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Old 09-24-2012, 01:12 AM   #1
fintip OP
Vagabond in training
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Joined: Mar 2012
Location: Austin
Oddometer: 12
Wink Let's ride to Central America on a bike 10 years old than the rider!

Some months ago, I discovered this forum and began lurking. Why?

I had gotten a crazy idea in mind to ride a 2001 Yamaha Riva 125 (a scooter) that was given to me down to South America. The guy who gave it to me was a family friend who had way too many vehicles for his own good who knew I was lacking wheels, having just gotten back to America for a stint after being in Israel for 3 years.

He's the kind of guy who has a certain way of treating every vehicle he owns--rides it like he stole it, until he wears it out and moves on. Life's too short for maintenance! Not a bad lifestyle, even if it's not mine.

To each their own. Let it be noted that he's just about the most generous person I've ever met, though. Anyways, I should have known better; so he gives it to me, and I drive it 350 miles on the backroads of Texas home.

Stopping along the way, looking at my route.

A weird moment in Texas.

Well, I drive it 300 of those 350. 50 miles out of Austin or so, in Rockdale, TX, it stops for good. A friend with a truck is called, and we bring it back. Next day, after an oil change...

Yes, that family friend that gave the bike to me? I'm sure he never changed the oil once. Stupid me for not changing it before.. I was still green on mechanics--as green as they come. I figured I'd just change it when I got to Austin... At that point, I didn't realize exactly what not changing the oil could actually do, just that it's something one does. In that sense, a valuable lesson.

Anyways, after an oil change, it starts up and runs again. What I don't realize (remember, I was green) is that the compression has been severely compromised, and it is now eating oil. Within 3 days, I have truly ridden it into the ground, as it has eaten enough oil to be losing what little compression it has left.

Well, damn. It's gonna need a top-end rebuild. When I finally get some money, I spend almost 1k on a mechanic I trust having him rebuild it. But I don't get the money until I'm just about to leave and buy a ticket to South America. So it's being rebuilt, and I figure I'll just keep it in the states and have a vehicle anytime I'm in town. But as I'm having it rebuilt, looking forward to riding it again, thinking what a shame that it will only be fixed a week or so before I leave, a thought occurs to me:

I could drive to South America.

Right? I tell a friend. He says that's crazy, stop talking nonsense. But the idea keeps me up that night. I start doing research. Find a yahoo group based around users of the Riva series. Start asking them about reliability, common things that fail, things to fix pre-emptively. A lot of them tell me I'm insane. I find out about a guy who rode a Vespa to South America in the 60's. I find this forum, and finally someone understands.

I can do this.

When I finally get it from the mechanic, having told him my intentions, he tells me... Look. If the bike was in ok shape, I'd say it's possible. But while I did a good rebuild, and it will be a great scooter for whoever owns it, the crankshaft (which would not be worth labor and parts to replace on this vehicle) was probably a little compromised due to the nature of its last death before the rebuild. So his professional opinion would be against riding it long distance into remote areas.

Well, shucks. What the hell. I like motorcycles more anyways.

My story with motorcycles starts 5 days before my 11th birthday, on December 25th, 2000. As I walked downstairs into our livingroom that year, I saw no presents under the tree, and only a card. I didn't even open it. Being the first one awake, I sat on the couch in a state of shock, thinking I'd finally been a bad enough kid to not merit any presents.

When the rest of the family woke up, they prodded me and I finally read it. Still shaking the sense of shock, I realized it was a treasure hunt. I went around the house finding my safety gear, eventually leading to a brand new Honda XR90.

The rest is history. We had 40 acres of land in our backyard out in the middle of nowhere, then, and I rode around like a madman. We made a little track with jumps. Once a year the family, including uncles aunts grandparents and cousins, would take a week camping trip to the mountain forests of arkansas and ride hard trails--really hard trails--and I got the reputation as the dirtbike rider in a family of quads and dune buggies.

Only picture I personally have, I'm sure some more exist somewhere... This is just my grandparent's driveway/land out in East Texas.

I rode that bike for 3 years, until on a trip out there, last day coming back home on a dirt straight away, there was a section of rock/concrete with an inch of water flowing over it by design. Redlining in 5th gear (45mph?), I hit a pothole that resembles an indention by Thor's hammer and fly.

When the bike landed, it shattered the innards of the engine--you could hear parts rattle around. I was wearing full gear--breastplate, boots, and everything--so the only wound was a deep gash in my elbow that I quickly rinsed off in the stream. Park ranger said we could make a claim against the park for it, since the trail was inadequately maintained, but it'd probably take a year. My parents were way too lazy and ADHD for that, so that was the end of my motorcycle days for the near future... Shortly thereafter, they went bankrupt, so that put a definite cap on my plans.

My first car, when I was 18, was an '84 VW Vanagon. But I only had it a couple months before moving to Israel, where I had neither money nor rights to have any vehicle other than my folding bicycle, which I lived on, putting hundreds of miles on on mountains, even riding around the Sea of Galillee on.

