As I write, Fast & Safe Roadracing School is 16 days away and approaching like a rock flung towards my face shield from the wheels of an 18-wheeler on I-70. There’s no way I’ll dodge it, so I’m glad I’ve prepared. While it hasn’t always gone smoothly, things have progressed to a point where I have a bike I’ve actually ridden, and I have at least a modicum of confidence that it will carry me around the track a couple times.
Last Sunday I thought I was a goner. After about 10 hours in the garage on Saturday, I believed I had a rideable motorcycle. I had started the engine a month or so prior, so I knew it ran. It had brakes. Fuel delivery was in place. I cleared a path from the back of my garage to the front, and I pushed the bike out into the parking lot. I ran down the checklist: fuel, ignition, neutral, engine, choke, clutch. I pushed the starter button and the Sea Beast roared to life beneath me. I clicked it into first gear, eased out the clutch, and took off! Fifty feet later, it died. Not a fantastic maiden voyage. I pushed the bike back to the garage, checked the petcock, plug wires, switches, etc., and found nothing amiss. I pushed the starter button again and BANG! It backfired louder than I’ve ever heard a machine backfire. Certain that the police were en route in response to a gunfire call, I closed the garage door and went to bed.
First thing Sunday morning I got back to work. I texted Motorcycle Classics Tech Editor Keith Fellenstein and described the situation. He patiently ran down a list of possibilities, which one by one I eliminated. When Keith showed up to offer in-person assistance, he found a very dejected Shane Powers cleaning the garage and organizing tools. “If you ever come in here and it’s really clean,” I told him, “things aren’t going very well mechanically.” As Keith worked through things, I faced the currently very real prospect that I would have to publish a blog for everyone I know, and thousands of people I don’t know, to read. The contents of that blog would boil down to two words: “I failed.” The issue was discovered in the spark advance mechanism. I had failed to properly tighten the bolt, which allowed the pin that keys the cam to the spark advance plate to fall into the plate. After that was righted, the bike ran well once again, and I was yanked from the depths of despair.
This entire project has been a learning experience for me, and the past month was no different. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll recall that in the second installment, The Sea Beast Saga, Part 2: I Need Help, I learned that wheel building is a difficult task for a first-timer. This month’s “that could have come out better” moments were experienced while I tried my hand at body work. Put on your chemical and dust particle respirator and I’ll show you what I’ve done.
First up, and prettiest, is the fuel tank. My tank came from the K3 model that I picked up in Wisconsin. It was ugly; sun washed and dented. I started by removing all the old paint with a can of Aircraft Remover and wood shim as a scraper. Once I had a clean metal surface, I bought a can of body filler. I filled the dents and I filled the holes where the badges had been affixed. I did my best to smooth the filler and match the contours of the tank, then I sanded. And sanded. Then I sanded some more. After a couple rounds of filling, smoothing and sanding, I was satisfied. I won’t be winning any concours awards, but from 10 feet or at 80 miles per hour, the tank looks good. I sprayed some primer, then a few coats of white paint. Growing older and wiser, I opted for a cheap can of paint and spent my money on a 2-stage aerosol clear coat. So far that seems to have been the right choice, the end result looks decent and didn’t strip immediately off when I spilled gas all over it.
The tank, in progress.
Riding high on the “success” of having a passable fuel tank, I started work on my belly pan. Like body filler, fiberglass is a product I’ve never worked with before. I can see myself fabricating other things from fiberglass in the future, but I’m a far cry from “a natural,” and beginner’s luck was nowhere to be seen. You’ll notice in the photos of the “finished” bike that it isn’t wearing its belly pan. There’s a reason for that. That reason is that while the belly pan I built does hold water, and therefore will serve its intended function, it looks like my son made it in the paper mache unit of his third grade art class. Blindfolded. I’m going to need to do a little more work on it before I can attach my name to it and allow anyone else to see it. Even then, I hope my sponsors sent big enough stickers to completely cover it.
This isn’t going to end well.
After the gas tank and belly pan, the only body left to worry about is my own! I guess a true DIY-or-die racer would get out his sewing machine and get to work. However, like wheel building, I thought race leathers would be best done by an expert. Who more expert than Vanson Leathers to fill my racing needs? Not unlike my wheel building experience, these experts delivered, literally! I recently received a box containing 11 pounds of American-made leather race suit that is so perfectly stitched and so well fitted that my coworkers might need to get used to seeing me wearing it at the coffee pot!
My amazing new leathers.
A month of learning, a month of soaring highs and crushing lows, a month of new things and problem solving. While sometimes stressful, this bike building thing is definitely something I can get behind. The writing has been fun too. Unfortunately, this is blog number five in a six-part series. I have some loose ends to tie up before tech inspection, but I leave you with this photo of a “finished” bike. I hope you’ll come join us for a weekend of great AHRMA racing, June 29-30, but if you can’t make it, check back next month for the full race report!
The finished Sea Beast.