MC Dispatch
Reader-submitted rides, reviews and stories

The Sea Beast Saga, Part 2: I Need Help

Shane Powers and his Honda CB350
The CB350 at Barber, being pushed out of the swap meet, aka back when I still had the arrogance of the uninitiated. All photos courtesy Shane Powers.

In the first installment of the tale of Sea Beast, a name that actually refers to three motorcycles melding into one, I listed my assets. Among those assets were “intermediate mechanical aptitude” and “the arrogance of the uninitiated,” both of which have come into play in the time elapsed since that post was written. My intermediate mechanical aptitude enabled me to install the new steering bearings that were but a tiny part of a very large box I received from Dime City Cycles. My intermediate mechanical aptitude enabled me to lube and install the newly painted rear swingarm, after inspecting the bushings, of course. My intermediate mechanical aptitude proved itself to be a true asset.

The value of the arrogance of the uninitiated has recently been called into question. This arrogance was originally listed as an asset because I think a certain degree of hubris is required to tackle a project as ambitious as reviving a pile of rusty bits and bolts into a race-worthy machine in under six months. It didn’t take long, however, for that arrogance to land me in my first truly sticky situation of the build.

Honda CB350 swingarm
Actual progress: The swingarm installed, with freshly lubed bushings.

YouTube is an incredible resource to an uninitiated race mechanic of intermediate aptitude. Especially for a bike as common as the CB350, there is a wealth of instruction for performing mechanical tasks from simple routine maintenance procedures all the way down to crankcase reassembly. There are even a few videos about wheel building. These got me into trouble.

The process of tearing down the wheels was relatively straightforward; remove the tire, rim strip, and spoke nipples, then slide all the spokes out of their homes in the hub. After a trip across the wire wheel, the spokes and nipples were ready to be laced back into the freshly polished hub and hoop. Lacing a wheel is a task very akin to a puzzle, and as far as I’m aware, there’s only one “right” way to do it. I won’t claim to have laced the first wheel properly on my first attempt, but with thought, patience and attention, I eventually found myself standing over a pair of rims that looked suspiciously like a fancier version of the rims I had deconstructed.

Honda CB350 steering stem
Steering stem reinstalled, complete with new bearings from Dime City Cycles.

The final step in building a wheel is truing. A well-trued wheel is within a couple hundredths of an inch (.02 inch) of being perfectly round, with the same amount of side-to-side variance. The hub will be perfectly centered and the spokes will be properly tensioned. The wheel builders on YouTube assured me that by applying the same patience that yielded me a laced rim, I could achieve this perfect balance as well. I visited my local Harbor Freight, where I purchased a wheel balancing stand. I borrowed a set of spoke wrenches, one of which was expressly designed to torque the spokes to the recommended 4 foot-pounds. After roughly 10 hours of tightening spokes, loosening spokes and spinning the wheel on the stand while staring at a tiny gap between wheel and stand pointer which I hoped would even out and disappear … I found myself frustrated and ultimately not much closer to having a true wheel than I was when I began.

I needed help. I needed a professional wheel builder. I needed Buchanan’s. I phoned the famed wheel experts and explained what I had gotten myself into. “YouTube told me if I was patient that I could pull it off!” This elicited a little chuckle from Robert Buchanan, who has most likely built more wheels than I’ve lived days. “Not your first one!” he told me, “You’ve got to do 30 or 40 before it clicks. I remember the first time I got it …” Maybe Robert was just trying to make me feel better about having to swallow my pride and ask for help, but it worked. I boxed up my bungled wheels and shipped them to Azusa, California, where they could be attended to by someone with stronger credentials than “I watched a couple YouTube videos.” Once the team at Buchanan’s has set my wheels straight, so to speak, they will ship them on to Race Tech for brake arcing. After that, they will return home to be outfitted with a pair of Shinko 712 Series tires and installed onto the motorcycle.

Honda CB350 wheel
Though it looks like a finished wheel, that would be untrue.

