Previously, in Project TRX world, we’d had a bit of a setback as far as the engine goes, but looking on the bright side, I had a lovely new workbench to put my tea on. The engine had done something silly on the dyno and ended up with a floppy big end, and that was the end of part one.
I pondered for a while about the best way to approach this – for sure, it was possible to get my crank reground, but by the time I’d paid for that and a new pair of rods and shells, I may as well just buy myself a new bike. Plan B was just to get a new bike anyway, but I ruled that out for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the TRX, it’s seen me through hell and high water (literally – some of the floods I’ve been through on the A505 have been biblical), and is a beautifully balanced bike to ride. But also, this course of action would always niggle away at me as just giving up. So, plan C was hatched. A mate of mine, Orla, had a couple of derelict TRXs in her garage – I knew of them because I delivered them a few months ago. The plan always was that she would cobble together one working bike from the wreckage, and then sell the spares to fund it. However, that never happened, and instead, Orla needed a working bike. A deal was done, and I loaded up the SV650 in the back of a van, and drove down to Kent. A few hours later, I arrived home with this:
Now, in an ideal world, things would have progressed at a leisurely pace from here with a strip and rebuild of the best engine bits. However, I had a bit of a deadline… It was now Wednesday afternoon, and on Friday I was going on holiday, and the day after returning from my hols, I was due at Cadwell Park for the annual Ixion get together. This made the immediate decision very easy indeed. Just pull the engine from one of these bikes, put it in my bike, and hope for the best.
The bike that I chose to disassemble was last owned by my mate Foz. He picked it up cheap from a bloke in Ipswich, with a view to rebuilding it (are you starting to see a theme here… I think it’s a corollary to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that there can never be two working TRX850s within 250kms of each other) but had given up when he saw just how corroded it was from years in the coastal air. The removal of the engine, therefore, got a bit brutal at times. The exhaust collars had to be cut off with an angle grinder, and there was a lot of leverage (proper leverage, not the leverage that you get in marketing departments) and heat involved to get the mounting bolts out. And the amount of crap that was stuck to the outside of the engine was quite amazing. I literally had to dig some of the bolt heads out to be able to get a spanner on them – the sprocket nut I think last saw the light of day in about 1989 I reckon. However, after an hour or two, the engine was sat on the floor of the garage, and I had a cup of tea to celebrate. The removal had cost me one broken screwdriver, one broken hammer, and one thumbnail sacrificed to the gods of internal combustion.
Tea drunk, thumb bandaged, I started to put the engine in my chassis – and it went in a lot easier than it came out. The tedious task of connecting up cooling, carbs, exhausts, wiring etc. could then begin. This isn’t difficult, just a bit of a chore given that it’s the third or fourth time in as many months that I’ve done it. Finally, about five hours after getting home with the van full of wreckage, I had an engine installed and ready to run. The cooling system was refilled, the battery put on charge, and I closed the garage door. It was too late for a test run, so I really was in the lap of the gods now. Next day, before the long haul down to Cornwall, I quietly pulled on a crash helmet and gloves, and popped out to put some petrol in. It started first time, and although the ride was very short, as far as I could tell, everything was working as expected. Would it survive two days at Cadwell? Heck, would it even get there? I had no idea, and frankly, cared even less. At least I was in with a chance.
And so, 11 days later, I slipped out of the house and stole away at 04:30 to begin the long ride up to Cadwell Park. One thing became apparent very quickly – the carburation was all to cock, running horribly rich on part throttle. No doubt caused by my raising the needles as Spike and I couldn’t remember if it was running rich or lean on part throttle on the dyno, and it was better to be safe than sorry. I made a mental note to drop the needles a notch, and carried on through the early morning fog, arriving at Cadwell around 7am. We’d made it.
Of course, the engine shat itself in the first session on track. I’d like to apologise to anyone following me (sorry Steve…) but at some point the head gasket failed, pressurising the cooling system. This blew one of the hoses, leading to an impressive amount of water being sprayed out of the back of the bike, and oil being spat out of the exhaust. I didn’t care. Really, I didn’t. I was surprised that the engine had got me that far. I dried off my leathers and boots, grabbed a cup of tea, and mused on how lucky I was that the thing, once again, had chosen to fail in a reasonably safe way, rather than seizing solid on the way into Charlies II. This brown study was quickly brought to an end by James though. “Get your leathers on – I want you to ride the 675R”. Now, I’ve wanted to ride a 675 ever since I first saw one. I think they look great, and tick pretty much all of the boxes for things I look for in a bike. And really, I wasn’t disappointed. I spent quite a few sessions on the R, and it just got better and better. Culminating in one last session where I just went completely potty. The first time since I raced that I’ve actually laid it all out on the track, not holding anything back. I made sure I got out at the front of the group for some clear track, and nailed it. Two laps later I was catching the tail enders, and by the time the session was over, I’d grounded out the fairing, and been faster than I’ve been since my GP250 days, for sure. Thanks for the loan James.
The trip home was undertaken in a van with Sol, and for reasons that are far too long and tedious to go into here, James took the TRX back to his, while we took the 675R back with us, necessitating a stop over with Sol on the Friday night whereupon we both got ferociously drunk, so the trip over to James in the morning to repatriate the 675 and TRX was undertaken with a pair of sore heads. Once again, however, the TRX was loaded into the van, and 30 mins later was back home. I had a cuppa, and decided what to do next. As the engine had just blown a head gasket, the easiest thing to do was simply to unbolt the head and barrels, and fit my ones. But, that would really be a half-arsed job. As mentioned earlier, the thing was caked in an impressive amount of road cack, so I made the decision to strip the covers and ancillaries and oil tank too, and refit the ones from my engine. They weren’t perfect, but they were a whole lot better than what was on there. So, engine out again…
This was a fortuitous choice as it turns out. The more I dived into the engine, the more I realised just how bloody lucky I was that it even made it to Cadwell. It had been neglected to the point of almost total dereliction. Every fastener needed heat and penetrating lubricant to move. Several of them needed the rattle gun. Three of them just gave up and snapped, corroded permanently into place by years of abuse. This made it a lot easier to come up with a plan – strip the crank and main bearing shells out, and go for a ground-up rebuild into my old cases. And this is where we are:
The shells *should* match OK, as the numbers on the case are the same on both engines. So in theory, just swapping them over should be fine. I can’t afford new shells or a regrind anyway, so I’ll have to trust my instinct on this one. But the ‘good’ (actually probably better described as ‘less shit’) crank and shells are now in my old cases, along with the balancers, gearbox, and water pump drive gear. Case bolts are torqued up, and everything spins freely with no detectable play in the big ends or mains. I haven’t measured the end float yet. I’ve been too busy drinking tea. The massive pile of gubbins behind is the bits stripped off the old engine. I’m unsure whether to clean these up for spares where I can, or donate them to Tony Robinson for use in a future episode of Time Team. I’m sure they could recover artefacts from the late 1980s in the strata of crap they’re encrusted in.
And that’s where we are. Basically, exactly where we were about six months ago, with an engine in the stand being rebuilt. Again. There is, however, one significant development. Remember plan B earlier? Just get a new bike? I’m now saving for a 675. So when all this is rebuilt and complete, there’s going to be a large clearout of TRX bits to make way for one. I’ve already shifted the VFR and the SV.
I should probably finish this episode with some thanks. James and Sol for the various van rides, and loan of 675s and Katanas, and just good old friendship in the face of adversity. But also, all the Ixies at Cadwell who made it such a great couple of days. Thanks chaps. Same again next year – just hopefully without all the head gasket shenanigans.