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Old is the New Cool

I initially purchased this bike back on the 6th August 2010 for my girlfriend to learn to ride on. Well, she's since moved on, and so I am left with nothing much but the bike.

It had only 7000 miles on the clock and had been sitting for the last twenty odd years in someones carport waiting to be rescued. The guy I bought it from had thrown in a new battery, some fresh gas, and it started right up. Really surprizing. That length of time and I would have expected the carbs to be totally trashed with old gas and the varnish it leaves behind. So for $400 and a trip to Polusboro with a borrowed truck, I picked up a nice starter bike.

We did one quick lesson in the carpark of Market Place, and then it was time bring it back to the workshop to strip the carbs, repair fork seals, change the oil, and generally check everything over before we proceeded out onto the open road.

Alas, even with stripping the carbs completely, replacing all the seals, even the boots between the carbs and cylinder heads, there is a fuel starvation issue going on. I'm a little bit stumped, as everything checks out right. It's not like someone ripped out the airbox and threw on some pods, without changing the jets. It's wearing the stock exhuast. Everything is stock. So I'm back to rebuilding the carbs again, this time being absolutely meticulious. I will fix this problem.

Future Look: 1

So I found this photograph on a motorcycle classifieds ad somewhere in Europe. There was no credit given so I can't tell you who, what, where, except to say it's built on some version of a GS450. 

Anyway, I have been trying to think of how the GS450 will end up looking like. The modern wheels do tend to make me think it will look less like a classic cafe racer, and rather a modern interpretation of one. Then I stumbled upon this photograph, and went "Ah ha!" to a certain extent. So the plan will be to strip the GS450 completely. Repaint the frame silver, blacken the engine, wheels and exhaust. I'm hesitant to put pods on, as that will involve major rejetting issues, but since I am already facing some issue with carburetors, I might as well go the whole nine yards and jump in the deep end. I do so like the clean lines of the pods, and moving the electrics, although in this version I have no idea where they put the battery. Unless it's one of hose super high performance Lithium batteries that are very small and flat It could all be tucked under the seat. Anyway, I think I will put a more traditional cafe racer seat on. I'll leave the tank as stock, but respray it red. Yes, it'll end up being classic red, black and silver... my colors.

Plan of Attack

Here is a quick rundown on all that is going to happen to Natasha. Since this bike more than likely will become my runaround out here in Pennsylvania, I want to make it a little studier than originally intended. It's got to endure some rough roads up and down to the rig, so there will be less chrome to polish, fatter dual sport tires, and potentially some sort of removable rack for me to strap some groceries onto. 

Start of Day One

So I really gave myself the challenge of completely finishing my 'workshop in a step-van' before starting on Natasha. But when it came down to it, I had to break my promise and get started. There are some bits of trim to finish and paint, and I can do those last few items while waiting for parts to arrive. I had to get moving on this project; December was zooming through too quickly.  

Looking at this picture Natasha is a nice looking bike. Back in 1981 she would have really been quite stylish.

I have documented the bikes condition before the project started:

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Grinding

I've ordered a cool new seat from Dime City Motors, which should be arriving to a UPS store near me in the next couple of days. Once I have that, I will figure out exactly how much of the rear frame I need to chop off and re-weld. In the meantime I decided to remove all the superfluous brackets that once upon a time held things like the battery, side covers and air-box. I used my angle grinder for the heavy lifting but will go back over with my Dremel to make things smooth again.

Also today I removed the Suzuki name plates from either side of the gas tank (I had to drill out the screws on one side), and removed all the plastic pin-striping and decals from the tank. This was an arduous job as the decals just wanted to break off in tiny pieces. I decided to use my little space heater to try and make them more flexible by heating them up. This helped tremendously but there was still quite a lot of time spent with a razor blade.

After that I had to try and remove the thirty year old adhesive. This was the worse part of the day, and after repeated soaking of rags with Goo Gone, I cleaned the tag up pretty well. Next project is to fill the places where the Suzuki name plates used to be with body filler and rub down the tank ready to be painted by a local custom car shop. I am thinking of going a deep red/burgundy color with a black insert where your knees would tuck in.

Current hours on build: 6.5

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New Seat

So the new seat (The DCC Original Ribbed Leather Wrapped "Cafe" Seat) from Dime City Cycles came today. I have to say I love it. It's really well made; the stitching is lovely. And yes, it would be nice if it were real leather but the fake stuff looks just as good and will hopefully last as long.

I put back on the gas tank temporarily and positioned the seat in place. I'll be able to use the front mount where it is, but the rear seat mount will take some chopping and re-welding to make it pretty. I thought about getting on with it today, but I am going to be smart and order the new battery (a super slim Antigravity 4-cell Battery - (2.5 AMP Hour, 120 CCA)) so I can make sure everything fits under the new seat. As I have removed all the brackets for the starter solenoid, regulator/rectifier and battery box, that will all have to be rewired to fit under the seat. I am going to weld up a small tray to hold everything, and the seat will provide adequate coverage to hide the components from sight. I am hoping there is room in there for a small toolkit also. It also makes sense to order the rear brake light and turn signals now, so that I can make sure they have a solid place to be mounted. With the shape of this seat, I am looking for something that is more oval than round or square. It's tempting to go with something a little modern, like the rear lights from an old Yamaha R6/R1. Maybe that will be a little too much like a 'Transformer' than a classic cafe racer look.

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Frame Works

A lot has happened in the last month: I changed jobs; moving from a field position to an office position, and consequently I moved into a house, which meant moving Misha to a new location also. Fortunately the house I found came with two private parking spots at the back, so now I can look out my window every morning and see Misha resting there peacefully. My new job comes with a fixed schedule, so I know exactly when I am working now, which means it is a lot easier to get small increments of work done on Natasha everyday. Slow and steady wins the race right?

Because of all these changes I have not working on Natasha much since my last update in December. But some progress has been made. I figured out the mounting for the new seat, plus mounting for the rear light/turn signals. The seat mounting was relatively easy as I reused the original brackets, moving the forward one back slightly to accommodate the new seat's bracket. And to give better support under the main part of the seat I modified the original seat bracket and used that forward of it's old position and chopped about an inch off of it's height.

The rear brake light and turn signals were a little tricker to figure out. I chopped the rear frame quite aggressively, and was left with two stubby ends just past the rear shock mounts. I thought about having a piece of tubing bent into a double S shape to join these two together and sweep upwards under the seat, but that seemed overtly complicated. So after much head scratching I welded up a simple bracket to tuck the brake light up under the seat. It looks a bit blunt, but the turn signals will be mounted in there also, so the overall shape should be aesthetically pleasing. Because there isn't too much room there now I will be mounting the license plate on the right or left shock. 

(I know my welds vary in quality, sometimes I get the beading perfect and I don't want to do anything but clean it up a bit with a wire brush. Other times I struggle to make it pretty and just want to grind it down afterwards and erase those botched beads. Practice makes perfect, I guess.)

As construction progressed I realized that I really had mounted the bracket too deep under the seat and wasn't happy with mounting the turn signals on the outside of the frame above the shocks, so another bracket was made to bring the brake light out 1 1/2", and give a place to mount the turn signals. In order to soften the lines of these brackets I welded the second bracket ends at a 45 degree angle, so that means the turn signals will be mounted pointing down and out at an angle. I think this look will work. And if it doesn't I can always chop it off and start again.

Current hours on build: 9.5

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Steel Mustache

So there are times when I struggle with not getting wrapped up in Perfection. I've been working very hard at controlling my OCDness and just letting the flow of the bike take me where it wants to. I noticed today that I was slightly out on the brake/turn signal bracket; I mean you wouldn't notice it unless looking dead on from behind. I know I cut one side of the rear frame about 1/16" less than the other, but the Suzuki welder for that day sometime in 1980 was a little off with his measurements as well, so it was something to be tolerated. But of course that small error gets built into successive components, each one trying to compensate for the previous. There is something to be said for doing it right the first time.

I know the error is there, and it bothers me, but I am leaving it. As much as I want to cut everything off and start again, I'm not. The brake light/turn signal combination under the seat isn't as graceful as I want, but it works. And if there is anything about cafe racers, it was that FUNCTION always outranked FORM. But still, I think there is room for balance of those two elements.

On the next GS450, I'll do it differently. Yes, the next bike will be another GS450. I think it's good to specialize. Every builder has their favorite model, and so I think the GS450 will be mine. With each successive build I'll add to my knowledge. Who knows what the sixth or sixteenth iteration will look like?

Current hours on build: 10.5

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Old School

I love Photoshop. As a professional photographer I use it every day, and I probably only use about 10% of it's true power. Retouching is my main purpose; removing a wrinkle here, a blemish there. Occasionally removing a whole object like a tree, or car, or that crazy uncle photo-bombing someone's wedding day. It has also come in useful for imagining what certain colors of gas tank might look on Natasha. I'm a big follower of silver, black, and red. Let's just say silver is a predominate vehicle color for me. (Everything since I was twenty has been silver, aside a white Toyota Previa minivan... but we won't talk about that.)

I was going to just repaint the tank silver again, in keeping with Natasha's original colors; maybe including some nice detailing. But when I started messing around in Photoshop with a Hue/Saturation layer, suddenly I saw Natasha in a deep red; could it be called Russian Red?

But a solid color just seems a little too plain. So I printed out a few different angles of the tank after I had colorized the tank red. With the aid of a extra fine pen and a new black sharpie, I started to throw out some ideas. I couldn't imaging doing this in Photoshop. Maybe Illustrator, but since I'm not going to spend a week being myself up to a decent speed learning that program, I decided it was easier to do it the old fashioned way.

Sometime the simplest things can bring the greatest pleasure. Yes, after a while I started to get a bit tired of filling all the black squares, but the end result was mock-ups of a few ideas. I am definitely more enthusiastic about the chess board pattern across the top of the tank. We'll see what the custom painter I found in Pittsburgh has to say about that. It's got to be easier than doing flames or skulls, right? 

Engine Out

So it has actually been months since I worked on Natasha. A combination of being ill for 5 solid weeks and not really having any energy after working 12 hours of tech support everyday has meant that I've not been very productive at all. This is bad news. I should have been finished by now. I should have been riding Natasha back and forth to work in the summer sun. Bad boss.

Anyway, I've finally got back into the workshop and pulled the engine out of the frame. If you remember when I started to dismantle everything I broke an exhaust header bolt in the engine. So I drilled a pilot hole, hammered in an ez-out and tried to extract it. I have to say I was pretty disappointed with the quality of steel of the ez-outs. It started to twist without really that much pressure. I opened the hole out to a larger size and used a larger ez-out but with the same result. I think I'm just going to have to re-tap the hole. Bugger.

Cleaning the engine is both rewarding and frustrating. 32 years worth of oil and grime, as well as a fair about of oxidization of the alumiunium, means that it's going to be a long haul to bring this engine back to something like it was when it rolled off the production line in 1981. I was going to mix up a solution of baking soda and see what I can do about the cooling fins, but I think in reality, with time against me, I am just going to get them clean enough to paint with some high temperature black paint. The side covers I will pull off and polish with the buffing machine, so there will be some shiny bits on there.

Current hours on build: 13.5

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Scrub A Dub Dub

The cleaning of the engine continues, and with that task, my patience is gradually diminishing. There are so many corners and crevices to clean in an air-cooled engine, it feels like I will never be done. For a little instant gratification I took off the heavily rusted cylinder head acorn nuts, picked up the right sized bolt to screw them securely onto, then used a brass wire brush on my drill to give them a good cleaning. Yes, it scratched them to pieces but since I'm going to be spraying the whole cylinder head with high temp black paint (I think anyway, depends on how things start to clean up), the imperfection created by this somewhat brutal cleaning method will be hidden. I also did the same with the starter motor cover. Shiny shiny now.

Secondly, none of my cleaning brushes can fit where I need them most. So a little 'Necessity is the mother of invention' moment later, and a slightly longer trip to Lowes, I came back with some 3/16" brass tubing, some braided wire and a crazy idea. As you can see from the photos, it is a remarkably simple idea, and works none too bad. Yes, the strands of the wire get really messed up after a while from being jammed in between the fins, but you just put the tube back in the vice and pull a new section of wire from the tube and cut off the messy part.

Still a long way to go though.

