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.

Forensic report (XR600R)

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


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.

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.


$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.


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.


“Eets the leetle sheets will get you.” Ricardo C. Passalaqua

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

To: “Chris Finlayson” <acf2×>
Date: Monday, March 8, 2010, 2:15 PM


Had the 360 running nice, was actually out a couple of days when there
was a break and it was 50. Now she no  wanna start. new battery,
connections good plenty of juice, electric start sounds like it is not
up to it, kick start, nothing rolling down hill it goes, but does not
air filters clean, intake boots connected

spark yes

gas is fresh

I suspect the kill switch. I am not sure why. Maybe it is the way he
looks at me as I walk by? I have noticed that the starter makes the
exact same sound of not starting in all three positions of the switch.
Could there be some corrosion in that puppy? Is this something that

Other than that. How you doin? Survive the winter okay?




If you’ve got good spark, the leering kill switch is not the culprit.

First thing I would check is that the fuel is flowing freely from the tank to the carbs.  Do you have filters in the lines?   The slow starter motor could be separate problem.

Make sure the vent in the gas cap is working.  If not, you can have perfectly functioning/flowing everything else – and the initial flow of fuel when you turn the tap on will draw a vacuum in the tank sufficient to slow flow to a trickle and then stop.  Opening the cap will make a small whoosh and the fuel will flow.
At the moment I am late to look at/buy and XS650 so this is brief.

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC



Okay. The switch says you are a freaking genius. Opened the gas cap, started just fine.


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 »


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.

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



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.


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 »


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.

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC