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.

Just Another Day at the Office

Posted: November 2nd, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Fuel & Air, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »


Of course Robt. and I had a collegial discussion on the way home regarding your bike – theorizing, hypothesizing, and devising tests of those hypothesis. So nothing would do when we unloaded your bike but to get it up on the lift and put our chat to work.

First thing, I put my meter on the battery – expecting it to be very low as per the clicking solenoid. Not so! A full and robust 13v. Still, it’s amps that spin the starter, not volts so I hauled over my big shop battery – retired from daily duty in my truck – and jumper-cabled it to your system. Same thing – click click – no joy. Finally, I cabled the shop battery directly to the starter motor. There a perceptible vibration an electric motor makes when it’s drawing all the juice but cannot turn – and your motor made it.

Now my working hypothesis is that the starter motor has seized. Time to remove it and bench test it. This required removing the left side engine alternator cover. I did not put a drain pan under the engine as there is no oil in the alternator/rotor bay. Pulled the array of 8mm bolts, gave the cover a tap with the dead-blow hammer to break the seal …

… and out poured gasoline – gushing gasoline. I removed the sparkplug and the cyl. was full to the top with gasoline. There was nothing wrong with the battery or the starter – liquid is incompressible and the cyl. was full. This is something called a “hydro-lock” and it usually results in a bent connecting rod. I put the bike in gear, shifted up to top, and turned the engine over with the rear wheel – which launched great jets of gasoline toward the ceiling. The crankcase and the air filter box were also filled with gasoline.

I have a good collection of retired cotton bed sheets that I use for dust covers when I remember them and it took a half-dozen or more of them to mop up the shallow lakes of gasoline on the lift table and floor. One spark …

I let everything drain for a while and then filled the crankcase, and turned the engine over with the spark plug removed to pump fresh oil through the system before it had to sustain the forces of combustion. I did a compression test and got 155 on a cold engine – a very good number. Fitted a new D8EA and turned it over with the choke off and the throttle wide open – the field-expedient treatment for a flooded carbureted engine. First a cough and then a few more – and whoo hee! We have self-sustaining combustion. And the engine sounds smooth and happy – not a hint of the dreaded bent con-rod.

So, why did your engine fill will gasoline? I tested the petcock – the vacuum-operated petcock with the manual over-ride in the “Prime” position. The petcock is working as designed so, after filling it, you must have left it overnight with the petcock on Prime – which I specifically instructed you was to be used only if/when the tank had run dry and the carb sucked air as it sputtered to a stop. In that case, the carb needs to be Primed – filled with fuel prior to staring the engine. Otherwise it stays in the On or Reserve positions.

But we have a second question to answer as well; if the float/float-needle/needle seat are all on the job, the flow of fuel from the tank should have been shut off by the float needle fitting into its seat. But it wasn’t. I think the clue is in the fact that you filled the tank up from nearly empty – and I bet that I find another layer of sediment in the carb float bowl. But wait! There is one other possibility – and the more likely, now that I think of it – is that the damage I showed you on one of the posts for the float pivot pin was worse than I assessed and somehow caused the float to stick open. I will investigate this tomorrow.

This is an example of the tension between saving the customer money by reusing less than perfect parts or giving them back a bike that breaks down again. Mostly my judgement is pretty good and less than perfect parts can and do give long and faithful service. Sometimes I’m wrong – in retrospect, that is. The easy thing would be to simply use new parts all the time – effectively charging my customers to cover my ass. But I do believe in using/reusing as much of our way-too-much stuff as we can.

So, all of that may or may not have something to do with the problems you were experiencing pre-fill-up. I will keep your bike for a couple of days and take it on a few short hops – perhaps as far as Weaverville. If it is trouble-free, the plan is for Robt. to take it home to his place in Marshall and have you drive your car to meet him there for some schooling.

You’re into me for a couple of hours/$110 and half of the normal pick-up fee – $25 -I’m eating half on the possible hanging float but you left the petcock in the Prime position.

A good used carb body may be required – but a whole good used carb bought to get it. Figure $100 +/-. plus another hour or so of my time.

And that’s the news from Existential Motorcycles this evening.



Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC 28701

TEL: 828-683-9289

Posted: October 1st, 2011 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »


I quite understand both your need/desire to spend you money wisely and your question about the discrepancy between the KBB value and my price.

Why do we care about the manufacture date on our motor vehicles? Because it’s a proxy for the wear and tear on the vehicle over the intervening years. The KBB value assumes a normal amount of use in the past 14 years. Which also relates to the expected useful life left before major repairs and relative reliability of the vehicle. Let’s assume that the average ‘97 Serow was ridden 2,000 miles a year – it would have 28,000 miles on it and be in need of all sorts of major maintenance.

This Serow is a new machine. Ridden 63 miles. It can be expected to deliver the same level of economical performance and reliability as any new machine. A few years ago, Yamaha pumped up the engine in this model to a 250 – so it’s now the XT250 and the list price is $4,990.

So, here we have two brand new essentially unused machines. They can each be expected to give the same level of reliability and economy.

One has 50cc. more, yes but it weighs 30 lb. more than the other so the performance and economy will be about the same or possibly favor the smaller more efficient 225cc engine.

One has showroom shine and modern styling – the other is slightly scuffed and shop-worn – you have to look real hard and real close.

One is priced at $4,990 and one is priced at $2,500.

Oh yes, then there is a third bike – a 1997 Serow with 20,000 miles on it priced at the KKB price of $1300.

Which is the best value?

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC 28701.

TEL: 828-683-9289

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Pix | 1 Comment »
100% pure rat bike.

100% pure rat bike.

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Pix | 1 Comment »
Love-child of an RD350 and an TZ350.

Love-child of an RD350 and an TZ350.

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Pix | 1 Comment »
It's Italina - and it's oh so sexy.

It's Italina - and it's oh so sexy.

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Pix | No Comments »
Orignial and unrestored - nice!

Orignial and unrestored - nice!

How to identify the source of compression loss without a leak-down tester.

Posted: July 28th, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Engine, Motorcycle Repair | No Comments »

  If you have a compression gauge, here’s a quick and effective way to identify the source of the compression leaks without a proper leak-down tester.

Screw the compression gauge hose into the spark plug hole – but instead of fitting the gauge, attach the hose from your compressor.  The hose should use the same type and size of quick coupling as the gauge.  Remove the oil filler plug.  Turn the air on and listen for the sound of air.  If you can hear it at the filler plug hole, the rings are leaking – at the carb, the intake valve(s) on that cyl. – at the exhaust pipe – the exhaust valve(s).

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:

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.

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

a source for OEM type electrical connectors, etc.

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

A few basic truthes about custom work.

Posted: July 22nd, 2010 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Custom, Engine, Frame & Body, Motorcycle Repair, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | No Comments »

It will take twice as long and cost twice as much as the initial best-estimate – even when you and your builder try to take this into account in the estimate.

Much of the work depends on outside expertise and suppliers; a machinist, a powder-coater, a painter,  a metal-plater, and so on.  A critical part is out of stock.  When it arrives, it is the wrong one and must be returned and exchanged for the correct part – which is out of stock.

Custom work is not simply a matter of bolting a bunch of cool components together – just about every component needs to be modified in some way to work correctly and look right.  A good builder is also a problem-solving engineer.

When the bike is apparently done – it’s not.  The first shake-down ride will reveal a number of problems, small and, possibly, large.  Correcting them often means undoing and redoing a lot of work.

Given all this, it is inevitable that the customer and the builder will have some fractous moments.  The customer can become frustrated/suspicious/angry about the delays and cost over-runs.  The builder can become pissed-off/angry that the customer expects miracles – no matter how diligent the builder is in explaining things to the customer.  The most important part of an, ultimately, successful customer/builder relationship is how they handle this.

There are, of course, many rewards in custom work.  A good builder enjoys the creative engineering and aesthetic challenges.  The customer has the pride and satisfaction of riding a bike she/he has brought into this world and which is unlike any other on the planet.  Despite the inevitable customer/builder conflicts, there are also moments when the collaboration results in something better/more pleasing than either one would have come up with on their own.

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



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.

Existential Motorcycles
Alexander, NC