April 22, 2011


I had a bout of builder’s block with the Steel Steed, and found myself forced to think and work on other projects in order to clear my mind and, perhaps, build my confidence.  I faced challenging days ahead, as the non-existent tail section of the Steed begged to be forged into reality.  I felt a lack of skill, and the design I had once clung to was now in the grip of doubt.  Was it conducive to the existing style of the bike?  Did I have the skill and equipment to make it?  Did I even like it?

Fig 1: No, I don't think I do...

Whatever the case, I decided to work on other projects.  You’ve seen the watch (previous article, if you care to see it), now for something a bit more motorcyclic.

The Suzuki GS850G (which I have been known to drive and crash) has been running aftermarket 4-into-1 pipes with a Jardine glass pack ever since I cobbled together the cash to buy them.  The stock pipes were massive dual megaphones done up in aging chrome.  I liked them, but they sounded silly, like a whispering dragon.

Fig 2: A whispering dragon. (fssle bssle fssle)

The 4-into-1’s were loud, and the glass pack muffler was more of a glass pack and not so much of a muffler.  I loved it.  My wife…tolerated it.  Loud pipes only get louder on the passenger seat.
There was one problem: These screamin' new pipes didn’t provide enough back pressure to keep the exhaust gasses from scavenging excessively. 
Scavenging?  What's the scavenging mean?  It means two things.  This is one of them:

Fig 3: Scavenging

According some dictionary, scavenging is also: to remove (burned gases) from the cylinder of an internal combustion engine after a working stroke.
I don't know what that means exactly, but in simple ideas (which is the only kind I have) I'll tell you my understanding of scavenging.  I might even be wrong, and I'd love for ya'll to tell me if I am. 
Here goes: Scavenging (excessive scavenging that is) occurs when unburned fuel (i.e. gasoline vapors) is pulled out of the cylinder, through the exhaust valves and into the pipes.  The main reason this happens is due to the velocity of the exiting exhaust gasses.  The resulting sound is like the eruption of a small volcano, and if you’ve got really short pipes or an exotically tuned engine, you get a nice plume of fire coming out of your muffler (but if this is happening, I’m betting whole dollars you’re not running a muffler). 
There are other factors that act on the scavenging effect too, like valve overlap (having both exhaust and intake valves open at the same time for a short duration of the engine’s cycle).  But in my case, the exhaust system seems to be the main culprit.

Note: If you kids at home want to know if  you have scavenging on your bike, have an adult fire up your engine, carefully let it warm, hit the throttle hard, and then let it off suddenly.  You will hear a series of pops and bangs if you have scavenging.  This is the unburned gas exploding in your pipes (don’t worry, it’s not dangerous, just inefficient)

Some scavenging is good, it pulls the old gasses out and forces fuel in.  But too much ruins your fuel economy (important at $4.50 a gallon) and results in loss of power (in most cases, but in my experience there are always exceptions with engines).
 What I needed to manage my scavenging issue was restriction, something to hold those gasses back, slow them down.
I turned to the only place we have left to find detailed information on things most folks don’t care about: The Internet.

There’s something known in the Harley community as ‘the washer baffle’.  It’s application is for drag pipes and addresses the same issues I have with my Suzuki.  There are lots of sites that tell you how it’s done, but here’s the one I found after about five seconds of searching:

I made some modifications to the design, because I’m foolish and think I know better than folks with far more experience than I.  The result is as follows:

 Fig 4: Ah...I got nothin...sorry guys.  Not much witty in this shot.

First things first, I stripped the 4-into-1's off my bike.  This is a great time to install some new muffler gaskets if you're getting a lot of popping exhaust noises from the front of your engine.  I had VHT coated these with manifold paint a couple years ago.  I learned from this experience that VHT manifold paint is pretty useless.

 Fig 5: My implements

I started by picking a place to drill my hole for the shaft of the baffle. (By the way folks, if you didn't at least look at the pictures of how this job is done, you're not going to understand much of what I'm about to say).  I decided to make my shaft end slotted, so that I could use a wrench and screwdriver to tune the bike while it was running.  Also, by cutting the slot parallel with the plane of the washer, I could have a visual indication of what position the baffle was in without being able to see it.  Important if you're going to strap a long, dark muffler to your pipes like I do on my Suzuki.  I picked a spot about four inches from the end of the pipe, on the bottom, so folks wouldn't bother me asking about the bolt on my muffler.  Turns out, the decision to put the hole four inches from the end was a huge mistake, but we'll get back to that.

