The Four Fifty - Items filtered by date: July 2013

Back to Black

I'm due to go home to the island in a couple of days, so there won't be any progress on Natasha for the next week or so. But here is quick run down of the last week's activities:

I visited with Glen at Prism Powder Coating Services in Crescent, PA. He looked at Natasha's frame and recommended I go back and do some more finish work to it. Funny really, as I was driving up there I was thinking the same thing: it was just not quite good enough. We looked at what sort of finish I can expect and picked out a flat/satin powder coat that will match the paint work I have already done on the wheels. The turn around time for the frame and swing arm will be about two weeks. So with probably a few more days work on the frame when I get back, it's going to be mid to late August before final assembly of Natasha takes place.

I resprayed the front wheel using Professional Grade Rustoleum (Flat Black) Enamel, instead of the semi-gloss that I used previously on the rear wheel, and I have to say I prefer it better. (There is another eight hours of cleaning and polishing to get the front wheel to the painting stage. It's a significant amount of time but spread over five nights work.) I also sprayed the rear brake housing; even after investing a few hours of cleaning and polishing, I just could not get the score marks out of the deepest crevasses. I reached a point when I could have worked at it for another ten hours and still not be satisfied; so I sprayed it instead. And am happy I did. With the rear wheel resprayed flat black as well now, the two will look really good together.

Dime City Cycles and Partzilla have delivered a few more parts for the final build. Mostly small bolts and odds/ends that are specific to the motorbike and could not be replaced with stainless steel equivalents. Most significant are the exhaust header bolts and exhaust gaskets. I also bought some beautiful bar end mirrors that are CNC machined in aluminum; expensive but ultimately worth it.

Looking to the future I have been designing a four camera rig for the back of the truck so I can film Natasha being ridden through Pittsburgh and into the surrounding countryside. I have decided to shoot exclusively with GoPro Hero 3's, since I can rent them cheaply from, are easy to mount, and shoot amazingly good HD video. Basically we'll run two exact paths, hopefully without two much light difference between the two, one with the GoPro's mounted on the truck and having Natasha follow, pass, run ahead; and then on Natasha herself, with one looking back to the rider from in front, one down on the front forks (left hand side) looking back, one on the rear suspension (right hand side) looking forward, and finally one mounted directly behind the rider for what will be essentially a bum shot. :) We'll also do some shots where I am stationary; panning shots through sweeping curves, overhead shots, etc., and the introduction/ending will be shot using a Steadicam rig for the GoPro. Between all that I should have enough for a couple of minutes. Storyboard is developing in my head... more on that later.

I've found a model based out of Philadelphia who rides a SV650 and is keen to help me with the video. Potentially we can get it done in one day, and without any extra help. I will most likely shoot the studio work with a local model, and as yet I have yet to find a studio I can rent for half a day or so. But early days on that search yet. Something will turn up.

Current hours on build: 64.0




When I started cleaning the oxidation off the wheels I didn't think I'd spend that much time on them, but the desire to get them 'perfect', or as damn near close to perfect has meant I've put way more time than I imagined. Just the rear wheel has taken eight hours. But the end result has been ultimately worth it, and now that I have a cleaning system in place that works, I don't think the front will take so long. I start off with 120 grit emery cloth, rubbing all the crap away until I am back to bare aluminum (The wheels are actually a cast magnesium aluminum alloy.), then move to 180, then 320, then switch to a 400 grade emery paper, finally finishing off with a green Scotch-Brite pad. Each piece is cut into 1" x 4" strips that I can fold over and over until I get a sharp edge; when that is worn down I can just unwrap to the next fresh edge. Yes, there is a lot of labor involved. Far simpler would have been to just have them powder-coated a single color. What can I say; I get a bit obsessive sometimes.

After I finished both sides of the wheel, I then masked off the polished parts and used some Professional Grade Rustoleum (Semi-gloss) Enamel spray paint to restore the original color. I maybe should have used a flat matt; but it will ultimately match the semi-gloss that the frame is being powder-coated to. Two coats later, the wheel is more or less finished. In the few places where the masking tape didn't protect the bare aluminum I will use a Scotch-Brite pad to clean that up. Final step will be to use some Mother's Aluminum & Magnesium polish. This stuff is quite amazing; I tested it on a small section of the wheel and couldn't believe the difference it made. Not sure how long-lasting that shine will be as the oxide slowly returns to dull everything down a bit. Regardless, the wheels are going to rock.

