I’ve just dropped the ZXR off with the marvellous Spike at Cambridge motorcycles to get the carbs set up and shims checked, and generally make sure that it’s not going to blow up any time soon. As part of this, of course, I’ll get some dyno readouts. So, the great ZXR BHP sweepstake begins. How many horses will have escaped over the past 25 years? Kawasaki quoted something like 105bhp when they were new, which was probably measured at the crank. The rules for this sweepstake are simple. Whoever gets closest to the BHP at the wheel, before we make any changes to anything, wins. Entries so far:
When I first wheeled Project ZXR into the garage a couple of weeks back, I had all the best intentions. Really, I did. I was going to pull it apart, inspect everything, fix the bits that I could fix, replace the bits that I couldn’t fix, and generally make everything lovely again before I rode it. That way, I would save a few quid by not having to insure the thing while it was just sitting in the garage, and I could SORN it rather than buy a tax disc.
And then I had an entirely innocent thought. What if I spent all this time and money putting it together and it turns out that either a) I didn’t like it, or more likely b) it didn’t work properly. That would be a lot of time and effort wasted, right? I’d already gone for a very quick whizz up the road just to put some petrol in the tank, but I now had a little voice at the back of my head saying “go on, just slap it all back together, and go out and ride it. It makes perfect economic sense, and you don’t have to enjoy yourself”. So, I made sure that nothing was about to fall off, put some air in the tyres, got my leathers on, and just had time to think “I can resist anything except temptation” before riding off up the road.
Of course, it wasn’t all beer’n’skittles’n’sweetness’n’light. So lets get the bad stuff out of the way first. Most importantly, the cooling system needs a lot of attention. The thermostat, temperature sensor, and fan switch are all broken. Which means the engine was overheating, while the temperature gauge was reading normal. And the fans weren’t coming on. Glad I noticed this on a short whizz up the road rather than before sticking it on the dyno, but I wonder how long it’s been ridden like that in the past. Fingers crossed that Kawasaki’s reputation for building tough motors means that all is well. Secondly, the brakes bound on after a bit of rather enthusiastic application. I should have known. I’ve had this before on one of my previous ZXRs using pattern levers. Easy enough to fix, but a bit of a pain at the time as the only thing to do is pull over to the side of the road and let it all cool down. Thirdly, the handling is a bit squiffly from the front, which I think is down to the cheapo tyres and a blown fork seal. Easy and cheap to fix the seal, but expensive to replace the tyres, obviously. And lastly, either one of the exhaust gaskets has gone or there’s a hole in one of the headers as there’s definitely a bit of extra noise that shouldn’t be there when bimbling around.
But… but… for the moments that everything was working well, for a 25 year old bike, it’s fantastic. The handling in long fast corners is just as I remember, and just why I fell in love with these bikes in the first place. Yes, by modern standards it’s heavy, and slow. But tucked behind the screen, listening to the induction noise (once described by the greatly missed John Robinson as “like a box of terriers approaching resonance”), lining up the entry into the next corner, it was perfect for me. I managed to travel back 20 years in 10 minutes. Neat. Can’t wait to get it finished now. Yes, there’s obviously work to be done. And money to be spent. But right now, it looks like I’ve made the right choice.
Whilst it’s fair to say that I’m not a nostalgic person to any great degree, it’s kind of nice every now and then to look back, and make a link through time to where you are now. I had one of these moments earlier this afternoon, while replacing the clutch plates on the ZXR. I was saying only the other day that I’d not found a single seized or rounded fastener on the bike since I picked it up, but sure enough, the first bolt I got to on the clutch cover was both seized, and rounded. I tried gently tapping it with a small hammer. I tried a variety of 8mm sockets, just in case one was slightly tighter than the others. I tried Mole Grips. I tried a slightly bigger hammer. I tried heating it a little. I tried a really big hammer. It seemed that nothing I had in my armoury of skills and tools was going to shift this bolt, and I’d need to get a bar welded to the head to get it moving.
And then I remembered Goz.
Goz was one of my big brothers mates at school. I guess I would have been 13 or 14 when we first met, and he would have been a couple of years older. Straight away, we hit it off. He was (still is, I hope) an intensely practical chap, perfectly happy delving around in engines, fixing anything mechanical, panel beating, spray painting etc. He also had a GT250X7 that he’d tuned himself, which was legendary around our way for the ability to wheelie in 5th past the Lake Avenue chippy. It’s pretty safe to say that he had a formative impact in my own love of motorbikes and messing around with them. He also had a stock answer for a lot of little problems that life threw at us back in the 1980s:
“Goz, this bolt’s stuck – can’t shift it. Any ideas?”
“Cut a slot in it and use an impact driver”
“Goz, this allen screw is seized solid. Tried whacking a Torx bit into it, but it’s not moving.”
“Cut a slot in it and use an impact driver”
“Goz, I can’t shift this spindle – I reckon…”
“…cut a slot in it and use an impact driver”
“Goz, I think my girlfriend is seeing Dwayne from the next village, you know, the guy with the MBX125”
“Cut a slot in it, what? Let’s go out and have a chat with him about it. Got your impact driver?”
So… without further ado, I whipped out the angle grinder and slitting disc, cut a nice little slot in the offending bolt, slipped a straight blade into my impact driver, and starting hitting it with the Really Big Hammer. At first, nothing happened. But slowly, it started shifting, until I had it on the bench next to me. I thanked Goz for his help.