My plan for the baffle was to have a boss coming off the pipe to bolt against, so I welded a stub of 1/2" carbon steel barstock onto my pipes.

Note: A lot of exhaust pipes are made of alloys; high chrome carbon steel, or stainless steel in some cases.  I'm no metallurgist, but I would not recommend dissimilar metal welds on an exhaust pipe.  The difference in thermal expansion between the bonded metals alone could be enough to give you trouble.  I know that my pipes are carbon steel (because they were cheap, and they rust profusely), so I had no fear welding to it.  But a basic rule is to know what you're doing before you start doing it.  Stick to that and you should be fine.

I beveled the bottom of the boss, then welded it to the pipes with a really ugly bead.  When I was done, it looked like this:

Fig 6: The Boss 

 Fig 7: The Boss from a distance
Next, I taped the surrounding metal off with two layers of blue painters tape.  I did this to protect the metal while I ground down that weld.  The blue tape is really no match for a grinding wheel spinning at thousands of RPM, but it gives you a warning.  I usually know when I'm hitting something I don't want to with a grinder, and the tape gives me an extra half a second to pull off when I goof up.

Fig 8: Ready for material removal

Fig 9: An old photo from the vault depicting Demoto grinding metal for a completely unrelated project.  It sure does capture the spirit of the moment though.

I don't recall the exact moment, but it was around this time that I began to see the folly of my ways.  Having the hole four inches back with a boss meant that putting the washer assembly into the pipe would be...impossible.  Basically, I could put the washer and shaft assembly into the pipe, but I couldn't stand it up straight to go through the boss.  I was in a pickle.  But in clear Demoto form, I pushed ahead with the faulty design and hoped I was going to get smart enough within the next hour to solve it.

Fig 10: The result, courtesy of blue tape, grinders, a file, and a drill bit.

The next bit I got into so much, I forgot to take pictures.  Suffice it to say, I took a washer, a smaller washer, and bolt, combined it with a MIG welder, files, a die set, and a makeshift lathe I cobbled together with a cheap power drill, a bench vise, and an angle grinder.  The result is displayed proudly below:

Fig 11: Victory

Feast your eyes folks.  You won't often see metal this pretty coming out of a shop as shoddy as mine.  Hidden as it now is, I am quite proud of this fabbed part.  Sadly, I had to shave a bit off the top of the washer in order to get it to fit inside the muffler due to the affore mentioned "four inch setback bungle".  It's in the pipe now, probably until Jesus comes back because try as I might, I can't get the thing to come out again.

Sadly for you, I have no picture of the finished article.  So I found one on the internet!

Fig 12: Demoto's baffle looks just like this one (coutesy of welderboy1276), except it doesn't look like a filthy metal turd.

I installed a nylon lock nut on the shaft, not an acorn nut as shown above on welderboy1276's noble effort, and I hope the nylon doesn't melt.  welderboy1276 doesn't have to worry about his acorn nut melting, because it's made of metal.  Also, it's probably laying on the road somewhere, because any bolt on a motorcycle not locked somehow tends to shake free eventually.
My adjustable baffle will now allow me to tune my exhaust pipe to a more tolerable level of scavenging, hopefully allowing me to put still more superbike pretty-boys to shame on the blacktop.

Oh yes, and one more thing.  You remember that inspiration I was lacking at the beginning of the article.  Well ladies and gentlement, I was standing in my garage a short time after finishing this project when I recieved an epiphany, a revelation, a vision of things to come...

...stay tuned folks.

March 21, 2011

Beyond Motorcycles

Greetings fellow folk.  Today I wish to make a departure from my usual fare.  Today we will not speak of tools, or motor-driven conveyances, or the innate awesomeness of fire.  Today I wish to spend a moment in the fast paced, razzle-dazzle world of fashion accessories.  Particularly, useless, out-dated fashion accessories.  To be precise, The Watch.

With the advent of cellular phones and their fantastic timekeeping ability, you see less and less wrists adorned with a watch.  It would seem that the watch has been made over as a phone and (ironically?) moved back into the pocket, where it first started its journey through human culture.

