too tight. Again, no excuse for this. A simple pre-delivery inspection would have caught this. No bike should leave a shop with compromised brakes.

All three Phillips head screws for the cover on the centrifugal oil filter had seized and the heads stripped out. The rust pattern in the stripped screw heads shows that no attempt was made to remove the stripped screws and replaced with good ones so that the new owner could access/clean the filter. Which suggests that the person who built this bike did not clean the filter either.

Working carefully, I was able to remove all three screws in about 30 minutes. The pix below show what I found and how I fixed it. They also show the inside of the centrifugal filter and what I found in there – the usual black sludge but with lots of small bits of metal embedded in it – steel as it sticks to the head of a magnet. This probably comes from the transmission gears and suggests that it has been treated badly at some point in its past.

First I drilled out the heads of the stripped screws a bit and then hammered a 3/8” drive torx bit into the hole. Anoint with penetrant, heat with MAPP gas, and attach impact driver to the torx bit. One good whack with a 3 lb. Short sledge and voila. Well, almost. The threads of the top/left screw were stuck so badly that I just twisted the head off the screw shank. Fortunately, I was able then to carefully lift the cover off and then get a grip in the bit of shank protruding from the case.

And finally, two of the four bolts holding the footpegs to the frame were badly cross-threaded and one on the right side had jammed half way in and been left like that, here’s the pic.

Not only does the shoddy/dangerous workmanship offend me, I am dumbfounded by the fact that the person who assembled this bike did not think or care that anyone would notice.

I am posting this series of correspondence on my website – minus your names – as a bit of a caution to folks buying a custom-built bike and to those who think that capitalizing on the cafe-racer fashion is an easy quick buck.

John, I am roughing up you and your biz – and it’s got to hurt. But it’s the truth. If you can’t stand it, refund C’s money in full and get out of the biz. Otherwise, do the harder/right thing and take it and learn from it.

Sincerely,

Chris Finlayson
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC


John and Casey,

This is the first in a short series of illustrated reports on my findings and work on your bike.

It will be difficult reading for both of you – and it is difficult work and writing for me. I began work on your bike last evening and had to quit after 1 ½ hrs. as what I was finding was making me increasingly angry.

In short, this bike was built/assembled by a dangerously incompetent person who should never be allowed to work on a vintage motorcycle again – unless they are willing to apprentice for a couple of years with someone who knows what they are doing.

Report – Initial Inspection:

Compression test: L = 190 psi and R = 175 psi. on a cold engine.

Since the spec on a new engine is 175 psi., these numbers suggest a substantial build-up of carbon on the piston crown and head. I will put a bore scope down the spark plug hole today and have a look. Also I’ll do a leak-down test. For the price of this bike – $7k – it should have a freshly-built engine, not just a freshly-painted engine.

The electronic ignition module is located in the worst possible place on the bike – directly in front of the leading edge of the rear tire with no intervening fender or other shield to protect it from the grit/crud/spray hurled at it by the spinning rear wheel. I will relocate it or shield it.

The front brake is dragging badly – and it’s a simple drum brake – the adjustment of the cable/actuating mechanism is just too tight. Again, no excuse for this. A simple pre-delivery inspection would have caught this. No bike should leave a shop with compromised brakes.

All three Phillips head screws for the cover on the centrifugal oil filter had seized and the heads stripped out. The rust pattern in the stripped screw heads shows that no attempt was made to remove the stripped screws and replaced with good ones so that the new owner could access/clean the filter. Which suggests that the person who built this bike did not clean the filter either.

Working carefully, I was able to remove all three screws in about 30 minutes. The pix below show what I found and how I fixed it. They also show the inside of the centrifugal filter and what I found in there – the usual black sludge but with lots of small bits of metal embedded in it – steel as it sticks to the head of a magnet. This probably comes from the transmission gears and suggests that it has been treated badly at some point in its past.

First I drilled out the heads of the stripped screws a bit and then hammered a 3/8” drive torx bit into the hole. Anoint with penetrant, heat with MAPP gas, and attach impact driver to the torx bit. One good whack with a 3 lb. Short sledge and voila. Well, almost. The threads of the top/left screw were stuck so badly that I just twisted the head off the screw shank. Fortunately, I was able then to carefully lift the cover off and then get a grip in the bit of shank protruding from the case.

And finally, two of the four bolts holding the footpegs to the frame were badly cross-threaded and one on the right side had jammed half way in and been left like that, here’s the pic.

Not only does the shoddy/dangerous workmanship offend me, I am dumbfounded by the fact that the person who assembled this bike did not think or care that anyone would notice.

I am posting this series of correspondence on my website – minus your names – as a bit of a caution to folks buying a custom-built bike and to those who think that capitalizing on the cafe-racer fashion is an easy quick buck.

