Friday, September 26, 2008

One week, two days left

...and the tank is shot.

And I'm going to be out of town all weekend.

I finally gave up on the old tank after trying to patch it up for the ump-teenth time. It would be just my luck to get the bike running, ride it down to Pine Bluff, park it, then come back to a puddle of gas at it's feet.

So I need a new tank. And it hasn't been road-tested.

But I did get my title and my license plate, so it's road legal. It's just not ready to run yet.

So with one week to go, if I can obtain a new tank, get it to start consistently, run well on the street, and build enough confidence in it... OK, maybe I'm not going to make it.

However, the VFR is running 100%. I'm expecting to see people down there. And I expect to have a good time on the Run. So I'm going regardless.

And there's always next spring's Run.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Waiting game

A few new items since the last post.

Everything seems to be progressing, and as long as a few things get cleared up I should have it on the road in the next few weeks. This is indeed a good thing since the Fall Run is only 3 weeks and 6 days from now.

The primary issue is deep within the guts of the carburetors. There seems to be an obvious reason as to why the bike starts so hard (at the time I need to "prime the pump" by covering the air-intake completely, creating enough of a vacuum to pry the slides open and get gas from the main jets), and why it doesn't idle. As it turns out the pilot jets are supposed to actually have openings.

After much cleaning, I realized the jets were a lost cause. After obtaining some calipers, researching the different sizes/shapes/etc. I found what I needed. And luckily ebay provided me with a supplier. Now I'm just waiting for the UPS man.

The secondary issue is the fuel tank. It just won't stop springing pinhole leaks. As a quick fix, JB Weld was applied. And now half the tank looks like it's full of blisters due to the dabs of epoxy. But as of yesterday, it's at least stopped leaking.

Phase 2 of the bike will definitely require a new tank.

The third and hopefully last issue (and seemingly least difficult to overcome) is the license/title/registration process. Luckily I've got the clean title in my hand, in my brother's name, with his signature on it. I should be able to simply fill out the DMV form and mail it in. I'll be starting that process tonight.

So with any luck, these problems will be corrected and the bike will actually see the pavement of public roads. Ah, good times ahead...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One small step for the bike...

...One giant leap for my confidence.

Over the weekend, after numerous attempts at simply hitting the starter button with no luck, I decided to get back to basics. Once again I tore the carburetors off the bike, checked them over again. Dr. Clymer, my guide through this whole process, recommended the troubleshooting method of: check the fuel line, check the floats, check the ignition, etc.

The fuel line was delivering, and I checked the spark at the plug. Both checked out, so maybe it's that middle step I was missing. But the bowls filled up, so the floats were working, right?

Digging a little further, the slides/needles seemed to be problematic, sticking even. Plus the choke wasn't working.

After applying some changes, I mounted them back on the bike and tried again. And unfortunately, again. Still no luck.

Then last night (Tuesday), I gave it one more go. Choke full-on, a little prodding, and finally a chug. More prodding and another chug. Soon gas was flowing through what I'm referring to as the carb "chamber" and firing away in the cylinder. And she took off.

Firing away in the garage it appeared I did mount the exhaust correctly (sigh of relief), and it almost kept running at idle. Of course I only had enough gas as the fuel line would hold, so I couldn't run it for long. Plus the pipes were getting HOT, with the exception of the one attached to cylinder #3.

So while not road-ready yet, I'm at least more hopeful about this whole project. Tonight should yield a few more tests and tell me where I'm at and how close I am to making the Fall Run.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I was on a roll.

The bike seemed "complete." I got the pieces all together, everything mounted up, all ready to roll. Even after fighting to revive a dead battery, I decided to go all out and get a new battery (what a concept). The next step was to add gas and press the go button.

So I added gas. Then more gas. And yet, it still didn't start.

For one thing it appears that I partially botched the Kreem job. The petcock was only allowing a small trickle of fuel. It appears too much of the fancy liquid liner formed a blockage at the opening, making the delivery of gas difficult. But that wasn't the worst.

I seem to have more than one pinhole leaks in the walls of the tank.


So taking a page from Jason, I concocted a fuel IV as a temporary replacement for the gas tank. I recharged the quickly draining battery and I tried to start it again.

It drank up the gas I fed it (this is good news right?), but never gave a "chug" from any of the 4 cylinders.

I tried it again, and it kept drinking up that expensive go-juice. But never an explosion in the chamber. I thought to myself, the gas has to be going somewhere? But the plugs were still dry, no overflow, no puddle sitting on the crankcase, nothing.

Finally after the Xth attempt, I realized that it takes more to fill those float bowls than I thought. And it stopped drinking up the fuel.

So that's the problem: it wasn't drinking the fuel at all, it was just filling up the bowls.

Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Motivation is a funny thing. You can have it, and if all goes well you can keep it. If any one thing goes wrong you can easily lose it. Once you've lost it, it is so very hard to obtain it again.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance defines "Gumption" as, well, you really should read it yourself. But in short, "Gumption" is that motivation that keeps a job on schedule, keeps you interested, keeps you doing your work because you WANT to. "Gumption Traps" are those obstacles you run into that can ruin your whole day. That one stripped screw that turns a whole machine into a non-running eyesore in your garage.

I'd like to propose the term "Gumption Primer." As in something that would give your Gumption that boost to start up again, continue on, make you enjoy your work again. And I now firmly believe that working cooperatively with another person, perhaps on a separate project, can be a good Gumption Primer.

