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.

The Wretched Truth About Restorations

Posted: December 13th, 2012 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Editorial, Engine, Forks & Steering, Frame & Body, Fuel & Air, Ignition, Timing, & Electrical, Motorcycle Repair, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

Greetings Chris,

I have researched available motorcycle restoration shops on the East Coast and have found your shop one of the best suited for my project. I would like to determine if your willing and able to restore a vintage Yamaha 80 enduro shown in the pictures attached? If so, to what level of restoration are you capable of achieving? And how long would this take? Further, what ballpark pricing can you provide?

Regards,
R

_____________________

R,

Thanks for your note of inquiry – and the very flattering words about my shop and work.

First, I need to know that you know the First Law of Restorations; you will end up spending waaaaay more than the finished product will fetch on the open market – two to three times more is the rule of thumb – and the multiple is higher with smaller displacement bikes.

So let’s see if I can scare you off right now. Mechanical restoration/rebuilding will run $3k – half parts and half my time. Cosmetic restoration will be another $3k – about half for first-rate factory correct paint and decals and half for re-chroming which, when properly done, means stripping the old chrome from the part, filling the deeper rust pits and other defects with a conductive metal filler, a heavy layer of copper plate to fill the smaller pits, a layer of nickle to keep the copper from showing through the final layer of chrome. This process is sometimes called “triple chrome.” Better add another $1k to cover things like tires, seat re-upholstery, and this, that, and the other thing. That’s $7k – and no matter how realistically I think I am estimating time and money, everything takes longer and costs more than I had expected – even when I know this and take it into account. That may be the Second Law of Restorations; everything will take longer and cost more than even your worst-case estimate. A final bill of $8k could happen. And all this for a bike that will be worth no more than $3k when done – probably closer to $2k.

I have been doing this stuff long enough to have learned a few things; nobody ever complains about getting a bill less than they expected. Dealing with a panicky customer as the running estimate is regularly revised upward is no fun. I’d rather scare you to death right now.

I’ve just come in from the shop – 11pm – after an afternoon favor checking out a problem on my sweetie’s son’s bike turned into eight hours of pro-bono work – time for a bit of supper.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web: http://www.existentialmotorcycles.com
Alexander, NC 28701

______________________

Greetings Chris,

Thanks for your carefully thought out email below. Your thoughts and details provided are worth close observation and consideration. With the economy in its current state and no prospects for any improvement in the foreseable years ahead, I must fully think through what makes sense for me moving forward. I will let you know if I decide to proceed in the coming months.

Happy Holidays and warm regards,
R

________________

R,

Thanks for taking my bucket of cold water over your head so well.

Now I can ethically add that there are many excellent non-monetary reasons/rewards for/from restoring a bike – all better reasons, in my way of reckoning, than money.

And it could be done in two stages; mechanics/functional restoration one year and the pretty bits the next.

But it will be expensive and time-consuming.

Under no circumstances should you compromise your financial health to take on a proper restoration. It sucks all the fun out of it – and the damned bike becomes the cause of it all. And I become the dealer man for whom you are stealing the children’s lunch money to feed your habit. Pure poison. If/when you do this, have the cash on hand and set aside.

I do take extensive notes as I work and lots of digi-pix. On long-term projects I send these as updates every day or so – kinda helps the customer come along for the ride – and adds considerable value to the results – builder’s notes and documentary pix impress the hell out of buyers. But most of all, it’s fun for everybody. I enjoy telling stories of the day’s work and it helps me to review my work and confess my sins. Yes, I break the code of the Mechanics’ Guild and freely admit that I make mistakes and, sometimes, really fuck things up. I’ve made just about every damned-fool mistake you can think of and broken every tool and part. But a funny thing happened – as the years rolled by I made fewer and smaller mistakes. I still make mistakes – sometimes even dumb ones – but for quite a while now (knock polished alloy) they have been non-catatrophic and recoverable errors. And every one still a lesson of some sort.

Cheers,
Chris

Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web: http://www.existentialmotorcycles.com
Alexander, NC 28701


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


Good sources for vintage Honda parts

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Forks & Steering, Frame & Body, Fuel & Air, Ignition, Timing, & Electrical, Motorcycle Repair, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | Tags: | No Comments »

Here are links to a few sites that I have found have a good inventory of new vintage Honda parts:

http://www.cmsnl.com/

This one is in the Netherlands but I’ve gotten parts from them in a week or so – and they have stuff that no one else has.

http://www.babbittsonline.com/pages/parts/viewbybrand/default.aspx

Babbitts is good too – and they have on-line parts diagrams for just about every vintage Japanese bike.

http://www.ohiocycle.com/

http://www.classicjapanesemotorcycles.com/

http://www.westernhillshondayamaha.com/aboutus.asp

http://www.vintageconnections.com/

a source for OEM type electrical connectors, etc.

http://www.davidsilverspares.co.uk/

Excellent inventory and prices are o.k. now that the British Pound has tanked against the dollar.

http://www.hondarestoration.com/


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