And while Tag Heuer must be pulling some sort of profit to have His Coolness, Brad Pitt model their watches for the unworthy world to see, most of us don’t spend more than $100 on timekeeping per fiscal year.  I know I didn’t.  I spent a little over twenty bucks, and got this:

Fig. 32: A watch on a Royal typewriter

To say I simply 'got' the watch for a little over twenty dollars is false.  I got the watch face (a cheap Mossimo wrist watch with a fake leather band) for $20.  I made the watch band over the course of two days during my recent period of internet silence known as 'vacation'.  I'll get into the materials and methods of construction later, but needless to say, the watch cost me more Time than it did Money, which is perhaps appropriate.

Detail 1

I made the main wrist strap out of two layers of leather.  The top is black suede, about 1 millimeter thick.  It looks pretty, but has a lot of stretch in it, so would be unsuitable for the band.  I fixed this issue by making the watch out of two layers.  The bottom is good, strong leather, about 2 millimeters thick, but ugly tan in color.  I punched small holes around the pereimeter of both pieces and stitched it together with synthetic sinew.  I like synthetic sinew because it's much easier to work with, plus, you can melt your knots with a match to keep them from ever coming undone.  The down side is that synthetic sinew will eventually lose it's leathery pigment and turn nylon white (because it's really white nylon, folks!).
Having two layers of leather meant I could do some pretty cool effects when attaching the face straps.  As you can see in Detail 1, the strap dives under the leather and is stitched through all the layers using a leather-workers awl.  I tried doing as much of this project as I could on my old Sears Kenmore sewing machine, but at around three ply of leather, the old girl gives a groan and refuses to go any further.

Detail 2

Eventually I decided to stop being creative and become simply ridiculous.  The second face strap is asymmetrical to it's brother, who I mentioned earlier.  It starts wide and tapers down to a chamfered end.  I then adorned it with the back end of two handgun cartridges (9mm and .38 Special, both +P so I could have them in silver).  I cut both of the cartridges off in my vice and filed them down smooth.  I had previously removed the primers and so simply threaded them on as beads through the primer pocket.  The face strap was punched with holes corresponding the the cartidge size, so they would be countersunk into the leather.

Detail 3

Finding a suitable buckle for a watch like this is nigh impossible, so I went super-unconventional and secured it to my wrist using a knurled nut I found in my grandpa's collection.  In order to mate the metal to the leather, I had to fire up my brain and, shortly thereafter, the MIG welder.

Detail 4

Detail four doesn't show you what's going on between the leather layers, but essentially, there is a 1.25" long strip of 18 gauge steel, about 0.375" wide, and rounded on all corners so it won't slice through.  I drilled five equally spaced holes in this piece of metal, and welded a section of threaded metal (fancy talk for a cut off bolt) flush into the center hole from the back.  I punched corresponding holes into the leather as needed and then sewed the metal between the leather strap layers with the bolt protruding as shown.  You can see the knurled nut in the upper, left-hand corner.  It really is a very nice looking piece of hardware.

Detail 5

In the end, I got myself a post-apocalyptic timepiece that I am proud to wear.  If I could change anything, I'd put a nicer face on it, waterproof, with an automatic movement so I'd never need batteries.  But honestly, who has that much to spend on a watch?

Demoto would like to thank his dad for inspiring him in this undertaking with tales of the massive Russian submarine watch.  You may not have brought one back from the Ukraine, but I might have made one to rival it's coolness.

March 1, 2011

Engine In

As I hinted at in my previous post, the Steel Steed has come back home.  I took a few minutes and slapped the frame together from it's disassembled state.  Looking at it's lines and angles, I was once again reminded of how far I had come, how much road I still had to travel, and how much I liked this bike. 

Fig. 13: The artistic grace of the minimal.  Plus, check out my new (to me) tool box!

For me, it's usually not a good practice to let such moments of emotional commitment go by the wayside, so I rode the wave of elation and dropped the engine into the frame.  Believe me when I say that it took every drop of that wave to get the job done.

 Fig. 14: Intimidation

For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided putting a four cylinder in-line back into a double downtube frame, congratulations.  For those of you who have performed this task, then you know that it only goes in one way, and then only when you have removed, say, the breather box cover, and maybe the oil filter casing too.  And you know what, better drop the points cover too, for good measure.

Fig. 15: Halfway there (maybe)

My engine was no exception, and I was doing this by myself, with no buddys, jacks, or lift assists.  When I had at last finished, I knew there were only two remedies for the pain I was in.  The first were near fatal doses of ibuprofin, the second was to put the tank and seat on the bike and....just....look at it.

