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.

Cheap bikes are not … cheap.

Posted: July 20th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Editorial, Engine, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »

The following is a typical email inquiry from a potential customer:

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the reply.  I’m looking for something a bit cheaper.  Your prices sound fine, but I’m after a basket case, not because I really want to do the restore, but because I know it will  cost less, and I can do the labor.  If you run into something in the $200-300 range let me know.  I understand that I’m looking for a very low price, but I’m patient.

Thanks again

______________________________________________

Doug,

It is my hard-learned experience that rebuilding a basket case – cheap or free – always ends up costing more than buying a running bike.  For example, a $200-300 Honda CB/CL350 will almost certainly need a top-end rebuild – $200 for pistons/rings/wristpins/circlips – $50 engine gasket set – $120 to bore the cyls. for over-sized pistons = $370.  Are the cam lobes in good shape?  If not, add another $50 for a good used cam. The cam chain and cam tensioner rollers should be renewed while the engine is apart – $75.  Might as well have the valves ground while you’re at it – $80.  That’s $500-600 in parts and machine-shop work.

Mind you, there are excellent non-monetary reasons to restore a basket-case – the satisfaction of bringing a funky/cool old bike back from the dead and riding a bike you have built yourself is priceless.  But it will not save you money compared with buying a fundamentally sound bike.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC


Forensic report (XR600R)

Posted: July 19th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Fuel & Air, Motorcycle Repair | Tags: | No Comments »

David,

Your engine is out of the bike and on my bench – the news is not good.  Your cyl. head is trashed.  I had assumed the reason the right exhaust valve was not moving as I turned the engine over was that it was stuck/bent.  It turns out that the real reason is that the face of the rocker arm that rides on the valve stem tip and actually pushes it down was worn hollow – normally the face is gently convex.  It took a few pix – attached – for your contemplation.  The cams have taken a beating too – as have the machined journals which locate the cam bearings – both of which are crunchy.  And the power-valve actuator that helps in starting a big high-compression single is broken.  One thoroughly trashed head.  There is absolutely no sign of lubrication failure/over-heating – no bluing or other discoloration of the metals – no bake-on oil, nothing.  The only thing I can think of that would have caused this particular suite of damage is the cam shaft flexing or otherwise deviating from perfectly axial motion.  My guess is a catastrophically over-tightened/improperly installed cam chain tensioner.  The cam chain sprocket is on the right side of the head and the damage is markedly worse on that side.

So you are at another decision  point.  I have six hours ($240) in at the moment inc. stripping/cleaning/reassembling the carbs, which I did before I removed the head.  It needs a good used head.  A quick check of Ebay shows not one available at the moment and only one complete listing – that head went for $225.  I have a friend/colleague in the business who says he knows who has one that may be for sale at around $100 – if it is for sale.  I’ll know tomorrow.  If there is any good news, it’s that my time in fitting a new head is the same as replacing a valve.  Rough – please note – total estimate now is $5-600 of my time plus parts – say $100 for the head and $50 for gaskets, seals and other small bits that are routinely replaced – or should be – when an engine is put back together.  Total – $7-800 – which is not much less than a cosmetically shabby but good-running XL600R is worth.

Whether you decide to call it quits now or continue is fine either way with me.  And I will certainly understand if you just want to wash your hands of what must becoming a bad experience with this bike.  If it helps, I will buy it for what you owe me to date.  It’s the last thing I need – another major project bike – I’ve got a dozen or so already.  Please note that I am on ethically shaky ground here.  You probably wouldn’t do much better selling it as-is on the open market – but you would if you parted it out on Ebay

There is a bit of good news – sort of.  That much damage must have happened over a fairly long period of time so the odds are good that you have never experience the goofy-big torquey power of these engines.

And that’s the news for now.

Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC

________________________________________________________

Thanks Chris, well that’s to be expected in my life.  I appreciate your detail and through work.  Lets see if your friend actually had a head and if it is available?
I’m interested in getting the bike running, I need something to get me around.
So about 800 for the labor?  And then some for this and that?  Is that what I understand?
Its more that I was expecting, but if it gets the thing running to a potential that I haven’t even experienced yet, and starts every time it might be worth it to be fixed.
How long would it be to get it going?
This estimate is with out the other things that we talked about, breaks etc…right?
Thanks for the work your language of the material is inspiring.  Give me a call when you know something.
________________________________________________________

David,

$800 is my rough estimate of the total – about $600 of my time and $200 parts to do the whole job – back on the road in good health and safe.

