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Decade of Decadence (part 4 of 8)


  • Decade of Decadence (part 4 of 8)

    Customarily Minded
    December 12, 2008

    copyright owned by author

    Welcome to this installment of Customarily Minded, I am now halfway into my commitment of belting out eight editorials within a ten week span. And if you're keeping track, I fell behind a tad...six weeks in and four more to go. What can I say, we still have plenty of nice riding weather down here in the sun belt!

    PART 4 of 8: A Clunker, Wrenches, and Reborn Days of Wonder

    January 2000 --- About the time bike #3 was up on the chopping block/under the wrench for a makeover, I got a lead on yet another VLX. One of the salesmen I had dealt with at the Honda dealership told me of a customer that had just purchased an 800 Vulcan Drifter who tried trading in his old VLX, saying the bike needed more work than the dealer was ready to perform on a resale. It sounded iffy to me, but I was told he would take a low offer.

    Phone number in hand, I went home to call the guy. I really wasn't interested in another bike, let alone another VLX, but for a low price, I might be convinced otherwise. I called the guy up and he gave me directions to his place. I got there and looked at the bike, visually it wasn't all that bad. It was a blue 88 model sporting 4" over forks, Cobra slash cut pipes, a crazy tall buckhorn bar with a stainless steel brake line and longer vinyl lines for the other items. Faded semi-chrome turn signal grills and a generously sized headlight visor rounded out the list of actual goodies on the bike. But one thing that stood out was the chrome valve and lower case covers --- those didn't make an OEM appearance until 1994.

    The owner explained that it didn't start, that it needed some electrical work to do so. The rear tire was flat, not just flat but dry rotted and flat, the front tire had some air, neither were road worthy. The forks were siezed. The paint looked like rattlecan sans clearcoat. The tail light was broken, only the shattered inner reflective bits and bulbs remained. The rear fender was chipped in several places and cracked on the seat cowl. The chrome was heavily corroded on the left lower case cover and beginning to peel on the right cover.

    The seller told me he bought it from the original owner of the bike. The bike went through five winters in the Colorado Rockies where he lived before moving here. I wasn't overly interestedin the bike, but it had potential. So I asked what he wanted for it, he responded with "How much do you want it for?" Well I wasn't ready to buy so I wasn't carrying much cash. I told him I had about $200 on me, and he nodded briefly and said "I'll go get the title."

    The next issue was getting it home. I had my truck with me, but no ramp or tie downs. The guy went and hammered together a few eight foot lengths of 2x4 lumber, two side by side and a third underneath for support, and voila: instant bike ramp. It took both of us to push it up the ramp, dragging that dry rotted flat tire along. He retrieved some old rope and we secured the bike, and he tossed the makeshift ramp in with the bike. Bike #4/VLX #3 was about to find a new home.

    First stop was the dealership, it was on the way home and I wanted to see how my chopper conversion was going. The salesguy I ahd dealt with met me when I pulled in, saw the bike and exclaimed "Cool, you got it." We started talking and he mentioned Mike Klein, the lead tech that was working on my chopper conversion, had looked the bike over when trade in was being negotiated and he could lead me to what it needed. So I was off to the back to see Mike and my bike, and he came out to look at the beater.

    He shook his head and smiled. He went on as to why the bike was refused, number one being the electrical issue that would take an unknown amount of time to trace. No biggie, one of my neighbors was fluent in 12 volt electrical stuff. Number two was the needed far too much in cosmetics to be visually appealing. For $200 I didn't care about looks. And number three was the little stuff to make it safe: tires, lighting, and such. Little stuff wasn't a big deal for me. He encouraged me saying that with a Honda service manual that it shouldn't take much to get it running. So I ordered one for $55.

    Once home, I discovered that the front brake didn't work as I backed the clunker out of the truck. Loose limp lever and all, there was no fluid in the master cylinder as was evidenced by the cracked viewport lens. So I needed another set of hands to unload the bike as well, dragging rear flat tire andno front brake on an incline. Said fluent 12 volt specialist neighbor was onhand, having seen me pull in with a new mysterious load. Off the truck came the bike, and I hooked up some jumper cables to the battery and turned the ignition on. The dash lights came on, but that was it. No headlight, no tail light, no directionals. And like I was told, no turning over when the starter button was depressed. Well, that ruled out the battery anyways.