While I was boxing parts, swallowing pride and enlisting professional help, I went ahead and packaged the four carburetors I had harvested from the three bikes (one bike came sans carbs) and shipped them to Matt at Moto Services, asking him to please do what he could with them to yield me a pair of functional carbs. Finally, I boxed my forks and shipped them out to Race Tech in Corona, California, where they will be outfitted with new springs and seals.

As parts continue to trickle in, and as June draws nearer every day, I’m feeling confident, though slightly more initiated and slightly less arrogant, that when race day arrives the machine will be ready to do what race bikes do. Keep an eye on this project, and don’t forget to mark your calendar to join us June 28-30, at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas, for some great AHRMA vintage racing!

"Sea Beast" Parts Suppliers

Buchanan's Spoke & Rim Charlie's Place Dime City Cycles
EPM Performance Imports Moto Services Race Tech
R/D Valve Springs Rick's Motorsport Electrics Shinko Motorcycle Tires
Spectro Performance Oils Vanson Leathers Z1 Enterprises


I Am a Racer, This is My Machine

Shane Powers and the Sea Beast
Shane and the Sea Beast, Barber 2016. Photos by Shane Powers.

Two years ago, I did something objectively ignorant. At the 2016 Barber Vintage Festival, I purchased a 1970 CB350 for $93. The wretched condition of this bike cannot be overstated; every single piece was rusted, the engine seized. It was truly pitiful. I pushed it through the swap meet to unshrouded laughter and cries of “There’s one born every minute!” A kind swap meet vendor apparently took pity on me and flagged me over to his booth where he injected fresh air into the flat, dry-rotted tires. To the amazement of both him and myself, the tires held air. Things were looking up. I schlepped the bike about a quarter of a mile under the scorching Alabama sun back to the Motorcycle Classics booth where I endured two more days of ridicule from my colleagues. I took the bike, now affectionately dubbed both “Sea Beast” and “The Six Million Dollar Motorcycle,” to its new home in Kansas.

Four months later, I made yet another objectively ignorant decision, bringing home two more early-Seventies CB350s. While I was showing off my $93 Honda at Barber, Brady Ingelse of Retrospeed said, “Oh, cool bike. I’ve got a couple of those in a trailer behind the shop. Next time you’re in Wisconsin, I’ll give you one.” Lo and behold, February of 2017 found me visiting Milwaukee for work, so I drove the Motorcycle Classics Dodge turbo diesel with the intention of dragging home another bike. At Retrospeed, Brady said all things CB350 had been loaded into a van in the parking lot and he would send one of his guys out to help me transfer them into my truck. Wait, them? “Yeah,” Brady said, “there are two of them out there and you have to take both of them or you can’t have any of it.”

Two bikes it is. Despite one of the bikes having actually been registered in the State of Wisconsin in the last three years, neither was in much better condition than the first. Both engines were seized, and the front end of one had been robbed of its forks, wheel and handlebars to further someone else’s project. With both “bikes” loaded into the truck, I made the roughly 650-mile journey back to Kansas. Over the course of the next 24 months, I worked at a hobbyist's pace, deconstructing all the bikes and taking stock of useable parts with the loose objective of combining them into a running motorcycle.

Last month, I made yet another objectively ignorant decision. On Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, AHRMA announced the 2019 race schedule. A road race at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka — no more than 5 miles from our office — was added to the year’s events. Despite having no race bike, no race experience, intermediate mechanical aptitude and irrefutably questionable judgement, I proclaimed, “I’m gonna race!” And with that proclamation, the challenge was born.

With just under six months until race day, I began taking stock; I have a frame, painted, and an engine, 90 percent rebuilt. I have two roadworthy rims, deconstructed. I have the arrogance of the uninitiated, and I have the will to see this pile of rusty parts become a race bike, if for no other reason than to stick it to that guy in the swap meet who shouted “There’s one born every minute!”

The Honda CB350 frame
The newly painted frame. The color is called Milk Tea Pearl. More on that in a future blog.

