Learning Curves

Reader Contribution by Richard Backus

There was a time when I thought I was getting pretty good at wrenching. Pull apart a Norton? No problem. After you get a couple under your belt, they’re pretty easy to work on. Ditto old BMW airheads, which, while technically more complex than a Norton, are basically tractors on two wheels; understressed and overbuilt. But if the rehab on my 1983 Laverda RGS 1000 has taught me anything, it’s that I still have a long way to go to be any good at this mechanicing thing.

Two years ago, riding home from the 2016 Barber Vintage Festival, the RGS developed an oil leak, which, as these things go, turned into an engine-out, full top-end rebuild, with new pistons, rings, valves, valve springs, valve guides; the lot. With the engine out, I decided to strip the frame, welding in some strengthening gussets and the stop lug for the sidestand that broke off long before I owned it, followed by repainting it and attending to all the other stuff that follows a “simple” rebuild. As it went back together I replaced all the wheel bearings, steering head bearings and swingarm bearings. I also decided to tidy up the wiring harness, replacing some of the 35-year-old connectors that were threatening to separate from the wiring loom. That meant getting a crimping tool for uninsulated connectors, because there was no way I was going to use the plastic-covered, color-coded crimp connectors you buy at AutoZone. I mean, it’s a Laverda, right? It’d be like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

That meant sourcing a selection of needed connectors, but finding the right connectors turned out to be a challenge, because they weren’t even in the catalog at any of my local auto parts stores. Relieved to find them readily available on eBay and Amazon, I quickly discovered that the cheap connectors that proliferate in the online marketplace are cheap for a reason: Spade and bullet connectors that cost $2.50 a hundred pack work once, and only once. They’ll connect right up, but don’t ever pull them back apart, because they’ll never grip tight again. The good stuff’s out there, but you have to search for it, because it’s being sold by smaller operations that actually care about quality and thoughtfully source their products, not the mega marketers that are just trying to turn as much revenue as possible. Gee, there’s a surprise.

And of course I did a thorough rebuild on the trio of PHF32 Dell’Orto carburetors, which was another learning curve. I’ve rebuilt dozens of British Amal carbs, more than a few round-slide Mikunis and constant-vacuum Keihins, and a few Bings, but never a set of Dell’Ortos, and without the help of the folks on LaverdaForum the rebuild would have taken even longer. They’re actually quite straightforward once you get into them, but with no previous experience I took my time stripping them down, jotting down all the jet sizes and locations before cleaning the carb bodies and then giving them a dip in the ultrasonic bath before putting them back together.

And now the RGS is back on the road. It fired up pretty much on the button, and apart from figuring out some minor carburetor issues and having to reroute the rear wiring harness (because apparently I can’t decipher my own photographs), I can’t believe how nicely it runs. It’s lovely. And it’s about time.

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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