I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone

article image
Photo by Motorcycle Classics
As he has for so many other bikes, Richard Backus will probably overhaul his Laverda RGS.

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, Ireasoned, 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, Ihad 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.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine
Motorcycle Classics Magazine Featuring the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!