The Nighthawk project has hit various levels, and with the latest round of wiring and carb work, I do believe I fell into one of the worst Gumption Traps I know of personally - an incomplete job. The carbs were not mounting correctly, the choke was still a little stuck, and the wiring... it seemed to be working, but something was still off. And due to time constraints, I had to walk away from the job.

And I didn't want to go back.

Over the weekend, I discovered a genuine Gumption Primer, as I witnessed Jason kick over and finally start the CL Project. As I saw the minimal machine finally come to life, and what it took to make it happen, the Nighthawk suddenly took on a whole new light: something that could work. I just needed to put enough time and the proper work into it.

When I got home I pulled the bike out of the corner of the garage and took a fresh look at it. There was a reason the wiring wasn't "quite" right, the taillight was incorrectly wired. Instead of forcing the carbs into place, I removed them and started over, making sure not to force it, but take my time and put them in correctly.

After a lot of conscious effort and care, I took a step back and realized: it worked. The bike is more-or-less together.

Now to get that battery into shape (another long story), and try to feed some gas into the machine.

Monday, July 7, 2008


Nothing too fancy to post today, but I got over one of my biggest fears over the weekend.

When I tore apart various parts of the bike many moons ago, it included removing and replacing many wires. Not exactly being an electrician, I tried my best to keep track of what I was unplugging and the general flow of electricity through the bike. I obviously lost something along the way.

My first attempt to put everything back together resulted in: nothing. No power to anything. No headlight illumination, no taillight, not even the horn. This could be a problem, especially on a bike with no kick-start.

Taking a step back (and actually consulting the wiring diagram), I took another shot at it. After realizing a black-and-white diagram isn't nearly as helpful with a rainbow of colored wires, I went back to some of the old parts and matched them up to the wires still on the bike. The directionals were indeed wired incorrectly, the tail/brake light was backwards, and some various bits were loose.

Plus since I busted up the ignition switch, I realized I had to dismantle it completely, and hot-wire it. At least for now.

Add a power source, and things began to glow. Success.

Next I'll have to break out the soldering iron and make things a little more permanent. And tuck all those wires up behind the frame and even more wires into the headlight bucket.

And hope nothing comes loose. Or shorts.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I'm so bad at keeping this thing up to date.

To bring things up to speed, I'll mention my latest additions to the project:

New clip-on bars. - Well, not exactly new. Actually they're from a 1987 Honda VFR. And although they closer resemble "heli-bars", I still mounted them below the top triple clamp, bringing them up to about the height of the top of the forks.

New seat - Again, not new. More like I took a saw to the old seat and molded it down into a (almost) cafe style solo seat. It needs plenty more work to make it look nice, but it works as a place to keep your rear in place.

Various cosmetic and hardware work - not too much to say other than little tweakings here and there.

The Carbs - The carbs were a whole other story. I cleaned them many moons ago and stuck them back onto the bike. Over time the throttle started sticking, so I knew something wasn't right. After a lot of coaxing, I got them back off the bike and tore them apart. And it was a good thing. Various hoses were cracked, throttle valves were stuck, choke valves stuck - it was a mess. After tearing the bank of 4 headache-inducing contraptions apart, and unsticking everything, I discovered the hoses I needed didn't exist in the real world. I needed two 3/4" long T-joint rubber hoses, if that explains it. But since I couldn't find anything, I bought a length of tubing with the right size inside diameter and fabricated my own pieces. They seemed to hold, but time will tell. Finally the whole works went back together, after a LOT of coaxing, but it's all together and on the bike again.

Next: electrics.

Then: time to test fire it.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Slow but (almost) sure

The front end of the bike came apart this weekend, in more ways than one.

Installed are some new (non-rusted) headlight ears, new speedometer, new turn signals - all in new and improved ways. And completely unexpected ways - honestly I really didn't know how it was going together, so it wasn't that unexpected.

(Un)fortunately, I managed to bust up the ignition switch (key) and I'm now down to bare wires. Which is actually cool because I wanted to relocate the whole unit but didn't know how to go about it. Now it's completely up in the air - do I want to move it to the back of the bike? - do I want to hotwire it go sans keys? - do I want to make it a pressure sensor in the seat and have the bike come to life when I sit on it?

So it's time to get creative, because wiring is next on the to-do list.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Happy New Year (+7 days)

Over the weekend Crud Run Dairies producer, Jason J. Gullickson stopped by with a camera and related gear and we got an "in the process" interview done. It was an interesting exercise in "what have I done so far" and "what do I plan to do." And I had some time to reflect on the project of building the bike, rather than working on the film.

It's funny how you look at something from different points of view. Years ago I knew nothing more about working on a bike (or car, or anything else powered by dino juice) than changing the oil. My first project with the bike was to get the brakes working. After much stumbling, I did get them to work, and looking back it seems like such an insignificant job. Bleed the fluid out, check the parts, get the stuck stuff unstuck, and rebuild - simple right?

Not so much at the time. I remember when changing spark plugs was a big event.

Although not much has changed since then, at least as far as my knowledge of any thing mechanical, but that hesitation to tackle a project seems to be all but gone. One of these weekends will involve pulling the head off the engine to replace some leaky gaskets, and I welcome the challenge.

I'll just have to remember not to throw away any parts that I don't "think" are necessary.