Current hours on build: 14.5

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Tapping

So if you remember during the tear down of Natasha I broke an exhaust header bolt in the engine. I was going to drill it out and re-tap the hole to a larger bolt size, but during my surfing of Amazon looking for the appropriately well made tap to do the job I stumbled upon a company called Time-Sert.

Basically their product allows you to drill out the broken bolt and the existing threads, then recut new threads such that a small steel insert can be screwed in and locked in place. The beauty of this system is that it allows you to retain the original bolt size. I ordered the kit from Amazon (You'll find it here), and was really surprised by the quality of the tools that came, but then again the little kit cost me $67.30; and that covers only one thread size! The tap and correctly sized drill bit are all really good tool steel in a nice little box to hold everything; the instructions are pretty clear and simple. I had this little problem taken care of in about ten minutes. 

Second good thing to happen today was that the parts that I ordered from Dime City Cycles arrived a day early. It was almost like Christmas had come early as I unpacked all the parts and looked at everything that was shiny. I am most pleased with everything that came, especially the tires which are going to look awesome on Natasha. I went with a dual sport design as she is going to be riding on some dirt roads on the island; that super aggressive grip might be a bit noisy on the roads, but come time to go down a slippery gravel driveway, you'll be thanking me for my fortitude. These will also give Natasha a bit of a Mad Max look to her. If you don't know that that means, shame on you! Educate yourself here.

Oh, and the weather here in Canonsburg has been getting unbearably hot. The inside of Misha turning into an oven (>85F), so I went to Lowes and bought a small window AC and installed it on the driver's side. Things are a lot cooler now!

Here is the list of things I ordered:

ItemSkuQtySubtotal
"The Coveted" Mikuni VM34mm Carburetor -Left Side - (Standard Jetting) 001-030 1 $114.95
"The Coveted" Mikuni VM34mm Carburetor, Right Side - (Standard Jetting) 001-052 1 $114.95
K&N Air Filter Pod - (57mm/2-2/10") 005-636 2 $91.90
The Cafe Racer TV "Everything Old Is Cool Again" Graphic tee - (Black)
Size
Large
CRTV-LRIDER-L 1 $21.95
Kenda K761 Dual Sport Tire - (110/80-18) 28-6153 1 $89.95
Clubman Handlebars - (Chrome) 23-12538 1 $39.95
7" Chrome Classic British Style Headlight Assembly (DOT Approved) 6635-26 1 $74.95
Acewell 2853 Digital Speedometer/Tachometer - (Chrome) 19-2853-CH 1 $209.00
Black Fiberglass Exhaust/Header Wrap - (1" Wide x 50' Roll) 66-0804 1 $49.95
Vintage OEM Style Fork Boots aka: Gaiters 716-1001 1 $19.95
ProGrip Style 717 Grips - (Black w/ Red) 19-7173 1 $14.95
"Retro-Slim" Chrome Eye to Eye Shock Absorbers - (320mm/12.50") 32-0227 1 $97.95
12" "Shorty" Muffler 80-03310 2 $59.90
Mikuni Carburetor Tuning Manual 002-999 1 $13.00
Retro Glass & Chrome Inline Fuel Filter 603514 1 $11.95
UNI UP-123 Push In Crankcase Breather Filter 14-9855 1 $13.95
The Cafe Racer TV "Everything Old Is Cool Again" Text tee
Size
Large
CRTV-OLDTEXT-L 1 $21.95
Kenda K761 Dual Sport Tire - (120/80-18) 28-6154 1 $98.95
Subtotal $1,160.10
Shipping & Handling $60.60
Grand Total $1,220.70

Current hours on build: 16.0

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Cleaner Lines

What is the saying? "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right?" Something like that. So I ended up taking the grinder to the work that I already did for the rear light cluster. I just wasn't happy with it. Too clumsy looking. So with a new combined LED light cluster with license plate holder in my hand (I found it on eBay here), I held it under the seat and saw what needed to be done. Chop chop chop.

M3 Bender by JD SquaredI have some 1" tube on order from Metal Depot, arriving later this week. I'll make a loop around from end to end of the chopped frame; not quite a curve, but not quite super angular either, following the shape of the seat. I did look at a lovely pipe bender by JD Squared, and maybe in the future when I have a full shop I will get one of those. But for the time being I will make do with whatever makeshift bends I can do without the proper tools. I don't need much, just 15-20 degrees, so I can probably do that in the vice with some form made out of wood. It's only 0.060" gauge pipe so should be relatively easy to bed, but also relatively easy to crush. We will see.

Because I cut out the existing top suspension mounts I am going to have to make my own new ones. The originals were just bolts that were welded into a preformed piece of 18ga metal, so I will clean those out and make 4 flat brackets out of 1/8" flat bar, with the correct size hole for the bolts. Weld the bolts in place, then mount them onto the suspension, and make sure everything lines up before welding it all together. They will be almost exactly where they were before, just a lot cleaner looking.

(You will notice in one of the photographs I used the pieces I cut off the frame to support the bike. Conveniently enough they were exactly the right height to maintain the same distance of the swing-arm relative to the frame as with the suspension on.)

Current hours on build: 18.0

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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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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 BikeBandit.com but recently discovered Partzilla.com 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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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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Patience

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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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 Borrowlenses.com, 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

 

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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Shiny

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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Forks

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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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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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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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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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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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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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.) 

 

ItemSkuQtySubtotal
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 

 

Flow

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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Custom Curves

The new speedo/tachometer required a custom made bracket to fit it to the top of triple clamp. I bought some 1" x 1/4" flat aluminum bar from Lowes and traced out the dimensions of the triple clamp on some cardboard. This wasn't a very complicated piece to make but I still had fun regardless, and was very happy with the end result. I think I've mentioned this before, but I have a new found patience when it comes to working these days. I take the time to get things right, not necessarily perfect, but at least right to the point where I am proud of the end result. There was a time where my perfectionist streak would make me rush, and in the end that was totally counterproductive. Years ago when I was sky-diving, my instructor would say "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast". How true that saying is for me today.

So with an awesome bracket made for the speedo/tachometer (I'm going to paint it flat black to match everything else), I started to check the rest of the writing loom. I hooked up the battery and spliced together the ignition wires, much in the same way you would hot wire a car, as the parts to make the keyless ignition system have not arrived yet. When I went to turn on one of the turn signals, nothing happened. :( After a quick check of power and continuity with my voltmeter I discovered I had forgotten to screw down the main wiring loom ground to the frame. Once that was done I had power to the bike and everything worked. Yay! I didn't turn the bike over as I still have not filled the engine up with oil, but tested all the lights and horn, which sounded incredibly feeble, as if the three decades of neglect were emanating from it's very core. So I think we'll be shopping for a newer (and happier) horn tonight.

I also have to purchase some load resistors as the LED turn signals do not trigger the relay. But I think I more than likely purchase a new turn signal relay designed specifically for LEDs. Superbrightleds.com has one here that will work, and will simply replace the existing Suzuki one. Why do the LEDs not flash? Well, because they draw so little current there isn't enough to trigger the relay. 

I also temporarily hooked up the new speedo/tachometer. I'll splice the pigtail into the wiring loom tomorrow; I just wanted to see that it worked as a last little project for today. As Natasha does not have a fuel sensor in the tank I will have to find a way of faking the tank being full, so that the speedo/tachometer registers a full-tank and doesn't keep flashing that it's empty: it does this when there is nothing connected to it. Just a question of finding the right resistor to get that to happen. I do love the blue dial illumination.

Current hours on build: 122.0 

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Bottom Line

The end is close, really close. Perhaps another twenty hours if I am being totally realistic. There still is a bunch of work left, all of it small and detailed, which means time consuming. I have to create the throttle cables for the twin Mikuni carbs which might be a bit tricky. Install the carbs, fuel lines, and tank. Final mounting of the seat and rear light cluster. Plus cleaning/repainting the foot pedals, and configuring the keyless ignition system. (You might as well know that I am thinking of going back to the original Black Cats Eye taillight. I think the shiny LED combined taillight/brake lights is just a little too small and a little too modern. I want a bright dash of classic red at the end of the seat, and the cat's eye might do the trick.)

So while I haven't kept every single receipt, I do have a pretty good idea of the total cost of Natasha so far. Below is a complete breakdown of all the purchases. I primarily order my parts from Dime City Cycles. They have everything you could possibly need for building your own cafe racer dream, plus they are super friendly and efficient. Parts are always shipped really quickly, which is essential as plans change constantly during the build progression. It's hard to be stopped waiting for a crucial part.

Total cost of Natasha so far: $3177.32. Not too bad really, but it does help that the initial purchase of Natasha was for only $400. Of course if I then factor in my time, let's say I will finish at 144 hours, then depending on what I put my hourly rate at could change things considerably. US average hourly rate for a motorcycle mechanic  is anywhere between $9.91 to $26.63, but one could argue that I am doing much more than just a mechanics's duties and responsibilities, but I'm still not a professional custom bike builder like someone at Orange County Choppers where the bikes sell for tens of thousands of dollars... so what figure do I use? Let's say $30 an hour for this first build, as I've gone pretty slowly to get things done right, that puts my labor at $4320.00.

It's so hard to put a final retail price on something like Natasha; beauty is in the eye of the beholder and someone may see this bike and want it more than anything else and be prepared to pay a premium to get it. Not that she is going to be put up for sale. I have a good friend who needs to start riding motorbikes again, so Natasha will be spending the summers with her, and returning to me for wintertime maintenance, tweaking, and photo-shoots. I don't think I could sell her, but if someone came along with a wad of cash I might be swayed. It would have to be a really large wad of cash though. :)

