$24 Motorcycle Update #5: I Didnt Break it, it Was the Wrench

Ok I know for a fact I’m not the only one who’s gone hulk on a stubborn bolt only to make the situation way worse. Well this is the worst case of hulk mode yet. Let me tell you how I got into this situation in the first place.

Vanguard (named after the first NASA mission) had been sitting outside for several years before I bought it and had developed a bad case of dry rot on both tires. I’m not very familiar with tire dry rot but everyone I talked to explained how at any moment the tire would explode hurdling shrapnel towards innocent bystanders and send me over some guardrail and into shark infested waters below. Long story short, people are dramatic and dry rot is dangerous. So I ordered some Dunlop D404s a couple weeks after I got her up and running and planned to swap out the old stuff as soon as the shipment came in. I ordered the rubber from one of my favorite motorcycle parts companies 4int1.

When the new set of tires came in I rode the bike over to the FIZ so I could remove the wheels. Here’s where it gets interesting… To remove the front wheel you need to follow these instructions.

So I followed the instructions. Pulled off the retaining nut, loosened the retaining bolt, and tried to twist out the axle, not luck. Hmmm old bike must just be stuck. Sprayed some liquid wrench on the axle threads, let it sit for a bit, then came back with a bigger ratchet. Push Push Push and snap!

Turns out that the retaining bolt does more than just tightening the fork down onto the axle to make it harder to twist like I thought it did. The retaining bolt actually sets into a void in the axle so that the axle can’t be backed out. Something mentioned nowhere in the manual and something I didn’t find out until I had already cracked the forks… great.

I ended up ordering some VT500 forks because they should be a straight drop in. At the time not a lot was available so I panicked and dropped a heart-stopping $250 on a set I could trust (still hurting from this one). Sadly they weren’t a straight drop-in and all mounting points ended up being in different places. The brakes needed to be spaced off, the center brace needed to be replaced, and the speed sensor made the wheel space between the forks too big so I had to remove that and replace it with a shorter spacer. With a little help from the FIZ waterjet, the scrap bin, sandpaper, and some good ol‘ elbow grease I got everything put back together and rideable. Wahooo the bikes back!

$24 Motorcycle Update #4: How I Really Wrecked The Bike

So I wrecked the bike a few weeks after I got it running, If you know me personally you’ll know this. But what you probably don’t know is that it was entirely my fault. This was the day I realized I could do wheelies on the bike by gunning it in first gear, and yes that’s what caused the crash. I was practicing my newfound ability in the parking lot outside of my apartment. I’d pop a wheelie, ride a and repeat. When I got near the end of the lot I popped a wheelie, looked up and realized I was going to hit a fence cable fence like you see at parks, let go of the throttle, and slammed on the front brake. lucky for me I missed the fence but I did find the little gravel patch right before it with my front wheel. Quicker than I could realize what was happening the front wheel locked up and slid to my right tossing the bike to my left with my dumbass still straddling it. I wasn’t going all that fast so the damage wasn’t too bad, A few scrapes here and there, a new designer hole in my jeans, an ankle that will feel funny for a few weeks, some gravely palms (this was the one day I didn’t wear gloves), and a bent handlebar. Nothing too bad just a pat on the back from the universe saying “Hey don’t be an idiot”.

Once the shock wore off I dragged myself out from under the bike and got to getting it back on it’s wheels. A little grunting and groaning latter it was up and… not rolling. Something was jammed and the rear wheel wouldn’t rotate anymore. Well at least this happened close to home so I went and got my toolkit from the apartment. I bleed the brakes, no luck, wasn’t the rear brake then. Then I noticed the chain was really tight. Alright, so I loosened up the wheel and slid it forward. Chain’s loose now but it won’t budge. Shit, it must be something with the engine then. My mind was reeling, what could have broken to cause this? Maybe I hit the shifter and that jammed in and broke something? Keep in mind this entire time the bike is sitting mostly blocking one of the entrances to the parking lot. So it was time to get get some help. I asked my friend Mae (a wizard when it comes to engines or anything mechanical) to come help me fix it or if all else fails, move it out of the way. After having him poke around for a bit we found nothing and decided to try and move the bike to a better place to do some teardown.