    My neighbor told me that the electrical would no doubt take some time, he insisted that I order up a new wiring harness for starters. Once I saw how much that would run, I said no way: fix it instead of replace it. I began to disassemble the bike, not getting too far over my head. This was, after all, my first wrenching venture on a bike -- up to now I had been paying for oil changes. Off came the bodywork: the seat, both fenders, tank, and sidecovers. I emptied the stinky remnants of what was once gasoline and saw the deep layers of rust within the tank. The seat cowl turned out to have a second crack, on the tank flange mounting area...this one went all the way through.

    Now that the innards were more exposed, we were able to trce some of the lighting issues. The blinkers needed a new relay, the headlight and tail light needed fuses. I had fuses, so we added them. Now we had current flowing to the lights, but the bulbs were toast on both ends. At least I saw the blue high beam dash light come on this time. We took the relay to an import auto parts shop to replace, it took a little time but the clerk found a compatible unit. I wish I'd written down what kind of car it came from, as it was only a $5 part and no doubt the motorcycle dealer would charge something rediculous for the Honda part. Soon the directionals were working, at least the two rear units that still had functional bulbs. Score one victory, as minor as it may be.

    I had later acquired the service manual and uber cheap some parts --- a set of VF750 Magna risers, a drag bar, and a louvered air cleaner from a former VLX owner that I met at my favorite aftermarket HD accessory shop across the street from the Honda dealer. I stripped the crazy buckhorn bar off the bike along with the stock risers, and swapped in the Magna risers and drag bar. Man that looked sweet. I quickly began to have visions of that mean yellow VLX I saw from Seeger's source for German parts (see part 3 of . With that vision in mind, I pulled the damaged rear fender out and looked it over. Out came the hacksaw, and I lopped the rear tip off. With a grease pen I traced the outline of the trailing edge onto the remainding fender where the tail light was supposed to go, and cut along that line. I sanded it down to a smooth finish and slapped it back onto the bike, along with the remaining bodywork I had stripped off. The rear subframe needed to go, to which the plate and rear directionals mounted, as all that was exposed now. Off it went, and yeah...that clunker was looking mighty nice!

    the Clunker, sporting 4" over forks, drag bar, and a bobbed rear fender. VLX-Max repeated this look, coming up in part 5 of 8 to a Customarily Minded outlet near you...

    Next I decided to strip the bike to its bare bones for a deep cleaning. I found some interesting bits along the way, including a few vinyl hoses which had no purpose, some strange metal bracketry, and what looked like a small air compressor. Must have been some airhorns hooked up at one time or another. The rear shock had its coil spring cut, obviously in an ameteur attempt at lowering. The frame and swingarm went to the pressure wand car wash place down the road. The motor was cleaned off with solvents, water, rags, and old toothbrushes. The bodywork was sanded down. I then proceeded to clean off the remaining components to better assess their condition and future.

    Some assembly required...

    I applied some bondo to the rear fender, filling in the remaining chips and cracks along with the unsightly tail light gap. Then I hit it with some primer, and gave the remaining bodywork a similar coat. Soon I applied the same to the frame and swingarm. I had a funky paint theme in mind, and tried it out. I applied some Daytona Yellow and Grabber Green from DupliColor's ceramic line, applying several coats and wet sanding each one to a smooth finish. A few layers of acrylic clear went on next, each followed by some wet sanding, and for an ameteur paint job it turned out rather nice. The end result was a spin off from Tom Cruise's race car from Days of Thunder, and the project was soon aptly renamed Daze of Thunder.

    Next up was a fork rebuild, alas even with the manual I lacked the tools to do the job and with no internet, the simple replacement solutions eluded me. So this would end up being a dealer job. I carried the forks in to Mike and he ripped them apart, giving me the bad news: most of the innards would need replacing. I got part numbers from the invoice and called Waynesville Cycle Parts to order the goods. Soon I had the replacements and a working set of 4" over fork tubes. I reattached the rear brake and foot controls, and soon had a rolling chassis. It looked so good sitting there in my driveway, and I was itching to ride it. So I loaded it into my truck, took it to a deserted stretch of downhill asphalt, and took my first ride!