Fig. 16: Agony

Fig. 17: Potential

Fig. 18: Ecstasy
(not the drug, kids)

To say I am happy with where this bike is going would be an understatement.

The job did bring a few things to the table however.  For one, make sure you label all of your bolts and what-not very well.  There is no telling when you will put things back, and digging through the rubble of three seperate bikes with only a vague notion of what you're looking for can be un-nerving.

Fig. 19: One of these bolts is the right one for the job...

For two, I will be using the passenger peg mounts as my rearset location on the frame, so the current pegs are not needed.  However, those unwanted pegs are attached to the frame via the lower engine stud bolt.  Once the pegs are removed, that bolt is going to be a good two inches too long.  I am going to have to shorten that stud and re-thread it for the engine mount nut.  Not a big job, but fine thread metric dies can be hard to come by, so I'll either have to do it with an Standard die and swap the nut, or do some searching.  We'll see.  Enjoy the pictures lads and jennys.

Fig. 20: The Steel Steed

Fig. 21: Cannon

Fig. 22: The Steel Steed AND Cannon
(It was cold out that day)

February 17, 2011

Moto Show Madness

Last weekend, me and the crew (minus Rob) hit the International Motorcycle Show that was temporarily taking up residence in the Rosemont Convention Center.

Fig 29: The Crew (minus Rob)

Fig 30: The Donald E. Stephens (nee Rosemont) Convention Center

While my dream show would have been the custom show at the McCormick on the previous weekend, life did not allow me to go.  However, for a manufactuerer show, the IMS had a good showing of custom bikes, though to be honest, some were just bolt-on wonders with trick paint jobs.  There were several bikes that caught my eye.  One was a standard looking overchop (the gross fat wheel, suicide rake folks, etc.) but the builder had used a snowmobile engine with a CV transmission (i.e. no shifting).  It was essentially a giant scooter.  In addition, the builder had the brake off of the primary gear coming out of the engine, putting spool wheels on both the front and rear.  Not sure how I feel about the thing safety-wise, but if you want to die in style, but can't seem to get that while manual transmission thing down, count this bike as your ride (sorry, no pictures dudes, I'm just getting used to the blog culture thing where you have to document every aspect of your life...).

The second was a positively AMAZNG Honda CB-550 done by Cook Customs and titled simply "Rambler".

I'll let the photos speak.

 Fig 31: Interesting...four banger inline.  Custom springer front end.  Bar end cantrols, stacked leather grips, perimiter discs on front and rear wheels.  I could go on and on about the details in this ride...

 Fig 32: Hold the phone, that's not exactly...is that a....wait a second.  I know those valve caps!  That's a Honda CB-550 engine, flipped sideways!

 Fig 33: Holy crap, they cut the transmission off!  Custom oil pump out front.  Sooooo much beautiful brass.  Check out that rear brake control.  It's trick, for no good reason other than being trick!  Loving that single carb and manifold.  And a chromed frame! My mind cannot take it in...

Fig 34: What's this now? An inline transmission, converted to an open dogbone DRIVE SHAFT! 
I collapsed into a convulsive fit at this time...

The amount of work and thought that went into this bike is incredible, and that's an understatement.  For a while after looking at it, I kept on thinking how crappy a bike builder I was because I could never manage a custom of this magnitude.  But then it hit me.  These guys got a shop, probobly with full machining capabilities, plus CNC, and oh yes, money.  Lots and lots of money.
I may never have a chance to flip my engine upside down and make it run on magical fairy dust with rainbow emitting exhaust pipes, but I can make a darn cool bike in my one car garage for a tenth of what it cost them to make the Rambler.  Not to down play an amazing motorbike, I just want to encourage ya'll who might feel overwhelmed by the masters, no matter what your passion is.

My final and possibly most rewarding interaction was with a gentleman from Godfreys Garage.  His name tag said Godfrey, but I suspect he might have been Stephen, based on some internet research.  Just goes to show my manners, yammering on about his motorcycle while failing to ask him his name.  Regardless, he built a bike for a client using a CB-550 as a base and a huge budget for the rest.  The result is displayed below (this photo is from The Kneeslider website, as I was pretty done with taking photos at that point in the show).

It's a pretty standard Cafe Racer at first glance.  Almost dissmissable to the untrained eye.  There's nothing inherently ridiculous about it to draw the eye.  But then you get closer...

