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Recommending workshops and motorcycle businesses is fraught with complications. The bloke who made an individual business work well can move on or the business can be sold to less capable operators. Word of mouth is your best guide: if your mates give consistently good reports on the service they’ve received, it’s likely the business is worth your attention.
I’ve broken my own rules this month in relation to recommending a couple of workshops in Melbourne and Brisbane that know something about ‘old’ bikes. Many businesses these days have an ‘old bike policy’ – meaning they’re not interested in servicing or repairing them. This can leave owners out on a limb.
Do you know of a good workshop in your area that is happy to deal with older bikes? I’d like to hear your recommendations and I’ll draw up a list we can use to help keep older bikes on the road. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me at locked bag 12, Oakleigh, Vic, 3166.
LETTER OF THE ISSUE
The slippery slope
I’m considering adding some of this ‘liqui moly’ stuff to the engine oil on my bike as it spends a lot of time on the highway. I though it might be useful as I currently use the most basic 20W/50 oil I can find ($20 for 6lt). Would the additive be useful or should I just put the extra money towards better quality oil? I change the oil every 1000km and the odometer is currently reading 90,000km – not bad for a four-cylinder 250.
Bret Snow, email@example.com
I love letters like this – most of us lose sleep over which million-dollar premium oil is best for our bike’s engine and Bret is just using the cheap and cheerful option with, it seems, excellent results. What you’re doing right, Bret, is changing the oil every 1000km. The usual problem with non-motorcycle specific oil is that it has friction modifiers in it, which can make the clutch on your bike slip. It’s clearly not a problem on your particular make and model, though.
I know of a rider with a Yamaha XV750 with twice that mileage who uses Black & Gold oil. He’s never had any problems either, but, like you, he changes it every 1000km.
Lubricating oils are a package of base oils and additives designed to not just lubricate but to cool, clean and manage contaminants. Everything your engine actually needs is already in the oil. Additives are usually just more of what’s already there and, if you change your oil sensibly, are completely unnecessary. The expression “waste of money” is appropriate here.
So how do you explain the price difference between cheap oils and expensive oils? Your bike’s manual might say something like “lubricating oil should meet API/SG or SF 10W/40. Supermarket oil claims this on its label and is $15 for 4lt. Castrol claims it as well but its oil is $40 for the same volume. The supermarket oil has never actually been tested. It relies on the fact that, given the specifications of its additive package, it would pass if it was ever inspected. Even if it did, there’s no guarantee as to how long it will meet this test standard. Once, for example, its dispersant additive is used up, free radicals will wander around the inside of your engine doing damage.
Reputable brands will protect themselves by making sure their lubricants will go the distance – and still be meeting their API classification requirements after extended use.
As always, even though it seems expensive, I recommend you use a motorcycle-specific oil and you change it at half the recommended change intervals. Change the filter at every second oil change.
Oh, sorry Bret, what did you want to know again? Got it – don’t use any additives and start using Castrol Activ4T. If you do this you can extend your oil change intervals to 2000km and the price should work out to be just about the same. You’ll get better protection, too.
The right line
I’m hoping you can impart some wisdom regarding a few bikes I’m considering purchasing.
First cab off the rank would be the Honda RVF400. What’s the story with it? The only place I can find it is in a couple of dealers’ ads in MT (Sumoto and International Motorcycle Importers). All the internet has to offer are pages on the older NC35. Is the bike worth the $11,000-odd asking price?
How would the RVF400 compare with the Hyosung GT650R? Is the Honda in another league in terms of performance and reliability? I realise the Honda is around $3000 more expensive. Is it worth the extra? Is the GT650R significantly better than the Hyosung GT250R, or did they just stick a 650 in the frame so they could write the number on the fairing? I’ve also heard various claims that Hyosung has bad quality control, bad paintwork and parts that rust. Is this true? Are the newer bikes better than the older bikes?
The last of the bikes I’m interested in is the Ducati M400. What is your opinion on this model? How would it compare with the Honda and the Hyosung?
Ash Thornton, firstname.lastname@example.org
The RVF400s we get are, of course, second hand, from Japan. They just squeeze into the learner-approved category and would probably be the motorcycle closest to the maximum LAMS power/weight ratio limits. An extra horse would tip it over the edge.
