Friday, May 27, 2011

Project Gift Horse: The Inside Story

Short and sweet report today. Top end looks good. No scoring on the piston or cylinder, no galling on the cam or rocker arms. Looks like a well-cared-for, low-mileage engine. Score!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Project Gift Horse: But Wait, There's More

Yesterday, while out riding the V-Strom, I decided to pay a call to Philip Koenen, owner of  Grand Touring Garage. Philip and I were introduced by a mutual friend some time ago, and we subsequently discovered both of us had connections through the motorcycle industry. Although most of his restoration and custom work has been with cars, he has built some outstanding bikes, a few of which you can see on his website.

I wanted to ask Philip about my bead-blast vs. hot-tank dilemma. We sat down in his office and he talked me through the process of bead basting, cleaning, and preserving the finish of aluminum engine parts. Then he floored me by generously offering to let me use his blasting equipment, giving me access to a special stash of GM powdercoat he has, and hooking me up with the painter and chromer he uses. He even knows someone at Yamaha's U.S. HQ in SoCal who can assist with the acquisition of hard-to-find parts.

By the time I left my head was swimming with possibilities. Some of the parts that came with the bike that I had considered to be beyond redemption are now usable. Other parts that I don't have might now be within reach.

I sure hope I get that title mess figured out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Project Gift Horse: No Going Back From Here

The engine came out this morning. The Haynes manual said, "The engine is not particularly heavy, but is difficult to grasp." The grasping part is easier if you leave the kickstarter on and use it as a handle. The engine sure felt particularly heavy yesterday...before I found the wiring harness and the oil line I'd forgotten to disconnect. Once I did that it just about fell out of the frame.

The registration problem is as yet unresolved, but yesterday I talked to a machinist who is into restoring old cars and motorcycles. He has a bead-blasting cabinet he's willing to let me use for cheap, and a sandblasting rig I can use on the frame. A thread I started on an internet forum warned me off media blasting to clean up aluminum engine parts, suggesting hot-tanking instead. The machinist tells me he's bead-blasted motorcycle engines for years and never had a problem; meticulous clean-up is important, but not difficult. Besides, I really like the look of bead-blasted engines.

That's still in the future, though. The next job is to tear down the engine to see what the insides look like. As previously mentioned, I intend to rebuild it to stock specs, so I'll be looking to reuse everything that isn't worn out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Project Gift Horse: Oh, What The Hell

Notwithstanding my unwillingness to spend money on a bike I can't yet register, I put some sweat equity into it yesterday and started pulling the engine. If you didn't already know the 500cc single is a real boneshaker, you'd suspect it right away based on the number of places it's bolted solidly to the frame. Along the way I took photos of every part of the bike, zooming in on where the wiring harness is routed.

As I removed bolts and widgets and mounting plates I put them in labeled zip-loc bags. If you've ever taken something large and complicated apart, and then tried to put it back together again a long time later, you'll know why I did this. Some of the parts that came off the bike weren't worth wasting a plastic bag. I'll find or improvise new ones as needed.

I stopped just short of taking the engine out of the frame. As simple as this bike is, the engine is heavy, and my back hurts if I just think about bending over and wrestling that lump of metal out and onto the floor. I'll wait until I can coerce a buddy into helping me.

Yesterday I also sent off an envelope to the former owner at his last known address, which is on the back of the California pink slip. In it is a blank Oregon bill of sale, a letter explaining that I now have the bike he bought in 1992, and a polite request to sign the bill of sale so I can get on with Project Gift Horse.

Prior to mailing it, I Googled the former owner's address. I have no idea what was there in 1992, but now, it's a Salvation Army halfway house.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Project Gift Horse: The Paper Chase

Well, that sucks.

I took Gift Horse's California pink slip and bill of sale to the local DMV office a while ago. I'll spare you the back-and-forth, but the gist of it is this: I need to contact the last person on the bill of sale (which was signed off in 1992) and get him to sign the bike over to me. The way I do this is to write him a letter; if the letter comes back with answer, problem solved. If the letter comes back marked undeliverable because the addressee has moved or died or whatever, then I bring the unopened letter to the DMV, along with the bike, and they'll "review" my application for an Oregon title in my name.

