We choose to ride
instead of drive for many perfectly rational reasons: speed, acceleration
and exhilaration, cornering, getting the full force of the World straight
in the mush; avoidance of all that traffic, queues and parking rubbish;
the thrill of feeling truly alive. The addition of large amounts of raw danger
only enhances Man's greatest ever achievement - 'The Motorcycle'- and
makes choosing it as a form of travel and as way
of life an inevitability for people of discerning character.
Now, shall I walk or shall I
"Ride", Pleasure said: "Walk", Joy replied.
The Harley has been apart and put back together again and it is still bad.
We've stripped it down again and this time we are going to have the crank
out and check every last bit of the engine. During the summer I had been
generously given the loan of an F650GS BMW to play on by our friend Kev
(Slug) and it has taken Gill and I all
over the British Isles recently. It's a 650cc single cylinder bike with
mono-shock rear suspension, fuel injection, ABS and most importantly for
the winter - heated handlebar grips. It is very comfortable, fun to ride,
it sticks to the road like marmite to a blanket, is extremely reliable and
is the perfect weapon to use on expeditions of all kinds. It was designed
with the Paris-Dakar Race in mind and won it on it's first outing. I have decided to
buy it as a much-needed second bike and it is now known as Thunderbird 2.
The intention is to have the Sportster
back on the road by the Summer and to use the old lady for slightly less
demanding outings in the better weather.
Oh the joys of owning a classic
After all of that work I did recently
to spruce the old girl up we took ourselves off out to the other side of
Petersfield for a bloomin' good wander about. On the way home as we were
thundering between the walls of Petworth she started to make a horrible
growling, knocking noise. I instantly realised it was more than likely a bearing
complaining. I decided to just get the bike home but my comment of “The engine's
knackered” to my pillion passenger did not go down at all well.
There was no point in hanging about – the next day I started stripping the
engine down and in less than 8 hours I had her down to the crankcases. Luckily I
have some great friends who are talented and knowledgeable engineers. Between us
we found that the engine was, in general, in very good shape. The surface of the
bores were a bit shiny, which is due to a patina that builds up over time, so
that got honed off using a carborundum tool in a lathe. When carefully done this
process allows the oil to stick better to the surface which in turn prevents
Every engine part was cleaned and checked and all gaskets, O rings and disturbed
seals were replaced. The ancient oil tank and the unopened crankcase were
flushed out with paraffin thus allowing the sludge of 21 years to finally be
removed. The fuel tank filter was cleaned out and a new oil filter fitted. The
barrels got a fresh coat of paint, the heads were polished and the valves and
pistons were cleaned up like new. Every bolt was torqued down properly and the
electrics were cleaned and checked over. In all the bike has had a complete make
over. Gill has also now learnt how an internal combustion engine of the old
school actually works and found the entire process fascinating.
“So what was wrong with the poor thing?” I hear you asking.
Well, it turns out that it was the clutch bearing. It had actually been turning
round and round in its housing rather than spinning on the ball bearings like a
bearing's supposed to do. This had caused heat and this heat had worn the
bearing out. The bearing had seized but had not broken up although it was now
loose in its housing where it ought to be tight.
What you are supposed to do in this circumstance, as a rich Harley owner, is
send off for a new clutch for £350 and drive the Audi about instead. Sorry,
can't do that. This is my one (chosen) form of transport plus I am generally
skint. Next cheapskate option is to try and Loctite™ the new bearing in. We did
that, rebuilt the engine and started her up. She started instantly and the
Loctite™ instantly failed and the new bearing instantly died. (sad face)
Luckily removing the clutch is a quick and painless operation and Kev (God bless
his smelly cotton socks) is now going to mill 20 thousands of an inch (5 fag
papers of thickness) out of the housing and insert a tolerance ring between the
housing and another new bearing. This packing-out with a ring of corrugated
steel will hold the bearing in place once and for all (we hope). We should know
by Wednesday and if it works I will need to run the engine in again. The week
after we are off to ride it a thousand miles around England. Optimistic or what!
Wish us luck.
The clutch bearing that's causing all the
A disassembled Sportster engine.
I had the front end off to fit a new front brake disc and
fitted protective rubber boots to the
forks at the same time. These keep the road poo out of my fork seals and they look really
good. Replacement fork oil finished making the front end feel as good as
it now looks.
Old skool rubber handlebar grips were added and they are so much better
than the old ones that were on the bike when I got it. These ones absorb the vibrations and they
even seem to stay warmer
too. More importantly my hands now actually grip instead of sliding off.