They’re sportsbikes, Ash, with all the thrills and limitations: they need hard revving for performance but the performance is excellent when you get it. They have Honda engineering integrity meaning admirable braking, handling and suspension. Depending on your height and weight, the ride position could be uncomfortable over long distances. Honda Australia never imported them as the class never really made sense in this country, unlike, say, the 600s. For this reason, owners need to rely on limited service and parts opportunities, although everything is available from Japan so what’s really needed is a little patience.
The Hyosung GT650R is a more relaxed sportsbike and very good value for money. The feel of a V-four and a V-twin are completely different and you really need to ride both to see what resonates best with your inner life. You’ll get a GT650R new, with a warranty, for a few grand less than you’ll pay for an RVF400 and you won’t have to be concerned about service and parts back-up. The 250 and 650 have very different frames.
MT had the naked version of the GT650R for six months or so and it was then bought by one of the publishing company’s accountants. It’s still going gang-busters and there have been no issues with quality control or reliability. Hyosung is in Australia for the long haul so owners can expect prompt attention to any problems they might experience. Having said this, the RVF400 is certainly the more exotic of the two and will deliver more short-term kicks.
Ducati’s M400? Well, it’s a Ducati. You either love that or you don’t. While the 400 has never been an official import, Ducati has a 600cc LAMS bike available. The 400 shares many of the 600’s engine components and, like the RVF400, specialist body and mechanical parts are only an ocean away. It will be slower than the other two and more expensive to service and maintain. As I said, though, it’s a Ducati, and to many riders that means a lot.
Honda strikes again
I’m a long-time reader and I’m now in the market for my very first bike. I live in Mt Isa and I was ecstatic when I heard that the Queensland government had finally decided to follow the rest of the country with a learner-approved motorcycle scheme. I no longer have to think about how to fit my tall, 75kg body onto a gutless, cramped 250.
Motorcycles are very much in my blood, with my dad owning a wide range of bikes from his Norton 850 (bought new) to the latest addition to his arsenal: a Triumph 675 Daytona. I’ve saved up around $10,000 and what I need is something that will keep up with the Daytona but stay within the LAMS guidelines. I’ve been looking closely at the Honda RVF400 imports in MT and love the racy fairings, single-sided swingarm, V-four engine and the endless customising possibilities from companies such as Tyga Performance (www.tyga-performance.com), but I’m unsure about the wisdom of buying a second-hand, imported bike.
How can I know how it was looked after back in the Land of the Rising Sun? What are your views on grey imports? Is the risk worth it or should I just go for a newer, Australian-delivered model (or even a brand new bike)?
Troy Cleary, email@example.com
Didn’t I just answer this letter? I love the sound of your dad’s garage, Troy. Tell him to start locking it as there can’t be too many one-owner Norton 850s in Australia, and now everyone knows there’s one in Mt Isa!
Most of the Honda RVF400s which come to Australia will have between 15,000 to 25,000km on them and, given Japan’s small land mass and traffic congestion, it’s unlikely they’ll have been thrashed. If it looks good, it probably is good. Service and parts supply can sometimes be inconvenient (you might need to wait) but will, certainly in the short term, never leave you permanently stranded.
A locally delivered bike will give you more certainty in terms of service and parts but the RVF400 is as close as LAMS comes to genuinely igniting the imagination. A happy side effect would be that your father would be as jealous as all hell. Read the reply to Ash’s letter for further thoughts on the subject.
Lead head job
I’m interested in a BMW R100RT (’79 model) I’ve seen up for sale. It has 43,000km on its odometer. Would I be able to run it on unleaded fuel? What would be a fair price for a bike like this?
John Litschka, Widgee, Qld
With just 43,000km on it, the RT is a baby, John. Do a compression test and check the existing valve clearances as the engine is pre-unleaded. If all is well, I’d just enjoy it with a combination of 96 RON unleaded and the recommended dose of Valvemaster lead replacement additive in the petrol. Valvemaster is the only lead additive that has actually been tested to the Australian Standard, so don’t use anything else. It’s available in Shell garages.
When your bike’s heads need reconditioning, send them to Chris’ BM shop in Brisbane and they’ll fit shallower seats and new valves to suit. This will let you run on unleaded without the additive but it’s not cheap – think around $1000. In the life of the bike, though, you’ll probably only have to do it once.