How long depends entirely on how quickly I can get my hands on a good head.  If Mike comes through for me tomorrow, I could have it by the weekend Priority Mail.  I’ll also check around a few of the regional salvage yards – there’s a big one just over the border in SC.  And Steve’s Cycle in Maggie Valley is always worth a call.  With the head in hand, gaskets, etc., I should have it road-tested and ready in 2-3 days.

I would appreciate it if you could pay a portion of your bill now – $200 to cover my out-of-pocket for parts.  A larger installment would not be unwelcome, but is not necessary.  I’ll be in the shop/house from 1-ish on tomorrow (Wed.) and all day Thurs.  Cash would be nice but a check or PayPal transfer is fine too.

Address:

Chris Finlayson
Existential Motorcycles
15 Cabin Ridge Lane
Alexander, NC 28701

And thanks for the kind words about my writing.  I enjoy my work and I enjoy writing – so writing about my work is doubly enjoyable.  I like to think I am exploring the mechanic’s report as a minor art-form – or, if that’s a bit too grand – a creative dalliance.  Anyway, I have fun with it and some of my customers like coming along for the ride.

Cheers,
Chris


Checking drive-chain tension

Posted: July 19th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »

Fred,

Great to hear from you.  The stand served me well but has since been retired to occasional duty as I now have a proper table-style lift.

Here’s the proper way to check chain tension:

Since the swing-arm pivot point is not concentric with the chain pivot point – which is the countershaft sprocket – the chain tension will change through the arc of the travel of the rear wheel.  It will be at it’s tightest when the rear axle center, the swing-arm pivot center, and the countershaft center are all in line.

Most street bikes are designed so that suspension compresses with the weight of the bike and the rider on the tires, these points are approximately in line.

There should be approx. 1″ of slack in the middle of the lower run of the chain – measured by lifting up on the chain at this point until significant resistance is felt.  Due to manufacturing tolerances in all the parts involved, the slack will not be uniform throughout the length of the chain.  So check the slack at one point, roll the bike forward a couple of feet, check again, and ditto until you have identified the tightest point.  Adjust the tension to be right at this point.

I do not do tires.  I do have a wheel-truing stand and can check wheel balance but changing tires without an expensive machine is a knuckle-busting young man’s game.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC


A lesson in the vintage bike biz

Posted: July 19th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Custom, Engine, Forks & Steering, Frame & Body, Fuel & Air, Ignition, Timing, & Electrical, Motorcycle Repair, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | No Comments »

Adam,

I went out today to check out a lead on a bunch of old Hondas in a barn south of Hendersonville.  I haven’t yet decided whether to buy them or not – but if I do, I may have a very interesting proposal for you.

There are about 10 more or less complete bikes -  Honda 305 dreams mostly, and a couple of 160 Dreams, and a Super 90 – and a small mountain of parts inc. five complete engines and so on.  There are way too many bikes for me to rehabilitate/restore – and I don’t have room to store all the stuff anyway.  But if you are willing to sign on  to Ebay parts – disassembly/cleaning/pix/listing/packing and shipping – you can have a bike and all the parts from the pile you need to build yourself a 305 Dream.  And you can have run of the shop on your own time to build your bike with me as a technical advisor.

It would be a lot of work for you – all this stuff is in an open barn – what isn’t oxidized is filthy.  You’d be spending a lot of time in the parts-washing tank and the bead blaster.  And building your bike would take some out-of-pocket cash – maybe the original paint on some of the bodywork is good enough to bring back with rubbing compound – but don’t count on it – figure on a fitting new pistons and rings too.  Nicely restored 305 Dreams are going for around $2k.  Riding a funky/cool old bike that you have built yourself from the frame up – touched/handled/examined/thought about every part – every nut, bolt and washer – is priceless.

So this is not a sweetheart deal – you’d be looking at a month or two of pretty boring work, figuring you could work more or less three days a week.  And packing up parts and shipping them is deadly dull.

Think about it carefully – take your time.  If you say “yes” I want it to be a commitment on your part to see this project through to the end.  I’ll be laying out a fair chunk for stuff that I couldn’t do a damn thing with ’til the winter.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC

________________________________________________________________

This sounds like an awesome plan, I would love to help you with the grunt work and build a bike in the down time. Just let me know when and ill be there! Thank you for responding, – Adam

____________________________________________________________________

Adam,

I’m re-thinking whether buying this lot is profitable or not.   Your assignment is to duplicate my research and give me your opinion.

Go to Ebay Motors
Click on Motorcycle parts
enter: 305 dream

Ignore the current listings – we are not interested in what someone thinks their stuff is worth.

Page down a screen or two and in a column on the left, click on “completed listings”

Now you get to see the prices that stuff actually sold for – shown in green – or did not sell – shown in red.

The price of the lot is $1.2k.

Think about all the work of cleaning/pix/listing/shipping a thousand parts.

Study on it and tell me whether you think it is a money-maker or not.

Cheers,
Chris

Existential Motorcycles

Alexander, NC


“It just needs the carbs cleaned,” – the perils of buying cheap non-running bikes

Posted: July 19th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Fuel & Air, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »

Anthony,

I regret to inform you that your engine needs new pistons and rings.  I had reported earlier that the compression – tested cold – was on the low end of acceptable but that I anticipated that tested hot – once I had the engine running and everything properly adjusted – would rise – engines that have been sitting unused for long periods of time often have stuck or partially stuck rings that free up once running again.  It did not.  There is just enough compression to start and run the engine in my shop but that’s it.  I had used starting fluid to light it off the first time – not uncommon with engines that have been sitting a while – but expected that once fresh fuel was flowing through the newly-cleaned and adjusted carbs, it would start easily on gas.  Not so.  The compression is so low that it remains very hard starting.

Unfortunately, all the work I have done to date was necessary to get to the point where this fundamental problem was revealed.  It would be criminal to charge you for all that time – eight hours.  So I am going to ask you to reimburse me for the parts I bought to get it running plus $100 for my time – total $250.

Now what do you do?  Reboring the cylinders and fitting new pistons and rings would cost more than the bike is worth – $250 for boring, $400 for pistons and rings and new engine gaskets, and about $400 of my time for disassembly and rebuilding the engine.  I do not recommend this.  I suggest you either a.) sell the bike as is as a parts bike or restoration project for someone else with more $$$ to take on or b.) disassemble the bike and part it out on Ebay.  Option a.) is quick and easy and you might get $300 or so for it as is.  By parting it out, you will get more $$$ but it’s a lot of work, stripping, photographing, boxing and shipping the parts.

Anthony, I am so sorry that your first bike experience has turned out so poorly.  I will be glad to serve as your consultant should you decided to get another bike and try again.

Sincerely,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC


What I think of vintage British motorcycles

Posted: July 18th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Around The Shop, Editorial, Engine, Motorcycle Repair | Tags: | No Comments »

Art,

Repeat after me:

Vintage British bikes are like psychotic women; irresistibly attractive and impossible to live with – gorgeous nightmares.  Lovely to look at but don’t take one home.

I restored a ‘69 Royal Enfield Continental GT for my oldest and best friend.  The cam profiles were nearly square – looked like something out of a drag-strip engine.  But the valve train – pushrods, of course, was a bit of a Rube Goldberg weirdness so Harry and I mapped the actual movement of the valves – a dial indicator on the valve stem and a degree wheel on the crankshaft.  The weird rockers/followers translated the square cams into what would have been in it’s day – the engine design dates from the ’50s – normal moderately high-performance profiles for opening/lift/duration/closing.

I had a reprint copy of the original shop manual and compared the numbers we derived with factory specs.  Not even close.  The manual covered both the hot-rod boy-racer and the cooking-sherry model from which it was derived.  I happened to look at the specs for the plane-Jane engine and they were close to ours.

Suddenly, it was clear.  The numbers had been transposed between models in the original manual – and nobody at Hitchcock Motors in London – who are the chief stockist for vintage R.E. spares and who reprinted the factory manual – had bothered to correct this error.

By this time, I was getting matey – via emails – with Allen at Hitchcock and told him about my discovery – and that while my numbers were close to what I now assumed were the correct numbers, they were still different – beyond variation due to measurement error.  His response tells you all you need to know about vintage British motorcycles.

Allen thought it was amusing – said they had been sending out that reprint for 17 years and no one had ever mentioned the error before.  And don’t worry about the cam numbers, he said.  When they ran out of original spare cams and tooled up for another run, they measured ten different cams – and not one of them was the same.

Print this out and tape it in a prominent place in your shop.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC