The Four Fifty - Items filtered by date: August 2013


I was working today on building new cables for Natasha; specifically I needed to make three 8 AWG power cables; one to run from the positive terminal of the battery to starter solenoid; then from starter solenoid to starter motor; and then from the negative terminal of the battery to the a ground mounting point on the engine. I love making cables; there is something intrinsically satisfying about manipulating the wire into the right shape, soldering on new connectors, then making everything tidy with heat shrink tubing. 

While doing this it struck me how happy I was. And that, aside from getting thirsty/hungry, there really wasn't much that could distract me from this task. I could have worked all night... I HAVE worked all night like this. I am sure we have all felt this contentedness at some point in our lives. It has many names but I think the most appropiate is 'Flow'. Wikipedia has a great section describing it. I have included the introduction here, but reccomemend you go read the rest.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.[1]

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.

Flow has many of the same characteristics as (the positive aspects of) hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in such universally glowing terms. For examples, some cases of spending "too much" time playing video games, or of getting side-tracked and pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the assignment in general. In some cases, hyperfocus can "grab" a person, perhaps causing him to appear unfocused or to start several projects, but complete few.

Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be in the momentpresentin the zoneon a rollwired inin the grooveon firein tunecentered, or singularly focused.

Wouldn't it be awesome if we could experience this state of mind everyday? I could see me achieving this when I am building my house/studio/workshop, and afterwards when I can spend my days building more and more Natasha derivatives. Plus there is always the concentrated focus and attention when I am shooting in the studio, editing photographs, or when teaching a class.

I'm almost there. It's taken me a little over four decades to get this far, and now I think I know exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. Bliss. 

(Below is the mockup of how the new workshop will look like. Yes, I will finally get my dream of having a lathe/milling machine, and a blasting cabinet. There is also a spray booth in the left hand corner. Can't wait!)


Current hours on build: 119.0 

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RFID Security

During yesterday's entry I mentioned about removing the keyed ignition switch and replacing it with a toggle switch hidden under the seat. I started to think more about this and although I think it unlikely I will ever sell Natasha, I may take her places that require her to be left securely. A criminal, or rather a smart criminal might case her out, realising there isn't a key slot to bust into, and figure I've done exactly what a lot of builders do; put a hidden switch somewhere. It really wouldn't take long to find it.

For $500 you can buy a system from Digital Dawg that replicates the keyless entry system of higher quality cars but specifically designed for motorcycles. First of all I am not going to spend $500 on security. When all things are said and done, I'm not going to take Natasha anywhere near the other side of the railways tracks. And secondly, there has to be a way to do this using existing off-the-shelf technology. Every day I buzz through three security doors with my little RFID key chain dongle; how can I take that technology and make it work on a motorcycle?

Well, after a lot of research, I have found a solution. It has taken me a couple of days and about six versions to get it right, but I think this will work fantastically. 

Essentially it's as simple as using a RFID detector wired to a latching bistable relay and rewiring the kill switch to act like the key. Swipe the RFID tag next to the headlight (all the components are going to installed inside, with a series of 3mm status LEDs mounted at the base of the headlight), the yellow LED flashes and a buzzer sounds indicating a successful match, then the ignition is ‘live’ shown by the steady illumination of the green LED. Turning off the bike is accomplished by using the kill switch, triggering the NC relay which lights up the red LED; I may consider using a 1hz flashing LED here, as a visual reminder to disarm the ignition, plus it will look like the bike has some sort of active alarm system. To disable the bike completely, the RFID key fob must be swiped next to the headlight again, to open the relay. All LEDs will be off now.

Here is a list of the components needed. Click on the wiring diagram thumbnail to download a full size version.

(Note: I have not tested this idea yet. Use this information completely at your own risk. You have been warned.) 


DEI 611T Mosfet Multiswitch   1 $12.75
RFID Transponder Kit (I bought three for bulk discount)   1 $6.00
3mm 12v Pre-Wired Red/Amber/Green LED - Ultra Bright (12v)   3 $1.52
3mm LED Bezel / Holder - Black (plastic)   3 $0.21
85dB Piezo Buzzer   1 $5.99
Amico 5 Pcs DC 12V Coil SPDT 5 Pin Mini Power Relays PCB Type   1 $1.40
Wire, Heat Shrink Tubing, Solder, Patience.   1 $0.50
Total $28.37

 Current hours on build: 116.0 



Looming Loom

I think the most exciting part of the build occurred today: Putting the new headlamp on! It is so beautiful; such a simple object but the perfectness of the chrome/glass lens and the wonderful sultry shape speaks volumes about what cafe racers and classic motorcycles are all about. Timeless beauty.