ItemSkuQtySubtotal
1981 Suzuki GS450 Craigslist 1 $400.00
The DCC Original Ribbed Leather Wrapped "Cafe" Seat  DCC-TR-LWRAP 1 $225.95
Black Cats Eye Taillight  60-0694 1 $25.95
Arrow Deco Style Turn Signals - (Black & Amber)  61-83741 2 $29.90
Antigravity 4-cell Battery - (2.5 AMP Hour, 120 CCA)  AG-401 1 $124.95
"The Coveted" Mikuni VM34mm Carburetor -Left Side - (Standard Jetting) 001-030 1 $114.95
"The Coveted" Mikuni VM34mm Carburetor, Right Side - (Standard Jetting) 001-052 1 $114.95
Kenda K761 Dual Sport Tire - (110/80-18) 28-6153 1 $89.95
Clubman Handlebars - (Chrome) 23-12538 1 $39.95
7" Chrome Classic British Style Headlight Assembly (DOT Approved) 6635-26 1 $74.95
Acewell 2853 Digital Speedometer/Tachometer - (Chrome) 19-2853-CH 1 $209.00
Black Fiberglass Exhaust/Header Wrap - (1" Wide x 50' Roll) 66-0804 1 $49.95
Vintage OEM Style Fork Boots aka: Gaiters 716-1001 1 $19.95
"Retro-Slim" Chrome Eye to Eye Shock Absorbers - (320mm/12.50") 32-0227 1 $97.95
12" "Shorty" Muffler 80-03310 2 $59.90
Retro Glass & Chrome Inline Fuel Filter 603514 1 $11.95
UNI UP-123 Push In Crankcase Breather Filter 14-9855 1 $13.95
Kenda K761 Dual Sport Tire - (120/80-18) 28-6154 1 $98.95
K&N Filter Cleaning & Oil Kit KN-99-5000 1 $13.95
Mikuni "Plunger" Choke Lever - Plastic 002-816 2 $23.90
Mikuni Universal 2-into-1 Throttle Cable 002-025 1 $19.95
1/4" Fuel Line Clamps 14-0094 1 $4.95
3/16" Fuel Line Clamps 14-0093 1 $3.95
5/16" Fuel Line Clamps 14-0095 1 $5.95
7mm Red Copper Dynatek Spark Plug Wire Set 618-782 1 $21.95
DCC Original Aluminum Oval Bar End Mirror –- (Silver) DCC-BEM001 2 $89.90
Three Piece Universal Muffler/Exhaust Reducer Kit 80-47310 2 $13.90
1.56" - 1.70" Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Clamp 212-2757 2 $19.90
Aluminum Headlight Brackets - (Fits: 35-41mm Forks) 66-35830 1 $34.95
Red K&N Style Air Filter Pod - (60mm/2-3/10") 89-0060 2 $19.90
Galfer 40 Degree Short K7 Stainless Steel Banjo Fitting FK003D704C 2 $20.00
Galfer K7 Universal Stainless Steel Brake Lines - 30" K7-30U11 1 $33.00
Copper Banjo Crush Washers (20-Pack) 32-1737 1 $10.95
Universal GP Style Aluminum Footpegs 50-11231 1 $23.95
1/4" Black Fuel Line 53-9971 3 $5.25
1/8" Clear Vent Line 12-0000-FT 6 $9.00
10mm x 1.25 Brake Banjo Bolt: 24mm Length 57-40505 2 $15.90
DCC Original Silver Aluminum Bar Ends DCC-BEALUM 1 $19.00
Super Bike Style 780 Grips - (Black) 19-7802 1 $9.95
DEI 611T Mosfet Multiswitch eBay 1 $12.75
RFID Transponder Kit eBay 1 $6.00
3mm 12v Pre-Wired Red/Amber/Green LED - Ultra Bright (12v) LedLighthouse 3 $1.52
3mm LED Bezel / Holder - Black (plastic) LedLighthouse 3 $0.21
85dB Piezo Buzzer Amazon 1 $5.99
Amico 5 Pcs DC 12V Coil SPDT 5 Pin Mini Power Relays PCB Type Amazon 1 $1.40
Wire, Heat Shrink Tubing, Solder, Patience. Misc 1 $0.50
Magneto Emblem Partzilla 2 $21.94
Exhaust Gasket Partzilla 2 $10.56
Exhaust Pipe Clamp Partzilla 1 $4.42
Lock Washer Partzilla 4 $5.20
Exhaust Bolt Partzilla 1 $1.64
Exhaust Bolt (Header) Partzilla 4 $8.68
Stainless steel 18-8, 6mm x 1.0mm x 35mm BoltDepot 100 $20.02
Waterproof Toggle Switch FutureVision 1 $21.95
Oil Seal - Crankshaft BikeBandit 1 $7.32
Gasket - Clutch BikeBandit 1 $16.98
Gasket - Timing Cover BikeBandit 1 $3.79
Gasket - Magneto BikeBandit 1 $10.87
Gasket - Head BikeBandit 1 $24.73
Gasket - Cylinder Head BikeBandit 1 $16.81
90 Degree Cable Adjuster - Mukuni Carbs Jets R US 2 $18.00
Tire Mounting & Balancing North Hills Cycle 2 $60.00
Tank Refinishing North Hills Cycle 1 $400.00
RustoLeum High Temperature Paint - Black Lowes Misc $12.46
RustoLeum Spray Paint - Flat Black Lowes 2 $11.16
Cleaning Supplies: Rags, Purple Power, 409, etc Lowes Misc $30.00
Sanding and Polishing Supplies: Rags, ScotchBrite Pads, etc. Lowes Misc $100.00
Miscellaneous Bolts, Washers, Nuts, Hardware Lowes Misc $30.00
Cleaning Supplies: Rags, Purple Power, 409, etc Lowes Misc $50.00
LED Bulb Electronic Flasher FL2-RED SuperBrightLeds 1 $12.95
Miscellaneous Electrical: Solder, Crimps, Wire, etc. Misc Misc $20.00
NGK (B8ES Solid) Standard Spark Plug Amazon 2 $6.22
Grand Total $3177.32

 

Solid Soldering

There is something quite beautiful about a perfectly soldered joint. I think it is the semi-magical flow of solder into the strands of wire when it reaches that critical temperature (60/40 Tin/lead (Sn/Pb) the most commonly used solder for electrical work melts at 370 °F or 188 °C). Or perhaps it's just the process of stripping away the old wire; the aging and yellowing plastic connectors; the excess wire no longer needed due to efficient rerouting of cables... then replacing them with nicely made connections, double wrapped in heat shrink tubing. Either way, I spent a solid three hours on Natasha's wiring loom last night and am quite pleased with the results so far.

If you Google 'soldering' or visit YouTube, you will come to realize there are many ways to solder wire. I can't say my method is the best, but I am happy with the level of detail that goes into each joint, and am sure nothing will go wrong with these joints for a loooonnggg time.

Here are my steps:

1. Cut wire to desired length;

2. Trim 3/8" of the insulation off both ends;

3. Slide a 1/2" piece of heat shrink tubing over one wire;

4. Slide a 1" - 1 1/4" piece of heat shrink tubing over the other wire;

5. Press the two wires together so that the strands of wire 'interlock' with each other;

6. Take a single strand of higher gauge wire and wrap this around the ends to keep the strands tight together;

7. Apply heat to one side of the joint with freshly tinned soldering iron;

8. When hot enough press 60/40 solder to other side of joint;

9. Melt a sufficient amount of solder to completely cover wires;

10. Allow to cool, then slide smallest heat shrink tubing over joint and shrink;

11. Slide largest heat shrink tubing over smaller and shrink;

12. Admire your work!

Note: When working in really tight spaces or with short lengths of wire pay close attention to the heat shrink tubing while soldering: they can start to shrink early if you heat the wires for too long.

So what did I actually do today? Tested the gear indicator wiring and identified the neutral gear wire; spliced in the new speedo/tachometer wiring loom; figured out power to speedo/tachometer; looped gas tank signal to spare power line (0 Ohms means Full) so that it always shows a full tank and stops flashing empty; tested and installed the new turn signal relay (this required the connections to be flipped around); made a new cable to run a different route from the positive terminal of battery to starter solenoid; eliminated plastic connections on alternator and regulator/rectifier wiring, and shortened and rerouted those lines; rewrapped some of those wires with new insulation tape.

Current hours on build: 126.0 

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Custom Components

For those of you that don't know me well, I can get a little obsessed about a project. Natasha's electrics has been the focus of that stubborn obsession of late. In the last three days I've put a twelve solid hours into just her wiring; and I'm not even counting the endless hours of thinking that I do when faced with a challenging project. I did have a very clear plan of things I was going to do while I wait for the tank to be finished: I don't want to finalize the fitment of the wiring loom to the frame until I have the tank and can see where the wiring needs to end up. But I had in my hand the tiny relays for making the LED warning lights, and then I started down that path...

So the original plans called for three LEDs; red, amber, and green. That is still the case but I have added an additional relay and logic to the warning lights. This new relay now indicates when the Kill Switch is in the off position by illuminating the amber LED. So the red LED indicates when the RFID system is disabled and therefore the ignition has no power. Green indicates that the ignition has power AND the kill switch is on. If the Kill Switch is off AND the RFID is enabled/Ignition has power then the amber LED stays lit. Makes sense, right?

I soldered some test wires on to the relays and started testing if I could get this to work. OMG, this took a while to figure out exactly how to do. Either some LEDs would light or others would go out. It all depended on where you put the wires (DUH!), and whether you used the relays as Normally Open or Normally Closed. But in the end I got it figured out, even though the wiring looked like a bird's nest by the end of it.

Trying to fit everything inside the headlamp was going to be tricky, so I picked up some blank circuit boards from Radio Shack and decided to mount the relays to that. This would save space and tidy up the wiring considerably. It tool about six iterations of the board design until I got everything in a logical order without a million wires crossing over each other. I could have used a computer program to design the board for me, but decided to just print out a blank template I created in Word (a sheet of paper with 15 x 15 dot pattern) and figure it out by hand. It didn't take too long to get something that looked good. (You can see the final design in the photo below.)

I haven't done a lot of board soldering so I was very careful not to overheat the components or dump too much solder onto the connections. (I have to say I was somewhat bad and took my stuff into work with me; it was Sunday and the office was totally empty, plus work was unusually quiet. So I don't have any photos of the board construction, except for the one image I took of my desk and Marco helping with the wiring.)

I cut and mounted everything and was about to start soldering when I realized I designed the board as if looking from below; so I potentially averted a very frustration event there. It didn't take long to flip everything over and mount for a second time. I tested the board with a 9V battery and shockingly the board worked straight away. Tres cool!

The RFID box is too big to fit inside the headlamp so I busted that out of it's case; thankfully there isn't much to the board. I swapped out the 5mm red LED with a 90dB piezo pulse alarm from Radio Shack. I did originally have a buzzer type alarm there, but it sounded like there was a cheap vibrator stuck inside the headlamp, so changed it out for a 3-24VDC 3200Hz better quality alarm. This gives a nice and loud beep when the RFID signal is accepted.

After shortening all the standard power/signal wires and splicing them together, I put it all inside the headlamp. To start with I have used Velcro to attach the antenna and alarm; once I have organized and mounted the wiring loom a bit better then I'll stick the boards on the back of the headlamp. Being a curved surface I trimmed off all the plastic mounting tabs on the boxes, antenna, and alarm to make them easier to mount. Of course before that I will insulate the exposed RFID and LED circuit boards with spray on liquid insulation tape. I think that will provide enough waterproofness and protection. (Note: I did blow one RFID board while testing; I am guessing it shorted out against the metal headlamp. I am hoping that was it, and not changing out the LED for the alarm. A 5mm LED draws 20mA, and the alarm draws 15mA, so there shouldn't be a problem. We will see what happens with the next board. I have one spare.)

I originally thought I could mount the LED's into the kill switch assembly but there isn't enough room for all three, so instead I am going to squeeze them into the top of the righthand turn signal. There is just enough room to mount them and run the wires out the back, This means drilling another hole in my lovely headlamp brackets but there really isn't anywhere else I can put them. Note: The red LED will be permanently lit when away from the bike so give the illusion of some sort of bike alarm system.

Other stuff: I replaced the fiberglass heat resistant covering for the ignition timing wiring with some new black stuff from Grainger; that was pretty simple and really makes a difference from the old grey and oily cover that was there previously. I also mounted the hall effect sensor that will determine the rear wheel RPM and therefore my speed. The standard wire wasn't long enough, as it's meant to be mounted on the front wheel, but I couldn't find a nice place to put it without the sensor wire being unsightly, so elected to mount it on the rear wheel and extend the cable. Trying to find the exact style of cable on the web was impossible so I just hacked off the ends from an old stereo cable: it's 3 core instead of 2 core but the gauge is about right and the diameter matches exactly. Conveniently enough there was a welding vent hole on the swing arm, just below where I wanted to mount the sensor on the swing arm, so I then drilled a hole at the other end and fed the wire through, using some safety wire as a guide. I finished it off with a tightly fitting grommet and ran the wire up the right side of the frame to meet the speedo wiring. I will drill and tap a hole in the rear sprocket to mount the sensor magnet; which will be Locktite'd in place so not to have it come flying off when doing 100mph down the road. (I already lost it in the workshop, and after nearly tearing the whole place apart in frustration, I found it stuck to the side of the motorcycle lift. How the hell it got there from the workbench I don't know, but I think it hitched a lift on the screw-gun then fell off and latched onto the lift on the way down to the floor. Bizarre.)

Current hours on build: 138.0 

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Liquid Insulation

Just a quick entry today. I successfully drilled and tapped the hole in the rear sprocket for the hall effect sensor magnet. I didn't quite have the right sized drill bit for cutting a 6mm x 1.00 hole; I should have used a 5mm, but Lowes in their infinite wisdom do not stock metric drill bits. So I used a 13/64 bit, which is about 5.15mm. Positioning the hole was a little tricky as I couldn't drill all the way through the sprocket without hitting the mounting plate behind it: I needed some space for the tap to exit enough to cut the right sized thread all the way through. As it was I got lucky and hit the right spot where there was some void in the mounting plate. I love tapping holes by the way; something about turning the tap 1/2 a turn, then a 1/4 turn back, back and forth, back and forth, feeling the threads being cut in a raw hole. It's pretty cool. What can I say, I'm a tool geek.

The new speedo/tachometer has a built in clock, but I didn't connect the constant positive wire to it as there wasn't one close by in the loom. I didn't see a need for the clock to be on all the time and had thought there would be a battery backup for when the ignition is off so that it remembers the time. Well, there isn't. So rather than see the time continually be reset back to 12:00 I ran a line back down the loom until I knew where there was a constant voltage available. I then spliced open the loom at this point and adding the speedo wire, then wrapped everything back up including the speedo sensor wire that I had extended yesterday. Once everything was back together I took the magnet and moved it in front of the hall effect sensor to simulate the rear wheel turning. My movements got us up to 25mph, and we traveled 0.3 miles while standing still! Oh, and the clock is on all the time now. Sweet.