John, I am roughing up you and your biz – and it’s got to hurt. But it’s the truth. If you can’t stand it, refund C’s money in full and get out of the biz. Otherwise, do the harder/right thing and take it and learn from it.

Sincerely,

Chris Finlayson
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC


John and Casey,

This is the first in a short series of illustrated reports on my findings and work on your bike.

It will be difficult reading for both of you – and it is difficult work and writing for me. I began work on your bike last evening and had to quit after 1 ½ hrs. as what I was finding was making me increasingly angry.

In short, this bike was built/assembled by a dangerously incompetent person who should never be allowed to work on a vintage motorcycle again – unless they are willing to apprentice for a couple of years with someone who knows what they are doing.

Report – Initial Inspection:

Compression test: L = 190 psi and R = 175 psi. on a cold engine.

Since the spec on a new engine is 175 psi., these numbers suggest a substantial build-up of carbon on the piston crown and head. I will put a bore scope down the spark plug hole today and have a look. Also I’ll do a leak-down test. For the price of this bike – $7k – it should have a freshly-built engine, not just a freshly-painted engine.

The electronic ignition module is located in the worst possible place on the bike – directly in front of the leading edge of the rear tire with no intervening fender or other shield to protect it from the grit/crud/spray hurled at it by the spinning rear wheel. I will relocate it or shield it.

The front brake is dragging badly – and it’s a simple drum brake – the adjustment of the cable/actuating mechanism is just too tight. Again, no excuse for this. A simple pre-delivery inspection would have caught this. No bike should leave a shop with compromised brakes.

All three Phillips head screws for the cover on the centrifugal oil filter had seized and the heads stripped out. The rust pattern in the stripped screw heads shows that no attempt was made to remove the stripped screws and replaced with good ones so that the new owner could access/clean the filter. Which suggests that the person who built this bike did not clean the filter either.

Working carefully, I was able to remove all three screws in about 30 minutes. The pix below show what I found and how I fixed it. They also show the inside of the centrifugal filter and what I found in there – the usual black sludge but with lots of small bits of metal embedded in it – steel as it sticks to the head of a magnet. This probably comes from the transmission gears and suggests that it has been treated badly at some point in its past.

First I drilled out the heads of the stripped screws a bit and then hammered a 3/8” drive torx bit into the hole. Anoint with penetrant, heat with MAPP gas, and attach impact driver to the torx bit. One good whack with a 3 lb. Short sledge and voila. Well, almost. The threads of the top/left screw were stuck so badly that I just twisted the head off the screw shank. Fortunately, I was able then to carefully lift the cover off and then get a grip in the bit of shank protruding from the case.

And finally, two of the four bolts holding the footpegs to the frame were badly cross-threaded and one on the right side had jammed half way in and been left like that, here’s the pic.

Not only does the shoddy/dangerous workmanship offend me, I am dumbfounded by the fact that the person who assembled this bike did not think or care that anyone would notice.

I am posting this series of correspondence on my website – minus your names – as a bit of a caution to folks buying a custom-built bike and to those who think that capitalizing on the cafe-racer fashion is an easy quick buck.

John, I am roughing up you and your biz – and it’s got to hurt. But it’s the truth. If you can’t stand it, refund C’s money in full and get out of the biz. Otherwise, do the harder/right thing and take it and learn from it.

Sincerely,

Chris Finlayson
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC
Bad location for sensitive electronics


Too cool for words

Posted: July 1st, 2012 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Pix, Random Things of Interest | No Comments »

http://www.jockeyjournal.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=41623&d=1241114018


This is the best pay a man can have; A letter from a first-time rider’s parent.

Posted: November 23rd, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Editorial, Random Things of Interest | 2 Comments »

Hi Chris,

I cannot thank you enough for befriending and guiding Loren. He sure is one happy kid. He had many twists and turns on his road to getting a motorcycle and proved his growing maturity through taking them all in stride. But just last weekend we had an argument for the first time in ages over his thinking he should get a 600, this led us to you, somehow (I happened on you when googling madly for motorcycle information, desperate to find something to dissuade him), and now, he has a great bike and a knowledgeable new friend to help him on his way. It is rather amazing how things turned around. Pretty cool. I am glad that you enjoyed the process as much as he did.

Perhaps we will meet someday when visiting Asheville . If you are ever in the Boston area, I would be grateful for the opportunity to cook you a nice meal. Thank you again.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Deborah


A note to a young man in search of his first motorcycle.