Once that was done I drilled a couple of holes in the oh-so-perfect headlamp mounts. I really hesitated about doing this and looked for alternatives to mounting the turn-signals, but really it made the most sense to mount them there. So after measuring about a bazillion times I went ahead and drilled into them. Because the mounts taper in every so slightly, the turn signals are not completely perpendicular to the direction of travel. But I think if I take them off and shave some of the rubber mounts at an angle, that problem will be cured easily.

Next up came mounting the handlebars. I purchased these classic Clubman style bars from Dime City Cycles. I have to fabricate a little bracket out of aluminum to mount the new speedo/tachometer, that requires a trip to Lowes for materials, so tomorrow's project. 

Since I had the new headlamp and turn signals mounted I started to think about the wiring loom and returning some of the things I had taken off. I put back the ignition coils then started the arduous task of cleaning the old loom. With a heathy quantity of Purple Power, it came up not too bad. I'm not putting it back in completely without testing everything, since some rewiring will be required with the moving of the ignition unit, regulator/rectifier, and starter solenoid to under the seat. I also have to figure out the the wiring for the new speedo/tachometer, and since I am replacing the keyed ignition with a simple toggle switch hidden underneath the seat, that will also take a little bit of ingenuity

After about four downloads I finally found a wiring diagram online that actually matches Natasha. So now it's just a question of identifying the right wires and splicing/extending them where necessary. (The last four photographs show the parts of the loom I wanted more detail on. After reviewing the wiring diagram I know now what those bits are and what needs to be done.)

 Current hours on build: 116.0 

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Engine in

I've actually written a list of things on a post-it note to talk about in this entry. There has been a very very full eleven hours of work since the last entry. Time to catch up.

I scrubbed/degreased/repainted the engine mounts to match the frame. I'm not going to polish the bolts/nuts as they will stand out too much against all the flat black. So once everything is back in place I'll go over them with some flat black paint and a paintbrush. (I did actually polish the top rear engine mount bolt as it is the only one that is visible.)

Some of the more difficult areas of the engine/alternator/clutch covers to get to with the 8"polishing wheel got some close attention with the Dremel. These little abrasive wheels are awesome at getting those deeper scratches out, albeit at a high cost. I think I went through about six to finish the remaining parts, and at $2.something each they are a little pricey. 

When the engine was masked off for painting I didn't really get super accurate with taping off the flat faces where the covers and gaskets meet, so again with the Dremel I went back over and cleaned up those faces prior to putting new gaskets on and replacing the covers. I did give everything a good blast with 125psi of air to get rid of the accumulated dust etc. Once Natasha is finished I will fill the engine up with oil, and run it for a while, I will then drain and flush the oil out again, and replace the oil filter and fill with fresh oil. This should make sure we get everything bad out of the engine; it has been open for a long time on my workbench and a lot of grinding/sanding/polishing work has occurred around about it.

I rebuilt the alternator/generator, which was just the reverse of taking it apart. I found one extra screw in my little disassembly pile, but after going over everything again, I must assume it fell out from another pile and wasn't actually part of the alternator/generator assembly.

The Doctor: Don't worry. I've put everything back the way I found it. Except this. There's always a bit left over, isn't there? 

And when you've cleaned and polished everything back to a semi-new state, some of the existing items then look really old and dirty. I am talking specifically about the glass-fiber woven wire cover for the timing system cables. I may look online and see if I can find something to replace it with. I tried cleaning it but it stayed a permanent shade of ugly brown. :(

I replaced the old mounting bolts for the covers with some nice stainless steel socket cap bolts. These really look good against the newly polished covers. (I am waiting the final few to arrive; specifically for the timing cover and the left hand side clutch cover.)

And those wonderful people from Dime City Cycles delivered at the right moment the final few items I need for Natasha. Most importantly were the new headlamp mounts which are really beautifully made. I also got some fancy red pod air filters, a stainless steel brake line and bits (although I forgot the banjo bolts. Duh!), and a nice set of foot pegs. 

If you remember I totally mashed the crankcase oil seal, so that needed to be replaced. Rubber from the old one was incredibly well fused to the inside of the seal location, so I had to clean that out with the Dremel and an abrasive wheel. The oil seal was a tight fit, but I used a socket that was exactly the right diameter and tapped gently with a hammer until it was properly seated. A little bit nerve wracking. I didn't want to wait a week to get a new one if I screwed this one up.