I shortened the antenna line on the RFID receiver, and replaced the LED with an audio alarm (as explained in the previous post I shorted out the first RFID board), then sprayed it completely with Spray Liquid Tape. The manufacturer recommends doing multiple light coats but it really comes out quite thick, so I think we'll end up with multiple thick coats, which is probably okay. It takes a while to dry so I'll be doing this over a few days to get enough coverage frontside and back. I did the custom relay board I made too. 

I noticed online yesterday that the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride is in thirteen days, on the 29th of September. Can I get Natasha finished and running for that? It is certainly something to aim for. 

Current hours on build: 141.0 

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Devious Details

I'm running on about five hours sleep a night just now. Between working twelve hours at my day job, putting in about four hours a night on Natasha, and commuting/eating/cleansing, that leaves only so much time for recharging/sleeping. Not sure how much longer I can sustain this level of activity without something failing. I just closed my eyes for a few seconds while I waited for today's photos to be exported from Lightroom and woke up thirty minutes later. Hmmm, I think tonight I HAVE TO GO TO BED EARLY. I've said that for the past few nights and then I'll get into a groovy work flow/zone.... suddenly it's eleven o'clock! Oh well.

I made some significant progress on lots of small things today. I picked up some 1" x 1/16" aluminum bar to make some small brackets for the electronics to fit securely inside of the headlamp. These are attached with high strength double sided sticky pads, the kind you would use to mount a mirror on the wall. Then the electronics will be mounted to them using Velcro tape, for easy removal if need be. I provisionally mounted the latching relay and tiding up some of the wiring; I used small pieces of Velcro to hold the fuses neatly against the headlamp body. Once the RFID board and LED relay board have completely finished their liquid insulation coating I will mount those and finalize the internal wiring. I realized that I should have put a couple of quick connects to make things a little easier for disassembly, but in reality I hope never to take this apart again, so hard soldering is the way it is going to be.

The existing OEM switches are pretty sun bleached and ratty looking. I removed what was left of the labels, and cleaned them with GooGone and then used Pledge to see if they could be restored back to a decent black color. I wasn't too impressed with the results so used a product from Bondo called Restore Black. It is basically a black gel that you apply to the plastic and it darkens everything back to an original black. With three coats on the switches I think they look much better. I am not sure about replacing the labels, even if there is such a thing as replacement decals for OEM specific switch gear. I might do some research to see if I can come up with a solution. It's not a huge deal if they remain blank; anyone getting on a motorcycle should know exactly what every switch does anyway. I'm going to pick up some red plastic paint from Lowes today to restore the kill switch back to a bright orange/red.

I looked at the brake and clutch lever assemblies and took them apart for cleaning. The levers have this two tone black/dark aluminum clear coat type finish to them that I don't particularly like. I started to polish them with the buffing wheel but the coating applied is pretty stubborn. So I covered everything in Aircraft Cleaner and left it overnight to do it's magic. (Normally 10-15 minutes is enough, but I really want this coating gone!) I will respray the other components flat black to match the triple clamp/frame.

The turn signal assembly for the RFID/Ignition status LED's was a little challenging: I am trying to squeeze a lot into a small space. The existing lamp had a normal incandescent bulb, so I removed that so that I could have more room is run the six LED wires though the body. Fortunately I had some larger LED bulbs left over from another project which fit perfectly in the space left. I soldered some wires directly onto it, which eliminates the bulb holder, and allows me to run the extra LED RFID/Ignition status wires through the turn signal mounting stalk. Again, finding the right sized drill bit to fit the tiny 3mm LED plastic mounts was challenging, but I found something that worked, and just let the drill run on for a few seconds to make the hole fractionally larger. I will secure the LEDs with some superglue once I am totally happy with the wiring setup, this will also serve as some form of waterproofing. I still have to modify the reflector so that it fits back into that space. Given how bright the LED is in comparison to the original incandescent bulb I don't think it will matter if I cut away some of it to make room for the other LEDs.

Current hours on build: 145.0 

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Tank Girl

So I picked up the tank from Ron at North Hill Cycles today. It is quite amazing; the red we picked is perfect for Natasha. It has that classic deep red hue to it. I love that it has the classic knee scallops that are so part of the cafe racer look, but it's slightly angular lines make it a little modern. And then Ron took my original design and made it better: he enlarged the squares and did a nice edit around the tank opening. Plus he drew a thin grey pinstripe around the whole design which just sets it off nicely.

Putting it on Natasha completely changed my opinion of the bike. I have to be honest and say that I think something is off with the way things are looking right now. I can't pinpoint what is wrong, but something is amiss. Maybe I've just been used to the bike a certain way for so long, and now with this huge splash of red in front of me my perspective is skewed slightly. It's a little hard to get a proper read on the bike in such a confined space and raised off the ground. I have to put these negative thoughts aside until everything is finished and I'll look at the bike as a whole. What can I say? I know I fight being a perfectionist, but I have to trust my instincts; they are what make my work exceptional. It's just a question of not letting them rule me in a negatively obsessive and overtly critical way.

It was really nice to be able to fit the loom finally. I bought some tie-wraps that lie flat, instead of the more usual ones that have a protruding square head, to replace the OEM wire straps that held everything together previously. The tank covers much more of the frame than I remembered so I didn't have to worry about being super tidy, but everything is in it's place now and out of the way.

With the wiring in place I could install the new Mukini carbs and air-pods, first of course replacing the cam chain tensioner that I took off to respray black some time ago. I also switched out the pink 1/4" gas tubing that comes as standard with the carbs with some longer colorless/transparent tubing and routed them so that any gas excess from the carbs runs past the engine and away from anything nice.

Even though I have kept track of the hours on Natasha, there are probably at least the same again that goes into thinking, researching, and exploring her design and construction. Late the previous night I started thinking about the RFID ignition switch I have built, and it occurred to me I didn't really know what the little tags look like. So I broke into a one of the keys today and found surprisingly a thin circle of PCB type plastic with a circular wrap of flat wire imbedded inside. What I am thinking of doing is taking this piece and stitching it into a little pocket on the back of my motorcycle gloves. Wouldn't that be cool to be totally keyless? 

I picked up some Valspar Paint for Plastic spray paint to give the kill switch a fresh coat of red. It went on a little thicker than I would have wanted, so we'll see how it sets when dry. Technically the OEM color of the kill switch was orange, but red fits with the whole scheme of the bike.

(Note: the post processing I use on the blog photos has a little desaturation in it, so the red you see isn't quite the red you would see.)

Current hours on build: 147.0 

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Clubman Bars

So I was looking for an origin of the term 'Clubman Bars', but couldn't find one. We'll just have to make up our own history for them I guess. Regardless of their naming origin they are de rigueur for cafe racers. And so I started to put back on the controls this evening. The OEM throttle grip core had to be modified so that I could mount the lovely aluminum bars ends I bought from Dime City Cycles.

From Wikipedia:

The café racer is a light and lightly powered motorcycle that has been modified for speed and handling rather than comfort. The bodywork and control layout of a café racer typically mimicked the style of a contemporary Grand Prix roadracer, featuring an elongated fuel tank, often with dents to allow the rider's knees to grip the tank, low slung racing handlebars, and a single-person, elongated, humped seat.

One signature trait were low, narrow handlebars that allowed the rider to "tuck in" — a posture with reduced wind resistance and better control. These handlebars, known as "clip-ons" (two-piece bars that bolt directly to each fork tube), "clubmans" or "ace bars" (one piece bars that attach to the standard mounting location but drop down and forward). The ergonomics resulting from low bars and the rearward seat often required "rearsets", or rear-set footrests and foot controls, again typical of racing motorcycles of the era. Distinctive half or full race-style fairings were sometimes mounted to the forks or frame.

The bikes had a utilitarian, stripped-down appearance, engines tuned for maximum speed and lean, light road handling. The well-known example was "The Triton", a homemade combination of Norton Featherbed frame and Triumph Bonneville engine. It used a common and fast racing engine combined with a well-handling frame, the Featherbed frame by Norton Motorcycles. Those with less money could opt for a "Tribsa"—the Triumph engine in a BSA frame. Other combinations such as the "Norvin" (a Vincent V-Twin engine in a Featherbed frame) and racing frames by Rickman or Seeley were also adopted for road use.

A 7/8" hole saw fits perfectly, as it should, since the diameter of these bars are 7/8". Once that was drilled out, the plastic could be cleaned up a bit with a craft knife, then it rotated very easily once back on the bar. Getting the new handlebar grip on was easier than I thought, but still required some serious effort. With a little dash of WD40, things progressed a lot easier. It's really just a question of slowly working the rubber over the tube, moving from top to bottom, in a caterpillar type movement. The replacement grip does not quite match the profile of the OEM grip, so there is a little piece of the throttle body still showing. I will most likely peel back the rubber grip and spray this flat back.

The repainted kill switch looks pretty good. I was concerned that I had layered the paint on too heavily, but it dried out okay. The kill/starter switch assembly has a small metal tab that internally locates in a hole in the OEM handlebars, so I had to measure and drill a new set of those. I angled the switches towards the rider so that they are more comfortable than the OEM position. The clubman bars do put you in an aggressive riding position so whatever you can do to make the ergonomics easier on the wrists is always a good idea.

Before I mounted the switchgear permanently I had to install the new mirrors. These are machined to fit 1" diameter bars but come with hard plastic spacers to increase the diameter of your 7/8" bars. I found the spacers to be slightly on the small size and even with tightening the mirrors as much as I could they weren't snug enough. With some thin gauge (0.016") aluminum flat bar from Lowes I could shim them out to a super tight fit. In an ideal world (like this time next year in my new workshop) I would be able to turn down a piece of aluminum in a lathe and make the exactly right diameter spacer, but this solution will do.

Technically these are bar end mirrors, so they should be mounted on the extremities of the bars, but both myself and the bike's intended rider are skinny as rails, so I can position them where they are now and still be effective: A larger rider would have a good view of only their sides while riding. 

I still have to mount the left hand grip, but that requires some frictionless assistance, and a common product used to mount grips is actually hair spray. It allows the grip to slide on but then turns to a sticky goo after a few days and the grip is pretty much on forever. So a trip to Walgreens is in order tonight.

Current hours on build: 149.0 

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Slow & Steady

Today's build entry isn't very exciting. I was repainting the clutch/brake levers/foot-pegs as they were seriously covered in rust. That came off pretty easily using the Dremel and flap wheel but what with the various convex contours made it near impossible to get totally rust free, so I made the decision to spray them flat black. 

Painting isn't something you can really write much about. You clean, prepare, prime, and then paint. But then again if you start to think about the process and what you can do to improve your method you can get started down a rabbit hole of investigation. The internet is a scary place; you can get lost for days in various forums. I was just looking for an answer on whether or not I can/should bake my small parts after spraying with a Rustoleum product. And the resounding answer seems to be a yes. I read about painting AR15s, restoring Coleman gas stoves, as well as lots of classic/vintage car restoration forums. The trouble is always finding the right answer, as opposed to a million similar yet slightly inconsistent answers. So you do your best and make your own mind up.

What I need is a small toaster oven. Well, I actually have one but it's 2543 miles away in my storage unit on the island, so perhaps a trip to a local Goodwill store, or I'll just invest $18 at Walmart and get something like this. I've already put the primer and top coats on the clutch/brake levers/foot-pegs (although I haven't done the rear foot brake pedal; I totally spaced on doing that part as it is still in the storage box and out of plain sight.) so I'll just put the parts in for 30 minutes at 150F and see what happens, then let them cool slowly as the oven cools. A lot of the forums suggest baking between coats, so we'll see how this works. Perhaps I'll harden just the outer coat and everything else underneath will still be soft. Testing for hardness is subjective at this level; using your fingernail on somewhere unobtrusive. It certainly would be nice to be capable of powder coating these parts, but that's another process altogether.

Prior to painting I chopped off where the mirror would have screwed into the brake bracket; it was just too tall to leave in place. A few seconds with the reciprocating saw, then the bench top grinder to give it some nice curves, finishing off with a flap wheel on a Dremel and some 400 grit paper. Any imperfections at this stage would be taken care of by the layers of paint I put on. The opposite mirror mounting point on the clutch bracket is fairly small and I will just top it off with the appropriately sized bolt to cap the hole.

