Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The SR project from hell

Lessons on Strategic Planning in Regards to Vehicle Modification

…or how to really $%Q* up and spend more time and money than you ever thought possible….

Chapter 1: Welcome to the SR odyssey…

Fade in: 1994…

So I’ve been toying around with the idea of a single cylinder street bike. It’s the early ‘90s and the Ducati Supermono is fresh in my head. The notion of stuffing a XR 650 into a rolling FZR 600 chassis is the dream- but the wallet recommends not buying anything other than gas and insurance for what I already own… but what fun is that right?!!? So on the way home from the auto parts store one day (driving through the GHETTO) I pass a sadly forlorn little dual-sport-ish black bike parked in the weeds with a cardboard sign mounted in a rather haphazard fashion upon the side. “For sale” it announces to the world. Normally smart money drives by these things with nary a nod or a wave… but today- I seem to have left my IQ at home. Something catches my subconscious moto-eye. I flip a bitch (that’s a U-turn in California) and pull up next to this disheveled shanty with it’s ‘rustic’ moto-wares on prominent display. Gathering my courage- it IS the ghetto after all- I exit my vehicle and begin a deliberately casual inspection of this cute little lawn ornament.

….and this is AFTER I cleaned it….

Hmmm..Well- it’s a Yamaha single… I can tell this because the factory Yamaha decal is peering through the grime- along with someones oh-so-clever addition written in tire pen- “Yamaharly”- (those built in the US, Jethro?) It has lights, it’s obviously from the ‘70s, with a small fingernail excavation I find the paint isn’t as rotten as it appeared.. it’s just covered in 12 years of crud. Good lord look at the size of these dirt-track bars- I could hoist a sail and take to the seas! And hello! It’s got cast wheels… wait a minute- This isn’t a dual-sport! These aren’t even dual-sport tires! It’s got 3 inches of mud on it – but it’s a streetbike!! An SR500! OOoooh… these guys are rare around here- how much do they want? $200? Hmmm. I bet they’d take $150!

At this moment Ted Nugent (or at least his twin) appears out of the garage attatched to the aforementioned shanty. He sizes me up. I feel slightly violated in some way that to this day I cannot put exact words to.

“You like it?” Ted inquires.

“Yeah, does it run?” I inquire cautiously.

Yeh.” This is turning into one of those strange conversations where the actual word count goes down as the conversation proresses. ‘Ted’ steps over to the SR and fettles and grumbles at the carb for a minute, kicks it hard a couple times- and…

Brah-da-da-boombom bom bom bom.” The SR joins the conversation as the most verbose participant yet.

Note sweet taillight mount- who knew a little piece of plastic could support a 20lb 70’s taillight…

“You take $150 for it?” I get straight to it- I sense in some way ‘Ted’ would appreciate the lack of chit-chat.


“I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”

It does need a little something….

I depart in a hurry fueled by the heady rush of a potential acquisition. Returning a short time later, ‘Ted’ is still outside doing whatever random things a person does outside their garage in the ghetto. It’s obvious it doesn’t involve anything associated with yard care or home improvement.

“That was quick.”

“Yeah. So do you have the title for that?” I realized as the words left my lips the absurdity of this inquiry.

Ted cocks an eyebrow. “Nah.”

“O.k.” I hand him three fresh fifties. He helps me roll the beast up a 2x4 into my truck. I always carry a set of tie-downs- I can’t count the number of times they’ve saved my butt. Strapped, loaded, paid- if I lived in this part of town that would mean something else entirely. I roll out.

Chapter 2: Reality Doesn’t Bite To Bad

It cleans up ok. I spend sometime assessing. No front brake, no left sidecover, sagging footpegs… eventually it turns into quite a list. Wrapped up in new bike fervor I have it disassembled down to the frame in one day.

Then I go to the DMV.

I hadn’t realized before that as you enter the DMV you are actually instantly transported to hell. Next time you go watch for the millisecond flash of light and slight scent of sulfer as you cross the threshold- and if you listen REALLY carefully you can hear the soul of every person inside moaning painfully. You have to listen carefully because the loud hum of the hopelessly outdated computers will drown it out.