The drive belt snapped again! This time I stayed philosophical instead of
angry. There is an ongoing fault which seems to be caused by the belt
being out of line no matter what I do. If I adjust the wheel alignment
then the belt rubs on the tyre. There is a large spacer behind the front
drive sprocket/pulley which looks like it is worn down a bit so a new one is on the way.
Hopefully that will sort it out. We are only talking a couple of mm here.
When I took the exhaust off to get access to the belt it fell apart... a
bit. The rear silencer has had it and the front header pipe was completely
worn out with holes appearing everywhere. A used but good condition front header
pipe is on the way from Indiana, new exhaust gaskets and drive belt from
Scotland and exhaust snap rings from Jersey but I still have to decide on
the pipes I want to buy. I don't want them too loud as I start her up at
5.30am every day. I certainly don't want them too quiet though!
The rear light and rear indicators are being upgraded to LED and combined.
This is taking a lot of customising 'arts & crafts' to achieve, so watch
this space. Electrics are out of my comfort zone and my pudgy fingers are
next to useless at anything creative but I'm hoping the final
effect will look cool (if it works).
In all this is costing quite a bit of dosh so it's lucky I have got a
cushy little job at the moment that gives me Fridays off to tinker.
I expect to be back on the road for around April 23rd-ish but I am not
rushing. I want the drive belt problem solved permanently and there are
still a few things I want to make good. The whole bike needs a proper deep
clean and the barrels need repainting, the number plate is being replaced
and a new throttle cable needs to go on, jobs which could take close on a
week. The bike has to be working and looking perfect for the visit to see
little sis and the
in June and the Lake District soon afterwards.
Feb 28th 2016
The charging system has been
perfect thank goodness. The bike now starts far better, the lights are
brighter and the engine feels like it is firing stronger. The front brake
is working incredibly well despite the disc being on its last legs. A new
one is in the post as we speak. As is another side-stand spring: they snap
so often that I am getting one in readiness. Also coming is a new ignition
switch which has nearly given up the ghost. The plan is to relocate that
to the battery box and start tidying up the front end of the bike.
Great news: We paid for the IOM ferry the other day so we are going to the
island for TT race week. We are so excited and can't wait. On top of all
of the bikes and the racing the island in June looks fantastic, so we'll get some
superb hiking in too.
Jan 12th 2016
Ok, it's obvious that the
electrical problem has not gone away as the battery is still going flat
every few days. I don't have a multi-meter and I haven't used one to
diagnose a fault before so my mate Slug is coming round Thursday to give
me a quick lesson and the bike a good checking out. Luckily it is still
tipping it down constantly and I have no spare cash so the bike can linger
in the garage a while until this charging malarkey has gone away for good.
At the moment the thought is that there is a short somewhere or the
voltage regulator may be on the fritz.
Update: It's the regulator. £85 for a new one and it's on it's way!
Old on the left, new on the
Battery box all cleaned up and painted.
Jan 1st 2016
I had two dealers both supply me with the wrong battery over Christmas
(were they celebrating too much) so we were left bikeless over the
festivities. It didn't matter too much as Mother Nature seems to be giving
this little island an extended bathtime anyway. The North of England is
completely submerged and drifting away and down here in the South, well
let's just say we don't think there will be a hosepipe ban this year!
Today however, with the correct battery charged up and connected and after
a barrage of multimeter tests the bike was certified electrical problem
free. The old battery had been getting sicker and sicker over the past few
months and finally gave up the ghost. It was helped to the coffin by a
small short in the wire of the newly-attached horn that some pudgy-fingered
imbecile had put on recently.
Back on the road for the first day of the year - surely an omen for a good
year to come.
Bike still running perfectly although front master cylinder has been
playing up a bit. All down to the old girl hitting the deck at 1 mph on a
slippery drive in Snowdonia last month. The brake lever took a bash and
now it's not returning properly when pulled.
The big problem I have right now is that my battery has completely and
utterly kicked the bucket. Bikey no go with no elastic trickery!
September 2015 - After getting
the poor old girl puffing, wheezing and spilling oil all the way to the
Lakes and back.
