I Can't Leave Well Enough Alone

Our editor-in-chief starts out intending to perform small repairs and ends up doing a full overhaul. He admits he can't leave well enough alone.

leave well enough alone - Ricahrd Backus on his Laverda

As he has for so many other bikes, Richard Backus will probably overhaul his Laverda RGS.

Photo by Motorcycle Classics

Content Tools

I’m about 15 minutes away from pulling the engine out of my 1983 Laverda RGS, and I'm scratching my head wondering how I got here. The truth is, I only need to pull the cylinder head to replace an exhaust valve, which I can do leaving the engine in place. And even though my experience with old bikes tells me I should know better, for some reason, I can't leave well enough alone. Maybe that's just part of life with classic motorcycles.

A few years back, my old Norton Commando was suffering from a leaky head gasket. It was running just fine, but the dribble of oil from one side soiling the otherwise clean engine was driving me crazy, so I decided to pull the head and replace the gasket. Simple enough, I reasoned, as I launched into my expected weekend project.

But stripping off parts to pull the head revealed how dirty the frame was, which led to pulling the engine to clean the frame. But pulling the engine on a Norton means pulling the primary cover, and once that's off, why not yank the tranny out for better access? And once that's out, why not check the swingarm bushings? And if  I'm going that far, why not check the fork bushings? By the end of the weekend, the Commando was stripped to the bare frame.

And then of course I had to put it back together, which presented the opportunity to further inspect and clean every part. By the time I was done, I had a freshly powder-coated frame, new piston rings, a rebuilt cylinder head, new swingarm bushings and seals, fresh fork bushings and seals, new steering head bearings, rebuilt brakes, rebuilt carbs and a resealed transmission. What started out as a straightforward, five-hour, $50 project ended up as a three-month, I-don't-wanna-know-how-much-I-spent rebuild. And all because of a leaking head gasket.

The problem is, this seems to be something of a habit. When I got my BMW R75/5, I wasn't planning on a restoration, just a sympathetic refurbishment. It didn't need much to get it back up and running, but it ended up getting a top-end overhaul, transmission reseal, fork reseal and some fresh paint before finally hitting the road.

Pondering these experiences, I have to consider how far I want to get into the Laverda. I know I'll be glad I pulled the engine (even if previous owner and pal Perry thinks I'm a loon), because it'll be great getting every inch of it clean. And I know I’ll be glad for the chance to clean the frame once the engine's out because the bike's in great cosmetic condition otherwise, belying the 56,000 miles it's racked up. And the wiring's a little scruffy, so I'm looking forward to getting some of that cleaned up, and….

I suppose a reasonable person would simply fix what's broken and leave it at that. But owning and riding classic bikes isn't necessarily a reasonable proposition. It's more of an emotional response triggered by a complicated mix of desires. And at the end of the day, I guess I just want the Laverda to be the solid, sorted machine I know it should be.

And learning from experience, I guess I know what direction this is heading. Wish me luck.