Friday, 18 October 2013

Love in the Fast Lane

Stewart and Sue met when they both found themselves 44 and single back in 2009.  They met on the social website "Bikermarch.co.uk", which they had both only joined the previous week.  For those who don't know the website it's not technically a dating website, it's more of a place to meet other bikers and enjoy a rideout - although some people seek relationships too - "It's a bit of a strange place and it was really lucky that we were briefly on there the same week" Stewart tells me. "I was looking for someone to go riding with, Sue was looking for help to get her up to speed with modern bikes".

"I have a "modern classic" VFR Anniversary, which was the first bike I looked at when I learned to ride in 2006.  I had no real knowledge of bikes then and did not know what to look at and fell in love with it (and Honda) straight away.  I think the VFR will be here forever."  My husband rids a VFR and I know the smile on his face whenever he jumps on it.

Sue, on the other hand, has been riding since she was 17.  Here she is with her Suzuki TS100:

"Our first date was to Westgate Road motorbike shops in Newcastle to buy bike gear for Sue.  A portion of chips and a cup of tea in the Westgate Road Cafe was our first meal together.

"Sue passed her test in 2009, and we bought a Suzuki SV650, then a modern ER-6."

Stewart and Sue married earlier this year with a Steampunk wedding with one of their poems at the service being written by a friend, describing marriage as being like a pair of motorbikes.  We must get Stewart to share that.  If you don't know what a Steampunk wedding is then do a search on Google - looks lots of fun.

"We gradually figured out that we wanted something with more soul, so we sold the ER6 and having the VFR in the garage it obviously had to be a Honda to go with mine.

"I could tell that while Sue didn't really miss the modern bike, it didn't seem right Sue not having one at all.  I had bought bits from David Silver Spares for the Honda and been keeping up with the CB400F project, read the James May article and saw the bike on James May's Man-lab so we decided that we would sell the ER-6 and start to look for a CB400.  Being relatively new to biking I didn't know much about older bikes then so I did some research.  Sue remembered the bikes from her early days hanging around with bikers."

They looked at their first CB400 in Northallerton but, though it looked nice, it turned out to have some important engine mounting missing - "but from that moment I knew we had to have one".

So Stewart looked on the DSS website and contacted David.

"We couldn't afford a £4,500 bike, much as though we wanted one, so when a £2,000 original low mileage bike appeared with one owner and an original exhaust we sort of both fell in love with it straight away.  Without telling Sue I bought it unseen after talking to David.  I put it on a credit card so Sue wouldn't know.  David worked hard to get it to a state where it could be fitted into a delivery already coming to the North East (the £200 delivery charge would have put the bike out of our reach).

"Sue kept asking me whether I had spoken to David, so I just told her that the bike had been sold (which was true)!

"The van arrived at 4.30 on Monday [in August 2013], it was wrapped up and waiting on the drive by 5.00pm for when Sue arrived home from work at 5.30pm.

"So we now have 2 great Honda bikes in the garage - and DS Spares line on speed-dial!!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dads and Lads

I have two sons; one is 16 and one 13.  You may remember from previous posts that my 16 year old had a Kymco scooter for his 16th birthday and he has slowly been getting more and more into motorbikes.  He now wants a CB125 when he is 17.  Although, when he came back from Germany this summer, having visited his cousins who have cool cars, he wanted a VW Golf with a banging sound system for his 17th (fickle).

My 13 year old, however, is a complete mini incarnation of his father.  He is his shadow.  It is quite sad for me as he always used to be mummy's boy, loving his cuddles and dressing up as spider man but you could see his nose twitch every time he watched his father disappear into the garage a clean man and come out smelling like a grease monkey.  He was soon ensorcelled by the smell of 2 stroke and the sound of a crackling engine fire up and reverberate off the garage walls.  Now, at 13, my son now goes to bed in the same clothes he has worn all day and the first thing he does when he wakes up his stumble his way down to the back of the garden to the "man-shed" and starts up his Honda XR80.

