by Shawn Downey
Strolling up the stone path to my buddy’s garage, I couldn’t help but hear his wife’s accusations cutting through the crisp, fall air. “Jack! I told you to wipe your greasy hands before opening the kitchen door!”
He sheepishly replied, “I did.”
“Oh, yea? Nice one! Now how am I supposed to get the grease off the cat?”
“Gas.” He replied matter of factly.
“And how am I supposed to get the gas off the cat?”
He shrugged. “A match?”
This is not the most popular method to remove grease, but it is effective. Unfortunately, we were not able to apply this same technique to the vast array of cylinders, heads, carbs and body parts on Jack’s garage floor that were supposed to resemble a 1970 Kawasaki H1 Mach III. The pyrotechnic option briefly crossed our minds, but then so did the promise we made to the local fire department about a year ago when we had a nasty experience with nitrous oxide and a Norton.
We did the civil thing and sat down with a can of brake cleaner to start stripping the 25 years of oil and grease build-up. It’s always a good idea to wear gloves when working with any type of solvent (unless you enjoy waking up to the cracking noise that only elastic-free skin can resonate). Wiping down the frame by hand will also give you and excellent feel for any hairline cracks in the steering head, swingarm or engine mounts.
Should you discover a hairline crack, don’t fall prey to your natural instincts&emdash;throwing tools, doing a Sex Pistols pogo on your neighbor’s pansies or reciting your lifelong accumulation of profanity. After 20+ years of burn-outs, high sides and earth shattering float-that-valve vibration, hairline cracks may be inevitable. If I only had hairline fractures after years of hard riding, I would still be getting birthday cards from my insurance agent. Mark the cracks with white tape, so your powder coating agent will have no trouble locating them.
This brings us to another consideration: what to look for in a powder coating agent. First, check out the agent’s references. Do not take them for granted. The first person we contacted gave us two references. Upon investigation, we discovered that both references shared his family lineage and had never had their bikes apart much less powder coated. Second, a good powder coating agent will provide you with a quality welding service or have an established relationship with a welder who understands the pertinence of exact welds on a motorcycle.
While waiting for the frame, take advantage of the time. We went and had Jack’s car window repaired (pointer: secure the frame in the back seat with the seat belt), and started searching for someone to paint the gas tank and fenders.
When looking for a quality painter, do the obvious. Start by asking for a referral at your favorite motorcycle shop, and then interview the painter. Talking to the person behind the counter may score you free coffee and a donut, but little piece of mind. Find out who is going to be pulling the dents and spraying the enamel. If you walk into the work area and see some guy attempting to remove fumes from a gas tank with a Bic lighter, you may want to find another painter. I have actually witnessed the lighter and gas tank trick, and, yes, it is a crowd pleaser. But the dent that the tank acquires when it propels into the wall is not.
The same goes for the practice of plugging the openings on the gas tank and pumping air into it until the dent pops out like a Ballpark Frank. The seams on a twenty-year-old steel tank have a tendency to come apart long before enough pressure builds to pop out the dent.
Satisfied that the frame and trim were in good hands, we began removing the oil, grease, tar, insects, gum, fudge and pits from the engine and chrome accessories. After spraying the cases down with a good solvent such as carb or brake cleaner, we discovered deep gashes in the primary chain cover and excessive pitting all over the engine cases. We addressed with hand sanding. We began with a medium coarse 100 grit sandpaper then worked our way down to 220 grit. We used a 3M Scotchpad as our final buffing agent before hand polishing with our preferred metal polish, Quator (pronounced “water”&emdash;how 90210).
In order to guarantee the highly coveted Fourth of July “Ooooohhhhhhh”s and “Aaaaahhhhhh”s from all the passersby, we allocated 35 to 40 hours for the final polishing phase. Applying this same process to the mating surfaces of the cases and carbs prevented the unsightly mess of surplus gasket sealer, oil droppings and troublesome vacuum leaks.
The mirror finish on the cases inspired us to continue our fall cleaning spree right into the carbs. After dousing the bowl and all the jets with carb solvent to remove any microscopic particles, we hand polished the barrels until they exuded a chrome-like exterior. This rates very high on the “Oohh” and “Aahh” list. While we were in there, we examined the float needle jet for the slightest amount of wear and tested the floats for buoyancy. 25 years is a long time to sit in gas and not become water-logged. Just imagine the number of time that float needle has pushed the float up and down. There is bound to be some loss of accuracy on a machined piece, and there will be even more if the piece is plastic. Performing a maintenance item like this reduced the risk of having to disassemble the carbs and polish the mating surfaces later.
We stood in awe of the pristine engine glistening in the garage. It’s amazing how a clean and polished engine assembles so much easier and quicker than one covered in filth. If you clean the parts and polish the pieces as you assemble them, you will run a minimal risk of being skewered by a wild screwdriver, slipping on grease or dropping that ever-so-hard-to-find control panel, because mutant oil residue has slackened your grip.
Of course, there are a few things to take into consideration when degreasing. We were having such a great time with the brake and carb cleaners that Jack decided to use it on the electrical system. When it came time to fire up that beast, we were in possession of the fastest flaming shish kebob I have ever seen. Flames were belching every time a charge went through the coil. Lucky for us, the local fire department still had a sense of humor.