“So I will need a bill of sale and I’ll have to do a VIN inspection….” She says.

“Hmm… OK.”

No biggie, right? I fabricate a quick bill of sale because ‘Ted’ doesn’t need any more stress in his life and then, naïve youth that I am, I throw the motor and chassis in the back of my truck and cruise back down to HELL.

“Ok.. bill of sale… ok that’s good… ok- let’s do the VIN inspection.”

I follow the DMV troll- I mean worker- out to my truck. She sighs heavily.

“This is it?”

“Yes- the VIN on the frame and motor are pretty easy to see.” Her heavy sigh has me worried.

“Well I need a complete vehicle. I can’t help you with this.”

In hindsight I can see the validity of her position- god only knows if what was in my truck was even an on-road vehicle. But the frustration was growing. How many trips does it take to get to the center of HELL? I decide that today is the day. This bike will have a current California plate by tonight. *#*^* the DMV!! Don’t they have bigger fish to fry? JEEEZ. I return to my abode and ‘assemble’ the SR. It looks like a motorcycle- but if you tried to kick it over it would collapse like a cheap lawn chair. None-the-less I am on a mission. I return to HELL. It is about 3pm- a GREAT time to be in HELL. Everyone who works there is tired and wants a ciesta, everyone who is trying to get through the line is on a 15 minute break from work that to their horror is turning into a one and a half hour break, it’s summer- so it’s warm it goes on and on. The mind-numbing surroundings are at their full effect. By the time I reach the counter my IQ has gone through one half-life cycle.

“The forms… they almost make sense… uhhhhhh… drool…..”

“Ok. Lets do the VIN inspection.” It’s the same woman and she has a dubious air about her as we head out to my truck again.

“Well, here it is.”

“Hmmm. OK.” She walks around the truck and reads the VIN numbers. We are back inside in less than 3 minutes. My mind is reeling with the Kafka-esqe beaurocracy of it all. I write a small check and leave 5 minutes later with CURRENT CALIFORNIA PLATES. I laugh all the way home.

Uh oh. Money goes in that hole on the right- it is then burnt with the gas/air mixture.

I continue my tear-down. This thing really isn’t that bad! Denny Berg of the now defunct (to my knowledge) Time Machine puts his kids through college with my orders from his Thumper Stuff catalog. Ok- maybe that’s an exaggeration- but proportional to my income- well I won’t go into it… But I have a PIMP motor now. 540cc, polished w/bigger valves, high-lift cam, new oil pump etc… Very-nice.and Denny is such a nice guy- you just don’t mind paying him money. At the same time this is happening the frame, wheels, swingarm, triple-clamps and every bracket on the bike is at the powder-coaters getting a beautiful finish. I discover that a Yamaha XS right front caliper and disc bolt right on…. (more on this later) so I scrounge one from a salvage yard. While at the yard I find a destroyed RD400 with a cute little fiberglass café tail that looks like it might look ok- it’s mine for $5. I polish the forks and gauges while I am waiting on the frame. I find that one can open the speedometer with relative ease and ‘one’ could if ‘one’ wanted roll back the Odo with ease- wouldn’t it be fun to start at zero all over again? Who doesn’t want that? I spend some time gathering all the pieces and parts and finally begin assembly. When I reassemble the pieces- something isn’t right. I discover to my dismay that in my haste I had sent BENT triple clamps to the powder-coater. Nice. Anyone want some bent clamps with really nice fresh paint? DUH. Now what? It looks good but that’s it. I find I can’t stand the idea of leaving all the electrics in the middle of the bike even though I had all the brackets painted… I want to ditch the side covers but am not sure where to begin…. And to add insult to injury- the passenger peg mounts that I removed from the frame for that ‘racer look’ are exactly what I need to bolt rearsets to for that racer function. Shit. I need to fab mounts for the tail but I don’t even bother.

Instead I enter the darkness…..

What do I do…? I push a pile of SR parts into the corner and buy a 1986 GSXR 750 with a minor and easily fixable jetting problem and some scratched plastics for next to nothing and play with a real (relatively) modern sportbike for a couple years. Then I buy a house, a business, a CBR900RR…. You get the picture.