Soooooo how to move a 350 lb bike with a rear wheel that won’t spin? If you like being creative stop reading now and make a small list of how you would do it. Ready to see how we did it? Well, I guarantee all your ideas are better because we strapped the front fork to Mae’s truck, put some cardboard under the rear wheel, and I hopped on to steer. This worked great! For the first foot. Then the cardboard rolled out and we were back to rubber on the pavement. We repeated the same process a few times until we gave up and looked for a better solution. After looking around for a bit we found a piece of aluminum in Mae’s truck and used that to replace the cardboard. Worked like a charm and we soon ground and scraped our way behind the closest dumpster. Time to figure out what broke. We popped the sprocket cover/protector and found this:

Well I found that battery bolt I lost a few weeks ago, I wondered where that went… I spent what felt like forever trying to free sprocket when we’d drug the bike it had really wedged the bolt into place. Eventually, I gave up on prying it out and decided to get some sleep. As I I was getting ready for bed a light bulb went off and ran outside in my pajamas. I hopped on the bike and gave it a big shove backwards and just like that the bolt popped out and the wheel was free! Hoot Hoot

$24 Motorcycle Update #3: What’s in Your Bucket?

I picked up an Exo 710 helmet as my bucket. I made sure to get it in white for visibility because what’s the point of safety equipment if it hides you from the cars? (I would have preferred a neon reflective yellow or green helmet but the girlfriend threatened to leave if I did). It took me a while to find a SNELL approved helmet for not too much, this one cost me $200 but the safety and soundness of mind was well worth it. If you wanna see why a SNELL rating is so important check out this video. So far I’ve really liked mine. The ability to crack the visor plus all the different vents has been really nice, the wind noise is worse than I’d expected but when riding around town it’s barely noticeable. It’s only when I get on the highway that it starts to get really annoying. But I’m not writing this as helmet review, it’s what I did to it that’s worth sharing.

I’m not going to go extremely in-depth on the build because it’s pretty simple if you know your electronics. I bought a cheap pair of over-ear Bluetooth headphones from Amazon, making sure to get one with a mic. Then cut it to pieces to get just the bare electronics on the inside. With a few extension cables, some tucking behind padding, and some double-sided tape I added Bluetooth audio and calling capability to my helmet! something like this normally costs $90 for a really cheap set but I managed to do it for seventeen bucks. I’ve used it for a few months now and I think it’s a really nice addition, although it does have a few issues. The speakers don’t quite fit in the speaker holes inside the helmet and can fall out or pinch your ear, the audio is only really audible at low RPMs, and for some reason, I can’t answer calls from the headset controls. I only really use it on longer trips like when going to Moscow, otherwise, it’s not worth the time to turn it on and get music playing. If you ride long distance a lot and want good audio I’d save yourself the time and hassle and get one of the nicer sets.

$24 Motorcycle Update #2: “Start up Your Engines”

With the brakes figured out I can focus on getting the engine to start. First off I need to toss out the old ruined battery and replace it. After looking for a while I found one on Amazon that I thought was the right size. I compared sizes and cold cranking amps and found one that seemed to be just a little bit smaller than the old one, well “seemed”. The chrome pro battery I ordered came with a cool LCD display that shows the voltage and the battery percentage plus when the battery gets too low and needs charged it will start cursing at you (luckily for the kiddies its bleeped out), this will be nice while I’m trying to start the bike.

Anytime the voltage gets too low from too many unsuccessful starts I’ll know and be able to stop and charge it up before I damage the cell chemistry. Only one problem, the new battery didn’t fit…

The new battery fit when I took out the base that also had the emergency tool storage and the strap across the center that also holds the starter solenoid. but then there was nothing to hold it… guess I gotta make a new way to hold it…

I started by 3d printing the base (the gaudy white is just to test the fit, the Final will be in black petg). I did lose the ability to store an emergency toolkit on the bike but I plan to put saddlebags on it so the toolkit can go in there. Next, I need to figure out the cross strap. All I really need to do is make the parts that go across the front and back of the battery a little longer. My solution for this was to cut the band and weld a little piece of metal between the two parts for just the right length. Worked perfectly! But no pictures of it so I can’t share… whoops sorry!

Alright with the battery in time to try and start it! Whether or not the bike turns over will determine if I bought a steal or a nice piece of yard art, I honestly don’t expect it to start though. With the bike on its center stand, I put a little gas in the tank, mounted the saddle, pulled the choke, switched the kill switch to on, and with a press of the bright red start button!! Nothing… just a little click from inside the engine casing. Well at least the starter solenoid works (that’s normally what fails on this model). Time to try the janky method. I grabbed a flat head screwdriver and hopped back on the saddle. Now for those of you who don’t know, bikes of this era (and I’m sure for much latter) use a solid state relay to trigger the starter motor. All this is is a fancy electromagnet that closes a circuit from the battery to the motor. This relay on my bike isn’t triggering for some reason. So I pressed the red starter switch to trigger the starter solenoid and shorted the terminals of the relay with the screwdriver. A shower of sparks shot out the side and with a Varoooom the engine came to life. Aha! She runs! The engine sounded smooth and idled without any adjustment. Saweeeet! I just bought a $24 motorcycle that runs! Here’s a video of her Purrrrring.