I thought about getting some help to lift the engine in, but it's really a one person maneuver isn't it? There is no space for two people to lift, and then getting it into the frame is a matter of balance and precision. I used cardboard to protect the frame as I knew it would be more than a little tricky getting it in the right position first go. That and I hurt my back a bit about a week previously, so I really was aiming for a very quick transfer from workbench to frame.

In one swift move I had the engine in the frame. Woot! Next came getting the first lower long bolt through the engine and bolted into position. After that it was just a matter of shifting the engine slightly to get the rest in. By the time I came to the front engine mounts it was pretty much perfect. And once the engine was in I started to go a bit crazy with mounting things back on the bike, hence why there is a gap in photos; I was just too focused on moving forward with Natasha.

I have to say I love the red air pod filters. That splash of red in among all the black and silver is perfect. I'm definitely getting rid of the pink carburetor vent/overflow hoses, but may go with red instead of black. I also have red spark-plug cables, but we'll see if that's too much. As I've said previously, less is more.

In order to put the new headlamp mounts on, I had to remove the top triple clamp, but then I couldn't get it back on because the weight of the bike changed the position of the forks. So after purchasing a simple scissors jack, I lifted up the front wheel by jacking up from underneath the engine while securing the back of the bike with tie-down straps, then removed the front wheel, which I needed to anyway since I still had to polish the wheel spacer that I had forgotten to do previously, and then put everything back together again. 

I need some spacer washers to mount the headlamp between the new mounts, so those will be purchased from Lowes. And the original bolts need some polishing too. Depending on how it all looks I think the headlamp might move down the forks a bit. We will see.

Current hours on build: 113.0 

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Mirror or Matte

As my polishing experience increases I am becoming more consistent in the final finished surface. Not to mention finding that sweet spot of pressure and quantity of compound that make for easy work. I mistook the idea of pressing hard would result in faster smoothing/polishing, where as that just creates a lot of heat and the compound melts into a liquid goo that smears across the metal face you are polishing. A light touch is best.

The engine sprocket cover is one of the last items that I needed to clean and polish. As previously described with the alternator and clutch covers, I scrubbed it clean with a heavy duty engine degreaser, using both Gunk and then with Purple Power, finishing off with using the high pressure steam cleaner to really get into the crevices (really, it's one of the best purchases I've made during this whole project; you can find it here on Amazon), then used Aircraft Cleaner to remove the aging and yellowed clear-coat.

When I finished the first run on the polishing machine with the sisal wheel and emery compound, I was quite taken with the consistent matte finish that had been achieved. So here is the dilemma: do leave the matte finish, which is more akin to what the factory finish would have been, or go with the mirror finish, created using white rouge and the Canton flannel wheel? (You can see from the photos below that I have the two covers mounted on the engine for comparison.)

I think even though the high gloss mirror finish is super fancy looking, it's not really what this motorcycle is all about. I have polished the front forks to this finish, but they match the rear shocks. The frame is flat black, and the engine is a semi-gloss, so I think it's in keeping with the whole theme of this bike to leave the engine components a matte finish.

With that choice made I then started polishing the clutch cover. (Something to know for the next project bike is that it's not necessary to get so aggressive with the emery cloth when removing the oxidization and corrosion off the aluminum. I really made a huge amount of extra polishing work for myself having to get rid of those scratch marks. Lesson learned there. Stick with nothing coarser than 400 grit.)

So I just have some minor detail work with the Dremel on the covers to complete, and then run the generator cover through the sisal wheel/emery compound to take it back to a matte finish. Pretty soon we are going to have the engine back together and heading towards the frame for reinstallation.

Current hours on build: 102.0 

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Rear Sprocket

I think that part of rebuilding a motorcycle is not only restoring the original parts to their pristine state, but also taking the time to make them just a little bit better than when they left the factory.

The rear sprocket was in a sorry state; covered in ancient chain grease and beyond dirty, I took some time with my trusty brass brush and Purple Power (I have found this is to be far more effective at getting off stubborn grease/oil than some dedicated solvent type cleaners.) and scrubbed it clean. Getting the teeth clean required some power tool help and using my 2" wire wheel brush in a cordless drill made simple work of that job.

After a quick spin on the polishing machine it came up beautifully, but the old casting seams, those rough edges that are 'inside' of the sprocket were really difficult to get clean of the polishing compound. Once again my Dremel came to the rescue, and despite going through seven abrasive wheels to grind away the casting seams, I was pleased with the final result. Something that could have been easily done at the factory to create a much cleaner looking part, but I guess they deemed it unnecessary.