One thing I have noticed with the stories being offered to me is that there is usually a common link - dads.  Some Dads are very good at nurturing their children's natural curiosity, especially in the garage.  I guess it's like having a playmate.  My dad liked alcohol.......but I'll save that story for another day!

Some dads are amazing.  I am very proud to say that my husband is an amazing dad.  Mums have their strengths too and their roles to play; my husband used to be amazed at how long I could carry our kids for, he struggled after 5 minutes in the hip position whereas I could carry them for miles whilst shopping and paying for goods, without noticing they were there.  Some dads are good at building things and repairing things and it is so important that these skills are passed on to their children (although don't hold your breath when it comes to teaching girls how to disassemble a gear box, you may find they are just not interested).

Meet Jamie Fitzharris, a 26 year old from Cork City, Ireland.  He is a qualified Engineer and has been working in the aerospace industry for the last 2 and a half years.  His interest in motorcyles takes up a good percentage of his time and where did he get that interest from?  Yes, his dad.

Jamie with his dad and his grandad.
Here's a lovely picture of Jamie's dad's dad with his dad's motorbike.
Jamie recalls his dad always talking about bikes as he grew up and told him about all the bikes he had owned when he was younger.

"One of his first bikes was a CB125 and he progressed through another few bikes from there.  One bike he always talked about in particular was the 400 Four, which was the bike he had always wanted when he was younger but could never afford to buy one.  Instead he got a Yamaha XS400 (pictured above).  He was always talking about how the 400 Four was such a lovely bike and the very distinctive sound they had and the 4-1 headers, which were the real eye catcher of the bike.  I remember a few times sitting in the back of the car when I was probably 6 or 7 and a group of bikes would pass and he would spot the 400 Four in the group if there was one.  Most of my mechanical knowledge came from him and then as I got to the age of getting a car and bikes I started to teach myself by doing any mechanical work that was required.

My first bike was a CB200, which I bought in December 2010.  The bike itself was in ok condition but the engine wasn't in great condition but I didn't really know this at the time.  I did a bit of work to it, stripped it all down and repainted the frame and the engine and just made it look a bit better and I then got insured on it.  I ended up selling it in March 2011 and I bought myself a 2002 Honda Rebel 250.  The Rebel 250 was sold again in July 2001 and I got a 2009 CBF600, which I still currently own.

A few weeks after getting the Rebel 250 I saw another CB200 for sale on a classified ads website and went for a look with my dad.  I ended up buying it.  Whilst we were there the guy said he was sure he had most of a 400 Four up in the attic over the garage as well.  My dad asked him if he would ever consider selling it and if he ever did would he give us a call because I might be interested in it.  So we went off with the CB200, which is still being worked on at the moment.

A few months down the line we did get a call from the guy to say that he had gathered up all of the bits for the bike and would we like to come for a look.  So we went back for a look at what he had and ended up buying the lot for €400.  This included 2 engines, 2 frames, 2 tanks, forks and a load of other bits and pieces.  So I was trying to decide what to do with it, split it all out and sell it and make a few euros when I decided I would try a restoration and make one complete bike anyway out of what I had."

These were the parts that were collected

Starting to look a bit more promising

Got to start somewhere
The bike is a CB400F2.  It was originally an English bike, imported into Ireland about 10-11 years ago.   Jamie still has some of the old English MOTs.  The bike also came with the original V5 registration document and Jamie had no problems registering it in Ireland.

Where do you start with a project like this?  I am trying to put myself in Jamie's position when looking at this.  When have I ever been faced with a project so daunting?  Oh, hang on, I have teenage boys and sometimes I venture into their bedrooms - so comparison found, on we go.

"The restoration began very soon after picking up all the bits and pieces.  The first thing I did was to try and get the engine running as I wanted to make sure it was in ok condition.  I learned this lesson from the CB200.  So I got the few bits and pieces that I needed just to get it running and got it started with relative ease.  I did have a problem with the points at first as one set wasn't making contact so it was only firing up on two cylinders.  These were only the crappy points that were on it when I got it so it was understandable.  Once this was sorted though it ran pretty good so I decided it would be worthwhile going ahead with the restoration.