Chapter 3: Inspiration Strikes.

Now it’s 2000 and on the turn of the millennium- I rediscover the SR. It’s dusty. The polished fork legs are now a little hazy. I still hasn’t turned a wheel in anger. There is some magic simplicity there though. Still- the single cylinder road bike. Light, lean. Man… it could be SOOOoo sexy. I look for SR triple-clamps and come across a Suzuki GS500 front end COMPLETE, along with the rear wheel and all brakes, gauges, bars- the whole enchilada for $180 on ebay. Whoop. This could get interesting. I put it together.

Now we’re getting somewhere….

Stretch the steer-tube on the GS lower clamp 1” (all the bearing race sizes match up perfectly) Stretch the swingarm outward ¼” Grind the rear GS caliper carrier and suddenly I have a SR with 1992 17” wheels, a new fork and a monster floating front disc gripped by a real caliper. Looking good….

Looks good blurry. Nice chain huh?

Slowly the project crawls forward…But all those brackets I shaved off the frame… dammit. Now I need ‘em…. I find a salvage frame for $90. Buy a tiny Katana sprocket to make up for the diffenece in gearing and wheel size.. What to do about the exhaust pipe? I have a White Bros. pipe but it runs low along the side like the stocker- and with my new lower stance thanks to the 17’s it will drag like a queen. Pondering ensues… and a child arrives… she gets dusty again…

Chapter 4: God this is taking FOREVER…

The child grows… and somewhere in 2004 I find some time in between diaper changes to swap the parts over to the new frame. I grind only the tabs I KNOW I won’t need. I find a battery eliminator kit…Vortex clip-ons, now were getting close… but dammit- that pipe is just NOT working… what would a vintage 60’s rocker run…? HOLY POOP that’s it!! Straight header w/ a bolt in exaust baffle!! Loud as hell- born to run! OK ok ok… I’m starting to feel it… reworked aluminum bicycle stunt pegs for footpegs, the SR master cyclinder acuates the GS rear caliper without being to grabby, stainless lines on the brakes, hide the electrics up under the tank and seat… You can see right through the frame now- That’s the look I want! But the tail and tank are still awkward and there’s no taillight… Hmmm….

She’s a getting’ closer

It runs!

I found a real café tail with the right lines. It’s progressing. I find a taillight that is just right. The rear frame tabs are removed and the new tail is bolted on- but I still can’t stand the look of the tank and this tail together- but I take a shakedown ride anyway, then another, then another… I hit just over an indicated 100mph according to my speedo as well as the speedo on the GSXR my buddy is riding next to me. I figure that’s good enough for this sweetie. I’ll take my GSXR for anything over a ton.

Not pretty yet though….

Chapter 5: Reengineering BMW’s Best.

After the adrenalin from the shakedown runs wears off I realize that I need some carb tuning and that I can’t stand to look at it with that 70’s dirttrack-esque tank. It’s just not the look I am aiming for. I’d build an XS if I wanted that.

It cleared the ton like this. But the tank, the tank….. ug…..

Entertaining thoughts of welding two tanks together, reshaping them- leads me to the salvage yard where I find it- the capper. A 70’s BMW tank- with side rubbers and badges. $10. Done. I take it home and sawzall out large chunks of the underside to fit it around the SR’s oil-carrying frame. I also shorten it in the front to clear the bars, triple clamps and oil-temp guage/filler cap in the frame.

Hill Billy body expresssssssss?

THIS is what I want… SEXY!!

Madness…. I know. Had to fab the rear mount.

Ugly- but sanding and bondo are miracle workers.

Close… close…

Soon…….. I love how you can’t see the plate and light from this angle.

Welding takes awhile. Holes. Pinholes… a few more holes… I suck… but I am determined. Some RedKote is going in soon and then… OOOoooooh… she’ll be almost ready for real paint. Lesson learned. Paint LAST.


So I’ve got the new seat mounts built up and the tank sealed- It has run!! I’ve got a shady headgasket at the moment so I am parking it for a few- but it’s a blast! It looks so badass too….

Cosmetic= kinda funky at the moment…. Function? Works great….. Ignore the wiring.