I decided to paint the sprocket mounting flange flat black to match the rest of the wheel, and like the front wheel, cleaned up the nuts, and their respective securing tabs, back to a polished state.

Now, with everything clean and polished, it was time to start putting Natasha back together. Even though I had kept all the pieces together from disassembly some parts were a little mixed up in their ordering. I gained an extra part to the rear wheel axle which made it very confusing trying to put it back onto the swing arm. I realized that I had forgotten to put that part back inside of the rear drum, once that was put in the right place, everything went back together smoothly.

After so much time looking at all the parts individually scattered around the workshop, it's kind of amazing to see things fitting back together as they should. Except now it all looks new. Except not quite new but reborn into something altogether quite different looking now. The next few days should be quite something.

Current hours on build: 95.0 

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Nuts & Bolts

Like most things, it's the details that take the longest amount of time. I am so close to rebuilding Natasha; everything has been repainted and ready for action, but before that can happen I have to clean/polish all the bolts that are going to be used in the rebuild. It's a little tedious but does let me practice being patient. It would be too easy to go crashing into the rebuild and not take the time to think carefully about each step. As I clean each bolt I can lay everything out, and double check that it's all going to work together again. Note: I am so glad I took so many photos of when Natasha was in her original pre-teardown state!

So initially I used my Dremel to clean the bolt-heads of surface rust and corrosion, then switched to a felt head with some emery compound, the same that I use on the polishing wheel. Once the bolt head was pretty clean, I used another felt head and some of the brown tripoli. This brought the bolts back to new, and perhaps even shinier than when they left the Suzuki factory some 34 years ago.

But doing it this way was time consuming. So I clamped a bolt into a miniature set of vice grips and used the polishing machine instead, after doing an initial cleaning with the Dremel as before. This method is a lot faster if perhaps a whole heap more dangerous; way too easy to catch the bolt in the polishing wheel and have to wrenched out of your hands. (The last couple of shots in the gallery show a before-and-after using the polishing machine method.)

Since I was cleaning the bolts for the front brake disk, it made sense to just put everything together while I had all the pieces there. I used a Scotch-Brite pad to polish the wheels again, removing some of the overspray from when I repainted them. Then used Mother's Mag & Aluminum polish to put a final shine on them before I bolted the brake disk in place. Recommended torque was quoted in the manual as between 15-20 ft/lbs. I put on 17ft/lbs.

The front axle and speedometer gear unit were scrubbed clean with 409, then the Dremel came into action again, taking off all the remaining dirt and corrosion. I thought about polishing the speedometer gear unit up to a bright polish, but there is enough shiny stuff on the bike just now without going too crazy. (I'm going to find the right sized cap and close off the speedometer gear unit, as the Acewell 2853 Digital Speedometer/Tachometer I bought uses a magnet mounted on the wheel and a reed switch on the front forks to detect it's rotational speed. Gone is the need for the speedometer cable. And also the tachometer cable is redundant too, as it picks up the counts from the ignition coils. Woohoo! I love taking stuff away from this bike but still keeping functionality.)

Current hours on build: 84.5 

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Polishing is fun. It's also exhausting. And tricky. Thankfully there are some great videos out there, notably the one from Eastwood, that really explains what to do in great detail. But there is no substitute for experience, and even though I had watched a bunch of videos, there are some aspects to polishing that befuddle me.

I understand that the compound is the thing that is doing the polishing, or cutting, of the metal; but how much is too much, and what is appropriate pressure? It seemed like today I would hit a sweet spot of quantity of compound and the correct pressure, then everything would work brilliantly. And towards the end of the day I was beginning to get a rhythm for what to do and things started to go a lot faster. Less is more, as far as polishing goes. Lots of light applications of compound, rather than loading up the wheel and getting nowhere.

My system for polishing is as follows: 

(Note: I did a preliminary cleaning of the forks using my Dremel; just to remove the most stubborn of corrosion from them. The abrasive wheel actually cut a little too aggressively and I had to go back over with some 400 grade emery paper to smooth things out a bit prior to going to the polish in wheel.)

1) Sisal wheel with grey emery compound;
2) Spiral sewn wheel with brown tripoli;
3) Canton flannel wheel with white rouge.