Current hours on build: 152.0 

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Set Backs

It's not often I leave from an evening's work on Natasha somewhat despondent. I have been working on her every night for the past ten days, and surviving on 4-5 hours sleep, so I guess it's only natural I hit a bit of a energy low when confronted with a problem. Two things happened this evening to knock the wind from my sails:

1) The surperglue I used to secure the LED's in the turn signal reacted oddly with the black plastic and now I'm left with a milky white turn signal. I've tried using the same black restorer I used on the OEM switch gear but to no success. I'll just have to see if I can carefully polish it out with the Dremel, without changing the texture too much. But I rather think I am going to have to start again. Poo.

2) The LED relay circuit board didn't work when I reconnected it to all the right wires. I spent forever checking and rechecking my wiring diagram to make sure I had not made any mistakes, but the LEDs don't light up as they should. Only in the last few minutes before giving up and going inside to bed did I discover one of the relay wires to be broken on the board, hidden from view by the spray on insulation. I really should have used stranded wire for those instead of solid core; too much flexing during installation caused that break. Trouble is it is covered in the insulation so it's going to be a pain fixing it. Boohoo.

Minor stuff really, but combined with my constant tiredness, made for a less than successful evening.

Aside from those set backs I did accomplished some things: I installed the new chain, but first I wiped off the excess grease that it came covered in. OMG, I know they want to protect their product from rust in case it sits for years on some shelf in an auto-part's store, but I think this was excessive. I actually used a degreaser to get it off; it stubbornly refused to be removed easily. (And I guess that was another issue that bummed me out: I ordered a chain that should have came with a split clip for easy installation, but this one requires a chain riveting tool, so I'm ordering another new tool today from Amazon. Only $60 and I'll definitely use it again somewhere down the line, but I would rather not have purchased it to begin with.) Once the chain was installed I could put back on the clutch cover and fix the cable into position with some tie wraps. And then I added both clutch and brake brackets to the handlebars. (I still have to polish the levers.) Then the lefthand grip could be installed using some hairspray as both lubricant and adhesive. Really, hairspray works a treat. I was fortunate to find a travel sized version so don't have a huge can loitering in my cupboard for the next year or so until I next need it.

Current hours on build: 158.0 

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Ya Beauty!

So after yesterday's less than stellar day I was keen to get back in the saddle so-to-speak. Something I learned from my ex-wife, who trains horses to do amazing things, is that always finish on a good note; even if it's something you've done a million times before, don't end the training session on a bad note. Even if I had just tidied up the workshop I might have felt better than going to bed in a funk. And speaking about that, I usually do tidy things up so that the next day it's a nice space to start work in again. I didn't this time, and potentially that could have been a disastrous error. Why? I left my soldering iron on. Worse than that I left my soldering iron on underneath Natasha. I got lucky. Natasha/Misha didn't burn to the ground, and my iron is fine, if perhaps a little tired for being on a solid 24 hours. I ground down the tip and re-tinned the end.

The problem was a grounding issue. I thought I could save some space and wire all the LED earths/grounds/negatives, whatever you want to call them, together and have only five wires exiting the turn signal stalk instead of eight. But that screwed up the relay circuits, so had to rewire the stalk for four pairs of independent wires. I also repaired the LED circuit board by dumping a gob of solder over the broken wire; not very pretty but it works. I did try to tidy up the superglue/white plastic mess, but it still doesn't look so good. The Dremel took a bunch of the plastic away but couldn't really get into the corners between the body and the LED mounts. I went a little crazy and ground too much, and took the tops of the LEDs off, which is good to know I can do I guess: they still work fine. I'll be ordering another set of turn signals and LEDs to make a new one, but not right now. Everything works as it should and I'm happy to leave it at that.

The inside of the headlamp isn't super tidy but it's functional. I tie-wrapped some of the larger cables together and stuck them to the inside of the shell, creating a donut ring of cabling. Everything is Velcro'd in place and the body of the headlamp fits on without any force. The RFID triggers once the key-fob is about 1/4" away from the very top of the headlamp, and the alert 'beep' is loud but not annoyingly so. Enough to be heard with a helmet on. And all the LEDs light up as they should. Ya beauty! :)

Current hours on build: 161.0 

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Feet First

Paint dries pretty fast, but paint takes days/weeks/months to fully harden. I'm always very cautious when working with parts I've just recently painted, and even though I've added the baking process to my workflow, it still doesn't make items less susceptible to being damaged during installation. I was particularly careful when putting on the freshly painted foot-pegs and gear/brake levers. They are so perfect straight out of the oven but it only takes a careless wrench/spanner to ruin that. Natasha isn't perfect; how can a thirty-one year old bike be? But with so much restoration going on it's always nice to aim for perfection even though attaining it is unlikely. I think it would be better to say I am aiming for flawlessness, rather than perfection. Which is just one shade of crazy less.

Because I have removed the passenger foot pegs and their associated mounting plates, the brackets for the rider's foot-pegs needed some spacer washers to position them as they were before. This didn't matter on the rear brake foot-peg, but the gear change one would have not worked without them: you wouldn't have been able to downshift as the lever would collide with the gear change shaft. I always buy stainless steel parts where I can; the additional cost is justified with the knowledge that they are not going to rust for the next thirty years.

I had to review my original photos to remember exactly how the rear brake parts all fit together, so I am very glad I fully documented Natasha in her 'before' stage. I have one small issue where I need to figure out how to make the brake lever return to it's original position after being pressed. There was a hefty spring doing that before, but now I have nowhere to attach the end to what with the passenger foot-peg mounting plates being absent. The lever does return to zero just now, using the force of the internal springs in the brake drum, but I rather wonder those will not be enough when actually out riding. 

The final position of everything will be determined once Natasha is back on the floor again and I can see where my feet are when sitting on her in a regular riding position. I think my toes will be closer to the road than before so both levers will probably need to move down a few degrees. 

Current hours on build: 164.0 

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Chain & Wrapping

So it's been a few days since my last build entry. Basically I took some time away from Natasha to do two things: 1) Sleep, and 2) Find and purchase Chevy Express Cargo Van. Both objectives were taken care of. I feel a whole lot better now that I've caught up on my sleep, and I'm now the proud owner of Christine; a 2002 Chevy Express 3/4 Ton Van. Why did I trade the lovely Toyota Tacoma in for this? Well there are a number of reasons: I need something to haul back both bikes and all my stuff to WA, when I take time off to build my house/studio/workshop next year. I looked at renting a U-Haul truck and trailer, but it was going to cost me close to $3000 to do that. Trading Ivan the Unterrible in for the Chevy cost nothing, as I've build up some equity in the Toyota, so no money actually changed hands. It's pretty nice to own a vehicle outright and have no car payments when I'm trying to save every penny right now. I also have always wanted to have a van. This desire probably stems from my childhood when my parents owned a fairly large grocery store, and for fifty pence you could have your groceries delivered to your home. I have vivid memories of riding around my home town delivering groceries when I was maybe eight or nine in a cargo type van. Good times. And the van will also be very handy when building the house next year. I'm going to weld up a nice rack for it, so hauling supplies from the mainland won't be a problem.

But it's white! And the last time I owned a white vehicle Ms. Cameron came along unexpectedly. :) So I did buy enough Rust-Oleum Flat Black to respray it this weekend, but I just couldn't do it. The bodywork on this van is in such good condition it would be foolish to put a less than perfect rattle-can spray job on top. So I am being smart, and will purchase some flat black vinyl and teach myself how to wrap the van this week. That way if I do have to sell the truck at some point, I can just peel off the vinyl and have a good looking white van for someone to purchase.

I have resprayed the front grill as that was looking rather shabby, replaced the turn signal lamps which were no longer orange, and will be upgrading the stereo so I can run Pandora and my XFM satellite radio. The interior is spotless, but it will need some D-rings and a wheel chock for transporting Natasha to her first shoot location. Oh, and the reason she is called Christine is becuase the first time I drove her the radio came on spontaneously and was tuned to a classic rock station. So, of course, she had to be named after the Stephen King novel/John Carpenter film

The Motion Pro 08-0058 Chain Breaker and Riveting Tool arrived and using it was a total breeze. Basically it's a two stage process; you squeeze the new link and o-rings together, then spread the rivets open. Depending on the type of chain you have bought the size of the rivet spread varies from manufacturer to manufacturer; it can be anything from 0.006" to 0.025". In this case I spread the rivets to 0.015"

The exhaust has been sitting in the same spot in Misha for the last eight months, and today I finally moved them so that they could be put on the bike. Before that could happen I removed the heat shielding and chopped off the old muffler. I was going to chop the exhaust a little closer to the balance pipe but at the last moment decided to give myself some extra room and chopped the exhaust right at the muffler joint. This actually was a good idea, as it gives the new mufflers a little bit of angle and doesn't have them totally parallel with the ground. 

From Dime City Cycles I had ordered some exhaust reducers as I knew the new slip-on mufflers had a much bigger opening that the diameter of the OEM exhaust. As it turns out they were still a little big and I had to shim the exhaust out using some 0.006" aluminum flat bar, left over from doing the same with the handlebar switch gear. I also had to cut two slots in the exhaust so that the pipe clamps could tighten down more effectively. Once everything was securely held in place, I cleaned up the exhausts of surface rust and resprayed them with the same high temperature paint I used on the engine. I knew I was going to wrap them in black exhaust wrap but I wanted to see how they would come up just being painted. If need be I could have stopped there, as they turned out pretty good, but I am really happy with how the exhaust wrap looks now that is on.

Wrapping definitely takes some practice; I think I did the first exhaust at least three times until I got the tension and spacing right of each wrap. Both ends are secured using some safety wire, and to cover both exhausts took exactly 50ft of wrap. I was really quite lucky there. After the first exhaust was done I was pretty sure I didn't have enough left for the second one, but as the diameter of the roll kept going down, I got closer and closer to the end and finished with nothing to spare.

Current hours on build: 168.0 

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Stubborn Soldering

Today was one of those days where things started out badly, but then ended in an okay place. I could have stopped and taken a day off, but I stubbornly didn't want to end my work at a place of failure. What went wrong? Soldering the ends of the throttle cable is what went wrong; specifically the inability of the solder to flow into the barrel and create a nice strong joint. I had the right flux, the right kind of solder, but I found out that using the mini-blow torch was just too fierce a heat for good soldering. The flux burns off too quickly and then the intense heat of the flame contaminates the braided cable with soot, then the solder just will not 'flow'. After a couple of failed attempts I got the flame just right and had something close to a satisfactory end soldered in place; but when I installed it in the body of the throttle assembly I discovered I had set the end at the wrong place, AND when I twisted the grip to see if it held firm... it didn't. :( So I spent a couple of hours driving around town trying to find a motorcycle parts store that had the right diameter braided wire to replace the piece I had cut too short. I finally found a bicycle store that had the items I needed: more wire and another barrel 'end'.

Rather than ruin another end, I practiced five times with some scrap wire. I tried different types of solder, with/without flux, using the blow torch or using the soldering iron. Finally after some experimentation the best way to do this is with the soldering iron, water soluble flux, and acid core silver solder. After the solder has flowed into the barrel I cleaned up the excess with the Dremel and flap wheel; I would always find a little bump of solder on the low side of the barrel that needed removing.

I probably have been too exact in my measuring and cutting of the ends going to the carbs. A little bit of excess might have been preferable than being absolutely exact. I can hear both carb slides closing at the nearly the exact same time as I close the throttle shut, so maybe I got things perfect on the first go. But life is rarely perfect, and I haven't left much room on the other side for corrections: I can take up slack, but have none to let out. Oh well, we will see what happens when I start Natasha up. Worst comes to the worst, I can do this process over, now that I have figured out the right way to do it.

Current hours on build: 173.0 

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Seat: Part 1

I don't have much left to do on Natasha before the construction side of things is finished. Today I started work on the seat mounts; I've been leaving this to the very last stages as I wanted to have the tank back from the paint shop so I can make sure the seat fits in conjunction with it. I should mention that even though I picked up the tank a couple of weeks ago, it turns out that Ron had to respray it again. Under natural light the paint had some solvent popping issues going on, which basically looks like microscopic holes in the clear coat. Perfect under artificial light but in bright sunlight the tank didn't look so good. Unfortunately the tank is still not finished and I couldn't sit around doing nothing today, so I at least got the basics of the seat mounts made.

The seat from Dime City Cycles has two 'fingers' at the front of the seat which fit into the frame. With the main section of the wiring loom coming through this part, the right side of the fingers were offset, and the seat did not sit squarely on the frame. I drilled out the pop rivets and repositioned the fingers so that they no longer hit the wiring loom. And in order for the fingers to have a tighter fit I used some 7/8 x 5/8" rubber heater tubing, split down the middle, and glued over the seat mount of the frame to increase it's diameter.