After this I stripped the whole thing down to nothing and started working on getting the frame and any other bits I could stripped and cleaned and ready for painting.  I got the frame hubs, top and bottom yokes done over a few weeks.  I then got nice new chrome rims and chrome spokes.  I got the wheels re-laced and trued myself, my first time doing this and it probably took about 12 hours in total per wheel done over a week or so in my free time.  New bearings and the wheels were ready.

I then started on the forks, new seals and new stanchions and polished up the fork lower legs to a chrome like finish, once these were done I then put together a rolling frame.

After this I just worked on it bit by bit and started to add more and more to the frame over time when I could afford to buy parts for it.  I bought a lot of the parts brand new as a lot of the time there wasn't a whole lot of difference in price between second hand parts that mightn't be in good condition and new parts, which were perfect.  I cleaned every connection on the wiring harness and had to solder on a few wires, which had previously been just cut off by somebody.  I had to take apart the handlebar controls and solder on all new wires as again these had just been cut off by somebody previously.  All the electrics themselves are the original parts, the regulator, rectifier, etc.

I got the engine soda blasted and then painted it myself, which then was another thing done and in the frame.  New genuine chrome mudguards front and back, which set me back a small fortune.  I got the reproduction header pipes and exhaust to keep the original look.  I wanted a chrome taillight bracket like the American models so I was able to pick one up online along with the larger taillight to go with it.  I decided also to use the American style indicators, whichI prefer and so had to pick up an American headlight bracket and rear stems to accommodate these.  All new genuine Honda throttle, clutch, speedo and tacho cables and then some Goodrich stainless steel braided front brake hoses.

At this stage I decided to have a go at painting the tank and side panels black myself using spray cans.  It worked out fairly ok but with everything else being brand new and shiny I just needed to have them look perfect as well so a few months later I got them professionally sprayed and this really finished off the bike.

I was as this stage now where the bike was roadworthy in about December 2011 but I decided to leave off getting it insured until February 2012 when the weather was getting better and my insurance was due for renewal anyway.  I was really getting excited to finally get to drive it properly on the road and February couldn't come round fast enough for me.  So, eventually it came round and the bike was put on the road.  It ran very well but I was having one problem with the clutch slipping so I decided to just go ahead and replace the clutch at this stage again after having put so much into it.  Once this was done there was just  a small bit of adjusting with the carbs and it was running very well and I put a few hundred miles up on it over the summer 2012.

One problem I was having though was with starting so after a bit of investigation I decided it may be a bit poor on the compression side of things.  Time for a top end rebuild.  So I picked up a big bore kit online and over the Christmas of 2012 I tore down the top end of the engine myself and had the bores machined to take the bigger pistons.  I lapped the valves and git it all back together and she fired right up no problems.  So I got it run in this year and put up about a thousand miles on it over the summer.  I did get Hagon shocks for it too this summer and they have made a huge difference in the handling of the bike.  I had just picked up a set of cheap shocks online previously so this and they were rubbish.

It is now finished and on the road but I still end up doing more and more jobs to it the whole time.

The restoration from start to the bike being in a roadworthy condition took about a year and a half.  In total it cost a bit over €3000.  After putting so much time, effort and money into it, the bike will stay with me for some time yet."

Jamie with his CB400F2, his dad with his CB350F and Jamie's uncle

You can read more about Jamie's restoration on the following links:

There is a Photobucket account with about 200 photos from doing this restoration.

And a project thread on the SOHC4 forum.

Monday, 16 September 2013

From CB400/F Frame to Chevy Camaro!

Well, that's not strictly true but there is a link, which will become clearer as you read on (although I'm sure Bumblebee can become whatever he wants (sub-bracket to explain that Bumblebee is the Chevy in Transformers)).

I like to read about your restorations, not only because I am in awe of your skills but also I like the stories behind the headlines.  For example, my last entry was about Steven from Norfolk who spent his childhood working on bikes and bulldozers with his dad.  Then there was Ian Fife whose passion for bikes goes back to 1961 when he was only 16 years old.  Lets not forget Dom, a 17 year old restoring his CB400F that he can't even ride until a few years time.