Cleaning the wheels periodically with the buff rake helped a lot too, and constantly rubbing the piece with a cotton rag to remove excess compound/black gunk was absolutely necessary. It was far too easy to overload the wheel with compound, and then get nothing but dark streaks of whatever across the forks. As per the videos I have separate gloves and wheels for each compound, all stored in gallon zip lock bags to avoid cross contamination .

Oh, and one final word: polishing is really messy. I will have to figure out some sort of exhaust system for the new workshop to catch all the polish and fluff that goes flying everywhere. I might just make my polishing stand mobile so I can wheel it outside and keep the workshop clean. Then I only have to worry about me getting dirty.

Here is a cool before and after shot of the forks. There is about three hours to get to this stage; the second fork took about half as much time.


Current hours on build: 81.5 

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Today I continued on with painting the various parts of the bike that need some rejuvenation. The upper and lower triple clamps, the front disk brake, the rear brake bracket, the kick stand, and the final coat on the swing arm were all done today. The bright sunshine made for a great situation where the parts got a chance to bake in the sun for a few hours. I am hoping that has made the paint super hard, and won't show too much wear and tear. In an ideal world I would have had all these parts powder-coated, but I didn't want to wait another two weeks for the parts to come back. Time is ticking on...

I also tested the two variations of high temperature paint that I bought, in order to change yesterday's dull grey engine color to something closer to a flat black. The Rust-Oluem High Heat Ultra proved to be the better of the two paints, and even though it is a semi-gloss, I am much happier with the way the engine looks. Ideally it would have been a flat black to match the frame color, and perhaps in the future we can experiment more with the Rust-Oleum products that are for brush painting, and thin them down enough for spray painting, rather than use the rattlecans. There is a flat black high-temp paint that might be a closer match to what I want.

I previously had the polishing machine mounted on a stand inside Misha, but after turning it on and seeing the millions of particles of fluff being thrown off by the buffing wheels, I decided to move it outside. I welded up a quick steel frame and mounted it to the back of the Tacoma. I did think about making some sort of free-standing movable frame, but in the end it came down to speed and economics: a couple of pieces of 1 1/2" angle iron from Lowes, thirty mins with the welder, and we were in business.

To prep the wheels for use, I have a tool that basically shreds the outer layer of the wheels with some steel teeth. It created a huge about of dust and particles, and I was so glad I was doing this outside. After applying some polishing compound I set to work with the generator cover, something I had already put a ton of work into getting rid of the corrosion and scratch marks. After polishing for a while it became obvious that I hadn't done a good enough job, so I went back to 400 grade emery paper and started to take out the scratches I had missed. Some of the more tricky corners required the help of my Dremel, and I just recently bought some new polishing tools that proved to be extremely helpful.

Polishing is exhausting, and I may be holding my body too rigid while working the piece across the buffing wheel. I hope tomorrow I can relax a bit and find a good posture with less tension in my back, otherwise I'm going to have to schedule a massage every night for the next few nights. But the end result was incredible; such a transformation!


Current hours on build: 77.0 

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Not Quite Black

So after a week at home on the island, and then two weeks of working in the ROC, I finally got back into working on Natasha. Today was a day for bigness; I mean bigness in terms of rapid progress, which of course means painting, as that always makes for quick transformations. And the weather was exceptionally nice, so after buying a small collapsible table from Lowes to use as a painting platform, I 'humphed' the engine outside (I guess it's about a 100lbs) and set about doing a final cleaning and degreasing, then masking off everything that I didn't want to be black.

I used two whole cans of Rust-Oleum's High Heat Spray, which is really meant for things like barbecues and stoves, but with a temperature rating of up to 1200F I figured it was a safe bet for use on an air cooled engine. Alas, it has dried to something less than black, more like a dull grey color, which I am not too thrilled about. I'll see what it looks like tomorrow against the frame that I sprayed today too. If the color difference is too much then I have some options: Rust-Oleum make a even higher temperature paint, called High Heat Ultra, which comes in a semi-gloss black, so that might be worth testing. I can also try their High Temp Engine paint which may be a stronger black.

And I also sprayed the frame and swing arm today, using Rust-Oleum's Professional High Performance Enamel Spray in flat black. Prior to spraying I took some time to clean up all the rough welds, using JB Weld as a metal filler in places. I then rubbed down the whole frame with some coarse emery cloth, and gave it a good degreasing before letting it dry in the sun. Both have come up brilliantly, although I may rub down the swing arm one more time; there are a few imperfections I would like to take care of before everything goes back together.

Current hours on build: 70.0 

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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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