My brother moved recently and needed a place to store his motorcycles while his family was between houses. One of his bikes is a 1978 Yamaha XS400 2E done up like a street tracker. It suffered a maintenance mishap at our hands a couple years ago – when trying to replace the oil filter, we snapped the bolt that holds the oil filter cover. We tried a bolt extractor with no luck. At the end of that day, we just kinda gave up, and the bike sat in his garage for years.

When I picked up John’s bikes in preparation for his move, I offered to try to fix it. I ended up snapping the bolt extractor. That sucker was really stuck. The good folks at Elli’s Cycles saved my bacon by welding another bolt to the stuck one and freeing the now shredded fastener.

But the bike had deteriorated while it was dormant. It needed a new battery and it needed thorough carb cleaning. I took on both tasks – the battery replacement was actually pretty hard – the entire tail section of the bike had been modified to accept the dirt tracker seat, and getting the old battery out was like solving a Chinese puzzle. Somehow I figured it all out, replaced the battery and got the seat and subframe re-assembled.

Next was the carb work – one of the carbs was so gummed that the throttle wouldn’t even return. I pulled it apart, and the emulsion tube was mummified. Additionally, one of the constant velocity slides was gummed pretty bad and would stick and hang. I replaced the needle valves, cleaned everything up, and was satisfied to have it fire up within the first few kicks.

Today I took it out for a ride around the neighborhood. It had three problems: 1) the idle is too low after it warms up. 2) it backfires through the carbs at low RPMs. 3) The kick starter apparently only engages in my driveway, NOT when I stall it in traffic. For a few minutes I thought it was going to be a long push back home, but I found a hill and got it bump-started, and got to ride around the neighborhood for a bit. It accelerated crisply, ran surprisingly quiet (mechanically – not counting the obnoxious reverse megaphone “mufflers”) and was actually kind of fun. Also, apparently during that ancient oil change, some oil got on the exhaust wrap on the left header – it smoked like a poker party when it got hot.

It’s not a perfect bike yet, but it’s got potential.


Friends of Joe

Buddies Walter and Doug and I took our play bikes to Saint Joe State Park. The weather forecast was dismal, but wrong. While the ground was wet, we didn’t get a single drop of rain, and we enjoyed a high of 55 degrees, making for a great day of riding.

Walter picks a course

I had a funny thing happen. In our second hour of riding, I found that my bike was acting funny – hesitating at more than half throttle at high rpms. Out of gas? Bad gas? I topped off the tank. No real improvement. Over time, it got a bit better, but not much. I had visions of piston ring replacement, or hunting down a intake leak. What could it be?

The post ride bike wash revealed a blocked spark arrestor – more than 70% was caked in mud. No wonder it didn’t run right!

Joy and Anguish

Brother John and I trailered the MX bikes to Lincoln Trail Motorsports in Casey IL on Sunday. The weather was to be great, and track prep was promised. I got up early to load the car and trailer. It’s a long drive for us – a little over two hours.

frame grabs from video of Bill on TC449 at Lincoln Trail MX

Husqvarna TC449 is fun at the MX park

I worried out loud, about 30 minutes from our destination that I grabbed a helmet when I was packing that I thought was mine, but I didn’t check it; I realized that Helen’s helmet is stored in an identical bag. “Wouldn’t that be awful if I brought Helen’s helmet instead of mine?” I said.

After paying gate fees at Lincoln Trail, we unpacked and quickly found my fear to be true! No helmet for me! Auuuughh! I was so angry at myself. My brother consoled me. We would take turns riding, and I could use his helmet and goggles. It wasn’t ideal, but it was at least a way for both of us to enjoy the day to some degree.

So we took turns. And we had a great time. I enjoyed watching John ride, and he was happy to watch me. Neither of us has any real endurance for motocross, so our riding time wasn’t diminished much.

Then the second bad thing happened.

The newly rebuilt motor on the YZ gave out.

I distinctly recall being alarmed at the sound the Yamaha was making as John went by on his last lap. It was wheezy, with a kind of dull clatter instead of the deep thump of a healthy MX motor. “Ugh” I thought. And as he came by, right in front of me, over a low tabletop jump, the motor seized in mid air. John saved it somehow, landing with the rear wheel locked, he was up over the bars, feet off the pegs, but he didn’t crash. Thank God, I thought. What a total disaster this day had become.

I probably messed up the wristpin clips or something during the piston installation. Only a teardown will reveal it. No sense speculating. The next step is to pull it all apart.