Second project this week was building the tray that will hold all the electronics under the seat. This actually went relatively smoothly. A cardboard template was drawn out and used to cut out the right shape from a piece of 16ga. sheet steel. Then the fun part of figuring out how to make everything fit. I was a little worried until a solution appeared by flipping the battery over and having the terminals face away from the main components. (These Antigravity batteries are amazing; so small and can be mounted in any position. It's about a quarter of the size of the OEM battery and still produces the same crank hours. Plus they don't die if you don't use them for a long time; no need to trickle charge over the winter months when the bike is in storage.) I got some square nuts from Lowes and welded those in place, then had to cut down the stainless steel bolts to the right length; I didn't want to drill through the panel and have unsightly bolts poking though. Cutting bolts to size never results in a clean end product so I used a die to tidy up the raw ends.

After making sure everything was going to fit, I tack welded the panel to hold it in position, removed all the electronics, and then welded the panel in place. Tomorrow I'll grind down the welds and make it look pretty. I also took off the center stand mounts today, so that bottom part of the frame is all clean.

Speaking of welding, I mentioned in a previous post that I really wanted to learn how to TIG weld, or Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) to give it it's more correct name. I looked at all the technical colleges in the area but they are geared towards year long courses and getting someone certified to AWS level, and then I'd have to do all the basic 101 courses to get to the 205 TIG course... like five months of study; way too long for me. I also found a dedicated school four hours drive away that runs a four week, eighty hour 'Introduction to TIG course', but for $2500 plus room/board, plus the loss of work days was going to be too much muhla. So I looked on Craigslist and found this advert for a small fabrication shop about forty minutes away, and offered in their list of services was welding training. After talking to the owner on the phone, and he sounds like a cool guy who I'll be able to learn from, we are going to schedule some hours in about a month. He's going to teach me to weld small gauge steel first, then aluminum, then stainless. He's also got a small bed CNC driven plasma cutter which I am keep to learn about also.

Current hours on build: 49.0

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Mind Bending

So during this last week I've managed to put a decent number of hours into Natasha. I clocked up 10.5 hours since my last post; seven of those hours have been exclusively polishing components. In the next post I will show you the before and after shots of the rear brake housing that I learned a valuable lesson on: sometimes power tools are a bad idea when it comes to cleaning aluminum. :( Damn, that metal is soft! More on that later, plus the progress on removing the oxidization from the wheels and crankcase housings.

I cleaned up the oil sump gasket faces and used the liquid gasket sealant to see if I can stop the very small oil leak I have coming from there. I followed the directions but it just seems too easy for me to believe that it will work. We will see what happens when I fill the engine with oil and we go for a ride.

I started polishing the front forks. I was in two minds to maybe spray these flat black, since I seem to polishing everything just now. But I thought I would see what they might be transformed to with a little bit of work. I think I'll keep on with the cleaning/polishing for the time being. If Natasha is too blinding with all the shiny parts then we can think about painting some items.

The tubing arrived this week so it was great to return to this part of the bike and figure out a better solution than what I had previously. Looking at the angles of the seat and such, I figured I could fabricate a couple of small bends to taper the frame in, matching the shape of the seat. Cutting a small notch halfway through the tube, then using a 24" 1/2" drive extension as leverage, I managed to create a couple of bends that matched. When I had one piece tack-welded in place, I played with the other, grinding off the right amount of metal to match angles. Once satisfied with how everything looked, I welded both tubes in place. Next, I cut a small piece to complete the frame and trimmed it to fit. I have to say next time I will actually use a protractor and get the angles exactly right. That will save a lot of time going back and forth to the bench grinder trying to get things perfect.

With everything welded, I ground down the welds and used a 50 grit disc in the angle grinder to make them all smooth. I think when I have a proper shop I am going to get a TIG welder and really learn how to weld properly. The MIG welder is easy but it doesn't produce that pretty beaded welds you see on high end motorcycle frames, like a Ducati's for instance.

