BARN FIND: 1981 Yamaha Seca Maxim XJ750 – $500 (Beltsville)

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VIDEO: Setting Points on the Ironhead Sportster

ShadowDog500 posted a great video on adjusting points on the Ironhead Sportster. Messing with ignition systems on older bikes (or news ones) always sounds a bit intimidating to me, but ShadowDog500’s tutorial clears up a lot of the mystery and provides a concise explanation of how to get the job done, including dozens of tips and tricks you won’t find spelled out in your shop manual.

Rattle the Runway

I had the privilege this past Sunday, September 8, 2013, to participate in the Rattle the Runway Ride here in DC, commemorating those whose lives were lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The ride started a Dulles International Airport with a blast down one of the taxiways. Originally, a runway was used (hence, Rattle the Runway), but our friends at TSA aren’t too keen on that anymore. I do have to give the IAD airport authority props: not one biker was searched before coming on airport grounds.

Rattling the Taxiway was pretty awesome, and right about ninety miles an hour, I heard the voice of my old flight instructor in my head admonishing me for “taxiing” faster than a brisk walk. I eased off the throttle before running off the asphalt, and lined up with hundreds of other bikers behind the National Air and Space Museum , where, in addition to historic aircraft like the Enola Gay and the space shuttle Discovery, one of the Dassault Falconjets Big Daddy (aka Capt. Pat Oden) flew back in his early days at a little company called Federal Express.

I was extremely fortunate to have my buddy, Yaroslav Brisiuk, join me. When he’s not riding motorcycles, Yaroslav is helping promote world peace over at the Ukrainian Embassy in DC. At the Rattle the Runway Ride, he was able to do both, acting as an official representative of Ukraine in commemoration of those lost in 9/11.

The ride from Dulles to the Pentagon Memorial was both inspirational and brutal. Unlike Rolling Thunder, there were no police escorts, and riders were broken up into groups of a hundred or so bikes led by “ride captains”. Yaroslav and I had hoped to stick together since it was his first group ride, but we ended up getting split up about a mike apart in one group.

Since drivers in DC (especially taxi drivers) have zero respect for parades, funerals or biker gangs, the ride to the Pentagon was a constant battle to keep Sunday afternoon traffic (which is substantial on the Beltway) out of out lanes.

Some of the bikers also apparently lacked experience (and common sense), as exemplified when one biker about half way through the pack decided to calm it a day half way through the ride. He waved his goodby and pulled off the highway onto the exit ramp, only to be followed by thirty lemmings who were only watching the bike in front of them, rather than watching where the ride captain was leading. I saw what was happening and managed to stay in course with the ride captain.

I managed to hook up with Yaroslav again when the ’77 Ironhead he was riding ran out of gas and he had to pull over to the side. That Sporty only has about a ninety minute range, and the twenty-seven mile ride out from home to Dulles, the long idling while waiting for the ride to start, and the thirty mile stretch to the Pentagon ate up the tiny two gallon tank pretty quickly. By the time I caught up to him, he’d switched to reserve, and we were on the road again.

I was concerned that range would be a problem for the Sportster, so I’d borrowed a backup tank that fit in my saddle bag from my friend Paul. I didn’t think Yaroslav would make the Pentagon Memorial on reserve, so we pulled into a parking lot in Pentagon City and gassed him up from the reserve tank.

We would have been on our way, except the Sporty wouldn’t start. I’ve had problems with the generator on that bike before, so I want too surprised that several startups had drained the battery and that if wasn’t recharged.

Yaroslav’s always a good sport, and apparently in decent shape since he had to push me on the Sporty at a run (the was no way I was going to run behind it) across a flat parking lot until I had enough speed to roll start it.

We made it to the Pentagon Memorial without further incident, and decided to head home. It’s only about a four mile ride from the Pentagon to my place, and it was fairly in eventful until the six foot flag pole attached to my Heritage flying an American Flag decided to break.

It was a relatively slow flag pole failure thanks to my liberal use of zip-ties, and I just managed to get to side of the road moments before Old Glory would have started dragging down the interstate.

Yaroslav and I finished up our ride at Illusions Thai Cafe in Mark Center, enjoying cold beer and a monster sashimi boat.















Buyer Beware

I recently purchased a headline fairing off eBay for the Sporty. It’s the same model fairng I installed on the VT700C bobber I finished a few months ago. The previous part came in a nice box with molded foam protective inserts to prevent the fairing from being damaged in shipping. The most recent fairing, however, was wrapped in plastic cling wrap (not even bubble wrap). It was scuffed and worn, even though I purchased it as new off eBay.

image image

The photos are off the fairing fresh out of the packaging. I’m hoping the seller can make this right so I can remove the negative rating I left on eBay.