Posted: November 20th, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Editorial, Random Things of Interest | No Comments »

Loren,

You could have hit the jackpot on the first toss. And it’s a tasteful black and not some of the hey-look-at-me colors they have come in. I did a quick check and NADA avg. retail for an ‘06 Ninjette is – coincidence? – $2,100 – exactly what the seller is asking. The low 4k mi. and it’s alleged excellent mechanical and cosmetic condition make it an above-average bike. But note well that the seller solicits cash offers – always a good sign. And the NADA guides do not take into account the seasonal price cycle – highest on the first warm day of spring and lowest from now through Jan. or so. This seasonal effect is around 20-30%. This is very good for you.

I’d guess from my many years of reading ads that you could load this bike up and take it home for $1.8k – $1.9 for sure. Yes, he could get his $2.1k come spring – but not now. And any motorcycle’s sell-it-this-week-because-I-need-the-money value drops with every passing day for the next 2-3 months. Which means a first offer of $1.5k assuming my inspection confirms its alleged excellent condition. And it also means that if you are not in immediate need of wheels, you may well be able to do better after Thanksgiving when folks are scraping around for Christmas money.

A lot of this can change in the process of on-the-spot negotiations. I buy and sell bikes quite often and am both a student and fan of the process – it’s fun. It’s psycho-theater made up on the spot. Which is to say that a lot of my prior estimates of value and the outcome go out the window. The first thing to find out is whether the seller’s

relationship with the bike was positive or negative – or, rather, if it currently represents a positive or negative in his/her life. Negative and you go for the lowball. On the other hand, I’ve gone to see bikes that were so obviously right – so good in every way – and the seller knew that because he/she made/kept them that way – that to offer less would have been a boorish insult.

But back to the Ninjette. Get one of these jewels, learn to ride the wheels off it, and you will absolutely kill most every big-swinging-dick with a GSXR1000 or suchlike mega-bike when the road gets twisty. You’ve heard of Deal’s Gap aka the Dragon’s Tail? The unofficial record is held by an old guy on a hot-rod Ninja 250. Give the megas a straight bit and they’re by and gone, of course – 180 hp. vs. 30hp. – but it doesn’t take much skill to point it straight and screw it on. My opinion. They’ll stop calling it your “Barbie bike” after you one or two crash their bikes trying to keep you in sight in the mountains.

On a tactical note, you have both my permission and encouragement to forward this missive to your folks. Take my word for it, they will find it reassuring. Well, maybe not the part about going fast – but I did preface that stuff with something about really learning to ride your bike – which means reading/learning/practicing advanced riding skills every time you ride – I still do. When I’m out for a ride – not just running errands – every corner I have a plan – entry speed/turn-in point/line through the corner/exit-and-or transition to the next corner. As I execute that corner I am comparing how reality compares with my intentions. And on exit I am thinking about what I can do better next time. And these are corners I ride almost every day during the season. I still am learning them. Same corners, same bike – for five years and I’m still learning them both.

Please note that to be able to both ride my bike and think about riding my bike means I am not going as fast as I possibly can – not really close – because then I would not be able to think about what I was doing. I’d be re-acting – not acting. Hence my maxim; To go faster, you must slow down.” And it really works. Once I got that simple truth, I was soon sailing serenely through corners at speeds faster than I’d gone with white knuckles and very big eyes. With plenty of mind/control in hand to deal with whatever reasonably might occur.

So, riding a motorcycle well is a mindful practice – and this is true at any level of experience. But wait! What am I telling you this shit for? You are a mtn. bike racer and I’ve been trying to teach my granny to suck eggs – an expression that I never understood but I know what it means. On the other hand, perhaps your parents will be reassured by my advocacy of mindful practice and serene/sustainable speed.

Cheers,

Chris

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC 28701

TEL: 828-683-9289


Scenes from a Renovation

Posted: November 17th, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Around The Shop, Motorcycle Repair, Random Things of Interest | No Comments »

Most of the past month has been occupied with a major renovation and upgrade to the shop. Pretty much tore it out to the walls and put it all back with four years of experience informing the new ecology.

Is it terribly pretentious to speak of the ecology of a shop? Probably, but it’s my whimsy of the moment to do so.

My shop is a complex dynamic system – massively interconnected/interactive. Everything effects everything else – some interactions/relationships are insignificant, others focal. And these relationships change/evolve over time. After nearly four years, the fundamental structural relationships no longer supported the life of the shop but constrained it.

The fossil record shows that evolution has not been a smooth continuous process but what Stephan Jay Gould has called “punctuated equilibrium” – long periods of same-old same-old and then explosions of wild and crazy life forms – followed by a new period of quiescence.

So it goes with a shop – my shop anyway. Long periods of working within an established structure/conceptual order, adapting to/working around the accumulating inefficiencies/inconsistencies/incoherences. Until one day something happens – some small insignificant thing – and I say, enough. A small riot of creativity settles down into a new equilibrium – for a while.

Cheers,
Chris