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).

Monday, 8 July 2013

Red paint makes bikes faster - fact!

When I started the David Silver facebook page in October 2011 a regular commenter was Kerry Cornish.  She was very supportive of me, a non-biker in a biker's world and encouraged me to get going on taking my CBT (the UK's Certificate of Basic Training for bike riders).  Thanks for that Kerry (she also understood the problem of getting the old fun bags into biker's jackets!).

My CB400/4 SuperSport is the F1 model manufactured in Dec 1976 and it originally started life as the Varnish Blue and is now a brilliant Candy Atares Red.  Why red? They go faster! We purchased the bike in 2010 from a guy in Victoria, Australia who used it as a daily ride as much as possible. He was quite rapt with the bike but had to sell due to family commitments. We saw it on eBay, asked some questions, put in a bid, then asked for a Buy it Now price, just in case someone else got it. And bought it. We paid $3500.00 plus freight. 

When the bike arrived it was in quite poor condition, the header pipes were rusty and the outer one was dented, collector box not bad and end can good. Rims were covered in dirt and baked on grime. I spent nearly two weeks, off and on, scrubbing, cleaning the whole bike. The chain guard I had to use a flat head screwdriver and strong stick to remove all the built u grime. Spokes were scrubbed clean, basically the whole bike was scribed, washed and polished. My fingers and nails had a permanent black/brown stains (glad I wasn't working then!).

I am slowing restoring the bike but I am not too fussed if it is not concourse condition, I want the bike to be restored enough to be ridden and attract plenty of attention, which it does! I still need to replace the header pipes, I have a set I bought from Motad, and there is a minor oil leak which I am hoping is only the head needing tensioning. When we got the bike there was a gasket set and the w/shop manual had a lot of grease marks where the head gasket section is. Most parts for the bike have come from David Silver Spares except the ignition switch, which went out on me one day on a ride, bummer! 

The bike is staying with me and will not be sold.  When I got my full bike license and was looking to upgrade to a bigger bike, I read an article about the CB400 and fell in love with it. Unfortunately I found out they were no longer available new, that was in 1998. I have wanted one ever since."

Kerry Cornish