I started my parts list, then started making a mental inventory of which Motorcycle Classics advertisers could fulfill that list. To avoid the dreaded valve float, a set of beehive springs from R/D Valve Springs will be installed. A Charlie’s Place electronic ignition and the recommended Dynatek ignition coils will replace the stock points and coils. Rick’s Motorsport Electrics will be rewinding the 40-year-old stator, as well as supplying a Hot Shot rotor and regulator/rectifier to make sure the charging system is up to the task at hand. Since kickstart levers are banned by AHRMA rules, the machine will also be outfitted with a Rick’s Motorsport Electrics Hot Shot Starter Motor. The crusty old carburetors will be rejuvenated and jetted for racing by Moto Services. The forks will be rebuilt by vintage racing experts at Race Tech, and I will also take advantage of their newly offered brake arcing services. The oil experts at Spectro will ensure proper lubrication with motor oil, fork oil and an as yet unspecified quantity of their 101 Multi-Purpose Lubricant and Rust Penetrant (I’m expecting it to be a lot). Last, but not least, Z1 Enterprises and Dime City Cycles will be supplying the myriad cables, bushings, bearings and bolts, as well as some key components like rearset controls, clubman bars and an exhaust system. In addition to all the bike bits that must be gathered and installed, a first-time racer has an elevated need for safety; Vanson Leathers has ensured me that I will look best and stay safest in a set of their race leathers so I’m going to entrust my skin to them.

Wheels for the Honda CB350
Wheels, now deconstructed.

Of course, never having raced I’ll have to get my race license. Fortunately, vintage race organizer AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) will hold a Fast & Safe Roadracing School on Friday prior to the Saturday and Sunday race days, so I’ll be signing up for the school and crossing my fingers that A) the Honda will be done and B) I’ll pass the class. Work is underway, so keep an eye out for future installments, and if you want to see the final product in action, we will be at Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas, on June 28-30, 2019. See you there!

The Aermacchi Project, Part 4: Cleaning Up ā€” and/or Shopping

Manual and notes
The factory manual exposes the inner workings of the Aermacchi’s 30mm VHB Dell’Orto carburetor.

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. You can read the Part 1 here.

It is a not-often-discussed fact that motorcycle restoration involves a lot of cleaning of parts. Unfortunately, the elves and pixies who turn up at 2 a.m. and move tools around in my garage so I can't find them the next day don't seem to want to clean parts. A while back, someone wrote The I Hate to Housekeep Book. It was a best-seller. I once asked Dave Kafton, my volunteer mentor, why he didn't have an apprentice or two. He said that most of his apprentices quit after several days of parts cleaning.

I am sitting here with a carburetor, which I have finally put back together. I am so glad that the Sprint has only ONE carburetor. Carburetors seemingly have several hundred tiny parts, all of which need to be squeaky clean, and many of which are easily damaged by too aggressive scrubbing. If you restore a Honda Four or a GS Suzuki, you have FOUR carburetors, and at some point may be tempted to run screaming into the night. There are tiny holes in various parts of the Sprint's carb, which have a tendency to gum up, and which have to be reamed out with tiny bits of soft wire. Too stiff wire will damage the holes. Argh.

Carburetor before cleaning
The Sprint’s Dell’Orto before cleaning.

The Sprint, being Italian, has a 30mm Dell'Orto, similar to the carburetors that were used on Ducati singles. A friend who used to collect Ducati singles came over and spent a couple of hours helping out. It became obvious that doing the job right was going to take at least a week. However, most of the work could be done sitting down, and when I got tired or pissed off I could stop.

I could also do what any other red-blooded American girl would do when presented with a tedious task: take a break and GO SHOPPING. Unfortunately, parts for old motorcycles are not for sale at the mall. My choices are: 1) Go to a swap meet and paw through boxes; 2) Call or email a store that specializes in parts for Sprints and see if they have my part; 3) If it's something generic — oil, tires, drive chains, chain lube — take a trip to my friendly local motorcycle dealer. (It's always a good idea to make friends with a local dealer. You never know when you will need their services.); 4) Check eBay or Craigslist; 5) Make friends with fellow enthusiasts. There are listservs, Yahoo Groups, Facebook groups and bulletin boards run by some of the larger vintage bike interest groups.

