Wiring the Bonneville – wish me luck

Over the last few weeks, I’ve acquired a few boxes worth of parts. I have all the cables I need, a new headlamp bucket and lens, headlamp fixtures, indicators, rear brake rod, handlebars mounts, and all sorts of random little pieces. I’ve painted my air filter covers, which should be ready to install tomorrow, and I’m on to installing my wiring harness. I’m closer every day, but everyday realize more and more how much work I really do still have ahead of me.

I think I stared at the harness for at least a couple hours today, trying to figure out how my headlamp lights, etc, are supposed to attach. Out of frustration, I decided to tackle it from the opposite end, and start plugging my wiring in from the battery and coils, and work my way up to the headlamp.

First, I started labeling the wiring harness with tape and a sharpy to denote what attaches to what, so I don’t have to go back to the diagram every two seconds. Most of it was easy to work out, and now by process of elimination, I can start connecting wire to wire, piece to piece.

I first attached the wiring to the coils and capacitors, as well as down to the rectifier and zener diode. Once you attach one thing, based on the way the harness is arranged, it’s not too difficult to start seeing where other wires naturally want to go. Checking the diagram bit by bit, you can start to eliminate connections and have a clearer idea of where the rest will be connecting.

Today, I stopped before I got too exhausted and will start up again in the morning. Everything’s always easier with fresh eyes. I take the same approach to writing the never ending onslaught of press releases that haunt me in my day job. Stop – and go back later. The next step is always much more clear after a break.

Wiring can be one of the most frustrating, confusing parts of building a bike. But just like truing wheels, you need to zone out, focus, and don’t over complicate things. And take plenty of breaks.

I realized today I’m short an alternator. Once I have that, a new headlamp bulb (I broke mine carelessly today – oops) and a battery, I’ll be close to lighting this thing up.

I’m also anxious to get my handlebars done, including switches, brake, clutch and air lever installed. Since I haven’t decided on bars yet – and I won’t need to feed any wiring through the handlebars themselves – I plan to mock everything up on a temporary set for now, less grips. It would be nice to have front brakes at this point, at least. Still need parts, though…

I added the front reflectors to the frame, as well. It’s totally silly, and took 5 minutes, but small victories and emptying the parts box even a little bit gives me just enough feeling of accomplishment to keep going. It’s all about the little victories sometimes.

Ok, I’m back…

It’s been a hot minute since my last post, but I guess unplugging for a week just felt too good. And work catch-up has been, well, rough. I HAVE been working diligently on my bike, however, so watch for the update after this. For now, check out some of my pics from Burning Man….

There is a takeaway for wrenching from Burning Man, believe it or not – and that’s creativity. Think outside of the box! Well, unless you’re going for original, or close to it. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to think more like an artist. One of these years, I’ll make an art car….or art bike? Or bicycle with an old motorcycle frame…and add a lawnmower engine. Yes.

New parts, new projects, ADD style

Now that my chassis is done – for the most part – I’m on to the guts. And it’s a little hard to pick what to tackle next. However, I got a bunch of new parts this week, so I had plenty to choose from today.

I gave my frame a good cleaning to make sure there isn’t any rust and all looked well, so I installed my new coils and capacitors, took apart my old headlamp to see what I could salvage, to realize I need a couple more pieces to do the rebuild. So I took the air filter bases off the frame, bead blasted to them look shinier (even though you don’t see them usually) and gave my air filter cover a light coat of gloss black paint.They’re powder coated, but after years of waiting for assembly, had some a couple scratches that were unacceptable. They’ll dry overnight and tomorrow I’ll install my air filter system with the new filters I got this week.

Amal Carbs

Amal Carbs - pre cleaning

Parts drying, I moved onto the carbs. They’re original Amal carburetors, and a total mess – but now’s a good a time as any to get them cleaned up.

When you’re disassembling carbs (or any parts you’re not a total expert on) do one at a time, and take pictures every step along the way. It will save you all sorts of headaches later when you’re trying to put them back together again. Do not trust your memory. I have a great one, and I always second guess myself when I don’t track each step.

I separated all the rubber and plastic pieces from the metal on the first carb. I thoroughly soaked the aluminum pieces in kerosene, scrubbed everything with wire brushes, the dremmel, and wire wheel, flushed everything out with carb cleaner again, and dried everything out with compressed air before reassembling.