The rear of the seat is a little trickier. I cut a piece of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) to raise the seat above the electronics, this also gives the right spacing at the rear for the brake light/turn signals and makes the base of the seat parallel with the frame. This is currently drying as I sprayed it flat black to match the frame; I will attach it to the frame with some epoxy glue, and stick some 1/16" foam on top to stop it from rubbing the base of the seat.

I then cut a piece of 3/4" x 1/8" flat steel stock to make a subframe to bolt to the seat, which can then be attached to the rear frame. Using a cardboard template I bent this bar in the middle and drilled two holes for the 6mm x 1.0 bolts that come with the seat. (There are two nuts imbedded in the GRP (Glass-fiber Reinforced Plastic) base that they screw into.) I then cut three smaller pieces and using some scrap 1" tubing, and some 1/16" aluminum bar as spacers, made a small bracket and welded it together. This I then tidied up using the bench grinder/rat tailed file, and drilled two 9/32" holes. These holes are just fractionally bigger than the 1/4 x 1 1/2" Button Handle Lock Pin w/Ring that should be arriving tomorrow from Grainger. I didn't want to make the seat impossible to remove without tools, so these lock pins will mean the seat can be removed easily at the side of the road. At $28 a piece they better work!

Of course I made a second bracket identical to the first. Well, the second one is actually a little bit better than the first. :) I will wait for the tank to be mounted in place before I weld everything together and drill the holes through the frame for the lock pins; I don't want to do that now and find that I need to move things a 1/4" back or something.

Current hours on build: 177.0 

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Brakes

Brake fluid is nasty stuff. It says so on the side of the container. Obviously when I took Natasha apart I didn't clean up some spilled fluid as it has dissolved the paint off the front brake assembly over the course of the last ten months. So with some scrubbing with the wire brush I took the remaining flakey paint off and then resprayed everything. I probably would have done this anyway, regardless if the paint was coming off or not.

Once the parts were repainted, I reassembled the brake components, re-greasing everything and cleaning/polishing all the bolts. I didn't replace the pads as they are still in good condition. The rubber OEM brake line was in fairly good condition but I elected to replace it with a nice stainless steel braided line; slightly shorter than the original as the handlebars are a bit lower now. It sits pretty nicely by itself but I may install a small bracket on the lower triple clamp just to keep it in place.

I still have to polish the levers and reinstall them, so no brake fluid and bleeding of brake lines yet. That'll be tomorrow.

Current hours on build: 181.0 

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Levers

Just a few more small things on Natasha and it'll be time to attempt the first engine start. Tomorrow I get the tank back so will be able to finish off the seat brackets and fit the rear brake lights and turn signals. I filled her up with oil (3.2 quarts of Castrol GTX 10W-40) today, and finished polishing the brake and clutch levers, which meant I could fill the brake lines with brake fluid and bleed them. That just leaves a few minor items to finish: install new horn, reinstall the return springs on the foot-pegs, connect the rear brake switch spring, tighten the headlamp brackets, install the cotter pins on the front and rear wheel axles, install the new spark plugs (I checked their gaps today: anywhere between 0.5 and 0.8mm), install the new crankcase vent filter, install new fuel filter and connect lines to carbs/tank, reconfigure the carb vent lines so that they are tidier, figure out a way to securely isolate where the the tachometer cable exits the engine, add the turn signal alert buzzer, print new decals for the handlebar switches (I bought some inkjet printable silver foil, we'll see if that works.).

Actually, that's quite a bit of stuff left, so perhaps we won't get ignition for a few more days.

Today I also installed a pigtail so that the battery can be charged up easily. I am noticing a higher than expected parasitic drain on the battery from the RFID components so there may have to be some heavy thinking on that aspect of Natasha.

Current hours on build: 183.0 

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Rust Blows

Today was one of those days where I got the wind knocked out of my sails; or perhaps better to say it felt like I got punched in the gut. I was super pleased with the way the tank had turned out; the color is exactly as I wanted and the graphics are retro but modern all at the same time. But when I took off the gas cap to start polishing it I was aghast at the rust inside the tank. One of the amazing things about Natasha was how perfect her tank was for being over thirty years old; it was totally spotless inside. Now not so much. Probably when the tank was being wet sanded some water got inside, and then the rest is basic 7th grade chemistry. :(

Rust kills gas tanks and the solutions needed to get rid of it are often inadequate. You are left with constantly changing fuel filters, trying to stop any remaining particles hitting the carbs. Failure on the filter end of things means a blocked jet, and rebuilding carbs over and over. I've dealt with this before and it involved dropping lengths of heavy gauge chain into the tank and shaking it until my arms nearly fell off. That loosened all the rust particles to the point that I could use some really nasty stuff that is commonly called muratic acid, but technically it's hydrochloric acid. You can find it at most hardware stores for use in swimming pool PH balancing: it's a super strong acid, highly corrosive and not something you really want or should be dealing with without layers of personal protective equipment. But it melts the rust away... and if you are not careful your tank as well. 

But ten years has brought significant advances to this problem since I last dealt with it. A quick Google search brought up a YouTube video demonstrating a product called Metal Rescue. It's a completely safe water-based product for dealing exclusively with this problem. If it is as good as the video makes it out to be then I have an easy solution. Home Depot stocks it locally, and I'll have to buy four gallons to completely fill the tank to the brim; the GS450E having a capacity of 3.8 gallons. It's a hundred dollars I would rather not spend, and some might say I should get the paint guy to cover the cost, but since he's already done the tank twice to get it right (on his time and dollar) and I like who he is as a person, I'm going to eat this cost myself. Hard lessons learned all round.

Next time I will coat the inside of the tank with another product from this company called Dry Coat. It's a rust preventative spray on liquid that gives up to two year's protection on your raw ferrous parts. Next time...

Current hours on build: 183.0 

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Black Magic

So I got 4 gallons of Metal Rescue from Home Depot and let it sit in the rusty tank for 24 hours. I was concerned about the temperature dropping below 68F; the minimum recommended temperature for the product to work, so I picked up a heating mat from Walmart and placed that over the top of the tank, figuring the most surface area contact would work best, then wrapped the tank in some towels and my welding jacket to insulate it and keep the heat in. I also picked up a laser thermometer so I could accurately measure the temperature: if I'm spending $100 on Metal Rescue, another $40 for a thermometer and $30 for a heating pad seems cheap insurance for getting it right. (With the heating pad on full blast the tank was 94F at the top and 82F at the bottom.)

And the results after 24 hours? Pretty amazing. I used some 1/4" tubing to syphon off the Metal Rescue, first into a bucket so I could see the color, then directly into the old containers. It has a shelf life of about a year, so I can use it again. Once it turns completely black then it's finished and you can just pour it down the drain. Apparently it's that environmentally friendly.

Towards the bottom of the tank things started to get a bit murky so I switched back to the bucket, and you can see that all the dissolved iron oxide had settled to the bottom and the remainder of the Metal Rescue is black. Using a strong flashlight I inspected the tank; the majority of the rust is gone, but there is still some hardcore traces on the bottom. I am figuring that the Metal Rescue got fully saturated down there and couldn't do such a good job as up top, especially where it was warmer. So I've put back in the remaining clean product and placed the heating pad under the tank, again covering it with towels/jacket for insulation. Another 24 hours should clean the tank completely.

The OEM petcock still functions but is a bit stiff to operate. It also is vacuum assisted, and since the Mikunis have no vacuum port to hook into I am going to replace the whole petcock with a simple one I found at Dime City Cycles. Of course this will mean having to switch on/off the fuel every time you ride, but a small sacrifice to make. Besides, I think there is something romantic about pre-motorcycling checks on classic bikes. Time to slow down a bit and appreciate the fine motorcycle you are about to throw your leg over and trust implicitly.

Current hours on build: 184.0 

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Tank Saga

The issue with the rusty tank continues on. In my last build entry I explained how that I returned the remaining Rust Rescue to the tank so it could work on the bottom of the tank again. This seemed like a great idea as when I poured it out after a couple of days the bottom of the tank was totally spotless. Alas, when I removed the old petcock to start fitting the new one I looked though the open hole and saw that the roof of the tank was completely covered in rust. Rats.

So another lesson learned with Rust Rescue. Even though it says that it inhibits rust after use, this is obviously untrue. The evaporated water that condensed on the roof of the tank turned it back into rust again. So I flipped the tank over and let the rust rescue work it's magic. But of course, I came back the next day to find the bottom of the tank now completely rusty again. DOH!

I went back to Home Depot to purchase another gallon of this product and filled up the tank completely to the fuel cap and left it with the heating pad on for forty-eight hours. I checked every twelve hours to make sure the level of the fluid had not dropped due to evaporation or leaks from the old petcock, and topped up with a little water if necessary. Since it seems that as soon as the metal is exposed to air rust starts to form immediately, as I decanted the fluid out again I sprayed lots of WD40 into the tank. (You should read the history of WD40, as it's quite fascinating. Did you know that it stands for Water Displacement attempt #40?) This would hopefully cover the bare metal and stop rust from flash forming. A partial success but I was still left with a slightly rusty tank, even after I used a heat gun to dry it out as quickly as possible.

So I don't know what to do next. The rust that is still in the tank is so thin that maybe after adding some sacrificial gasoline and a length of steel chain then shaking it around for a while I might get rid of it all. Or I might go the old school hydrochloric acid route but then I am still left with flushing the tank with water and the rust flash forming again. There is a filter screen on the new petcock and I am adding an inline filter to the fuel line, between those two perhaps I can stop the rust from hitting the carbs. Or I could buy a different rust removal product: I found this one called Rusteco, that says it has a built in rust inhibitor like Rust Rescue. Do I spend another $125 on getting the tank completely rust free? 

Current hours on build: 186.0 

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Progress

There are actually quite a few environmentally friendly rust removers on the market so it's really a matter of experimentation to see what works. I found this product called Evapo-Rust, that says it has a built-in rust inhibitor like Rust Rescue. They all run about $25 a gallon, and they all have convincing demonstrations on their website. I picked Evapo-Rust only because they had free shipping.

After multiple attempts with Rust Rescue I was pinning my hopes on this product. I rinsed out the tank with hot water and Purple-Power to get rid of the WD40 that I had sprayed in the tank to prevent any more rust occurring; there certainly wasn't any more rust than ten days ago, so I think I helped myself there. Then I screwed back on the old petcock and filled the tank completely with Evapo-Rust. With the heating pad on top to ensure that the temperature stayed above 60F, and the tank wrapped in multiple layers of towels for insulation, I left it to do it's magic for 24 hours. The documentation says 4 hours is sufficient, but I wasn't going to take any chances. As it happens, I ended up leaving it in for 48 hours, and swapping the heating pad from on top to under the tank halfway through to ensure adequate temperature all round.

Compared to Rust Rescue the level of iron oxide removal with Evapo-Rust was quite impressive, but more importantly the occurrence of flash rusting after the product has been removed DID NOT happen. This I was most pleased about. Just in case, I dried the tank completely with the heat gun, to make sure there was no residue water to start rusting the tank as before.

I purchased from Dime City Cycles this lovely chrome petcock to replace the OEM one. Reasons for doing this were not just cosmetic. The OEM petcock requires a vacuum line from the carbs to open the fuel line; with the new Mikuni's this option wasn't available, at least not easily. So I'm going old school, with a petcock that you have to open and close manually.

The petcock mounting bracket required new holes drilled to match my tank, and the tank opening required enlarging slightly with the Dremel to accept the round petcock fuel filter. After this was completed I vacuumed the area with the shop vac and a small nozzle, and then rinsed the tank out twice with gas to capture as much of the metal dust as possible.

With a few wraps of PTFE tape I tightened the petcock onto the bracket and then mounted that to the tank. Note: The two rubber washers are from Lowes and not entirely the right solution. I need a hard rubber washer rather than these soft washers which deform considerably when tightened down. For the time being they will work and hopefully not degrade too fast due to contact with gas. I've ordered the right washers from Partzilla.

Running from the new petcock I used some 5/8" clear fuel line to connect the new inline fuel filter, then some 1/4" line to run to a fuel line quick connect/disconnect: I'm going to be messing with the carbs a lot so wanted to eliminate the hassles of constantly having excess gas spill out of the fuel lines when removing the tank. From this more 1/4" line to a T-connector to split the fuel line to the individual carbs. Everything has been clamped with fuel clamps, but even without them the barbs on the connections holds things pretty securely.