Is Plasti Dip Gasoline Resistant?

No. Performix Plasti Dip is absolutely NOT gasoline resistant. At all.

The gas tank on my 1977 Ironhead Sportster can attest to this. Granted, my original Plasti Dip paint job wasn’t all that great, and it is definitely my fault for not screwing on the gas cap tight enough.



As you can see from the photo, the gasoline that spilled out of the tank ate up the Plasti Dip. It was an instantaneous chemical reaction: there was no time to clean off the tank before the gas turned the texture of the Plasti Dip into something reminiscent of a char grilled lizard.

I don’t want to repaint the whole tank, so I plan to follow one of the tutorials I’ve seen on YouTube showing how to repair Plasti Dip. I’ll post the results.

Imperial Entanglement


ManualsWhen I saw this 1977 Ironhead Sportster on Craigslist, I just couldn’t resist. Something about the black and white paint job made me think of Stormtroopers (from Star Wars, not Nazi Germany). It’s definitely been a technological terror (which apparently is common with AMF Harley-Davidsons), and I’ve already had fun troubleshooting electrical issues, whining clutch bearings, a rusted-out tachometer cables, a leaky brake master cylinder, and fouled plugs galore.

At one point, I was afraid I’d been sold a thirty-six year-old hunk of junk. And we all know where fear leads, right?

imageWell, I tried to go all Jedi-zen, and accept that this bike is just high maintenance, but Master Yoda wasn’t around to guide me. So yes, when my front cylinder stopped firing, my fear quickly lead to anger, and when my turn signals stopped working DURING the Virginia Motorcycle Safety Inspection, my anger lead to hate, and when my battery died and I had to roll start the bike back from the inspection station, rather than just give up and cry, I embraced the Darkside.

Yes. Yessssss.

I am know bending this Ironhead to my will, forcing all pistons to fire, blasting electrical connections clean, and forcing the battery to charge under the watchful gaze of my minion, Admiral Battery Tender.

It may take this old Ironhead twelve parsecs to make the Kessel Run, but I’ve shown it who is the Learner and who is the Master!


SOLD: 1986 Honda Shadow VT1100C


I picked up this 1986 Honda Shadow VT1100C a few months ago and started restoring it for a bobber project. I’ve got it running now, but other projects are taking priority. This will make a great bobber, or it comes with a box of parts for complete restoration. The motor has about 52,000 miles on it, but is still running strong. It could be road-ready with solid weekend’s worth of work.

Here’s the good news:
  • Clean Virginia title
  • Strong motor with great compression
  • Transmission shifts through all gears
  • Newly sealed gas tank
  • New battery
  • New spark plugs
  • Fresh oil change and new filter
  • Recently cleaned air filter
  • Recent radiator flush
  • Exhaust in good shape
  • Original seat in EXCELLENT condition
  • All lights operational
  • Excellent clutch operation
  • Excellent front and rear brake function
  • Excellent front brake disks /rotors
  • Good rear drum brake shoes
  • No fluid leaks (it’s a Honda!)
  • Comes with physical Haynes manual and electronic Honda Shop Manual
  • The bike comes with a set of aftermarket turn signals and stems that just need to be installed.
Here’s the bad news:
  • Missing right side battery cover
  • Front and read tires hold air, but have dry rot
  • Missing fuse box cover
  • Surface rust on exhaust heat shield (appears to just chrome deterioration)
  • Broken turn signal stems (signals still work) (aftermarket replacement signals included in sale)
While I don’t offer a warranty on any used or project bikes I sell, I’m always willing to share technical knowledge with people who purchase my bikes. If you’re local, I’m also happy to lend a hand turning a wrench on a Saturday afternoon (as long as you provide the beer).

Check out the listing on eBay.

77 Ironhead Survey: Turtle Tank or Peanut Tank

The previous owner of the ’77 Ironhead replaced the stock peanut tank with a hard-to-find turtle tank common on Sportsters of the late 1960’s. The turtle tank certainly looks good when the bike is rigged like a cafe racer, but I’m leaning more towards a mild chopper or a bobber. With the nine inch risers I put on the bike (so I didn’t have to lean fat gut over the tankntomreach the drag bars), the turtle tank just doesn’t look right.

imageI like the extra fuel capacity, and the unique look combined with the rarity of the turtle tank are both big plusses, but I just don’t think it fits the “theme” of the bike.

I’ve reprinted the tank with black plastidip to keep the rust off the few areas where the original paint is chipping. If I keep it, I’ll give it a real paint job.