Before I can take the bike out for its maiden ride I need to free up the stuck throttle and clutch. Technically I could ride it as is but riding with the throttle stuck on and no clutch control doesn’t sound like the best idea. I cleaned the throttle and clutch cables with brake cleaner, I had to pinch the spray tube to the cable opening with my fingers to get the fluid to flow inside. Once I got some in I moved the cable back and forth to spread the liquid and then repeated till the fluid coming out the bottom was clean. After letting it dry for a bit I did a similar process to work some lithium grease into the housing.

I also noticed a lot of friction when rotating the throttle tube without the cables attached. I pulled the tube off and cleaned the inside with brake cleaner and a toothbrush, no luck its still sticking. I tried cleaning off the handlebar the sleeve slides on, no luck. Eventually getting desperate I got a dremal out and sanded down the rust on the handlebars untill I could only see metal where the sleeve rests, still no luck. Then I noticed some of the metal at the end of the handlebar had been bent out, most likely from being dropped too many times. I ground them off and Aha! Worked like a charm. I added lithium grease to the handlebar before sliding the sleeve back on and then put the rest of the throttle and clutch assembly back together. Both feel great now!

After tunning in throttle and clutch free play according to the bikes shop manual it was time to take her out for the first ride! Yes, I’m aware I’m aware I’m not wearing the right pants, or shoes, or jacket, or gloves but I was just too excited to wait (I also never rode again without the best possible gear I have). Video Courtesy of my roommate Noah.

Now I need to figure out why it’s not starting, my best bet is the relay is broken and needs replaced so I’ll look into that.

$24 Motorcycle Update #1: No Roll Till Stop

Before I got too far working on anything I went ahead and ordered a few parts I’d need for the build. This included; a new battery, new handlebar grips, Helmet, wireless headphones (I’ll get to why later), and a new master cylinder after I realized the screws were stripped on the one it came with. 

If you are rebuilding a bike for your first time check out some of these awesome resources I found before you start your build:

  • FortNine Youtube Channel: Fortnine is a great resource on just about everything motorcycle related from our neighbors up north. The host is a little dramatic but it makes for interesting videos.
  • Motorcycle Magazine Youtube Channel: The two hosts of this channel are a hilarious duo who obviously care about motorcycles. They have a great segment called MC garage where they cover a lot of the hardware related to operating a motorcycle. Or if you just want to watch some motorcycle content they have some of the best!
  • 4into1: Working on an old bike? Haveing trouble finding parts? The guys over at 4into1 most likely have what your looking for. The best part is the parts are way cheaper than just about anywhere else!

With everything headed my way I started working on cleaning out the brakes. I started by popping the banjo bolts off of the brake calipers and tried my best to drain the rest of the brake fluid (If you don’t know what a banjo bolt is check out this article, they’re a really interesting piece of tech). Make sure you’re careful when handling brake fluid, the stuff is nasty and can ruin your hands, mine hurt for weeks later. Once I thought all the fluid was out I took the brake lines completely off, ran some brake cleaner through them till it was semi-clear, then let them soak in brake cleaner overnight. The next day I ran some more brake cleaner through the lines and then finished off by scrubbing the inside of the banjo fitting with a toothbrush to get any last gunk before setting it aside to dry. 

Next, I worked on getting the master cylinders cleaned up. The screws that hold the lid closed for the front master cylinder reservoir had been completely stripped. I tried a few methods to get the screws out but I didn’t have any luck with it. I bought this cheap master cylinder from Amazon, it worked initially but never really had any stopping power, then it completely failed just a couple days later. I replaced it with this much heavier duty one from 4into1, it worked beautifully and gave me a ton of stopping power. The best part is now I can do burnouts before I replace the old dry rotted tire!

While cleaning up the front caliper I forgot not to press the brake while I had it pulled off and pushed the pistons so far out I couldn’t get the caliper back on. luckily a friend recommended resetting the pistons with a clamp and I managed to get the brake put back on. If this happens to you just make sure to take the cover off the master cylinder so it can vent air as the fluid level rises.

Finally, I cleaned up the rear brake with the same process. Although I did have to remake a clevis pin that held the rear master cylinder to the rear brake pedal when the old one fell out on the first ride. With brakes repaired and my newfound ability to stop It’s time to get started on the engine.