The new air filter needed some major alterations to get it working like the real
thing, rather than like the cheap knock-off that it is. It now works
perfectly and best of all it replaces the huge ugly thing that Harley had
put on there. However, to take advantage of the improved air flow the carburettor
needed some urgent surgery too. The brass idle/mixture screw was stuck fast in it's
thread and the head had become mashed up from trying to get it out, so I ordered a new part and took
the whole carb over to Dave. We first tried the traditional drill/extractor method
of removal but the
bloomin' extractor broke off in the screw! We had no alternative but to cut the flange down and grab
hold of the stuck screw with some mole grips and twist it out. The new mixture
screw has a long thread on it, so the missing section of flange will not
matter too much. The new screw also has a thumbscrew on the end of it to
make adjustment of the fuel/air mixing ratio far easier. At the same time
the carb was thoroughly cleaned inside and out and stainless steel Allen
bolts and washers were fitted throughout.
I also had a severe oil leak from the front cylinder rocker box which got
new gaskets, lashings of slicone and some shiny new bolts thrown at until
it promised to stop!
After a bit of carb tuning I can report that the bike now goes like pooh
through a goose. There is more power and range in every gear and the
acceleration has improved drastically. What's more, the acceleration does
not appear to stop and seems to be intent on reaching somewhere around
130mph before stopping, I wouldn't know for sure as I keep running out of
road. In all the bike is a real pleasure to ride and it feels extremely
healthy. It's also had a good bubble bath and is all shiny for a change.
With new; belt, tyres, forks, carb and air intake one would hope that the
bike will be fully operational and healthy for some time to come. I have
however found that with a 21 year old bike things do not always pan out
like that. I suppose it keeps me busy and out of trouble though, so it's
all money well spent.
New brass mixture screw and
stainless steel Allen bolts throughout.
Chinese knock-off air filter.
After some British alteration it now works perfectly.
Bike update - 50,000 miles
With just a few more funds in the coffers the time is ripe to update all
sorts of things. Firstly, a second-hand pair of forks off Ebay for £50
replace my old ones that were still misting out fork oil. New white-walled
rear tyre, brake pads front and rear and plugs. Best of all a complete air
intake is on the way from our oriental friends which will make the bike
look, breathe and perform even better.
In all the bike is in great shape and the engine is perfect (touch wood)
although one of the next bits to buy is a primary chain which I have been
promising to get the bike since the day I bought it.
Beaky done the MOT last week and he had no comments to make other than
the handlebars were a bit 'mobile' (fixed) and that the pipes were noisy.
They will not be getting fixed!
Bike update - 47,000 miles
Decided to take the bike off
the road for a while and do a lot of work on it. First I removed the huge
speedo and tacho dials and rewired things a bit. This has given the bike a
much better look and a cleaner front end. Talking about front end I
renovated the forks completely and repositioned and repaired the front
indicators. I went out of my comfort zone and did some spraying of the
frame and swingarm and cleaned the heads of black paint but repainted the
barrels with engine paint.
A new panel of indicator lights was made up and put into the headlamp
shield (known as an eyebrow in Harley circles)
I gave the whole bike a complete deep clean, new plugs and HT leads,
new oils etc. It was tidied up in all sorts of ways and the luggage is now
completely renovated. I even wired us up for 'elastic-trickery' so that we
can charge our phones as we're travelling.
The front brake decided to play up after it was disconnected and as well
as fitting a repair kit to the front master cylinder it also needed honing
out by 'Spanner', whose help I could not do without whenever I come up
against a brick wall (quite often). Dave has been hitting Harleys with
hammers for 50 years and there aint nothing on a hog he can't fix as long
as he can take a good run up at it and use the right curses!
Wednesday 1st October
Bike update - 44,000 miles.
Just back from the second Lake District run for the bike this year. It's
also been used virtually everyday in all weathers for the past three years
or so and just like our old Fatboy (RIP) it loves it. Tyres are in great
condition, brakes feel great, electrics are all perfect and the engine just purrs.
There was an issue with the old girl spitting off her carburettor when
hot. A missing/vapourised spacer in the air filter was replaced by a nice
big slab of rubber and she doesn't do it anymore.
There's a light oil weep from the front rocker cover due to a dodgy
gasket (I did that!). It's not under engine pressure and it's just a drop
or two a day, so it's just enough to keep the top of the engine from
getting rusty. On the return leg of the last trip there appeared a slight
oil leak from the clutch inspection plate gasket. It's not losing much and
again it's down to some podgy-fingered idiot breaking things.
Suspension is all new and good but the roads are terrible in Sussex, so
what can you do?