The previous owner did give me two peanut tanks with the bike, so I don’t have to come out of pocket for a new tank. I’ve actually had several offers on the turtle tank already, so I’m getting a bit incentivized to Del it.

Let me know your feedback (or if you want to buy one of the tanks) in the comments.

Custom Chrome Forward Controls: FAIL

Last week I picked up a set of Custom Chrome forward controls for the ’77 Ironhead. I bought the on eBay from a reputable dealer for about $200, and while I didn’t expect them to be the fanciest forward controls, I did expect them to be good basic controls.

The forward controls I bought we’re made for ’78 and up Ironheads, but looking at the photos on eBay, I knew I’d be able to fit them on the bike with just a few tweaks.

After doing a “Buy It Now” in eBay, it only took a few days for the controls to arrive. The eBay description said I was purchasing a complete forward controls “kit”, but my idea of complete and Custom Chromes idea of complete obviously differ.

The box was missing instructions, but I’m mechanically inclined enough that I was able to assemble the controls on my kitchen table. I had no problems assembling the kit until near the end, when I started hunting for the brake peg. After a bit of head scratching, I realized the box had three fold-up foot pegs and a shifter peg, rather than two fold up pegs, a shifter peg and a brake peg.

I contacted the eBay seller via eBay’s messaging service and tried to track down the company’s phone number. I did manage to find a possible number via Google, but the mailbox was full.

A bit frustrated, I tracked down Custom Chrome’s contact information and left a harried message on their voicemail.

i admit, I threw my weight around as a crack motorsports blogger, letting them know the product review I was working on probably wouldn’t be that great if they or their dealer didn’t get their act together.

A few hours after my flurry of emails and voicemails, I got a call back from the eBay seller, who apologized for the problem, saying these packages drop-ship from the manufacturer. He arranged for a footpeg to be rushed out to me. In our brief conversation, I did find it odd that he mentioned how cheap the Custom Chrome forward controls are that I selected compared to some of their other, pricier options.

He did send me some basic instructions for installing the forward controls. I was a bit annoyed that they called for me to cut down and drill my shifter knuckle rather than just including the part in the kit. The brakes lacked any real instructions.

Shortly after I got off the phone with the eBay seller, I got a call from a business development executive at Custom Chrome. I told him about the Oden Motor Shop blog, the Ironhead project, and the review I was writing on the forward controls. Like the eBay dealer, he mentioned the low quality of the forward controls I purchased, saying they were actually the product of a company they acquired several years ago.

So, after all of my parts arrived, my expectations for the Custom Chrome forward controls wasn’t too high. Because of my low expectations, I wasn’t too upset to discover just how crappy these forward controls actually are.

On the plus side, they bolted on easy.

And that’s it.

Once they were on, I mocked up the positioning and saw that the shift lever was too close to the peg, and the brake lever deflected so far forward that it hit the front fender.

Essentially, these forward controls are too far forward and too high.

Modifying these controls wouldn’t be too big of a deal (if you don’t mind trashing your existing controls) to make this kit work with the ’77 Ironhead, but it would be nice if Custom Chrome just mirrored the left controls to the right rather than providing a fancy bracket with mount points for a master cylinder.

But I didn’t bother modding the Custom Chrome controls. When I got on the bike to test the positioning, it became clear that it was made from seriously cheap components. I would feel unsafe with these on my bike.

I’ll give CustomChrome the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s top-dollar forward controls are top-notch, but they should really ditch this “value” line altogether.

And until someone comes up with a good quality “budget” forward control kit, I guess I’ll have to keep hunching over to ride my 1977 Ironhead Sportster.



Project Bike: 1986 Honda VT1100C


In April, I picked up another broken-down mid-1980s Honda Shadow, hoping to restore it to glory just like I did with 1984 Honda Shadow VT700C Bobber Project. This “new” bike is a 1986 Honda Shadow VT1100C, and I’m hoping the extra horsepower will give me an opportunity to enjoy it a bit before selling it. The VT700 was very peppy, but it was a bit underpowered for a big boy like me.

The VT1100 is in much better shape than the last Shadow. I was able to get it running today after reinstalling the air box and connecting a new battery. The fuel line to the rear carb is leaking, but this is any easy fix. I’ve also resealed the gas tank, and I am now waiting the requisite 96 hours for it to cure.

I ran the bike today off of the reserve tank today, and it started up fine, putted at low RPM, but when I gave it a bit more gas, it died. I suspect the fuel leak is causing the carb to suck in air through the fuel line. Again, it’s an easy fix, except I have to remove the air box again.

I’m hoping to have this bike ready for sale by the end of July. If you’re looking for a good “budget” cruiser, let me know.