The Four Fifty - Items filtered by date: March 2014


Well, here we are at the end. But it's not really the end; It's the beginning of something new. A bike has been given a new life; a chance to thrill and excite; a chance to put a smile on your face, even on the darkest days. Motorcycles rock. Sure, there are inherent dangers with riding, but everything has risk associated with it. How you decide to mitigate those risks is your own matter. But why get on a motorcycle at all if it's so risky. For me it's the feeling of freedom, of being present the world, rather than just existing. Robert Louis Stevenson said "The great affair is to move." He couldn't have been more right. Whether its a multi-leg cross country tour, or just nipping down the the store for some milk. Every journey has the potential to amazing. It's all in your perspective.

Okay, esoteric ramblings aside, today was the day that Natasha and I went on our first ride. The day before she finally ventured out of the Misha, my mobile motorcycle workshop step-van, and we spent an awesome afternoon with Craig Thompson at his photo studio taking some clean cyc-wall shots of Natasha. I learned some cool things to take back to my own studio; first and foremost I am going to shoot tethered. What does that mean? Well, instead of having the camera capture all the images, then download them later and review/edit/process, being tethered means there is a USB cable running from your camera to a laptop. When an image is taken the file gets zipped over to the laptop and you can see it in all it's glory almost instantly. This makes for a quick process to dial in everything and get that killer shot.

Secondly, I am going to purchase a heavy grade camera stand. This was awesome to bolt the camera onto, and take the same positioned image over and over again but with different lighting, so that a composite image could be built later on in Photoshop.

So with those taken care of, the next day I decided to take Natasha for her first ride. I knew that she started up and idled okay, but with a little tweaking I got the carbs a little better balanced. But saying that, I was totally doing it through 'feel'; hardly very scientific, but enough to get me on the road.

I adjusted the clutch, tested the brakes, put more gas in the tank, and then pulled on my leather jacket and helmet/goggles, which were also getting their first outing today too. 

For a number of weeks I had driven past an old building on the way to work with lovely distressed/flaking brickwork. I had a vision of shooting Natasha with that as her backdrop. The juxtaposition of the old and new brickwork seemed appropriate. New does not necessarily mean better.

Amazingly the weather was perfect, if perhaps a little chilly with a strong wind blowing. We rolled out of my driveway and headed the 1/4 mile to the pharmacy building. She was so light and nimble, and the low seat height/COG meant I was flipping her side to side with ease. What a lovely feeling.

But of course, nothing is that perfect straight out of the gate. Her midrange throttle was lumpy as hell, and I didn't even try her wide open. Sure, the brakes were working, but I'd rather not find out the extent of their range today. But I know that I have some serious tweaking of the carbs to get her running super smooth all through the throttle range. This is just another part of the build process. Sure, I could take it to someone who has been tuning bikes for years, but where is the fun in that. BUILT, not BOUGHT... remember? :)

So we pulled into the parking lot and set up. I had, of course, the biggest smile you can imagine. We made it to this point. Actual movement! Woohoo!

Below are the results of that shoot, plus the studio session too. Finally I can replace the aging photos on the website slideshow, but I have one more session I want to shoot, and that will be with a model back on San Juan Island. I really want to do it in a parking structure, but we don't have too many of those on island so we'll have to find something else industrial/urban to fit my vision.

Current hours on build: 212.0 

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So here we are at the end... well, the end of the build at least. Next up is tuning the bike with the new carbs/exhaust. And I imagine that's going to be quite challenging, but with careful experimentation and scientific observation, I think Natasha will be able to hit the ton soon enough. As I write this, the bleak winter days seem to have lifted from Pittsburgh, and it looks almost like I could take Natasha for a ride in the next couple of days. 

It has been quite the journey, and I have learned a LOT. Really. Even right up to the very last minute there were lessons to be learned. Example: When I put the tank on, I somehow managed to knock off the fuel line to the righthand carb. Which meant when I turned the petcock on and watched as the fuel flowed from the tank, through the lovely fuel filter and into the carbs, half of it went down the side of the carbs and all over my nice new engine paint job. Gas + Paint = Not Paint Anymore. Bum! So there will be some touching up to do before I shoot Natasha in the photography studio next week.

But without a doubt, this has been a FUN project. And I cannot wait till I have a proper workshop to start the next 450. Let's set a provisional start date for March 2015, shall we? :)

(Note: When you watch the live action part of the build video you will notice that I look exhausted. That's because I am. Work is crazy busy and I barely get enough sleep to fulfill my body's needs right now. I need a vacation. A long one.)

Happy building, John S.

Total hours on build: 215.0




So it's been a while... my bad. What can I say? The winter here in Pennsylvania this year has been harsh. And even though I have seven years of living and working in Siberia under my belt, I have to say this winter sucked. With temperatures in the teens (negatives for Celsius users), the van was impossible to heat, and even my house was in a permanent state of chilly. Thank god for electric under blankets, otherwise I would have frozen in my sleep. Oh, and there was a woman for a couple of months. Isn't there always? Not anymore, so Natasha gets my complete focus now.

Anyway, here we are on the home stretch of the build. The last significant part was to mount the rear tail light. I had originally purchased a combined brake/tail/turn/license plate light (see photo to left) that would have fit nicely up under the rear lip of the seat, but it just looked too modern for the cafe racer style. So I went back to a classic cat's eye tail light.

Mounting this was relatively easy but I had to also mount turn signals to make Natasha legal in WA. But wherever I put them they just looked 'wrong', and disrupted the clean lines of the seat/rear of the bike.

So I took out the incandescent bulb and fittings from inside, then made my own custom LED board. Sounds simple but I actually spent about ten hours working on just this part of the bike. There was a lot of trial and error with mounting the LEDs on the board. I have to say my eyesight isn't what it used to be, and I relied heavily on the magnifying glass that is mounted on my little soldering work stand. I would really like to have designed and etched a custom PCB, but that would have been overkill for a one off. So the soldering on the back of the blank board might be a little funky in places, but it works. I discovered on the website that I purchased the LEDs from ( that they have a current limit/driver that eliminates the need to calculate the right resistor for a given set of LEDs. It outputs exactly 20mA's, with a wide range of input voltages. This is particularly helpful for automotive projects where the voltage can vary quite a lot, and saved me a bunch of frustration working with resistors.

I'm pretty pleased with the final result; a combined tail/brake/turn/license plate light in an old cat's eye body, made for about $16 in parts, albeit with ten hours work. :)

Once I've had Natasha on the road for a bit and all the LED's continue to work then I'll probably encase it in some RTV or something, to properly waterproof it. The case of the cat's eye is pretty snug, but given it's location right behind the rear wheel, I'd love to eliminate any moisture getting in there at all.

I also installed a little waterproof toggle switch under the seat which cuts all power to the ignition. This is a fail safe for the RFID ignition if I find it draws too much current over an extended period. I'll be able to cut all power while the bike is off the road.

Current hours on build: 212.0 

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Rebuilding, restoring, and recycling classic bikes into unique custom-made cafe racers.


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The Four Fifty

170 John Street

Friday Harbor, WA 98250

United States

(360) 298-2374

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