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  • On 24th February 2015

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I had been riding motorcycles for more than 30 years and while I could do some minor repairs on my bikes and knew just a little about how things worked, I had never seen anything inside an engine.  Pistons, rods, cams, bearings, timing chains, valves, rockers, flywheels? What were all these things?  What do they look like?  And how is power transmitted to the rear wheel?  What happens when you change gear?  Why does the bike go faster when you twist the throttle?

Questions like these had been on my mind for years.  And it was now, finally, the time to find out.  I was going to buy a cheap bike, I thought, take it apart, take careful notes and pictures, put it back together and perhaps resell it or give it to a friend.  I had two motorcycles already and the idea of finding room in the garage for a third one, which I would probably never ride anyway, did not seem attractive at all.

I finalized my requirements for the bike: 1) it had to be from the 60’s or 70’s as I did not want to deal with electronic ignitions, injectors, computerized engine managements, etc., 2) it had to be complete and almost all original, and 3) it had to have low miles (I wanted a reasonable assurance that nobody had worked on the engine before and that chances that anything would have been modified or severely worn out or broken were as minimal as possible.)  The plan was simple and solid.  I was ready.  It was the summer of 2012.

I found a 1977 HONDA CB550F on eBay with 5,023 original miles on it, clicked the Buy-It-Now button and a week later a flatbed truck pulled into the driveway.  I helped the driver unload the bike, said thank you and watched him drive away.  I looked at the bike.  It was pretty ugly and loaded with superfluous things like back rest, luggage rack, extended foot pegs, ape bars, etc.

Never mind, I said.  Let’s just take it apart and put it back together.  That’s all.  No more, no less.  Shouldn’t  take longer than a couple of weekends.  Let’s get going.

I took pictures.




And then I got going.

As it so often happens, at the time I loosened those first bolts and nuts I had no idea that this was going to turn into a project that would last more than two years, was going to consume all my spare time, was going to necessitate bringing a friend from Florida to New Jersey, would take months to hunt down the only remaining manufacturer of stainless steel rims in England, would require the help of friends in Japan, a trip to Sweden to work with a friend making stainless steel  header pipes,  and, of course,  would cost a considerable amount of money; so considerable that when the amount grew to well-beyond the prudent and then well-beyond the reckless, I simply stopped counting.