So I Bought a $24 Motorcycle

I’ve been wanting to get a motorcycle ever since I tried my neighbors PW50…

Just imagine mini-me cruising around on this little toy of a bike! I used to ride this thing all over our property when I was little. I had so SO much fun and it instilled a strong desire in me to someday own my own. The big inhibiting factor was always the price. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a cheap bike on craigslist for around $300, they may not run great but often they will run. My big concern with the price was always insurance.  I’d always assumed that the cost to insure someone my age on a motorcycle would be astronomical. After the electric moped debacle with the police, I decided to actually look into what it would cost to insure a bike in Washington. A little research revealed that insurance was not required for motorcycles in Washington and that if I wanted to get insurance it would be a measly $10 a month. In summary, I’m buying a motorcycle! After obsessively searching the craigslist of every city in Washington for weeks I stumbled across a guy in Moscow, ID (8 miles from me) selling a 500cc bike for $24!

Alright before Grandpa pips up in the back about it not being safe I gotta remind you that great-grandma Gladys Weller bought her first bike when she was 87 and nothing could stop her from riding. Of course, the fact she insisted on shoveling her roof in the dead of winter doesn’t help my case much, but still. Of course, I know it’s statistically more dangerous to ride a motorcycle. I decided to do a little research on this issue and from a video I found on the FortNine website I found that although motorcycles are more dangerous the chances can be drastically reduced by taking a few precautions; being very cautious the first five months (half of all crashes involve riders who have been on their bikes for less than 5 months), not drinking and driving (alcohol is a factor in 25% of motorcycle deaths), avoid speeding (speed is the top contributing factor in 12% of deaths), motorcycle training (taking a motorcycle training course can prevent 46% of driver fatalities), and wearing proper gear (wearing a helmet is 37% effective at preventing fatalities).  Now onto the bike itself!

The bike is an old 1983 Honda Ft500 single cylinder. It wasn’t very popular at release and production only lasted for two years which will make finding replacement parts tough.

The Specs:

Engine: 498cc air-cooled OHC single, 89mm x 80mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio, 33hp @ 6,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 
94mph (period test)
Single 35mm Keihin CV
5-speed, chain final drive
12v, electronic ignition
Air-adjustable telescopic forks front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Single 11.6in (295mm) disc front, single 10.75in (273mm) disc rear
3 x 21in front, 4 x 19in rear
Single downtube w/engine as stressed member/56.5in (1,435mm)
Weight (wet):
 375lb (171kg)
Seat height: 
31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 
3.4gal (13ltr)/45-55mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: 
$2,198 (1982)/$2,500-$4,500

What I know right now

The Bad

  • Battery is dead and needs to be replaced
  • Starter relay is broken and either needs to be fixed or replaced
  • Front and rear brake feel like you’re squeezing a wet noodle (brake fluid probably needs to be replaced)
  • The screws holding the cap of the front master cylinder are completely stripped
  • Headlight isn’t turning on
  • Both tires have dry rot
  • Front forks are leaking oil
  • Engine is leaking oil
  • Tach is completely broken
  • Speedometer seems to work but is off by a lot
  • Throttle is stuck and feels like grinding gravel when you twist it
  • Clutch lever also sticks

The Good

  • Engine turns over
  • Very little rust for how long it was left outside
  • Rear brake system should just need brake fluid
  • The engine starts if I hook up a fresh battery and short the terminals of the relay
  • Starter solenoid (the part that apparently breaks a lot on these bikes) seems to be in great shape after cracking open the engine case
  • Turn signals and brake lights work great
  • All switches seem to be in great condition
  • The seat is in great shape
  • Carburetor doesn’t seem to be clogged as I can get the bike to idle comfortably once warmed up
  • Can shift into all 5 gears without error

Next Step

The first thing I gotta do is get the brakes fixed. Without working brakes, I’d wreck it as soon as I left the shop. After that, I gotta figure out how to start it without jamming a screwdriver into the starter relay. Best of all one of my mentors here at WSU gave me some space in the old hydraulics lab where the old electric vehicle team used to meet for the next few weeks untill I can get it up and running!

Safety Update:

Since getting the motorcycle I’ve gotten a snell approved helmet (Click here to see why DOT is a joke) the Scorpion EXO 710, a thrift shop leather jacket, Walmart leather gloves, and wear a pair of leather hiking boots when I ride. I know its not the safest gear but it’s far better than nothing and a lot better than the t-shirt and sandals I see most people riding around in.