It really was a lovely sight when I opened the petcock and saw the fuel trickle through the clears lines and into the carbs. No leaks too. Brilliant! 

Current hours on build: 189.0 

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Subtle Lift

With the new petcock installed and all the fuel lines in place it came time to screw the tank down so that I can finally position and mount the seat brackets. But there was a problem with this deceptively simple task: the new location of the battery and electrical lines made it near impossible to screw in the tank mounting bolt. Try as I could, my fingers and any tools I tried to use, just couldn't get a thread to catch. Even if I did get it part of the way started there isn't a tool on earth that could navigate past all the obstructions and tighten that bolt down securely.

So the solution was to raise the mounting bracket up about 3/4" (20mm). I cut out a 16 gauge flat steel plate and welded an 8mm nut to the back. Then cut a small section of the bike frame away to mount that plate at the appropriate height. With a couple of carefully placed welds to hold it securely in place, and then cleaned up and painted, it's now at a position where the tank mounting bolt can be screwed in/out easily. And a side benefit is that changing the angle of the tank actually makes the bike look a bit better. It's subtle, but it does look sleeker now.

Current hours on build: 192.0 

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Seat: Part 2

Yes, it's been nearly a month since my last update. No, I haven't been a slacker... well, maybe just a little bit. But the overwhelming cause of this absence has been not due to a lack of activity on my part, rather I've been busy returning Natasha back to pre-vandalism state. Yup, you read that right. Unfortunately sometime during the night on the 29th of October, kids rocked the van back and forth until Natasha fell off the lift. Whether that was intentional or accidental is anyone's guess. But the long and the short of it is that I have spent the last few weeks slowly repairing the damage and replacing parts that suffered from the fall. There are a few residual scratches here and there, but she was never perfect to begin with. Scars are cool, right? Oh, and all I can say is Thank God The Tank Wasn't On The Bike! :)

In some respects her being damaged was fortuitous as it highlighted how weak the rear frame was, since it cracked and broke right off. But that was quite an impact, and the rear frame would have taken the brunt off the fall. Never-the-less I built inserts from 3/4" Sch 40 iron pipe (which conveniently has the outside diameter small enough to fit inside the 1" frame tube) and repaired the frame so that it is now substantially stronger than before. 

Today I finished off the seat mounts by tack welding them in place while the seat was positioned on the frame. Then took the seat subframe off the seat and finished the welding at the bench, creating nice strong welds: there are a lot of forces acting on the seat while in motion, so I wanted it to be a little over-engineered. With the rebuilding of the frame I had also increased the rake/angle of the rear frame, which meant I could reduce the length of the seat mounts. Once everything was together, I marked and drilled pilot holes through the frame. Using a 1/4" drill bit I opened up the holes so that the 1/4" button handle lock pins would be a snug fit. After painting I am going to protect the frame by using 1/16" self adhesive foam to line the inside of the mounts. This should stop the frame from being rubbed in any lateral movement, but really the maximum the seat can move perpendicular to the direction of travel is 1/16", so I suspect it will be fine.

Current hours on build: 195.0 

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Illuminate

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 (lighthouseleds.com) 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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Finito

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

 

Brickwall

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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Katty

So sometimes the universe works in my favor. I was just starting to think about finding a model to shoot Natasha with when this young woman emailed me through Model Mayhem. This is a website where models, MUA's, and photographers can connect for projects. You build connections and 'friends', post casting calls, or generally search for a specific look. As luck would have it Katty was exactly what I had in mind, and so we met for coffee, she signed release forms, and a time set for the following day.

There is a current trend it seems in custom motorcycle photography to use industrial settings to shoot motorcycles in. I can see the appeal; the textures and shapes of a disused factory provide an excellent juxtaposition for a completely rebuilt custom motorcycle. And had I access to something similar I would probably do the same. (Actually, I have a vision of shooting in an empty parking garage. Not any garage but one I found myself in a few months ago while visiting friends in Oklahoma City. It was amazingly pristine inside; the walls were totally white and uniform. It could easily be the inside of a modern art gallery.)

But I live in Friday Harbor, which is an island in the Pacific Northwest, so it made sense to look for something near water. A beach shoot would have been fun, if perhaps hard to move around in; the beaches here being less sandy and more pebble strewn than anything else. So I found a location near Jackson's Beach where there was a suitable stable bluff further inland to shoot on.

It was incredibly hard to edit down to these final twelve images. Katty did a great job battling with the onshore breeze that constantly blew her hair out of place, and the low morning sun was hard to squint against, but I think she did pretty well. Her and Natasha make quite the striking pair.

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Build Van

This week has seen Natasha and The Four Fifty in the spotlight somewhat. Dutch from The Bike Shed (thebikeshed.cc) posted on his Facebook page the time lapse video of Natasha's build last Saturday. In five days it's received 5218 views from around the world. The Facebook post got 1200+ likes and was shared 360 times. My own Facebook page for the Four Fifty has increased it's 'likes' by five times... and counting. And the best is yet to come: In the next week or so Natasha will be featured on his blog, so a potential second wave of interest will occur.

It's all quite amazing having Natasha out there for the world to see. I've always viewed this website as a place for me to organize my thoughts about the build rather than an actual place to get attention to what I am doing. Sure, there are small daydreams about someone commissioning me to build a bike, or for this pastime to evolve into a profitable business, but I am realistic with what could happen. In my own mind I am at least ten bikes away from claiming to be a custom bike builder. I want to learn how to make my own parts in a CNC mill; I want to fabricate my own tanks and seats; get comfortable with an English wheel; and handle a TIG torch like it's an extension of me. There is still so much to learn about engine tuning, suspension artistry, frame design. At this point I know I can make a good looking bike, but that's only half the process. Isn't the whole cafe racer style focuses on function over form?

For the keener eyed among you it would be clear that I am not working out of a conventional garage. When I started rebuilding Natasha I was working as a surveyor in Pennsylvania on gas drilling rigs. I was constantly moving from location to location every few months as the rig moved to new pads. I wanted to have a mobile workshop, and after looking at a trailer type workshop that I could tow behind me, I stumbled upon the idea of using a FedEx style step-van.

I cruised through Commercial Truck Trader and found plenty of half million mile vehicles, then I went to eBay and found an old Snap-on tools truck for sale in Arizona. This would eliminate the need to install an interior and electrics into a raw van, as the Snap-On tools would be custom built with all these features already there. I was the only one that bid on the auction so five days later I was the proud owner of this vehicle.

After driving it back home, I got to ripping out the old interior of one million bits of elastic (these held the tools up for display), building a workbench, installing cupboards, a new interior, moving the lights around, and laying a new floor. Once all that was done I had purchased a small but effective bike stand for me to raise Natasha up to a workable height. After years of being bent over, trying to do oil changes half on the ground, this single purchase is something I will now always have in my workshop.

I drove it out to Pennsylvania some five weeks later, straight onto the location I was working at, and then began the rebuild of Natasha. A couple of months later I took an office position, and parked Misha (the van's given name) at the back of my house. Here he sat patiently while Natasha was rebuilt.

Current circumstances mean that I really need to sell Misha, so he is available for purchase. The proceeds of which will probably go towards that CNC mill I am lusting after. He was the most perfect vehicle at the time, now I need to let someone else take care of him. Of course if he doesn't sell I may just keep a hold of him for when I start club racing again in some years. :)

(Don't worry dear daughter, I think it'll be Vintage class instead of 600 Superbike this time.)

Here's the link to Commerical Truck Trader advert.

Van Details:

Year: 1996
Make: Chevy P30/Grumman Olson
Class: CLASS 5 (GVW 16001 - 19500)
Mileage: 148620
Horse Power: 200 - 300

1) Supports both line power (110V) or runs from bank of deep cycle batteries. Built in 2500W inverter.
2) Battery monitor and built in charger to maintain battery bank from line power.
3) Extensive 12V Fluorescent lighting means there's never an issue about not having enough light.
4) Plenty of sockets on the walls and in the roof means never having to worry about extension cords.
5) Built in propane heater/tank and thermostat keeps you toasty in the colder days.
6) Roof mounted fan for removing fumes or keeping you cool.
7) Potential to fit AC again. I removed the head unit, with the plan of replacing it with new one. Outside intercooler fans are already installed and functional.
8) Great Sony sound system with external amplifier that also runs off iPhone/iPod, Pandora, or Satellite Radio. Dock connection for XM Radio. Also accepts external audio inputs.
9) Built-in computer with two (one at either end of van) wall mounted 21" LCD monitors, with hi-gain wifi antenna to pick up the weakest of wifi's in the area. Wired & wireless keyboard and mouse. Stay on top of your business emails while you work. Windows XP installed.
10) Twin backup cameras and 7" LCD screen. One looks behind as rearview image, the other looks down for reversing.
11) Reversing floodlights to make sure you see everything at night.
12) Hella driving lights and fog lights mounted on custom made nudge bars. Lights up the road like it's daytime!
13) Comprehensive security alarm system (with motion sensors) is installed but not functional. Needs new backup battery and some tweaking. All doors have dead bolts for added security.
14) Aluminum lift elevator with fold out ramp.
15) Extensive lockable storage at head height.
16) Fantastic built in tool drawers.
17) Custom made bench seat with removable/washable cover.
18) Aluminum workbench with aluminum back-splashes; heavy duty vise.
19) Bench grinder with stand.
20) Roof rack with multiple strapping points.
21) Set of snow chains, used once.
22) New set of van batteries installed this month.

PRICE: $14,000, or make me an offer.

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Data Logger

With only the tuning of Natasha left I decided to enlist the help of a professional for this final step. My main reason for doing this was my lack of available time: the impending construction of my dream home was racing up ahead of me, and also a distinct lack of suitable workshop space meant I needed some assistance. After trolling through Yelp and making a couple of calls I found a shop that could help. Well, between them moving locations and the five weeks I waited for an appointment, something got lost in translation and they couldn't actually help me. So I took Natasha home and thought what to do next.

Because I changed the carbs, put pods on, and a different exhaust on Natasha from all the stock components, I knew that tuning would be a challenging final project. In some senses I was glad to had off this to someone with greater experience than myself. In my mind carb tuning is like black magic; something that is more art than science. But I started to think about how the pro's do it, and stumbled upon websites selling gas analyzers.

For several thousand dollars I could get a machine that would give me an accurate breakdown of the exhaust gases, and therefore allow me to figure out what is going on exactly inside the combustion chambers of Natasha. As much as I would love all that information my main consideration in tuning the carbs is just to get the engine running at an optimum level throughout the rpm range. In scientific terms this is called stoichiometric combustion: when all the fuel is burned completely. For gasoline engines this is a ratio of air to fuel of 14.7 to 1. If the air content is higher than the stoichiometric ratio then the combustion mixture is said to be lean; if the air content is lower than the stoichiometric ratio then the combustion mixture is said to be rich.

So all I really needed was an Air to Fuel Ratio meter, or AFR meter. Since this effectively measures the oxygen content it can also be called an O2 meter.

After much researching I found a product made by Innovate Motorsports that would measure the AFR of Natasha and not break the bank in doing so. As I looked at this product I saw the potential for really creating something tailor-made to my needs, and be a whole lot of fun building it at the same time. Their data loggers not only measure the AFR, but also had inputs for an RPM induction sensor, and four analog channels where other sensors could be attached. It wasn't long before I had a system built in my mind that would do more than just record the AFR. I could really gather some hard data, not only while the bike was stationary, but also make the system portable enough to take on the road, and gather engine information throughout the RPM range/different load conditions.

Of course this level of customization meant that I had to build my own box of electronics to make it all work. It wasn't going to be an off-the-shelf project. :)

Analog Sensors:

Throttle Position sensor, and the associated 5V power supply. This is a rotational sensor that measure 110 degrees of movement and outputs a 0-5V signal. I haven't quite figured out the exact mounting for this yet, but I think I will modify a bar-end such that a short D axle can be attached and that be the stationary point on the bars so that the whole sensor pivot with the twist of the throttle.

Engine Crankcase Temperature sensor that mounts under the sparkplug. This is a 0-1200C sensor and must be run with a thermocouple amplifier to output the 0-5V that the LM-2 needs. It runs on 12V.