Honestly, I might have passed this one by with only a glance if my wife hadn't called me over (thanks babe).  Notice at closer inspection the rear suspension.  A bit different form the standard CB-550, eh?  The absolute beauty of this mod was how simply and effectively it had been executed.  Some bent tubing, a turnbuckle, a few brackets and a pair of shocks.  With a bit of time and $500, I could do it myself I think.  I talked at length with the builder (Godfrey...I think...) and he was more than friendly, and very informative.  He encouraged me when I showed him pictures of my tank (I must have seemed pathetic).  I hope to meet him again someday, perhaps with a bike of my own to show off.

Godfrey (Stephen), if you ever read this, thanks for the info on cutting down the rear brake plate, installing an oil pressure gauge, and frame stiffening.  It was good to get information from someone in the trenches rather than these internet-stalking opinion-launchers....speaking of which, thanks for reading my Blog.

Peace ya'll.  Catch a show this spring if you can, and please let me know about your wonderous experiences.

Words are copyright Demoto, photos courtosy of no one.

Return of the Beast

Last night I went over to the home of my gracious in laws and picked up the rolling chassis of the Steel Steed.  They were kind enough to store it for me over the winter while the Lead Sled wasted space in my garage.

Fig 27: The Lead Sled, back when Demoto still loved her.

The Sled still will not run, though it proved itself to be an exemplar example of bikes that can light themselves and anyone around them on fire (a short, but exciting story).  Anyone want to buy it?

But I digress.  The weather seems to have turned a corner here in ChiTown, and I'm going to move the Sled outside and put a cover on her (the better to forget her).  Meanwhile, I'll be working on the Steed again with fervor.  I can't wait to mount all the crap I bought for her over the winter.  The headlight, the tail light, the tank...oh yeah, the engine too.  I'll be sure to take pictures along the way and post them for ya'll (I think that's about six of you at this point.  Tell your friends!).  It should be an awesome summer of wrenching.

For now, slake your thirst for metal and gears with this picture of the Steel Steed wedged into the back of the Tiny Tank.

Fig 28: Caged fury

A super gangsta shout out to my in laws for stabling the Steed during the cold months, and to Trej for helping me move this thing back.  I could not have done it without your tool expertise.

Until next time folks; Keep the Rubber Side Down , and be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

February 7, 2011

The Main Chassis

Engines are neat.  Without them, motorcycles would simply be called "cycles" and their audience would be limited to trendy city kids with one pant leg rolled up.  However, one cannot overlook the significance of the frame and suspension when building a motorscooter.
I am told that frames are dynamic parts of the machine.  Flexing and moving with the myriad forces of accelleration, braking, and manouvering.  I've never witnessed any of this, because I'm having too much fun driving (or crashing, in nominally less- fun moments).  However, I was forced to get up to my elbows in geometry when evaluating how I was going to 'do' the frame for my CB550.

Fig. 89: To the right, a complete CB550 frame, brackets and all.  To the left, a frame with the centerstand brackets ground down...and pretty much stock besides that.

If you've ever taken apart a UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle, and my chosen medium) you'll see that their frames have a lot of brackets.  We're talking dozens.  And with good reason.  Every component needs to mount to the frame in some manner.  The idea behind a 'racer' is to strip off as many of those components as possible, hence, many of those brackets go bye bye.  I'm impatient, and I have a welder, so I wasn't about to catalogue each bracket and calculate how many needed to stay.  No sir, I went typical Demoto and hacked 'em all off with an angle grinder!  Of course, I left a few (I think they're called 'engine mounts') but most came off.  I smoothed out the scar tissue with abrasive disks, and the result was a very clean looking frame.

Fig. 90: In the foreground, a clean frame, all unwanted brackets removed.  In the background, that same stock frame, sucking up space in my garage.  Future hardtail?

The grinding being done, and the messieness gone, it must be stated that many of those brackets also doubled as gussets.  Gussets are basically any piece of metal that is welded in the corner of a junction in the frame.  They provide added strength against the frame flexing at the angular moment of the blah bla whosm whutsleflartz. 
They're important. 
I  found a googleplex of great information on frame stiffening from a fellow named Tony Foale:


He sells a program where you can do all these calculations and run simulations and whatnot.  Some folks are into that, and I have mad respect for them, it's just not my style.  I have two standards for weight and strength: "Can I lift it?" and the ever important "Can I jump on it?"  You don't need a computer program for these tests.  You don't even need a brain, strictly speaking.