Surprisingly, there are enough Aermacchi enthusiasts around the country to support several parts specialists. There is also a very active Yahoo group. I know I need a new exhaust system, stock mufflers and the left side reflector on the headlight. I start posting my needs and calling around. The parts do exist and can be purchased without cleaning out my bank account. Feeling more positive, I return to scrubbing parts.

Carburetor after cleaning
The Sprint’s Dell’Orto after cleaning, ready for another round of service.

Finally, finally, I have a collection of clean carb parts. I also have a carburetor rebuild kit and a new needle, courtesy of Leslie from Moto Italia. Call him at (707) 763-1982. The next task was to carefully reassemble the Dell'Orto, replacing gaskets and other expendables with the items in the kit. Success! Now I get to — clean parts on the rest of the bike. I WILL get through this!

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn …

The Aermacchi Project, Part 3: Moving a Head and Making Tools 101

Bench grinder and wrenches
Wrenches modified on the bench grinder to aid in removing the Aermacchi’s cylinder head nuts. Photos by Margie Siegal.

This is the third installment of an ongoing series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. You can read the Part 1 here.

I looked at the nuts holding the Aermacchi head down. They looked back at me. The two on the right side were recessed into little caves in the fins. There was no way a normal wrench was going to fit here, let alone a socket wrench.

I re-read the service manual. It said to take the four nuts off, and then the head was supposed to slide right off the head bolts, unimpeded by a head gasket. It also said that you needed a “thin bladed wrench” to get the right side nuts off. Off to find the right wrench. It doesn’t exist. Next step: MAKE the right wrench by grinding down an existing wrench to fit. This will be A Learning Experience. I do have a grinder, but have never used it.

A visit to a swap meet resulted in three open-end wrenches that had originally been part of a Honda tool kit, for the sum of $5. A visit to O’Reilly’s garnered a nice long wrench with both open and closed ends for $10. My volunteer mentor, Dave Kafton, suggested that the closed-end wrench might be the best solution. He also said that if I was going to grind the wrenches down to fit, I needed to have a pot of water near the grinder so I could dunk the wrench I was working on every so often. “That way, you maintain the temper.”

I found a nice, heavy-duty shop apron and a pair of work gloves. Home Depot has face shields that will guard against flying metal and not fog up. I turned on the shop fan, put on my safety gear and went to it. The old grinder went through my cheap wrenches quickly. I tried to round off rough edges as I went, dousing the wrench in water every five minutes. When a reasonable amount of metal had been taken off, I started checking the wrench against the bolt caves.

Rust on cylinder head studs
Rust on one of the four cylinder head studs made removing the head a bit harder than it should have been.

It took less than a half-hour per wrench for this newbie to modify two 17mm wrenches Ā— one open end, one closed — to fit into the space with the nut. Interestingly, I didn’t have to take off any metal from the perimeter of the closed end wrench — just the top and bottom. I squirted the nuts with WD-40, tapped them and started in.

One nut off. Two nuts loose. More WD-40. Some Liquid Wrench. Tap tap with a copper hammer. Try a different angle. Third nut loose. Fourth nut loose. Success! Nuts and special thick washers off and stored in labeled baggie. Now to get the head off ...

It won’t budge. Damn. Tap tap. Drown the thing in Liquid Wrench. Tap tap. Nothing. Swearing doesn’t help. It’s time for me to stop for the day before I break off a fin. I complain to friends. One suggests I try squirting WD-40 down the spark plug hole and pushing on the kickstarter, so a few days later I try it. A crack opens! Squirt Liquid Wrench down the crack. Tap tap. It’s moving! I am moving a head!

Once I get the head off, I see the problem: one of the bolts had a rust spot and welded itself to the bolt channel. Next step is to see how deep the rust goes while the Norman Racing machine shop is doing the valve job. Stay tuned for the next episode of “as the wrenches turn ...”