Today you are reading about Corey Chandler, a 21 year old who caught the bug from his dad who was a hot rod and motorcycle enthusiast.  Corey helped his dad restore his muscle cars (I feel another bracket coming on - you may know what a muscle car is but do you know what a pony car is?  I didn't until I looked up what muscle cars were).  When Corey was 10 he began riding dirt bikes and started to do all the maintenance needed on the bikes himself.  At 21 he is now a dab hand at working with cars, dirt bikes and motorcycles in general.

Corey has a 1976 Honda CB400/F Supersport, which he bought in 2012 from a neighbour.  It hadn't run in over 15 years and was in a bit of a state.


The project was for Corey and his father to turn the bike into a cafe racer.  His dad wanted to make it all original because the first motorcycle he ever bought was a ......yellow 1976 Honda CB400/F Supersport.  I think fate may have had a hand in this.  His dad bought his bike brand new when he was just 17 years old.  Between them they decided to keep some original features but with Corey getting to make the modifications that he wanted to as well.

The handlebars, tank, side-covers, headlight and most of the other parts were kept original but the seat is a custom foam seat with a leather cover giving it the appearance of a single seat just like the cafe racer style.  

Corey removed the large blinkers, tail lights and fenders and put bar-end mirrors on the back. The rear fender was simply cut down smaller and rounded.  A new, smaller tail light will be put on the bike.  

The rest of the bike was cleaned up, polished and made new again.  Corey uses the word "just" here.  "Just cleaned up".  I know from visiting Steven's workshop (and seeing the pictures above) that this in itself is a huge task.  The wheels were re-laced and painted black and new tyres were purchased.  The exhaust headers were wrapped in fibreglass wrap, and the muffler was cut down shorter and hollowed out.

So the link between the Camaro and Corey's CB400/F?

The tank was repainted as close to the factory yellow as he could find - using the yellow that is used on the 2010 newer Chevy Camaros.

Corey began tearing down the bike in December 2012 and now in September 2013 - the bike is nearly finished.  The carbs need to be fine-tuned after rebuilding.  Also the rear tail light needs to be wired in and mounted, then just a few more shake down rides and ensuring everything is safe to be riding and it will completed.

I always ask the question "will you keep the bike?".  Oh yes, it's here to stay.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Does he wash up? He never wash up, does he clean up? Oh yes!

For those of you who are restoring a classic bike you may be very jealous of my recent visit to Norfolk.  Based on my experience of Norfolk I was half expecting the bike to have 3 wheels (tongue in cheek there) but in fact the bike had the 2 wheels (and 2 very nice ones indeed) and the bloke restoring it was a very lovely chap called Steven Last.

Steven has restored a few CB400Fs for DavidSilver Spares.  He has been working with bikes for many years and I just love his story of how he got involved in them.  His father used to ride bikes at Speedway and he was bought  an Italiajet when he was just 6 years old.  His dad also used to drive bulldozers for a living and on the weekends he would be working on the Dozers and the bikes so Steven would always join in and work with him.  Reminds me of that song “I’m Luke I’m 5 and my Dad’s Bruce Lee, drives me round in his JCB” - take a few minutes to watch this now if you haven't seen it yet, well worth it.  My own middle son is forever with his dad in his garage (I almost wrote “our” garage then but I know my place).

Steven went on to work for Honda travelling around the world working on Hondas and Triumphs, mainly working on recall projects.  Sounds glamorous but he says not – no sooner had you touched down in Japan that you were off again to New York, etc.  You can’t see the world from a hotel room.

During my visit to Steven’s workshop he was mucking out a set of carburetors on a CB400F, which had been in hundreds of pieces yesterday.  He explained that on such an old bike the carbs get filled up with sediment and petrol and that the bike he was working on looked like it had been kicked around the floor.  The mounting surface had to be like glass; flat and perfectly clean (so he was “having the head skimmed”).  Steven was really kind to me the whole time I was there.  I was clearly a fish out of water so he explained things really well to me.  I have been an IT tutor for many years and when delivering a Level 1 course we were trained to always assume zero knowledge but in such a way as to not insult the student’s intelligence.  Steven was perfect in this and I really did learn a lot.

