Tech Tip – Buying a project bike: Jay LaRossa

Jay LaRossa

Some tips for buying that 30, 40, 50 year or older bike.  First you have to decide on the level of build you are capable of and what you want to do.

1.  Are you going to revive a barn fresh find that the motor seized 30 years ago and it has sat in the barn since?

2.  Are you going to buy a bike that has sat for a year or so and ran when parked?

3.  Are you going to buy a running bike that someone has already done a few custom things on?

4.  Are you going to buy a bone stock unmolested running bike?

We’ll start with Option #1, this will be by far the most expensive and time consuming option.  Be prepared to spilt the cases on the motor and spending a long time locating parts for the rebuild.

Option #2, probably the cheapest option, but all you can go off of is some strangers word, that it DID run when parked.  So prepare for the worse, carbs will definatily need to be cleaned out, new battery and possibly fix electrical problems.  Ask the owner why it has been sitting?  Usually bike started to sit when it developed a problem and the owner didn’t have time to fix it or the money.

Option #3, this could be a good option, because usually the person is selling the bike because they do not have the money to finish it or lost interest.  You should be able to pick up a bike like this for fairly cheap unless the owner thinks because they put all this custom stuff on it, that it is worth a fortune!  Bad part is your buying someone else’s taste and possibly it not being put together right.

Option #4, at least with a unmolested bike, you know it hasn’t been messed with and there is no shady work done to it.

General rules when buying a bike:

1. If it’s a running bike, when you get there, make sure the motor is not hot, like it was just running before you got there.  That usually indicates that it might have problems starting or running when its cold. Also make sure it is running on all cylinders.

2.  Check for oil leaks and look for signs of the motor just being cleaned.  Could indicate it has a bad oil leak.

3.  Check the dip stick for the condition of the oil.

4.  If it is a running bike, ride it and run it through all the gears and make sure it shifts smooth and doesn’t pop out of gear. Plus make sure the bike stops and the brakes work properly.

5.  Make sure all the electrical components work, check all the lights, running and stop, turn signals and starter button.

6.  Check stuff like the condition of the chain, fuel lines, petcock leaking, rear shocks leaking, forks leaking around seals, tire condition.

Usually the better of a bike you start with, the better the final product will be and the easier it will be to build.  The motor work will take up most of your hard earned cash, so remember that when purchasing a bike.  Hope this helps you make your decision on buying yourself a new project.  Now go pick up that bike and get your ass to work in that garage!!

– Jay, Lossa Engineering, Long Beach, CA

Tech Tip: Tips on building a good Cafe Racer w/ Chad from Ace Motorcycle

Everyone wants a cafe racer that is fast and looks good; however there are other aspects that are much more important.

My experience has taught me that comfort is the most important design aspect of a good cafe racer. Experience has also shown that it is also the most overlooked and ignored. After fitting low bars, rear sets and bump stop seat, the bike should be rideable for a long periods of time without discomfort. I have ridden too many bikes that forced me into the fetal position where my elbows hit my knees and gave me leg cramps. I have also experienced poorly placed bars where all my weight was resting on my wrists or I was being suspended in a painful half push-up. These traits are typical of medieval torture devices and should otherwise be avoided when building your machine. Extra attention should be spent on finding the correct combination of rear sets, handlebars and seat. Sometimes you will have to try several different combinations until you find one that works. It’s well worth the effort.

If you are unable to find a good combination, you may have a bike that cannot be café’d. Generally, the closer the seat height is to the height of top triple tree clamp, the more difficult it is find a comfortable position. Sometimes nothing can be done short of drastic measures. Ideally your body would be pitched upward rather than having your back parallel to the ground or your body pitched downwards. You should never have to strain your neck to see where you’re going.

The next most common problem with cafe racers is the cable routing. It shouldn’t take two hands to operate the clutch, and the engine is not supposed to rev up on its own when you turn the handlebars. The key to good cable routing is smooth, gentle curves with room to move when the handlebars are turned. No sharp turns anywhere and with no places for the cable to snag. Zip ties when used incorrectly can be your enemy. They should rarely be tight, but kept loose allowing the cable to move easily without flopping around. Also be conscience of what the cables are rubbing against. Poorly placed cables can rub through paint and wiring causing other problems. If you try several combinations and still cannot get the cables to operate correctly, then you need different length cables. Same goes for cable operated front brakes. Poor routing can reduce your braking ability.