My understanding of the word "review" in this context does not include a guarantee that I'll be given the title. I'm unwilling to spend money on a bike I can't register and ride, so Project Gift Horse is on hiatus for now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Project Gift Horse: And So It Begins

If you're looking for a way to make a few hours fly by unnoticed, start taking apart an old motorcycle you want to rebuild. This afternoon I took off the gas tank, rear fender, ignition switch, headlight shell, and instruments, and put all the small things in labeled zip-lock bags so I don't end up with one big box full of unidentifiable stuff when it's time to put it all back together.

The gas tank is spotless inside, although it's been used–the paint under the front of the seat is scuffed–and there's no petcock. I don't know yet if the instruments work. The headlight shell and the instrument cans are pretty rusty. I'm not sure I can save them, or if I want to.

In the short time the bike has been here it's already left a small pool of oil under the engine. The countershaft seal is bad, but like every other seal and gasket in the engine it'll be replaced. I want to rebuild the engine to stock specs. I know a lot of people pump up Yamaha 500cc singles. I've done it myself, with an XT500-based road racer I ran a long time ago. But to me the trade-off in terms of starting and noise isn't worth the small increase in power. If I wanted a fast motorcycle I'd have bought a 10-year-old sportbike.

Monday morning I have to go to the DMV to see about the title. I have the original California pink slip, signed off by the owner, and a bill of sale from 1992 transferring ownership of the bike to someone else for the sum of $50, but no paperwork after that. Having grown up in California, and having dealt with the state-run sanctuary for unemployable misanthropes that is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, I feel a looming dread at the prospect of trying to claim rightful possession of the SR with such sketchy documentation. But Oregon is very unlike California in many ways, and with luck this will be another one of them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Project Gift Horse: Prolog

Blogger burped yesterday and sent this post into the ether, so here it is again, my latest project. Feast on its bedraggled spendor. Marvel at its melange of mismatched componentry. More later...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moto Archaeology

Today I got ambitious and tackled a long-delayed clean-up in the garage. I had six or seven large boxes full of motorcycle stuff I've been carrying from house to house for years without looking inside to see if what they contained was worth keeping. Here's a partial list of what I found:

• A complete valve-shim set for air-cooled, two-valve, four-cylinder, GS-series Suzuki engines

• A 35mm film can full of valve shims, both opening and closing, from my Ducati 900 SS Darmah

• A header-pipe wrench for the same Ducati

• The speedometer from my 1970 R5 Yamaha

• A set of valve-cover bolt seals from my CBX

• Factory valve-shim tools for the CBX and the CB900F I once owned

• A box of racing spark plugs from my TZ250

• A pair of new rear-shock springs for a CB400F

• A single gasket for the top cover of one of the CB400F's carbs

• A complete set of Mikuni hex main jets from 110 to 380, a pair of each

• The cover for the air-cooled clutch of a 1974 TZ250A

• An exhaust valve from a Honda CR110 50cc production roadracer I once bought in boxes for $400 and later sold in the same boxes for $600, congratulating myself on making a $200 profit on a bike that would become a sought-after and insanely valuable classic 10 years later

• Several pages of notes from my racing days containing detailed port dimensions of the RD350 I ran in the production race at Daytona in 1975; the same dimensions for a TZ750; gearing, tire pressures, and fast lap times for a 1974 race at Sears Point and another in 1975 at Laguna Seca; and notes from my 1975 Daytona Novice race (best practice lap time, 2m31s; gearing on the TZ, 15/34; premix ratio, 20:1 Castrol R-30; 290 main jets; tire pressures, 30/32; and the reminder that the 76-mile Novice race took about 4 gallons of gas)

When I started the garage clean-up, I told myself if I hadn't used something in the last two years, out it went. Everything listed above fit into that category. But I figure since I did toss six boxes of junk, I could keep just one little one, taped shut and marked DO NOT TRASH, EVER!!! in thick felt-tip marker. I defy you to tell me you wouldn't have done the same.