All the pieces from the carbs were lying on the work surface in a very organized way, all ready to be cleaned.  The carbs were stripped completely down to the emulsifying jets.  Steven emphasized on many occasions how every piece of the bike had to be spotless for things to work.  His first job with any restoration is to strip everything down to bare bones and clean everything to within an inch of its life.  Later he would put everything back together again and get it back in the bike (with his dad’s help with lifting) and see if it all works.  The bike he was working on was a non-starter.  So what if the bike doesn’t work once all this work is done?  “It will work, it’s all in the preparation”. 

The number 1 cylinder head on this bike was dead.  How did he know this?  Again, you must assume no knowledge without making the student feel stupid, remember?  Steven explained that he uses a compression tool in the spark plug and he could see that number 1 was dead.  Yhe, but how do you know that it was number 1?  He patiently repeated “with the compression tool”.  I still wasn’t getting it – how do you know it wasn’t number 2 or 3?  So Steven pulled out the spark plug and plugged in the compression tool and showed me – I am very embarrassed to say that I still didn’t get it.  I did feel a little stupid but I just couldn’t see it – then I did.  Each cylinder has it’s own spark plug – doh!  Now at this point I could quickly move on to another discussion but no, I am not very good at brushing over things.  I just said out loud “how stupid am I”?

Next we looked at the cooling fins.  I was slightly aware of these from Ian Fife’s write-up and I know that he had to repair a cracked fin.  Steven showed me where the fins on this bike had to be repaired – you could hardly see any repair and what you could see would be sprayed so it would then be invisible to the naked eye.

Somebody had sprayed the fins black and Steven was planning on getting all this back to silver.  It's amazing how handy a hairdryer can be in the workshop.

So how far do you go with these restorations?  If you are restoring a bike out of passion, a love affair if you like, then I guess you are not really going to worry too much about margins.  However, DSS are restoring these bikes to sell on to enthusiasts so margins are very important.  Repairing this broken fin cost about £70; not a great deal and this was essential work.  But what about the frame?  Do you send it off to be grit blasted and powder coated or do you clean it to a perfect condition and lacquer it?  You can spot fix any obvious signs of wear like flaked paint before painting and you can make it look like a brand new frame still.   The last bike Steven worked on was cracked where the side stand came up so he had to weld it, sand it and then paint it before lacquering.

Every bit of the bike has to be spotless, Steven couldn’t stress this enough: it’s all in the preparation.  So what is his secret?  Cillit Bang! Spray it into the carbs and jets and what the dirt go bang (you have to shout that out very loud like Barry Scott).  He does have all the other professional gear as well like a….well….I can’t remember what they are so just look at the pictures.

The wheels are a very important part of any bike I feel; from a cosmetic point of view.  You see crap wheels and there is a distinct turn off of any vehicle bike or car.  The wheels on this CB400F have been respoked.  The old ones were full of red rust.  The wheels themselves are original but they are a little pitted in places but what do you want; the original wheels or a replicated replacement?

It was a really great day at Steven’s workshop and I learned so much more than just looking at photos.  I have learnt that restoring bikes is not about replacing worn out parts with new, it’s about restoring the parts that you have as best as you possibly can to its original condition.  Sometimes replacing things is inevitable (like spokes) but mostly things can always be put back to their original condition with a bit of love, time and maybe a bit of Cillit Bang.

I asked Steven what bike he rides now.  “I don’t – I’m too mad”.  This reminds me of the greats like John McGuinness and Carl Foggerty who say that every rider has a line and it comes down to how often you want to cross it.  Crossing it makes you a winner but sometimes you just have to look home to your partner and kids and decide whether crossing that line is worth the risk.  For Steven he has decided that it’s not, almost like he can’t trust himself on a bike. “Anyway horses are more dangerous” he says.  “My sister had horses and they have minds of their own.  At least bikes have brakes”. So true (although he does have a 2002 CR250 tucked away in the garage in bits for a future day).