    "Daze of Thunder" rolling chassis

    About this time, circa October 2000, a coworker was very interested in getting into a motorcycle, having seen me and mine at work. But having failed to acquire a working model at a fair price through various private sellers and dealerships, he decided to try the ressurection route and buy a clunker like what I was involved in at the moment. And as fate would have it, I found a working model at a good price and turned him onto it, alas he was set on going the clunker route now. So an idea hit me: I buy the working model, transfer the goodies from Daze onto said working model, and sell him the project with stock parts from the new bike swapped back. He agreed, and the project left my possession for what I paid for it and in slightly better condition. Bike #5/VLX #3: take two was in my possession, and the project was done. For now.

    I had agreed to assist my coworker with the ressurection. He stripped the bike down and had the frame and swingarm repainted professionally, applying a coat of retro VW blue. I guess my wild job was a bit much...but thenew color looked good. I helped him reassemble the bike, and he got a new master cylinder to swap in for the one piece bar that was lifted from my new acquisition in lieu of the drag bar/Magna riser combo I had. It was filled with DOT4 fluid and subsequently bled, and soon the front brake was working once again. He had purchased a replacement fuse box and new bulbs all around, save for the tail light which was up in the air. All the lighting worked but neither of us could find the starter fault. Nearly a year's worth of tinkering later, 9-11 hits and he loses his job. Soon afterwards he offers me the bike back for the same price he paid/same price I paid the first time around, and it's back in my possession again. Bike #4: take two/VLX #3: take three. Everyone keeping track of that so far?

    About a year passes and in that time I get the carbs cleaned/rebuilt. I eventually track the starter fault, and soon I get the starter turning over under the bike's own power! Add to that, courtesy of a replacement wiring harness I scored off E-Bay I now have the benefit of spark to boot. IT LIVES!!! Sort of. The compression is low on both cylinders, suggesting bad or out-of-time valves, worn rings or some rust build up in the cylinder walls, or possibly a combination of such. But after a period of several years and very little action, the project was renamed once again: Reborn.

    Another year passes and I find myself out of work. I once had the position of money to throw at the project but little time, now the roles are reversed. I quickly find another place of employment, but not as a full time employee. Nothing happens with any of the bikes save for registration and insurance renewals, and the usual ride to work when scheduled. A year passes before I am promoted to a full time shift, and now that I have money once more (but less time LOL) I soon venture out to the project once more. It's turning over much slower than I remembered, which lends more weight to my rust on the cylinder wall theory as the starter motor proves to be just fine. Alas, I resign the beast to "clunker" status once again and it becomes a parts bike.

    "Reborn", back in my possession again

    All in all I don't see this as a failure though. I learned a lot of wrenching skills with this bike, and for the investment of $200 plus $55 for a manual I have probably saved ten times that over the years in shop labor. After all, I have a bike just like my other bikes that I can perform trial runs on for whatever job is called for, and if it turns out to be too much then hey, nothing's already not working! And it saves me the embarassment of hauling in an disassembled bike to the dealer to "put back together correctly". With time, Imay even learn how to rebuild the innards of that motor and get it running someday. At which point I'll have to hunt down the various parts I've pulled from it since...So while it may be considered a failure at the moment, I'll always treasure the experience I garnered from this beast.

    And she's still sporting some potential in her current state...

    Stripped and bobbed even more, this was yet another trial run for a VLX-Max face lift

    (to be continued...)

    PM or E-mail Shadow Shack through his profile to confirm how many takes each bike has gone through.

    Customarily Minded Wicked Wonder of the Week

    Back in 1997 when I first started riding, I spied this thing of beauty within the pages of my first issue of Red Rider that I recieved in conjunction with my new bike purchase. Famed bike builder Arlen Ness, who was famous long before Discovery Channel difused the world of custom motorcycling with unreality shows, built this bike for a Japanese customer. Arlen started with a mid 90s model VT600 Steed (the Asian badge for the Shadow VLX) and went from there. You don't need me to tell you how good these mid-sized marvels look fresh from the crate, but Arlen managed to belt out something rather extraordinary without resorting to much in the way of aftermarket help or fabrication. Those hugger fenders are one off Arlen specials, the OEM seat pan was rolled with low profile coverings, and a set of Cobra pipes grace the breathing end. The OEM air cleaner recieved some in house milling, the motor was blacked out, and a set of Ness mirrors leads the way up front. The tail end was slammed with a solid strut and some of the OEM pieces took a chrome bath, beyond that the bike is still very much stock. But you'd never know it with the signature Ness paintwork, and how many Honda owners can stake such a claim?
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