If you have a hydraulic front brake, make sure the line isn’t twisted, bent at a severe angle or sitting in a generally unnatural position. If your combination forces the line coming out of the master cylinder to be forced around your gauges, you need to change the master cylinder or change the gauge mounting or eliminate the gauge altogether. Poor hydraulic line routing is unacceptable.

Lastly, I know you want to know how to make their bike faster. I would suggest that you’re skipping a step. The real question is how can I prepare my bike for going faster? The answer is simple really. Upgrade your brake shoes with modern linings. Swap out your disc with a larger drilled disc or add a second disc. Upgrade your suspension. Rebuild your front end and replace your rear shocks. Upgrade your charging system and lighting. Old lights don’t work very well. If you can’t stop, turn or see where you’re going, you don’t need to go faster. Once you take care of the basics, then we’ll talk engines.

– Chad w/ Ace Motorcycle Garage & Scooter

Tech Tip: First Time Café Builders Advice from Doc’s Chops

My most useful advice to anyone who wants to take an old bike and turn it into a café racer is to do what I do – invest in a shop manual specific to the bike you are working on. Before I ever start a bike I buy either a Chilton, Clymer, Haynes or, better yet, an old left over factory shop manual, and study the mechanics of the bike. Go over maintenance procedures like setting points, timing, cam-chain adjustment, valve adjustment and such.

Any more, it is hard to find a shop that will agree to work on these old bikes, and if they do the labor rates may be very high. If you educate yourself you should be able do things on your own. The best place to start is always with the basics, and with a manual by your side you have all the specs listed and can save a lot of headache.

No matter how good you can make a bike look, it does no good sitting along the side of the road broken down. Always start with the mechanics of the motor first. Then move to the ignition and make everything right there. Finally, move onto fuel and carburetion last. If you take your time and set everything right the first time you will save a lot of time banging your head against a wall.

– Greg “Doc’s Chops” Hageman

Tech Tip: 2-for-1 “What it takes!” w/ Hugh Mackie from 6th Street Specials

To all the aspiring “builders”, “mechanics”,  “bike guys” etc. There are two “jobs” that separate those who “can” and those who “cannot”, those who “know” and those who “know not.”

#1. Fixing a rear flat on the road – Preferably on a 1978 T140V Triumph Bonneville. Removing the wheel, pulling the tire, switching the inner tube, replacing the wheel, while alone, is the physically hardest mechanical job on a motorcycle. If you complete this task successfully, and ride on down the road, there is nothing you can’t do while “building” a bike.

#2 Ignition Timing – Setting the ignition timing on a motorcycle, any motorcycle, is the same job whether it’s an old magneto, points and coil, or modern electronic ignition, the principle is the same. Learn it, understand it. Many people can describe what ignition timing is, but have no understanding of what is actually happening on the machine. My point is “ignition timing” is the hardest concept to grasp and once understood, there are no tasks you can’t perform on a bike.

Follow these tips and you could wrench in any shop, anytime, anywhere.

– Hugh Mackie, 6th Street Specials. NYC.

Tech Tip: Aluminum Polishing 101 w/ Herm from Dime City Cycles

Ok, so your engine covers are in desperate need of attention. First, you think paint, but having a full winter to work on the project you commit to polishing them. Now the question is “What do you need and how is it done?” Here’s a quick way to get those cases to bling!

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First, get yourself an intern! Then get a good bench buffer. The 6” models from places like Home Depot or Lowes are ok, but will take you twice as long to get the result you want. Try to get at least an 8” 3/4HP 8amp unit (1hp is the real deal).  You’ll thank us later. A bench grinder motor will work fine too. There are a ton of sites on how to set up your own polishing motor from used dryers, washers, etc. Whatever you use, make sure it is no less than 3400 rpm.  Anything less isn’t possible for polishing.

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Next, get some wheels and buffing compounds. We use a sisal wheel, spiral sewn, and a canton flannel wheel along with some emery compound, Tripoli compound, and white rouge. For final finishing I like the Autosol polish as well. All supplies can be ordered from They have a real good supply of buffing and polishing gear. Your local hardware store will have some too. You’ll also need some good wet/dry sandpaper, I like to have all grits on hand, from 220 up to about 1000. And lastly, get a can of aircraft stripper and some rubber gloves. This can be found at any automotive parts store.