I need petrol every 100 miles, which is a pain sometimes but the tank is a
nice shape and size for the bike and I don't want to change it. There are
several things I would like to change though and just in case you're
interested, here is my list:
A small, round, air intake will make it look more retro straight away and
will enhance the view of the upper engine and tank.
-Replacement tubular style oil tank.
-Sprung solo seat.
-Sprung pillion seat.
-Battery box removal.
-Low slung, hinged, rear mudguard
-Get rid of the indicators and have them built into the mirrors and tail
That should get it looking closer to how I want it. Stripped back and
simpler. To make it look simpler and cheaper costs loads of cash so this
is all just a wish list. Instead I will be buying; tyres, oil, the odd
desperately-needed part here and there, not to mention trying to replace
the 10 year-old, oft abused and oft repaired panniers that we stuff full
of everything from shopping bags to wet rucksacks.
Everyone always asks (without fail) if the 16" bars make my arms hurt. I'm
at the point where I'm expecting them to hurt now, as everyone must be
right and I must be wrong, right? Sorry, a vast amount of experimental
data appears to agree with me. After 300 miles me arse sometimes hurts
like billio but me arms are just fine thank you very much.
Ape hangers rule!
In between bouts of writing the above I have once
again snapped a sidestand spring and have had to resort to the dangling
bungee option. Doh!
Fitted the new belt (£145) and it only took a couple of hours and went on
easily: I didn't even have to take the wheel off. After a small test ride
around the garages there was a terrible rattle. After much heartache and
gnashing of teeth I realised it wasn't coming from the engine after all
but was actually the front brake! The well-named 'ant-rattle spring' has
broken. This does not affect the working of the brake but the noise does
drive you mad. In the USA this part costs less than £2.50 but here in the
UK it's a tenner!
Now all the bike needs is a right good polish (free) and a new rear tyre
A broken rear drive belt has kept us off the road over Christmas which
with the permanent storms, floods and potholes is no real loss at all. Instead we have
been taking a long break indoors. The new belt is about £170 and will be
2013 - Sportster update.
Apart from having a rear tyre that's
nearing its final days the bike is going really well. The worn-out air
filter assembly still causes the carburettor to fall off now and then but
I've now got the running repair down to about 5 minutes. A new air filter
is £250. The carb itself is tuned up pretty well and just needs a couple
of minor tweeks to get it set up perfectly. I'll wait until I get the air
filter sorted before I go about it. For now it's more than adequate.
The saddlebags on the other hand are completely worn out and we now have
three options; renovate the old ones completely, make our own or buy some
new ones. The committee is still pondering that one! It's an urgent
problem though as we need the luggage to carry our stuff on 'expotitions'.
I've heard a few 'chirrups' from the drive belt in the past few days which
usually indicates that all is not well and I'm concerned about affording a
new belt (£100) if it fails.
The engine is running beautifully though and it just sings as we motor
A272, if you can call 3000 rpm at 70mph singing! It's probably a
baritone or more likely
Tuvan throat singing.
The rear brake had been misbehaving
somewhat and eventually became stuck fully on. That completely finished
off the brake disc and the caliper, both of which are probably 18 years
old. Money is very tight however and it has taken a miraculous
intervention by the government (via a tax rebate) to finally pay for the
new parts. Gill even got a new set of pillion pegs to replace the mole
grips that she's been using for one lately!
New caliper, brake disc and pillion
March 2013 - 20,000 miles
Serious running problems, a burst
brake line and loads of snow meant that the bike was off the road for
nearly 6 weeks. The carburettor needed stripping down and cleaning, the
brakes needed renovating and it also got a much needed full service. It's
now back in great condition and ready for the summer.
We are going to need some new saddlebags soon though, our old ones are
falling to bits now.
Tuesday 19th November
Drive belt failure
We were both on holiday so we took
quick jaunt down to Coldwaltham Brooks to watch the Barn Owl. I'd noticed
some wear on the drive belt before we left and it was preying on my mind,
mostly because they are expensive and also because on other Harleys they
are a pain in the posterior to fit.
On departing the brooks I casually mentioned to Gill that we might
possibly break down on the way home. I don't think she took it seriously
but pretty soon I became convinced I was going to be proved right. By the
time we got to Crawley we were suffering badly and were spitting teeth out
everywhere. Really we should have stopped but I figured that all that was
going to happen was the belt would break or lose so many teeth that it
would be unable to run on the pulleys due to being so gummy!
If you could choose, where wouldn't you want to break down? Where would be
one of the worst places? What about on a roundabout: one of the busiest in
Crawley... at rush hour?