So some frame stiffening will be required now that the brackets are off, I just haven't gotten around to it yet (see Fig. 90).  I'll probobly put a a pair of gussets beneith the frame on either side of the oil pan, and some cross bracing on the downtubes (the pair of pipes heading down from the head tube and looping around the front of the engine).  Tony Foale also talks about the many faults of the oil dampened fork suspension system used on...pretty much everything that's not a springer or Bimota Tesi 3D.

If you can afford this motorcycle, you are not reading this blog.

A fork brace can mitigate some of the unwanted flex found in fork type suspensions, but they're expensive.  Basically, it's a big piece of metal (usually aluminum) that clamps the two forks together closer to the wheel than the triple tree.  However, I have seen (rarely, so it might be a horrible idea) folks who have used an extra triple tree clamp low on the forks to act as a fork brace.  I've got an extra tree clamp so it's worth a shot.  What's the worst that could happen?

Ahh yes...This....

Hope you folks enjoyed this article.  The is the special commemoritive edition celebrating my first Follower and First Comment.  Special thanks to Demoto's Sister, Hister, owner, rider, and builder of a sleek KZ400 we bought off the side of the road for $29 cash.  Thanks sis, you rock my world!

Fig. 91: Hister, keeping it real.

January 25, 2011

Back to That Engine...

So I stripped the engine down to the bolts, taking lots of pictures along the way (most of them ill lit and poorly focused).  I found the digital camera to be one of the most useful tools in my arsenal at this time.  I would lay the bolts out and photo the configuration to make sure I got them all back in the right holes.

Poorly lit, yet focused. Points deducted for shooting your own toe.

The pistons were pretty crapped up with carbon and gunk.  I’ve heard tell of folks tossing pistons for this very reason, but rest assured; a good wire brush and some mineral spirits will work wonders on a gunked piston.  Same for the valves.

I brought all the aluminum to a local guy who made a living sand blasting old truck engines clean.  He worked me into his schedule for about $70 and blasted my whole engine, piece by piece.  Once I got the case parts back, they looked factory new…almost too new.  I finished them with rattle can VHT high temp engine paint and baked the parts in my mom’s oven.  This, I should note, will not directly improve your relationship with your mom, or her oven, or the house, which reeked of burning chemicals for a day and a half.

 ...And yet from such anguish emerges beauty, like flowers from a skull...or a tattoo of flowers coming out of skulls. 
As shown in the photopragh above, I painted the side covers with silver wheel paint.  It’s rated to 400 degrees and the engine covers seldom get that hot.  Plus VHT is, like, ten bucks a can, and I’m on a budget here.

I honed the cylinders (probably the easiest yet hardest sounding part of rebuilding an engine) and the valve seats and then began the somewhat daunting task of putting the whole kit and caboodle back together.  Somewhere in that process, I discovered that all the contact surfaces on my valve cam and tappets were shot.  I believe these things are case hardened, which means the metal surface is only hard for the first 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch.  The core of the casting is still unhardened steel.  This is actually a good thing for two reasons: one, it reduces the brittleness of the part, yet still allows it to be used in services which require hardening.  Think of the traditional Japanese sword, which is comprised of three different hardnesses of metal for the spine, body, and edge of the blade.  Well, a case hardened cam shaft is just like that…except it’s two metals, not three…and it’s a cam shaft, not a sword.  But still Japanese, in the case of the Honda.

In 'case' there is still some confusion

Second, case hardening gives the consumer a much cheaper product, as it does not require extensive heat treating time and labor in the production facility.  Which leads me to digress: I find it amazing that we can buy these motorcycles brand new for around $5000.  Take one apart some day and just look at all the engineered parts in these things.  It’s incrediculous.

All case hardening nerd-dom aside (and please correct me if I’m wrong on any of the above purported facts) my case hardening on my cam shaft had bit the dust.  I think some joker might have run it with low (or no) oil one day.  The lobes were pitted and scarred, and the tappets (most likely as a result) were all beveled and worn.  I hit ebay and managed to scrounge up a new shaft and tappets for around $40.  Interestingly, they were selling individual used tappets for $30 a pair, but I bought the entire valve cover assembly (with eight tappets installed) off a fine gentleman for five dollars less.  Win.

I kept the original piston rings except for one set (which I broke when trying to remove them.  I’m wondering to this day if I should have just gone nuts and replaced the whole lot of them when I had the engine apart.  However, I had it on good authority (my dad, who used to build and race Fiats in the SCCA circuit) that the rings were good, so I just reinstalled them and wished for the best.  We’ll see.