This is what gas looks like once it’s sat around for 40 years – like mold!

I’ll need to replace a gasket, an O-ring, found I’m missing a couple springs, a screw and another internal piece, but those will be easy to plug in when I get them. I’m one carb down, and one to go. And countless little parts that I continue to discover I’m missing.

Here’s the before and after of the carbs…

It’s amazing what a little cleaning will do. I’ll get the other cleaned up tomorrow!

Coils and Capacitors

Last weekend, I decided to start looking at my coils and (flux) capacitors…

They were leaking fluid, so I replaced both, as well as the capacitors…and gave the platform that holds all of these together a new paint job.

Hopefully the Zener Diode still works – but I think it should. Check that off the list.

Motorcycle Classics: Turning Beaters into Betties

From Motorcycle Classics Magazine… my latest article.


I met a young woman this week who had ridden her thumper from Arizona to Canada, and back down to the Bay Area. Her bike had started leaking gasoline from the carburetor, but being on the road and having few tools, took it into a shop. They charged her $250 to replace a single needle on the single carb, which probably took about 10 minutes and the same amount of money to replace. And it didn’t even solve her problem – it was probably nothing more than a stuck float. If that doesn’t sound like highway robbery, I don’t know what does. There are plenty of great, fair mechanics out there, so if you’re one of them, please don’t take this personally. Just saying…

Maintaining or even customizing a motorcycle doesn’t have to cost a fortune or be an “expensive hobby.” Having a set of tools is the only potentially expensive hurdle, but that brings me back to my first article .

We have a number of project bikes at Re-Cycle, the co-op garage where I work on my bikes. All of these projects were either free on Craigslist, donated to the garage by local bikers, or picked up for dirt-cheap. Search “project” in your local motorcycle listings and you’ll see what I mean. It’s amazing how many decent bikes are abandoned or sold, and just sat around for too long, needing little to get running again.

Mostly 80s model Hondas, Yamahas and Kawasakis, Re-Cycle bikes are given new life and sometimes, completely new identities. When you’re dealing with a bike that doesn’t hold much value in it’s original form anyway, you have all the freedom in the world to get creative. Some make great bobbers, rat bikes, cafes, faux flat track racers, anything you can come up with. Be open-minded.

Liza, the founder of Re-Cycle, generally estimates that it will cost about $300-500 getting a beater bike back on the road. That’s new tires, a new battery, a little paint and other various purchases. Just be wary of back registration fees. If the bike is current, or out of the system, you’re good to go. And check that it at least turns over. If it does, a little problem solving will have it running with relative ease.


Here’s a prime example: A girlfriend of mine adopted a 1980 Kawasaki LTD400 that had been dubbed “Rusty Kitty.” She had been ignored for a long time, was completely rusted out, and wouldn’t start. And let’s be honest – she wasn’t the prettiest bike on the block to begin with. But she had a world of potential. Turns out, a simple carburetor cleaning and rebuilding the starter (which is quite simple even for the average Joe) had her running like a gem. A wire wheel and heavy cleaning removed much of the rust and grime. And for the bikes’ lack of style – well – that was simple enough.


My friend chopped the seat pan and rear fender, added a bobber seat, funky retro tail light and some flat black paint, and what was once an ugly Betty is now turning into a sweet little bobber. It’s taken several weekends of work, but it didn’t cost more than hours spent, the can of spray paint, tires and a new battery. Not bad at all.


Other current projects at the garage include Schwinny, a 1981 Honda CB900C; Hank, a 1982 Yamaha Maxim 750; Trip, a 1979 Yamaha XS 750; and Scooter, a 1981 Honda CB400T. And of course there’s Rat, a 1979 Honda CB750 rat bike that’s tons of fun to ride. We have a slew of ideas for these bikes, and have gotten inspiration from other classics, searching the Internet for bikes of the same model that have been customized, or just by staring and thinking up fun ideas. If you’re on a budget, it’s absolutely possible to create a great bike on a dime with a little imagination and wherewithal. You might not love what the bike looks like to begin with, but you can make it into almost anything you want. So just go for it.

