Project Café: 1973 Honda CB500, Part 4

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The hubs before polishing.
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The hubs after polishing, before being sent off to Buchanan Spoke & Rim, Inc.
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Replacing the stock ball bearings in the steering head with tapered roller bearings is, in our opinion, a must. They allow better adjustment, last longer and handle steering loads much better. sells excellent kits from All Balls, which include spacing washers. Follow the directions that come with the kit to determine which spacing washer to use on your bike. In our case, we had to use the thicker of two washers. Pack the bearings by putting a glob of grease in the palm of your hand. Drag each bearing down through the grease and toward your wrist, spinning the bearing and filling the crevices with grease until they look like the bearings shown here.
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Add the spacing washer, then the bottom seal (the larger of the two) from the bearing kit to the steering stem.
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Next, slide the lower bearing, which has a larger inside diameter than the upper, onto the stem.
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Place the lower bearing race in the head tube, tapered side out. We flipped the frame over for ease.
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Using a piece of pipe roughly the size of the inside race of the bearing, tap the bearing down onto the bottom of the stem until it seats fully against the seal and washer. Set the steering stem aside for a moment.
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The race seats about a half inch into the neck of the head tube, as seen here. If it doesn’t look like you’ve driven it in this far, keep going!
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Using a piece of 1.5-inch PVC pipe (in our case, the same piece we used in our fork rebuild to press in new fork seals), drive the bearing race into the bottom of the head tube.
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Once the lower race is in place, take the top bearing race and press it into the frame by hand. Again, tapered side out.
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Using a 19mm socket and a piece of wood to cushion the socket, drive the race into the head tube.
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The upper race does not have to be driven into the frame very far. When properly seated (as shown here), it still sits proud of the top edge of the frame.
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Next, take the steering stem with the bottom race already installed and push it up into the steering head.
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Take the upper bearing and slide it onto the top of the steering stem. Carefully tap the bearing in with a piece of PVC pipe if needed. Our All Balls kit came with an upper bearing seal, but you can’t use it on a CB500.
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Set the top collar on the steering stem. Screw it on by hand, then tighten it with a spanner wrench like those used on bicycle bottom brackets. To adjust the bearings properly, you want to tighten them to seat them, then loosen them a bit, then tighten them again.
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Set your top triple-tree over the steering stem and on top of the collar.
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Add the large steering stem nut to the top. We’re going to wait to install the forks until our bike is more complete, so we’ve just added the through-bolt and tightened the stem nut enough to hold it all together. If you were installing the forks at this point, you would slide both forks through the outer holes and add the pinch bolts to hold the forks in place. This aligns the top and bottom parts of the triple-tree. MC
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Set a piece of wood underneath the swingarm. Take another piece and place it on top of the bushing. Use a hammer to pound the bushing into the swingarm. Flip the swingarm over and repeat the process with the other bushing.
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While stock bushings are readily available from, we opted for these sweet aftermarket bushings from Charlie O’Hanlon at Charlie’s Place in San Francisco, Calif. Charlie had Kibblewhite Precision Machining Inc. make a batch of these a few years ago and still stocks them. Made of C630 nickel-aluminum bronze, they should be long wearing. And because they’re shouldered, they’re much easier to install than the stock bushings, which require careful installation. Cost is $50 a set, about the same as stock bushings.
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Take the bushing and press it into the swingarm recess by hand to get started. Unlike the stock bushings, you don’t have to worry about setting these to a specific depth: Just press them in until the shoulder meets the outer edge of the swingarm.
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Use a piece of emery cloth to clean the swingarm bolt and to make sure it is smooth and free of any burs
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Using a grease gun, fill the swingarm bolt with grease until it comes out the small hole shown here. Repeat this at the other end.
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Our swingarm shaft was tight in the bushings, so we used a small ¾-inch brake cylinder hone to open up the inside of the bushings just a bit. Work slowly and evenly, side to side.
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Using your finger, rub a good amount of grease around both ends of the shaft. Slide the shaft into the swingarm, through the bushings.
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Add the swingarm end-cap washers, and insert the swingarm into the frame, being careful to correctly line up the holes for the swingarm bolt. Once the swingarm is lined up correctly, slide the swingarm bolt through the swingarm.
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Add the nut to the other side of the bolt and tighten it to 25ft/lb, making sure the swingarm doesn’t bind. Pump grease into both sides of the shaft until you start to see grease coming out from under the edge of the swingarm cap washers. That’s it!

Our Project Café CB500 is finally coming together! We’ve been prepping the engine for new piston rings, and we plan to get the engine back together and into the frame in time for the next issue. Truth be told, we hoped to have that done in time for this issue, but we’ve been too busy putting together the magazine to find much time to put together the bike. Instead, we decided to pick a couple of simpler projects we could walk readers through. This month, we chose two “How-To” projects: upgrading to tapered steering head bearings and installing our fancy new rear swingarm bushings. You can follow both projects, step-by-step, in our image gallery.

We’re having our wheels rebuilt by Buchanan Spoke & Rim Inc. in Azusa, Calif. Our hubs left for California a few days ago, but a little polishing did such magic that we had to share our before and after pictures with you. The first photo shows the rear hub, front hub and the brake shoe lid (left to right) as they came off the bike. Many 1970s Hondas came with their polished parts covered in a layer of clear coat, but over time this clear turns yellow. We used carburetor cleaner and a variety of brass and stiff nylon brushes to get all the grime off each piece. More carb cleaner, more brushing and lots of elbow grease helped us pull the majority of the yellowed clear coat off, which we followed with a buffing wheel and some polishing compound. The brake shoe lid showed the best results, but we were quite surprised with how well the hubs turned out, too. Next issue we hope to share what they look like with new rims and spokes wrapped around them. Stay tuned!

Continue on to Part 5 of the Project Café: 1973 Honda CB500 rebuild.

Go back to read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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