Exhaust Gas Temperature sensor, which is very similar to the ECT, but as a simple probe.

Air Temperature sensor, which is a simple GM type air sensor, that again runs on 5Vs. In order to output a usable voltage it needs a 2.2k Ohm pull-up resistor. This sensor I will put in front of the pods to measure relative air temperature. (I actually bought two: one in a protective brass casing which would be useful for measure coolant temperatures, and a more exposed air temperature sensor. At the time of building the system I only had the pigtail for the coolant temperature sensor so that's the one you see featured.)

Because I wanted this to be mobile and specifically for motorcycles I modified a lot of the wiring to shorten it for use on a bike. It's all mounted on a 1/4" piece of black ABS plastic with 1" webbing for securing to the tank. To eliminate potential damaging vibrations and protect the tank I used a piece of 1" closed cell foam under the ABS base. (This was actually one of those sports cushions for when you go to see the Seahawks and don't want your butt to go dead sitting on the hard stadium seating for hours.) Power is supplied by the bike's battery and I swapped the cigarette lighter style plug for a standard tickle charger style. Natasha already has this plug fitted to her loom. To finish it all off I had an old GPS that I mounted on top to give an accurate speedometer reading. This isn't stored anywhere, and is just for potential speed testing later on.

So all this data gets written to a standard SD card on the LM-2, but it's also possible to hook up a USB cable and write everything directly into the application program that comes with the LM-2. Of course it's written for a PC and after looking at purchasing Parallels to run Windows on my Mac it was so much easier to just buy a laptop. One Facebook post later and $50, and I have an awesome little Dell that runs Windows XP and works perfectly.

But does it work? Well, after hooking everything up (except the throttle position sensor which I am still working on.) I fired Natasha up and watched the AFR readings, and started to see the various temperature readings climb. I didn't want to run her too long, just enough to get an initial reading so I knew where to go first with changing the carbs. Somewhat surprisingly it said that Natasha had a stoichiometric ratio of 35, which is incredibly lean. But when I removed the sensor from the exhaust pipe it was covered in sooty particles which would indicate a very rich combustion going on. So I'm off to a slightly rocky start, but at least I have data now that I can interpret, and it's definitely going to be a scientific journey tuning Natasha.

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Carb Tuning

So here's a question: Do you know what the carburetors actually do on your motorcycle? Well, if you answered "No!" then I will try to give you my interpretation of their function. If you said "Yes!" then read on and feel free to punch holes in my explanations if need be. 

This is the way it works out in my head: the carburetor's function is to measure and deliver the right amount of fuel to enable the engine to run at it's most efficient and ensure maximum power. But what is the right amount fuel? Well, there is an actual optimum ratio of fuel to air that means everything will get burned up in the combustion chamber. It's called the Stoichiometric Ratio, and for a gasoline engine it's a ratio of 14.7 parts air to 1 part fuel. You can read more about it here.

It's worth getting some of the terminology right before we get too deep into carburetor tuning:

If an engine is running RICH, then there is more fuel in the combustion chamber, therefore the AFR (Air to Fuel Ratio) is less than optimum, i.e.: <14.7
If an engine is running LEAN, then there is more air in the combustion chamber, therefore the AFR is more than optimum, i.e.: >14.7

You've probably heard these terms before, Rich and Lean. But what do they actually mean for the engine?

Running Rich will result in some of the following problems:

* Black, sooty, fouled spark plugs;
* Poor fuel economy;
* Excessive smoke from exhaust;
* Sluggish and flat acceleration.

A rich running engine will have excessive carbon deposits in the combustion chamber, decreasing the overall life of the engine. Plus you'll be sending plumes of black sooty smoke into the neighborhood; not good for the environment or keeping your neighbors happy.

Running Lean will result in some of the following problems:

* Engine will knock/ping, or overheat excessively;
* Acceleration is slow to respond;
* Popping or backfires from the carburetors as the throttles are closed;
* Similarly there maybe popping or backfiring from the exhausts.

A lean running engine is the most dangerous of situations. Slightly lean engines will be problematic to ride, if the lean situation becomes severe then you risk overheating the engine and seizing/melting the pistons. Not good at all.

So how does the carburetor do the measuring of fuel to air? Well, it's pretty simple really. If you think of the engine pistons moving up and down, they draw in air from the carburetor side, the spark fires, the fuel air mixture ignites and the exhaust gases are expelled. It's that moment of the pistons drawing down into the cylinder that creates a negative pressure on the engine side. And as you know from high school air will flow from high to low pressure. So air rushes through the carburetor and in doing so it draws a certain amount of fuel with it by the force of the Venturi Effect. How much fuel is determined by a series for 'jets' (think of these as holes of different sizes where the fuel can flow into the stream of air); each jet is responsible for delivering fuel at a certain amount of air flow, or throttle position. If you think about the air flow at idle, it will be relatively small. With a wide open throttle (WOT), then the air flow is at it's maximum. Because these two extremes require two vastly different amounts of fuel, there are different jets for different throttle positions. These are the following components of the carburetor that we will be dealing with:

Pilot System: The consists of the Pilot Jet, Air Screw, and Slide Cutout.

Pilot Jet: this controls the amount of fuel that is being delivered at idle. Think of it as a trickle of fuel to keep the engine running.

Air Screw: this allows you to finely adjust the idle AFR after you have got the Pilot Jet set approximately. It is a screw on the side of the carburetor that increases/decreases the air allowed into the mixture. On the Mikuni VM34's, turning the airscrew in makes the engine run richer, conversely turning it out makes the engine run leaner. All you are doing to the opposite of increasing/decreasing the pilot jet size, but in a smaller, more precise way.

Slide Cutout: If you look at the slide on a VM34 you see that on the air side of the carburetor the bottom of the slide has a section cut out of it. The larger the section, the more air will be flowing into the carburetors. They are numbered, with the larger number meaning more cutout, thus a leaner condition. 

So at idle to 1/8th of the throttle being used only the Pilot Jet and Air Screw are working. (The Pilot Jet and Air Screw are on the engine side of the slide, so they are pulled by the vacuum of the pistons moving. At idle there isn't sufficient air flow to draw fuel from the other jets.) When the throttle is 1/8 to 1/4 wide, then the Pilot Jet and Air Screw are working to maximum capacity, then the Slide Cutout comes into play. It allows some air over the main jet (which we'll get to later) and fuel begins to flow. 

Needle Jet and (Jet) Needle:

So I find myself always getting confused about which one I am talking about with these. The best way to think about is not the mention the Jet in Jet Needle; just call it a Needle, which it is. These are tapered, very precisely machined pieces of metal that resemble a needle. They sit in the Needle Jet, which again is a precisely machined "hole" of exacting diameter. The Needle moves up and down with the slide, thus when the throttle is held wide open, the slide is all the way up allowing maximum air to flow, and the needle is all the way out of the needle jet. At different throttle positions the Needle sits in different heights in the Needle Jet, so different amounts of fuel are allowed to flow. By using different Needles you can change the AFR at different throttle positions.

The Needles have a series of small notches at the top of them. This allows you to change their relative position in the Needle Jet by altering their relative height. It's simply a matter of moving the circlip up or down, to rich or lean an engine. If you think about it, moving the needle up allows a larger diameter of "hole" where fuel can flow. It's all about surface area.

The Needle Jet and (Jet) Needle effect engine performance from 1/4 to 3/4 throttle position. After that it's all about the Main Jet.

Main Jet:

This is last part of the carburetor that effects motor performance. At 3/4 to WOT, the Main Jet supplies all the fuel that the engine needs. Because of this, it's the easiest of all the parts to tune, but it does also effect what happens below it, so at the very beginning of tuning you should put a really large Main Jet in the carburetor. Think of it this way; if there was too small a Main Jet then there wouldn't be sufficient fuel flow for the Needle Jet and Needle to work, so that would totally screw with your results. The Main Jet is below the Needle Jet.

Okay, so now we have the basics covered for the various components effecting the AFR. But there are some things we should talk about before you even start to think about jets etc.

* Engine free from leaks. Make sure all the carburetor's rubber boots are crack free and securely mounted. If there is air getting into the carbs aside from the air filter/pods then you are screwed to begin with;
* Air filter/Pods clean and oiled to manufacturers specs;
* Engine compression is good;
* Spark plugs in good condition and properly gapped;
* Fresh fuel and the correct grade;
* Floats are set correctly;
* Carbs synced with each other. This can either be done with a vacuum sync tool or by bench syncing them. I didn't have a vacuum sync to start with (not that it really matters as the VM's have no place to attach the vacuum pipes.) so I took off the carbs off and used the shaft of a drill bit to make sure the slides were at exactly the same height on the work bench. Once I remounted them, I checked again with the drill bit to make sure they heights were identical after reconnecting the throttle cables, and that they both took off at the same point. There is no substitute for fingers in determining take off synchronization. Just put thumb and finger in each respective carb slide and twist the throttle. You can immediately tell if one is moving faster than the other. Adjust throttle cables till they match.
* Engine warmed up and at correct idle speed.

If you are still with me so far, then I will now explain how I tuned Natasha's carbs. If you've read my previous build entry about building a custom AFR setup then you'll know that I am all about the science and using the numbers to support my findings. I am sure there are many excellent engine tuners who can do all this by 'ear'. That's great if you have twenty years experience behind you, but for Joe Blogs working in his shed I would recommend buying a basic AFR meter.

One of the first things I discovered when trying to get the Pilot Jet right was no matter what I did, going up or down in jet sizes, I just couldn't get the bike away from a severely lean engine. I must have changed jets a dozen or so times before I realized what was going on. (Note: You will become incredibly adept at pulling off and tearing apart your carbs. I would recommend setting aside some dedicated tools just for the job. The right sized screwdriver is essential not to wreck bolt heads.)

So the AFR sensor was mounted in a special holder at the end of the exhaust. Because the relative small engine capacity compared to say a car engine means that Natasha doesn't actually produce a lot of exhaust gases. Plus, there is a certain amount of vacuum pressure between cylinders firing that draws air back into the exhaust. So the AFR meter was constantly reading lean from outside air readings. What it took was removing the special bracket and just pushing the AFR sensor all the way down inside the exhaust. BOOM. I suddenly got meaningful readings at last. (Later on I got some tubing and extended the bracket so that it would be drawing exhaust gases from near the engine. That's the images below. This worked a treat when out on test rides, as having the AFR sensor loose in the exhaust was not such a great idea: it fell out on the first test ride! :( )

Once I could see what the engine was doing I quickly had the Pilot Jet dialed in, and set the Air Screw mixture so I was getting exactly 14.7 AFR.

With the whole setup attached to Natasha, I took her out for a test ride. The AFR data logger would record everything, but specifically I wanted to see the AFR against throttle position. As I rode Natasha, I held 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and WOT throttle positions for as long as I could to get stable readings. Easier said than done on these tiny island roads, but with repeated runs I got some meaningful data.

Plugging these results into an Excel sheet that I built gave me a visual clue as to what to do next. The key to carb tuning is to only change one thing at a time! So after each run I would change to a different jet and see what would happen. Sometimes the results would be as expected, other times I would be confused. You see even though all these parts in the carburetor effect different throttle positions, they all effect each other to some degree or another.

As I built up more data from each run it was easy to get lost in the figures and not actually listen to what the engine was doing. I started to drop the idle AFR to something slightly richer, this made pulling away from a standstill so much smoother. Even though 14.7 is the magic number, it's not the number you really want across all throttle positions. Ideally a cruising 1/4 throttle will be somewhat lean, for best fuel economy. When you want to pick things up a bit, so say 3/4 to WOT then a rich engine is better for maximum power. Balancing all these needs and trying to pick the perfect set of jets and needle combinations is near impossible. 

After nine runs I needed to get Natasha ready for the Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride, so this is where I am at right now. It's not quite perfect but pretty damn close. She has a surge of power from 1/2 to 3/4 throttle. WOT is perhaps a little off, but how often do I really need to open up on these island roads? Saying that, I still want to tweak Natasha and get her on a Dyno to see if my little homemade AFR data package reflects what a professional multi-gas meters reads.

Feel free to download the Excel tuning spreadsheet. I have some useful tabs in there listing data of all the jet needles etc. Plus you can use my settings to start you off in the right direction assuming you are using Mikuni VM34's, pods, and a similar free flowing exhaust system. Here is a useful link about Mikuni Tuning; I found this very helpful in figuring out what was going on. Best of luck!

 

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