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For this scenario, we’ll use an engine case that’s in really bad shape. The cover has a deep gauge in it, and as you look closer the finish also has a coat of that old yellowed clearcoat on it, and to top it off, the aluminum is badly oxidized from sitting for the last 30 years.

First thing we need to do is remove the clearcoat with the stripper. Put your gloves on and be careful with this stuff, it will chemically burn your skin instantaneously.  Trust me, I know! First, scrub the part with some very fine steel wool to break the surface, it allows the stripper to sink in under the clearcoat better. Spray the part thoroughly and let sit.  You’ll see the clearcoat start bubbling almost right away. After about five minutes just brush it off with the steel wool and wash the part real clean.

Now the sanding begins. If it weren’t for that deep gauge you could go right into the cutting, but we need to try and get rid of it first. Start with some 400 grit. Wet sand until it’s gone. If the rest of the part is ok, you can move to 600, then 800 throughout the entire part. This could take some time and will be messy, so have at least a six pack nearby! (Depending on how deep the gauge is you may have to start with lower than 400 grit.)

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Now we’re almost ready for the fun to begin on the buffer.  But before you start here’s a few setup tips;

Wrap a towel around the base of the buffing motor, maybe duct tape it down so it doesn’t get caught up in the wheels. Also put an old blanket on the floor and on the bench. Believe us here: The buffer will at some point grab the part and cause it to FLY OUT OF YOUR HAND.  It will happen!

Use cotton gloves.  The oils from your fingers will drastically alter the compounds effectiveness. I have a few different sets of gloves, one for each wheel. Nothing sucks worse than having to go back and forth to take out emery scratches… well, parts flying out of your hands sucks pretty bad too.

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Use only one compound per wheel.  NEVER, EVER, mix them. Use a sharpie and label your wheels.

If your part gets too hot, let it cool. A cool part polishes much better and the compound won’t cake up. Alternate your parts while letting each one cool by a fan.

Put compound on the wheel often. How do you know if there’s enough on? When you feel dusty-like bits touch your face and you can’t help but wipe, then it’s enough. Make sure you’re wearing safety glasses, of course.

And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, aluminum oxide is a direct cause of Alzheimer’s disease so wear a mask or wet bandanna always when sanding it or polishing!

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Ok, now we’re ready, let’s get to work!

First step, use the black or ’emery’ compound and that new ‘sisal’ wheel. This process will remove any leftover oxidation as well as the small scratches left by the sandpaper. The compound will ‘cut’, but don’t expect it to do a lot real fast. Take your time here and DO NOT push the part against the wheel very hard. Get a feel for it and be careful not to feed any irregular angles into the wheel or it will launch! Keep cutting until you have even color and all scratches are gone. Don’t expect or try for a mirror finish just yet. Also remember to let the part cool down from time to time.

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[Hey Herm, where’s that mask?] – [Huh, what mask? Who’s Herm?]

Now the blingin’ begins! Move to the Tripoli compound and a ‘spiral sewn’ wheel. But first, clean your part. The best way is to wipe it with a clean cotton rag and some all-purpose flour. The flour soaks up oil microscopically, and doesn’t scratch the surface. Again do not push hard into the wheel and take your time. Sometimes if the oxidation is not too bad, and if we sanded up to 1500 grit we can start with Tripoli instead of emery. But if there’s oxidation emery is a must.

Tripoli finishes are pretty good for most people including the crew here at DCC. We like it because it gives us the vintage feel and look we like for most of our bikes and it’s real easy to maintain. But if you want a real mirror finish move onto the white rouge.

This final step is where your part will emerge with some serious professional looking results. This part is called ‘coloring’, as opposed to buffing. You’ll need the white rouge compound and the canton wheel. Again, clean your part with a cotton rag and flour before starting. With rouge, you need very light pressure on the part, and don’t let the part get hot! It’ll change the color of finish and not get you the results you want.

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In some cases you might need to break out the Dremel to get into the tiny areas that can’t be reached with the buffing wheel. Use the same steps with the small buffing wheels on the Dremel which can be had from any local Home Depot or Lowes.

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Your part should have a mirror finish now. If you’re happy with it, once the part is completely cooled, use the Autosol. The Autosol will basically give the part a final cleaning and leaves a protective film to help prevent future tarnish and makes it easy to clean and buff while on the bike every now and again.

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dime city cycles,cafe racer,aluminum polish,polishing,honda,tech

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– Herm Narciso