My Bonneville restoration isn’t going to be cheap – let’s face it. I’m at terms with the fact that I’ll put a reasonable amount of cash into this particular project along the way. Doing a complete re-build on a classic British bike is just going to cost more. But by staying creative and doing the work myself rather than farming tasks out, I’ll significantly reduce my financial investment. It just means I need to invest more time – but that’s where all the fun is. Knowing that I made this bike myself will be priceless. In the meantime, I’ll also be keeping my eye out for beaters with potential.

Mark Your Calendars… my goal for the reveal

With a feeling of accomplishment this week and really believing in myself that I’m capable to finishing this build, I’ve set my eyes on a goal date for completing the Bonneville. My general vision has been to have the bike on the road by next summer, but I think I can finish even sooner than that. So here I am,  announcing a goal date for the big reveal – March 26, 2011 at the Clubman’s All-British Motorcycle Show in San Jose.

Who knows… maybe it’ll be my Christmas present to myself and have it done by December. But March seems a safe and reachable goal, yet challenging enough  to meet. Maybe I’ll even get lucky and win an award if I keep diligent and not cut any corners. Even if I don’t, it will be a blast to show her off to the British motorcycle community. So be there or be square!

Finally, a roller…

I’m a week behind my primary goal, but at last, my chassis is together!

Yesterday I had my new Avon Speedmasters (tires) put onto my wheels. Rich, a friend of Liza’s and now a friend of ours, has a heavy duty tire changer, so I got to help put the tires on, learn how it’s done and have the advantage of not screwing anything up at the same time. Always a plus.

Some to-dos for tires:

  • Grind down  remaining sharp edges where any spokes poke through the nipples on the rim
  • Wrap the rim with a rubber seal for extra protection for the tube
  • Coat the tube in a little talcum powder before putting it inside the tire – so it doesn’t snap or grab when inflating
  • Balance the wheels (after tire installed) – find the heavy side and add necessary weights, so that the tire doesn’t spin when the (previously) heavy side doesn’t move when balanced at 90 degrees

I’ve cleaned, polished and reassembled the rear brake plate and axle, as well as the front brake plate. And now that everything’s put together, see dirty spots, dings, scratched paint and powdercoat and little things that are going to drive me nuts. Awesome. Some imperfections are great. Others are…well… completely irritating. Nonetheless, I’m freakin’ stoked! I’ll go back and fix those things later.

What a relief it is to see something actually resembling a motorcycle. The wheels will be removed and reattached a few times before I’m officially done with them, but being able to move on to the next step – for now –  is such a relief. The rear brake needs to be anchored still, cables attached, fenders installed, and a few other things, but they’re on.

The forks were the hardest part of the day’s work. I double-checked the main steering bearings, which were fine, but getting the fork tubes through the stem seemed near impossible. The right went in fine, but the left took a ton of grinding down, temper tantrums and WD-40  to get in. No matter how impossible and frustrating certain steps seem, they always end up being doable, and then I feel like an ass for getting pissed off. It’s all apart of the process, I suppose.

Now it’s time to figure out what’s next. Engine, wiring, electrical, headlamp, seat… I have tons of little projects to complete but I’m not sure what next step is right. I’ve soaked and scrubbed the crank case in degreaser, so that’s looking much better. It’s amazing what will clean up with a little elbow grease. I’ll just keep plugging away and map out next steps. On to the guts!

Scooter & the Bonneville, naked

Rear wheel lookin' sexy

Refurbished switches…

I’m still waiting on one tire and the tubes, so alas, I’m still not done with my chassis. Next weekend.

Instead, I moved onto other parts of the bike and made a good amount of progress. I attempted to degrease the engine block (still a lot to go – it’s filthy) but am mostly proud of the handlebar switches I cleaned, polished and rebuilt. They look awesome!

Step one - beadblast before and after

After polishing

When I first set out on this project, my vision was a completely restored bike. I wanted every last part new, shiny and flawless. Now, I’m starting to become more and more endeared with the  imperfections and age of some of the parts. I swear it’s not because I’m getting lazy, though a complete restoration would be much more work and money. It’s just that there seems to be memory in the imperfections on some of the pieces. This is a forty year old bike – it’s got a soul. Completely replacing everything would erase all of that in a way. So, I’ve decided to restore more, where possible, instead of replace. Certain things I want to have new, re-chromed, etc, but some details I’m falling in love with more because of their aged and imperfect states.