The value of a ’79 RT? If it’s in really good, original condition, somewhere between $3000 to $4000 would be fair. If it needs work or has body parts missing (particularly the fairing), it should be much cheaper. Older BMs can be expensive to repair and maintain but they’re still a terrific ride.
I wrote to you some months ago about Suzuki V-Stroms but ended up finding a Moto Guzzi Nevada 750 Classic just over the border in Queensland. I rode it through torrential rain in June this year.
While it was being serviced at Huetts Engineering and Motorcycles in Taree, the boys not only found water in the shaft (I said the rain was torrential!), but the TPS had been filed to get, they thought, more fuel to the jets. After the service, we found that when the bike idles for a while or has completed a road trip, it idles down and then stalls. Some people on the Guzzi forum think it could be valves.
The bike still has 10 months of its warranty left so, as a last resort, it can go to North Coast V-Twins in Coffs Harbour and they can have a look at it.
While I have your attention, can you tell Ian Falloon that I found a Honda CX500TC like the one featured in MT#224 on eBay in America in September – it was going for US$2500. No, I didn’t buy it, but I should have. American eBay is a good source for bikes of the ’80s and ’90s that are hard to get here.
Peter Lean, Old Bar, NSW
I’d like to hear the full story on this bike, Pete. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what “filing” the TPS (Throttle Position Sensor) actually means. There is an accepted output voltage for the TPS and if it’s altered, it could certainly affect idle. I don’t know why anyone would muck around with it, particularly on a new bike.
Some specialist gear is required to measure the TPS output voltage and the most accurate reading will be from the end of the loom, so I’m thinking you should be visiting the respected North Coast V-Twins shop sooner rather than later.
Wrong valve clearances can certainly cause problems at idle but, again, I’d be surprised if this was a problem on a bike so new. Let me know what happens, please.
I couldn’t afford the dollars required for a Kawasaki Z900 so I got what I think is the next best thing: a 1977 Kawasaki Z750 Twin. I was going to ride it to the recent Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club rally but it has a problem. It starts easily with a little choke, settles down after a couple of minutes to a reasonable idle, but then after a couple more minutes it starts missing and backfiring on the right cylinder. The right cylinder header can get glowing hot.
I’ve checked the timing, points gap and compression and all are good. The plugs are also good and I’ve swapped coils without any improvement. I’ve also dismantled the carbs. Besides needing a gasket kit, all the needles were shaped correctly and the diaphragms held suction and, when released, slowly slid down. I blew out all the orifices and reset the mixtures. I haven’t balanced them yet but that’s next weekend’s job.
If that doesn’t work, I may need to take it to a mechanic. Can you recommend someone in Melbourne who knows something about bikes of this vintage?
Kevin Drazdauskas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s the question, Kevin: does the bike run well at half and full throttle? When you’re cruising down the highway at 100km/h, is all well? If the problem is only at idle, it’s most likely the right cylinder is being starved of fuel. It could be a problem with the float height or float valve, but it’s more likely to be the residue of evaporated petrol in the idle circuit, which is leaning out the right cylinder. If the bike has sat unused for any length of time, this is a common problem.
It can’t be fixed by an air hose or one of those carb-cleaning products from Autobahn – this shit really sticks. There’s a process called sonic blasting that will break it up, but a second opinion on this is probably a good idea.
You’re in luck at the moment in Melbourne. Metro Honda in Ringwood (formally Nova Honda) has a workshop full of old-bike stars including Dennis Merrifield (ex-Mick Hone Suzuki, among many other credits), who has forgotten more than most people know about bikes from the ’70s and ’80s. If that’s not enough for you, ex-Kawasaki GP works racer and all-round legend, Barry Ditchburn, does afternoons in the workshop as well.
You want more? Dennis’ old staff run a business nearby called In Tune Motorcycles, which is sympathetic to older bikes, and the local wreckers play a useful role as well. Metro Honda probably won’t thank me for dobbing them in as, for a variety of reasons, old bikes aren’t the way for modern workshops to make money. Call them on (03) 9870 2222 anyway, and tell them Spanna sent you.
Will the real pope step forward?
I have recently retired (age 67) and feel that while restoring a car might be too ambitious, restoring a couple of bikes would provide a lot of enjoyment. I’ve been given a very used Honda SL125. It has no speedo, rev counter or indicators (I don’t know if it even came with these when new). Would new or second-hand spares be available for me to consider restoring this bike to a registerable, roadworthy condition?