Current hours on build: 39.0

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Rear Suspension

It's been a busy few days. I removed the wheels and front forks off the bike. The new Kendra tires are being mounted and balanced, as well as the gas tank being resprayed, by Ron at North Hill Cycles. Really, my simple checkerboard design for this tank must be the simplest job he has ever done. To look at his custom choppers with such incredibly detailed airbrushed tanks, I know I am going to get some quality work back. He was very patient with me as we went though paint chips books looking for just the right shade of red. Nice guy.

I also have been cleaning up the crankcase covers. After about four hours careful hand sanding I have eliminated all the oxidization from the left hand side. I was using a Dremel for a little while, but the disks are so fragile and got frustrated changing them constantly; hand sanding is the way to go. I'm starting at 220 grade wet'n'dry paper and working down a couple of grades until I finish with a green Scotch-Brite pad.

FYI: I'm moving my polisher out of the truck as it created so much fluff flying around in the air that it felt like I was trapped inside a tumble dryer. So I'm going to make some sort of mount for the tailgate of my Tacoma truck and have it outside where there is plenty of fresh air. Once I have everything to the dull Scotch-Brite stage I'll get on with polishing. Also got to wait for the right day where the humidity isn't 100% and it's less than 80 deg F outside. Nothing to do with the process of polishing, just for me so I don't evaporate!

I flipped the engine on it's back and removed the oil sump. There is a tiny leak here so instead of replacing the paper gasket I am going to use a semi-flexible liquid gasket sealant (Permatex 82194 Ultra Grey Rigid High-Torque RTV Silicone Gasket Maker) to see if I can close it up. Just arrived today are the replacement gaskets for the crankcases and the new crankcase oilseal that I am replacing. I've been ordering things from but recently discovered and have found their prices to be 20% cheaper. I've ordered new Suzuki crankcase badges from them. (I was going to restore the ones I have, but for $22 I can get two new ones, and you can't beat saving a few hours work.)

Finally I've been working on fabricating the new brackets for the rear suspension. I took the old ones and trimmed away the excess metal, and made four new pieces from 1/8" steel bar. One has a hole drilled through it for the bolt to pass through and the other will be flat to weld the bolt's body against. I'll have to trim to bodies to size as they both were different lengths, presumable because each side of the frame is subtly different. It's been more than tricky getting them lined up correctly in relation to the frame and to each other. I've preliminary tack welded one in place but I really need to wait for the tube to arrive to make the rest of the frame for the rear lights/license plate mount, before welding everything together. It'll take a bit of time to grind it all down and make it look pretty but the end result will be worth it.

Current hours on build: 28.5

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Strong Stuff

I've spent a long time cleaning the engine, and it doesn't look too bad now, so I'm not going to paint it black. It is what it is. 

The crankcase covers are another story. I haven't touched them so far, but now was the time to get them polished up. The generator side (left side) is pretty severely corroded, so that was going to come off first. Thank goodness for my impact driver; those bolts were on tight and really soft. Not sure if that is a function of being thirty years old, or poor quality material to begin with. I did try to use my cordless impact hammer but it totally stripped the head within about 0.05 seconds. Not doing that again, and thankfully managed to get that bolt off.

With the covers off, I needed to get rid of the old clear-coat that was yellowed and flaking off in places. Best solution for this is a product called Aircraft Cleaner. It's basically a type of paint stripper but doesn't have any caustic in it to damage the aluminum. You can find it at Auto Zone, Walmart, and Home Depot. I used a couple of disposable aluminum roasting tins to keep all the mess in one place. It only takes about 10-15 minutes before you can see all the crap bubbling off, then using some Purple Power to get rid of the cleaner, I then washed them in soapy water. Of course during all this I was wearing gloves and eye protection. It's strong stuff, so be warned.

Next I used 220 grit emery paper to take off the worst of the corrosion. While I was doing that the Suzuki logo started to come off; the aircraft cleaner had worked it's way under this thin badge and softened the glue holding it in place. I carefully pried it off and let it have a second bath in the cleaner. These guys are no longer available anymore so it'll be extra important to try and restore them before remounting on the cases.

So that's the next few hours scheduled. Taking off the worst of the corrosion, rubbing out any big scratches, then taking everything over to the buffing machine. Or maybe I'll finish the frame. We'll see what brings the most enjoyment.

Current hours on build: 21.0

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The Four Fifty

170 John Street

Friday Harbor, WA 98250

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(360) 298-2374

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