But I digress! I wanted a motorcycle, but the scooter was free. Scooter wasn't in great shape? Fine. I sold it for 1.3k, making a small profit, and started looking at old UJM's in my area on craigslist. Narrowing down the choices to a '79 GS850 and an 82 XJ650... I vastly preferred the GS in theory, but in practice it wasn't exactly running, and I was still very green in mechanics. The XJ (a Maxim, so proto-cruiser bike from a time when 'cruisers' were called 'specials') looked solid (despite my not liking cruisers, it had the same rake as the sport model, the seat wasn't ridiculous, and the handlebars were actually very practical) and ran strong, though, so I got that one.

I promptly found a good forum and went to work. I wanted to learn everything I could about the bike and fix everything in advance, so that I would know I could handle any situation that would arise. I started treating it like a full time job, learning this bike. Over the course of a few months, I went from asking questions and questions, to just asking a few. To asking smarter questions. And eventually, to answering as many as I was asking. I took the carbs down to every small part and replaced almost all the rubber in them, and reassembled them. I learned how to swap valve shims, and got pretty quick at it. I replaced the plain plates in my clutch pack, and made a how-to video in the process. I studied videos and consulted friends who had experience. I and a friend welded my exhaust back together when the left baffle rusted off. (Holding well several months later, it was a hell of a weld!)

The weld:

Working on the bike:

A poor man's fix for carb boots... Bicycle tube rubber with black RTV. Works wonders, looks rough

I don't have many pictures of me working on the bike, but I invited a friend who wanted to get into motorcycles to help me work on the bike, and he does some amateur photography for fun, so he shot these.

Reinstalling the carbs:

Taking it on some test trips:

(I found the backrest/rack on an old Virago in my mechanic's shop. He let me take it off for $20, and I spent some time with a friend getting it to fit my bike... Pretty interesting custom setup getting that to work.)

And then, just as I was about to leave--literally standing in the parkinglot saying goodbyes to my roommate during this time--a Mexican with no insurance backs his truck up soundly into the forks of my bike, totally ruining the front ends. By a ridiculous stroke of luck that I won't go into here, it happened to be that, against my wishes and for a small window in time, my motorcycle had full coverage and that included uninsured motorist.

The bent up forks:

It doesn't look bad at first glance, but to drive 'forward', one aims the handlebars to the side. I had to ride like this for a while, around town, lacking any other option.

Knowing the bike still wasn't perfect--the speedo needle was broken, the tach would start jumping and become unreliable often, the headlights had gone out, lots of little things--I looked around on craigslist on all of Texas for another XJ650. The only option was 3 hours away in college station, an '81. He was asking $1200.

I had a friend drive me there and I bought it. As a base, it's ultimately a better starting point than mine--although the owner of the last 4 years was mechanically incompetent, he did do good on changing the oil and filter overzealously (even if he didn't know what valveshims were and cut the exhaust pipes off crudely because deep inside he really wanted a Harley). The gauges on this bike were in perfect shape, though. I got him down to $650. (Yes, I kick ass at haggling. I lived in Israel, remember?)

The new '81 before I've done almost anything to it:

The flat black looks better in the pictures than in real life; it's a shitty spray-can job with no clear coat, so the tank had already been messed up from gas when I got it, and the headers were flaking from not having high-temp paint.

I then made the best of the two bikes, stripped almost everything of value off the '82, and then got my $1200 for it having been totalled from the insurance company. This time, the upgrades and work only took 3 weeks, and I stayed in a friend's spare bedroom.

(Only thing I miss: the tapered headset bearings I installed in the '82. I didn't have the patience to remove that and install in the '81, as that was the biggest hassle of anything I did. I still feel worn spot on my bearings, and realize that under weight the nimbleness of the bike is seriously compromised. Alas. Here's a picture of the mess that changing that was:)

I finally pack everything up onto the bike one morning and decide the time has arrived. A friend has arrived in Mexico city that I know from Israel, a close friend, and he's there visiting family for a month. And Mexican Independence day is right around the corner.

Let's do this.

Don't be fooled by the red tank--I decided it was in better shape than the black one, which had just a tiny bit of rust and a dent, where the red one only had cracked original paint and a nearly flawless interior. I took the badges off to make it look a little more junky so it'd be less attractive in Mexico. I also brought over my welded exhaust in place of the cut-off, baffleless, poor-man's-paintjob-headers. I kept the seat; while it looks worse, it feels subtly better. I got to keep the old seat as well, though, courtesy to the junk-yard's tow-truck guy. (Given that it looks better, I'll stick it on when I sell the bike or sell it on Ebay.)

By the way, this seat is kicking ass (or... it's being good to my ass, rather, I guess). I rode 15 hours straight a few days ago, and while I didn't feel wonderful, I didn't feel bad at all. I mean, it's ridiculous how fine I felt. Shocking. Firmer foam insert, a little more defined 'back' to the primary driver's seat to press against. Fabric and sewing looks second rate, but those aren't affecting comfort, you know?

Anyways, I've made two updates on the XJ forum since taking off that day. I just started the trip a week and a half ago. And I figured it was finally time to really become a part of the community here, since y'all seem like a swell bunch of folks. So...

See y'all around. Current plan is to hang out in Nicaragua for a few months once I get there, after touring the Yucatan with my friend from Israel that I mentioned. Once this thread becomes approved, I'll add the updates from the other forum.

fintip screwed with this post 09-24-2012 at 10:23 AM Reason: removed not to moderator.
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