The Aermacchi Project, Part 2: The Tank Follies and How to Apply Red-Kote

Inside of the gas tank

It’s a bit hard to see, but a close look inside the Aermacchi's gas tank shows the red-colored Red-Kote tank sealer. Photo by Margie Siegal.

This is the second installment of an ongoing series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. You can read the Part 1 here.

“I've got bad news for you,” said Dave Kafton. Dave is a longtime engine builder, with a specialty in prepping Harley engines for Cannonball contestants. He had volunteered to mentor me through my Harley-Davidson Sprint project. The first item for his ment-ee (me, that is) was to get the tank and side covers off and bring them to him so he could get these items, all needing some touchup painting, to the painter, Steve Turnbeaugh. Dave sends all his sheet metal to Steve, as do a lot of other people in the Antique Motorcycle Club.

The bad news was a rusty seam in the bottom of the tank. Ouch. A major reason I had bought the bike was the really nice robin’s egg-blue custom paint job, complete with silver pinstriping. The work had been done in the 1970s by a Rhode Island pinstriper. Was this lovely paint now history? Much angst.

Lengthy discussions with Aermacchi specialists Dave and Ross Puleo, owners of Sonny's Motorcycle Repair, resulted in a possible fix: a careful interior coating with Red-Kote tank sealer. All agreed it was worth a try, especially me — I wanted to save that paint job!

Red-Kote is the tank sealer most often recommended by motorcycle restorers. It is available from a variety of sources, including Dime City Cycles. A 1-quart can is enough for one large or two small tanks. I bought a can and brought it over to Dave’s, along with duct tape and a lot of clear plastic. The first step was to carefully cover the tank with a double layer of plastic: Red-Kote is very hard on paint. I carefully scraped off the paint on the gas spout so that the tape would stick. Dave inspected. “It needs to be down to bare metal, like this, see?” More scraping, then two layers of plastic. The fuel valve was packed with rolled duct tape and secured with more duct tape.

Once the tank was mummified, the next step was to carefully clean out the tank. Kreem tank cleaner chemically bonds to rust and keeps it from chipping out. We poured some in the tank and carefully tipped the tank to cover all the rust spots. You watch and the red rust turns gray before your eyes. After using paper towels on a stick to clean out all the extra cleaner, we were ready to rock and roll with the Red-Kote — literally. We poured in about a pint. Dave had an oldies tape on, and I rolled the tank around to the music. The point was to coat all surfaces, with a thicker coat on the bottom. After a half-hour, the Red-Kote was thickening and the tank was coated to Dave's satisfaction. We poured out the extra and I went home. Dave called me the next day. “The Red-Kote looks like it worked.” Big sigh of relief.

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn …

The Aermacchi Project, Part 1: Lift On!

Margie Siegal's Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint
Margie Siegal’s new-to-her 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. Made by Aermacchi in Italy, the single-cylinder Sprints are simple, reliable machines.

This is the first installment of an ongoing series detailing Margie Siegal's restoration of a 1973 Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint. You can read the Part 2 here.

As some of you might have noticed, I write about bikes for this magazine. Talking to people about their restoration projects got me inspired to get a restoration project of my own. I wanted to find a simple, relatively light machine that was a nice balance between being a little unusual and having good parts availability. I also wanted a bike that would be fun to ride once I got it sorted out.

Russ Puleo of Sonny's Motorcycle Repair in Massachusetts sent me photos of a 1973 Harley-Davidson Sprint. Sprints are peppy machines that are fun to ride, they have only one cylinder, a reasonably low seat height (important for the inseam challenged), and the nice lines of almost all Italian bikes. Parts are reasonably available, and the 1973-1974 Sprints have an electric start. This Sprint had a period custom baby blue paint job in restorable condition with silver pinstriping. The paint job sold me. I bought it and had it shipped to my garage.