I read your comments in MT#224 on availability of parts with great interest. Until then, I was considering a Honda CX500 (1980) as a possible restoration project. I was tempted by an ad for an original condition one for $1750 with a spare for parts for $500. I’d like to see an article on which makes and models would be suitable for blokes like me to restore. Perhaps the article might also list bikes to be avoided!
Fred Pope, email@example.com
I wish I had more space to spend on this, Fred but, as you can see, we’re a bit packed this month. While I think there’s a lot of value in getting small capacity Japanese bikes running again (and their value will appreciate), your best bet is to start with something dusty but complete. It will be cheap because it’s a non-runner but having all the bodywork, side covers, instruments etc in place will save 90 per cent of the anxiety of a workshop job. Engine parts are relatively easy to source or even make if necessary – body parts are a different story completely.
The CX project sounds good on paper, particularly with the spare bike, but you’ll end up with a CX500, which will take some time to appreciate. The complication of the engine isn’t, I think, at the moment, worth the effort of a complete rebuild, so you’d want the main bike to already be a runner or close to it.
Here’s the thing: it takes just as much time and effort to rebuild a bike nobody wants as it does to rebuild a classic. You’ll probably get more satisfaction out of the latter.
Okay – I accept your challenge: watch this space in the near future for a list of worthwhile project bikes. I’ll spread the love from cheap to expensive. Just to get you started, here are a few bikes that have classic status and for which parts are still relatively easy to acquire: Honda 50 Stepthru; Honda 90S; Honda CB400/4; Honda CB750 single cam (probably the best option at the moment, but getting hard to find in original condition); Yamaha RD400; Yamaha RD350LC and RZ350LC (latter is best); Yamaha SR500; Triumph 650 twins (best before 1970); Norton Commando (any model but, geeze, the Hi-Rider is ugly); Suzuki T250/305; Suzuki T/GT500 series (I like the T500K in particular); Suzuki GS750 (the first Japanese bike that actually handled); Kawasaki W650; Kawasaki Z1000.
This isn’t a complete list, of course, and it excludes bikes with already blown prices like the Kawasaki Z900 and Honda CB1100R. As I say, watch this space…
Exxon Valdez lives
A friend of mine bought a 1976 Kawasaki Z1A 900 on eBay last year and has spent a fair bit of coin to get it going again. The engine was rebuilt but he was unhappy with the performance so he took it back to the mechanic who discovered it had 1000 sleeves. After the correct sized rings were fitted, he thought his problems were solved. The mechanic told him there was some oil in the exhaust and it had got there before the valve seals were replaced and would burn off after a few kilometers.
Anyway, he rode it from Sydney to my place on the Northern Rivers and it went great apart from using a lot of oil. We went for a ride over the border and back (320km – great day, four pubs) and he used about a litre of oil. When he was in front the white smoke was thick. If valve seals and new rings have been fitted, what could be causing it to burn oil like this?
Matt Cartwright, firstname.lastname@example.org
I can’t believe this is the whole story, Matt. Any kind of engine refresh would involve measuring bore wear and ring gap. Trying to fit 900 rings on a 1000 would sound immediate alarm bells to anyone who attempted it, qualified or not.
Older air-cooled engines burn oil either because it leaks down the valve stems (faulty stem seals or worn stems) or through worn bores (new rings by themselves may improve the situation but won’t necessarily fix it). A short-hand way of checking what’s wrong is to note when the smoke comes out the exhaust. If it does it constantly (and it’s blue), the problem is with the pistons/rings/bore. If it does it only when you back off and then accelerate again, it’s likely to be head related (worn stems and stem seals).
From your description, it sounds like a proper top-end rebuild is required, but your mate should do a couple of things first. Measure the oil use correctly. City use can dump fuel into the oil so that the level can appear artificially high. A blat in the country will burn this off, sometimes falsely indicating that excessive oil has been used.
Get your mate to start with fresh oil (something with a 20W base) and then get a proper reading. Anything up to a litre per 1000km could be considered kind of normal, but if it really is a litre per 300km, there’s a problem.
Being the cult bike it is, the Z900 has a good technical support base in Australia and, given what people are paying for them now, it’s worth getting it right.
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