If you're going to do something, do it so everyone else can join in too,
that's what I say!
Sunday 21st January 2012
New ape hangers fitted
The simple addition of a pair of raised handlebars actually takes a lot of
work - the wires for all of the electrics have to be extended, 2 extended
throttle cables need to be replaced along with the brake line and clutch
cable. With the help of Spanner we got it all done with as little fuss as
possible. The six inch risers needed to be replaced with stock short ones
and so I used the ones that came off of our late-lamented Fatboy. The new
seat is off being re-padded with memory foam as it was too thin for
A couple of weeks ago the front and rear suspension were upgraded as well,
so the bike is now getting to just where we want it.
August 2011 -
We've done about 7000 miles on the
Sporty now and we're loving it. It's been good and reliable - a dodgy
circuit to the rear light (fixed), a broken spring in the primary chain
tensioner (fixed) and a puncture have been the only problems and they were
no real problem at all. The rear suspension is ok for one-up riding but is
wholly inadequate for two people plus luggage, so the shocks will be
replaced as soon as possible.
The seat on the bike was a one-piece affair with a very small amount of
thought given to the comfort of the pillion rider, so I got a cheap old
seat off of Ebay and gave it to Dave at P&D Custom. He converted that into
a comfy seat for two that also quickly converts into a retro-style solo
seat. My seat is ok and will be even more comfortable when I get the
handlebars raised up to where I want them: the important question was,
would Madam approve too? She loves it - 10/10, a much comfier and safer
feeling ride and she can see now over the top of my head again and get a
better view. Phew, what a result!
Thursday 13th January
2011 - New Harley
Spanner and I went up to Blacks Bikeshop in Ormskirk, Lancashire today to
see a bike I found for sale on Ebay. It's a totally clean and lovingly-maintained 1995 XLH 1200 Sportster with only 13000 miles on the clock.
Everything about it was as new and seeing as I do about 13000 in a year,
as far as I'm concerned, the bike is a year old.
I rode it the 250 miles home, most of the way in the pouring rain and it
didn't miss a beat. That was probably the first time it had been ridden in
the wet and it loved it (me too).
It's not the model of Harley I originally wanted and is what is often
referred to as a 'baby harley' (1200 cc is no baby, trust me), but seeing
as my savings had dwindled considerably I was left with no choice but to
get as best as I could with what remained of my money. I think that I've
achieved that and we are both overjoyed with our new baby.
Best of all, despite spending most of its life in the north of England,
our new bike was originally sold (born) from
Shaw Harley Davidson. So it's a SUSSEX Harley and we've brought it
home to where it belongs.
It's going to need some small changes over the next few weeks: the
handlebars first, as the riding position is slightly wrong for me (aching
bum or what!), plus we'll have to get it set up to take our saddlebags and
luggage rack so that we're ready for some expeditions. But even without
all that, we have freedom from public
transport at last - woooo hoo!
Our new baby girl.
Our lovely, old Harley Fatboy has been written-off by the engineers for the
insurance company. Apart from all of the
visible damage to the bike the frame had also bent at the neck.
There's nothing that can be done and we're both completely devastated at
losing our faithful old bike.
Life goes on though and we're now searching hard for a replacement, so if
you know of an FLSTFI Fatboy for sale, then give us a shout.
In the meantime we've been given a
courtesy bike (above) by the
insurance company while the claim is being sorted out.
It's a Suzuki Bandit GSF 1250 GT and we're not keen on it at all.
Latest news - Bike accident 26/03/10
Our old bike was a 2004 Harley Davidson FLSTFI 'Fatboy'. We got it brand new on
18th February 2004 and we'd done 90,490 incident free
miles on it before the
accident. It was used every day of the year, in all weathers and
virtually never let us down. We still miss it like mad.
In the winter we cover our bikes in a protectant. This is a sticky,
smelly goo that comes out of a can. It stops the bike from rusting when
there's salt on the roads. It works well but it takes the rest of the year
to get it all off again. In the winter the bike ends up looking like it's
made out of muck, as everything sticks to the protectant. IT LOOKS GREAT!
With a little care and a lot of hard work, this is what our bike will
look like soon.
Gill loves being a pillion
passenger. She gets a good view from sitting up and behind me. Probably
a better view than me sometimes, especially over hedges.
I'm very lucky that she doesn't want to get a car.
Our good mate
Spanner and his little TOSSA (Triumph / Ossa)