Half an hour later the new clutch was fitted, and everything was bolted up again. This is a bit of a milestone, as it now means the bike is ready for the road. There’s still loads to be done to make it lovely, but it’s now rideable. So, hopefully, tomorrow I’ll be strapping my lid on, and going for a quick whizz. And if I end up hoisting a monster past the Lake Avenue chippy in the process, so much the better. It will be fitting, I think.
Anyone who knows me, or anyone who doesn’t know me but has spent an unhealthy amount of time reading this blog will know that I have a history of riding, and racing motorbikes. It’s fair to say that this is a major part of who I am today. Most of my greatest friends, Sol, James, Scotty, I have met on the racetrack in one way or another. I have ridden motorbikes for pretty much all of my adult life, with the occasional break every now and then when Real Life got in the way, and I needed to sell something to make ends meet. By far the most popular bike I’ve had is the Yamaha TZR250. I’ve had 13 and a half of them in total, and have loved every one of them. Second on that list comes the Kawasaki ZXR750H. Three of them, and of all the bikes I’ve used on the road, these were my favourites. As much as anything else, because of the way they looked.
Anyway, back to the plot. A few weeks back, another of my great friends, Champ, posted the following photo that he’d taken at this years Manx GP:
Along with the photo, was a little hint that pre-1990 bikes were eligible for the classic F1 race. And that really should have been the end of it. I mean, I didn’t own a motorbike, I no longer have a race license, and I have no money. So really, I should just have agreed that it was lovely, and carried on with my life just the way it was. It’s not as if I’m short of things to do, and ways to spend money – climbing weekends, cycling around the country, and mainly and most importantly, being a dad. All of these things occupy my time, and I enjoy them all immensely, and I don’t want to lose any of them. Yet something about that picture was niggling away at the back of my mind. I’ve always said that I’d never race at the Isle of Man due to the danger, and I still stand by that statement. However, there’s nothing to stop me building a road-going version, is there? And I’ll probably want to take it on a few trackdays when it’s done. And, well, if ever anyone launches an endurance series for pre-1990 750 fours, well, I could definitely be tempted into giving that a crack, if I find a small pot of gold somewhere.
Problem #1 was money. As always. Problem #2 was a lack of space in my garage. However, seeing as I work for a Large American Corporation, I don’t see problems. I see opportunities. So I sold my mountain bike, thereby clearing the necessary space in the garage and increasing my bank account with enough to buy a project bike. And this is where the fun started. It seems that early ZXR750H models are starting to become collectable. So every time I saw one on eBay, it would either be snapped up before I could make a bid, or be listed for a ludicrous amount of money. I did a lot of phoning around, emailing people, asking lots of detailed questions, and ended up buying an H1 in Newcastle that I knew nothing about, and had never spoken to the owner. I then went on to break several more of the Golden Rules of buying a second-hand bike by not checking the HPI status, ignoring the fact that the VIN plate had been removed, not worrying about the previous 18 owners on the V5, and handing over a bid wad of cash before I’d even heard the bike running. My reasons for this are simple. 600 quid for a ZXR750H1 is bargain basement money. For that, I’d expect a box of bits, most of which fitted together, and came from the same bike. What I got was a running, roadworthy, taxed and MOT’d bike. OK, so it’s running a bit rough, bits of the bodywork are cracked here and there, and at some point the swingarm has been painted black (no, I don’t know why either) but it’s not that bad. Also, it has to be said, that some of the damage was caused by yours truly not strapping it down well enough on the trailer. This doesn’t annoy me too much, as the bike just fell onto it’s side on the trailer, rather than falling off it completely. It’s still a bit irritating though, as it fell over about 400 metres from my front door, after a 400 kilometre trip home. I guess I should be happy that it fell over at 5mph whilst negotiating a speed bump in my town rather than hitting a pothole on the A1 at 60mph.
So, anyway, it’s now sitting in my garage, and the initial inspection reveals that while it’s never going to be a concours winner, it’s not a bad starting point for a project either. Some things are essential to fix before it goes anywhere near the road (for example, the exhaust hanger is completely missing, as is the span adjuster on the front brake lever, the clutch is goosed), others just need to be done to make the bike nicer (sort out the rough running, replace the fork seals ‘cos I think that one of them is weeping a bit), and others I just want to do to make it look better (replace that black swingarm, remove all the fake carbon fibre stickers, fill, smooth, and repaint the cracks in the bodywork). I don’t want to spend much money on it, so most of the work I’ll be doing myself where I have the tools and the knowledge. The engine and carb work will be entrusted to the marvellous Spike at Cambridge Motorcycles.
I’ve spent a few hours today patching up the holes in the r/h fairing panel, and fixing the leaky coolant overflow bottle. I really need a paddock stand before I can do much more, and also a front stand if I’m to do the fork seals too. So I guess these are the first things on the shopping list. Luckily I still have, and still fit into my leathers from my racing days, and so that’s one thing I don’t need to spend any money on.
Oh, and before anyone mentions the phrase “mid-life crisis”, I’d like to point out that buying a shiny red motorbike while I’m in my mid-40s is an entirely natural thing to be doing, and entirely in keeping with my character. I’m not having a mid-life crisis yet. When I *do* have one, you can be sure that I’ll go out and do something really silly. Climbing mountains and racing motorbikes are just the kind of things that I do in normal life. And yes, I can’t wait to find out what I’ll do when I settle into my mid-life crisis. I guess if another blog category of “BASE jumping” or “wingsuit flying” ever appears, I’ll have my answer. Or maybe just a new hobby.