The next step was to ask questions and locate suppliers. Women like to ask directions before we get lost. Leslie from Moto Italia (call him at 707-763-1982) sent me a repro Harley-Davidson Sprint repair manual. “It's really detailed and clearly written. Harley had GREAT repair manuals at the time!”

“Don't look for a used lift,” said several people from the Classic Japanese Motorcycle Club. “What you need is this lift from Harbor Freight. It works really well and it is the same cost as a used lift.” I ordered the lift and laid in a supply of WD-40. I figured I would need it.

Margie Siegal's Harley-Davidson 350 Sprint odometer
The odometer shows a low 10,742 miles.

A FedEx truck pulled up outside my house and the driver trundled out this odd-shaped object wrapped in cardboard and clear tape. In fact, it was mummified in clear tape. Whoever packaged my lift was way too heavily enamored of his tape dispenser. Getting the tape off took almost as much time as assembling the thing. I finally gave up on getting the last pieces of tape off and started in on the assembly instructions, which were actually written in clear English, but didn't explain how to install the wheels. I figured it out anyway.

Friend Mike came over to help move bikes around to make room to get the Sprint on the lift. Mike has worked at different dealerships and repair facilities all his life and can move bikes in his sleep. He was a little skeptical of the Harbor Freight lift at first, but decided it would do the job. We looked at the bike. We looked at the lift. We realized that the exhaust system would have to go before we could get the bike on the lift. I started looking for the metric wrenches and WD-40. I took a peek at the manual. Despite having 10 pages on fork removal, adjustment and repair, it didn't have word one about the exhaust system. Mike and I figured it would be pretty straightforward — if we could get the bolts off.

Surprise! None of the exhaust system bolts were frozen! However, one bracket cracked. “It's an easy weld job,” Mike said. Easy for Mike to say — I have no welding experience whatsoever. Mike and I maneuvered the Sprint onto the lift and strapped it down. I now have lift on!

Stay tuned for the next episode of as the wrenches turn ...

Riding an MZ Across the US: Foreword

1970 MZ and PAV trailer

The teardrop-shaped PAV trailer was designed to match 1960s Jawa motorcycles, but still works visually OK with the more angular MZ.

Early retirement has a number of advantages, one of which being extra time to go traveling. Which is what I'll do the early summer of 2018, across the USA, on my 1970 MZ ES250/2. For the uninitiated, this is a 250cc single cylinder, two stroke motorcycle, built in the former East Germany. More about that bike later.

In 1982 I went coast-to-coast on a 1950s Nimbus, a Danish, hardtail 750cc inline four. Started out in New York City, and when three months later I reached Portland, Oregon, I was filled up with impressions and pretty much broke. So after a quick ride down Highway 1 to Los Angeles, the Nimbus was put in consignment there, and I flew back home. Didn't get to see Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon.

This time I'll start in L.A., see the above sights — to mention but those few — and travel in better comfort and slightly faster than first time around. Not necessarily in better style, though, as far as the motorcycle is concerned: The Nimbus is originally a 1934 design; it looks good, has eight exposed rocker arms sure to thrill audiences, and is clearly an old bike — charming, yet a bit slow and not all that comfortable.

The MZ, on the other hand, will win no beauty contests. But being decades younger, it has soft suspension at both ends, handles well and keeps up with traffic better (see In addition, this particular example has been modified with a later 5-speed gearbox, a Mikuni carb, modern electrics and some chassis improvements.

Being a GoldWing rider trapped in Nimbus rider's body, I like to carry a lot of stuff when on the road, so supplementing the topbox and sidebags, the MZ has a Czechoslovakian PAV 41 trailer in tow.

The MZ has been shipped to Los Angeles, where Kaj Pedersen of the Nimbus Club of America keeps it until I show up in mid-April. And a back-up Nimbus has been sent to Travis Scott, up near Pike's Peak in The Rockies in Colorado. This is in case the MZ croaks somewhere along the way, so I can continue traveling on a bike I know well, without the bother of having to find another oldish bike locally. The plan is to sell both bikes when the trip ends in late June.

Originally posted on Kim Scholer's blog.

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