I resisted a good deal of temptation on this engine.  There were plenty of high compression pistons, racing cams, and big bore kits calling my name.  But as this is my first real build, I decided to run it stock (well, mostly, it has an oil cooler adapter, and the carb might be jetted, but I'm not sure).  When I can get the basic machine purring and whirring, I'll think about throwing in some hop-ups.

At the end of…I think it was a year (I was in college at the time of this rebuild, if memory serves) I had a finished CB550 engine sitting on a board mounted to the unused foosball table in the basement.  The motor was clean, it had good compression, and it looked pretty to boot.

Fig. 21: Pretty

This was all well and good at the time, as I was still focused on building a pretty bike at the time.  But as in all good thrillers, what started off sunny and bright was about to take a turn for the gritty and visceral.

January 13, 2011


My Grandpa Reggie was a great man on this earth.  A machinist at a tool and die factory in Chicago for most of his life.  An immigrant.  A hard working American.  A man who could truely be called a follower of Jesus, not only in word, but most resoundingly, in deed.  More so than I could go on about any machine or movie, I could go on and on about my Grandpa Reggie.

On October 12th of 2008, early in the morning, my Grandpa went home to be with the God he had followed for so long during his hard life.  Let those who view Christianity as a sham hold their judgement.  If you knew my grandpa, you would have seen something real in him which you could not explain by the material alone.  There was the Holy Spirit in him, and it was undeniable.  I wish you could have met him.

Last week, my cousin Tim and I went into the city to visit my grandma and go through my grandpa's old tools.  It was, in short, amazing.  Bits, reamers, v-blocks, micrometers, files, rasps, saws, blades, strange steel implements in small wooden boxes that Tim and I could only educatedly guess at the purpose of.  It all had to go due to space constraints, and we had no problem preserving these priceless and useful artifacts.

A whole lot-a wonderful.  Thanks for letting me borrow the carro mom.

I will say this: they either don't make tools like they used to, or all the crappy ones broke and got tossed, leaving only the good ones behind.  I suspect the latter.

What's this?! No plastic dipped handles? No comfort contour? No foam insert, plush covered grips with shock-absorbing patented polymer Wus-Gard technology?

While I do not yet know what I will use half of the tools for, I am just giddy thinking about what I might think about using them on...if that makes any sense...which it does not.  Perhaps it could best be summed up by saying that I am swept away by the fragrant winds of potential.  I'm pretty much sold on the idea that I will posess a machine lathe at some point in my life.  And also maybe an end mill...Yet even in the tight grasp of material want, one thing that surprised me was how little my grandpa owned as far as tools to get the job done.  It all fit in a space half the size of my garage, which is pretty small once the car is parked in it

 My shop: Inside...

...And out

Every item my grandpa owned was quality, some were even custom made, and he had just enough to get by.  How that goes against the typical American mindset of acquisition (I file myself under that mindset as well, shamefully).

But this is a builders blog, so how am I going to tie this into the world of sparks, metal, and busted knuckles?  By saying this:

There are countless TV shows and websites out there telling you what you can do if you only have________ (usually an english wheel).  I am here to take a stand, to dissagree (disrespectfully).  Whether you're forging a motorbike, or making knives, or planting flowers or whatever, you can make anything you want, by making do.  The dollar solves quickly and stupidly what some time and a bit of brainwork does for (almost) free.  Take this gas tank I fabbed up:

Mordor, meet Mad Max

This tank is rough, people ask me how I'm going to smooth it out (I'm not, because it's AWESOME!) and what color I'm going to paint it (ditto the above parenthetical statement).  How was it made?  With a cheap MIG welder (well, as cheap as they get off craigslist), $20 worth of sheet metal I bought off a dude in an industrial shop, a bit of steel I found on the ground, and an old CB550 gas tank I cut the bottom off of (and almost blew myself up in the process).  It took me almost a year to make, but it was an adventure, and I loved it (when I wasn't hating it).  I also learned a lot about welding, metal forming, and the vital importance of outgassing before hot work.

The bung, by the way, is a vented brass one from bungking.com.  It was the most expensive part on the tank, at $45.

All this to say that you can do it, right now if you're willing to shut down that computer/leave work early/lose some sleep.  You can make things yourself.  Set aside your programmed visions of factory made fodder.  Get rough.  Get ready.  Forget "Pretty" and go for something Breathtaking.