On the way home, I tried hard not to be morose. We had actually had a very good day. Lincoln Trail is an excellent facility. I wish I lived closer. If it was half an hour away, I’d be there twice a week, I’m pretty sure. The Husky was fabulous, easy to ride, confidence inspiring, and fun. John enjoyed his first taste of motocross immensely. It’s all overwhelmingly positive stuff.

Now if I could just remember my helmet, and not botch my bike builds, we’d be sitting pretty…

Family Tradition

It’s New Year’s Day! Time to ride!

Helen and bill ride their TT-R s in the back yard

Daughter and father enjoy excellent New Years Day riding weather

In our family, we try our hardest to get at least a short ride in on New Year’s Day. Today, it was easy – temps in the mid 40’s, only spoiled by wind over 20 mph. Helen, and Henry, and I started off the celebrations by riding around the back yard on our off-road equipment – I on my TT-R 230, Helen on her TT-R 50e, and Henry on his Kawasaki branded Fisher Price PowerWheels KFX quad.

After a half hour of circulating the back yard, we all had lunch. Then Helen and I rode the Kawasaki Z1000 over to her cousins’ house to wish them happy new year. Road speeds and the wind proved more uncomfortable than our suburban trail ride in the back yard. But that’s all part of the New Year’s tradition – ride the ride, even if it’s a little uncomfortable.

Pretty On The Inside

Wiseco standard compression piston for YZ426F


My venerable race bike is going to a new home. I am lending my 2000 Yamaha YZ426F to my little brother, in the hopes that he will come racing with us. To make sure that he can’t weasel out of it with a mechanical complaint, I helped him put a new top end in it.

The plan was to replace the stock piston with a Wiseco standard compression unit, replace the timing chain, and check the head. All the parts arrived a week or two ago.

We started with a valve inspection. Everything was spot on. That’s great, because it saved us a trip to the dealership to get new shims, and because it means the valves haven’t moved at all since the last time I did the top end.

Then we pulled the head, cylinder, piston, flywheel and stator. John did all the work on cleaning up the gasket surfaces on the cylinder while I threaded the new timing chain onto the crankshaft. We had lunch and a beer, and then took the cylinder to Elli’s Cycles for a quick hone.

Back home, everything went together easily. Assembly is harder than disassembly; you have to clean everything before you reassemble it, many parts need to be lubricated before you install them, and everything needs to be torqued carefully in sequence.

Once it was all together, I filled it with fresh coolant and oil, and let John start it up.

It fired right up and ran at a nice idle, with no funny noises, smells, or leaks. Yay! Another oil change, and it will be time for a break-in ride!

Broken spokes

Two broken spokes on the left hand side of the rear wheel of a Yamaha TT-R 230


I planned to go riding with my buddy Walter last weekend, but had to cancel at the last minute. Just as I was about to load my trail bike onto the trailer, I found that I had multiple broken spokes from my last outing. Drat!

I bought a full rear wheel spoke kit from Yamaha last year for my TT-R 230 because, frankly, it breaks a lot of spokes. I don’t know whether to be mad… Dang Brazilian dirt bikes! What are the spokes made out of? Candy? Cheese?

…or be circumspect about it. Since so many have broken, I went through the rear wheel last year and replaced every spoke that couldn’t be adjusted. Now, when another original spoke breaks, it’s a bit like when your kid loses a baby tooth… inevitable, and mildly inconvenient, but just a part of life.

Anyway, today was the first day of “Garagemas” for me… a festival of fixing things. I pulled the wheel off, removed the tire and tube, forced two new spokes in, and put it all back together. About 2 hours of work, I’d guess.

Let’s hope it doesn’t break any more rear spokes for a few rides, eh?

New and Old

Husqvarna's new style

Husqvarna is going with a new look

I bought a 2011 Husqvarna TC449 yesterday from Gateway BMW/Hsuqvarna. Today was my first chance to ride it. I loaded it and my 2000 Yamaha YZ426F, picked up my little brother John, and went to Saint Joe State Park. It was a beautiful day. Both bikes worked great. The Husky is taller, longer, and stiffer feeling than the YZ. It’s engine is simultaneously powerful and friendly. Where the YZ spins its rear tire and wants to bring the rear artound on the throttle or on the brakes, the Husky is super stable and just drives out of corners with no drama at all. Even when you break the rear loose on purpose,, it just hangs out there, lazily, never threatening to swap.
I had gone for an hour, charging whoops and powering out donuts in the sand before I had my first spill – in the middle of a feet-up power slide through loose sand, I sideswiped an old stump, and launched myself over the high side. No pain and no damage, just a mouth full of sand for my carelessness. All part of the fun.