I’ve never needed a reason to spend time in my shop. If I have some time on my hands, that’s where you’re most likely to find me. But like just about everyone, this unexpected pandemic has forced a ban on my travels, and subsequently, provided a lot of downtime.
Is it safe to go riding now?
If you must use your bike in these trying times, take all the possible precautions you can. Carry disposable dog-poop or sandwich bags to use at the gas pump when filling up, then dispose of the bags. When you do fill up, keep your helmet on to reduce the risk of touching your face. Carry hand sanitizer, if you can find any. Ideally you want to ride alone or at the most with one other rider to keep potential exposure to a minimum. Avoid contact with others, so don’t plan a lunch stop; bring snacks and carry liquids — in other words, be entirely self sufficient.
And don’t ride like an ass. The roads are empty, which might tempt you to tempt fate, but you don’t want to put an added burden on the healthcare system should you make a mistake.
Spending time in front of my computer watching old motorsports videos, movies, and whatever else I can find in the darkest recesses of the Internet can only entertain me so much, so I’ve been spending a lot more time in my sanctuary. It’s located a safe, non-invasive few metres from my house and measures six by eight metres. It’s heated and equipped with a small machine shop, and it’s my happy place.
It contains five motorcycles: four are mine, and the newest one, a 2018 Triumph Street Twin, belongs to my girlfriend, Roxanne. All the bikes except the Triumph were in need of some kind of service or another. Some of the work I’d been holding off to perform when I had the time to do it, and guess what… I’ve got plenty of that now.
The first bike to get some attention was my Kawasaki KLR650. It’s my daily rider, and it was due for an overall checkup and new tires. But I also have some LED headlight bulbs that were sitting in a drawer, awaiting installation. They were on hold because the fairing needed to be removed and the back of the headlight housing modified. A day into my self isolation and the KLR was ready to go. Damn, that was quick.
Next onto my lift was my 1980 Kawasaki KZ550. It’s a bike I acquired from a friend in exchange for some work on a few of his other vintage Japanese motorcycles. The bike was in excellent condition, with only 23,500 km on the odometer. Aside from consumables like tires and brake pads, the only non-original items on the bike were the handlebar and handgrips, which I’ve since sourced and installed.
Its head gasket was seeping though, so the top end came off, and went back on again. Another item that had been sitting around in the same drawer as those LEDs was a Dynatek electronic ignition conversion kit. I’m not averse to the KZ’s stock ignition points, but I wanted a less maintenance-intensive setup, so the conversion kit has finally been installed.
The bike was, however, missing its original pinstripes, probably stripped off by a previous owner. A company called Diablo Cycle, located in London, Ontario, makes reproductions, and I had ordered a set late last summer. With a lot of patience they now accent the black paint, and the KZ550 looks like it rode out of the showroom sometime in the last decade.
My Harley street tracker is a bike I had built for a customer, out of a shop I helped run through the 1990s with partner Denis Lavoie. That shop, called Cosden Specialties, was the source of the machine shop equipment I acquired after Denis died of cancer last spring. The sign now hangs in my shop in homage if my lost friend.
The bike has a 1986 Sportster Evolution engine mounted into a 1972 XR750 frame. The engine is modified, and the compression was high enough to stall the starter when firing it up. It also pinged considerably, even on premium fuel. Well, it rolled onto the bench and its heads came off so I could install thicker head and base gaskets.
The bodywork has also been stripped to repair some cracks and for a fresh coat of paint. To achieve a look that’s more faithful to a real XR750, I also shortened a Sportster fuel tank, which will also get painted, with a set of reproduction decals from an early 1960s Sporty.
Getting out from the shop
To reward myself for all the hard work, I took my KLR650 out for a spin, to visit my parents after my self-imposed COVID-19 isolation following my trip earlier this month to the United States to ride the Yamaha MT-03. But, in Quebec, we’ve been told by Premier Francois Legault to avoid riding unless it’s to attend to an emergency or for some other essential task — riding purely for leisure is discouraged.
Well, I deemed a visit to my elderly parents an essential task. However, I did take the appropriate measures, to reduce the risk I potentially posed to others during my ride. After two weeks of self-isolation without exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms, I was confident I was not carrying an unwanted viral passenger. However, to help avoid a mishap on the road that could potentially lead to a hospital visit, for the first time since I’ve been riding, I wore a fluorescent riding vest to increase my visibility to others. It was not my intention to add to an already stressed health care system.
After returning home, I felt confident that I did not contribute to the rising statistics. I also decided to have a look at my 1982 Honda FT500 Ascot, which is completely original and has less than 10,000 km on the odometer. I thought it was free of any kind of mechanical work, until, that is, I rolled it onto my lift for a detailing job. That’s when I noticed the silicone on one of the rocker box bolts, which reminded me of a leak the engine sprang last summer. Dammit!
It turns out the threads pulled in the head, requiring the installation of a thread insert. To do this, the head has to come off, so that’s what I’ll be doing as soon as I finish typing this. Maybe this forced sequestration isn’t so bad after all.