Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trials and Tribulations, Restorations and Resurrections

There's no place I can be
Since I've found Serenity
– Theme from Firefly

You may recall that I purchased a large, elaborate Victory Vision touring bike last year.  Because of its color and shape, I call it the Enterprise:

I have been, with a long lay-off, riding motorcycles for many, many years.  I started out more as a horseman, and I still love horses.  Horses will break your heart.  Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just a fact.  Bikes will break your bones and sometimes your heart, as I discovered in the ‘70s.  My cousin and life-long friend, Larry, talked me into going along to buy a motorcycle.  He wanted a Yamaha DT175.  We drove down the dealership on Porter Wagoner Boulevard.  They had two blue DT175s.  These were called “enduro” bikes, street-legal but dirt-oriented.  Now they call them “dual-sport” bikes, and they are a lot spiffier than those Yamaha dinner-buckets.  Anyway, Larry bought one and so did I. 

I got a job out of college and soon bought another Yamaha, an SR500 street bike, the big single, a thumper, tons of torque with modest top-end -- a throwback to the big Brit singles like the Royal and the BSA.  Both the SR500 and the DT175 I had bought new.  I was looking at the paper one day and saw a classified for a used Yamaha TY175.  The TY was an Observed Trials bike, and 175 was, for many, the preferred displacement.  These were really pure off-road machines, despite the head and tail lights.  They were designed to go over challenging obstacles – boulders, vertical or near-vertical outcroppings, climb mountains, ford streams -- all that stuff.  OT competitions were extreme before anyone was using the word extreme. 

I drove by after work to look at the bike being sold by a guy about my age.  The TY looked to be in pretty good shape and was at that time, 1977, only a couple of years old.  It didn’t look much different than this one:

Oh, wait, that is, in fact, the very same bike.  I rode the TY with great enjoyment for several years.  The DT ended up getting sold because I was desperate for money – wives and children are such a burden.  The SR was sadly wrecked, though I actually know where it is.  Hmmm.  Anyway, the TY got very hard to start, and I had little time or money to spend on it.  I fiddled with the carburetor, but I think the problem was probably somewhere in the breathing.  Rather than tear it down, I parked it in my parents’ barn with a promise to it to someday get back and get it going.

Years rolled on and I would see her sitting there in the barn from time to time, abandoned and forlorn, but very, very patient.  I moved a number of times, changed jobs, left the state, came back, and still she waited.

In 2008, my father passed away, my mother having gone on several years previous.  The old house where I was born and grew to adulthood along with the barns and outbuildings transferred to my older brother.  I went over a couple of weeks after Dad died to help clean out Mom’s attic and the barns, and there was the hopeless TY, pushed over on her side as if she were so much junk metal.  Like an archeologist collecting bones and pot shards, I loaded her in the back of my pickup and hauled her to a new barn where she could at least stand again upon the rotted tires that clung to her rims like hair on a mummy’s head. 

At first, she seemed to have regained her hope, but the demands of work, the constraints of time, tools and talent left both of us hesitant and unsure of the future.  I looked up parts on the internet, but the things I could do to restore her seemed rather a waste if I did not know that her finned heart would ever throb again with its rhythmic, keening song. 

Once more I loaded her in the truck and drove to the holy city to ask the advice of a high priest of cult.  He shook his head at the sight of her then, stepping across her spine, he tried the too-stiff crank.  Laying her back down, he offered no hope.   “I won’t take your money.” 

I returned her to the barn to stand again as but a marker, a shadow cast by a memory. 

Some time passed.  Each time I went to the post office, I passed a temple.  It was clearly a place of the dissenters, heretics, perhaps.  Normally, I would have shunned it, but the mute cries of the TY’s pitiable form stirred within me desperate visions.  I called and explained, offering great sacrifices just to begin, asking no promise of success.  These remote and rural covenanters can hardly be as delicate as their priestly brethren.  He accepted my offer, with manly honesty warning me the TY might end worse than she began, scattered and broken, even cannibalized.  It was a risk both she and I seemed to accept. 

The first report came in after about a month.  The challenge was great and the Watchers of the Blue Smoke would deign to look upon the TY but for a princely offering.  I hurried in with my sacrifice and the covenanter smiled upon it.  “The guardians of the ports will be pleased, I think,” he said encouragingly. 

The summer wore on, and I thought of the TY in her state of suspended animation.  I imagined her upon the hills, vibrating with life and rampant as she had once been.  It should be time, I thought, but no word came, and I was left to wonder. 

Finally, on September 14th, glorious day, the covenanter called to say the TY was ready to come home.  It was raining after a summer of drought.  It seemed so appropriate, a good omen.  I arrived at the temple, and there she stood.  I stepped across her, and the little heart screamed to life on the second kick, just like always.  

From a practical standpoint, the restoration was a stupid thing to do.  I could have bought a much newer and probably better bike for what I spent bringing the TY back to life.  It still has a couple of weak points – one being the bend in the exhaust where it meets the block.  Too much moisture for twenty-plus years just about had it rusted through.  They built it up some with a weld, but it’s still thin.  The other question is the oil injection system.  These bikes will run pre-mix, but Yamaha was at the forefront of an injector system with the separate oil reservoir.  I had it on the DT as well.  It’s a much better system, obviously, when it works.  My mechanic warned me that this one was sticking a little and might not give full flow, so I’ll run pre-mix as well was keeping oil in the tank until we see how it goes. 

The bike runs great.  I have been climbing hills and trying out some obstacles.  I jumped a landscaping berm I have along the fence.  My wife said that is not what those are for.  These bikes are geared low and slow and are great for beginners, so I look forward to getting the grandkids on it now and then.  I haven’t done much in the way of wheelies yet.  I’m still getting my balance back.  Maybe I’ll post some pictures if I get the hang of it again.


Rick said...

Love this post.
Some of the best fun ever had was "borrowing" middle brother's Honda -- which was sort of a street/dirt bike. Or a dirt/street bike.
There was a pig farm nearby that for some reason the owner said we could ride there. Mom signed a chicken-scratched waiver or something. It was a about a 100cc Honda 4-stroke but man it could go straight up a gravel cliff for about 80 feet I swear.
This was about 1977 I think.

Rick said...

Man I would love to find a WWI motorbike and fix'er up. Paint it desert tan with a big white star on the tank. And one o them rifle holsters on the stbd side.

mushroom said...

Dirt bikes are so much fun.

The guy who rebuilt Serenity here was telling that he has a friend who still competes with a similar bike in vintage trials.

I was just reading about the 2012 Cannonball which is pretty impressive.

Those guys would understand your vision.

John Lien said...

Dang if that don't look like an intergalactic battle cruiser.

But, back to the main story. I cried. I read this to my '58 John Deere track loader rusting in the weeds and it cried too. Well, it dripped a little oil.

Now, what exactly did they do? A complete engine rebuild?

Rick said...

John, lol!

Mush, the Cannonball - holy bejoly.
I DO like the idea of somebody else doing the restoration. I'm open to this.

mushroom said...

Pretty complete -- rebuilt the crankshaft, bored the cylinder, main bearing, engine seals, all that. He rebuilt the carb. The transmission was in pretty good shape, but the forks and stuff had to be cleaned up. It was extensive.

I finally gave up on my old Ford 8N and passed it along to a better mechanic, too.

I don't mind doing some work on them, but there would have been parts all over the barn if I had torn it down -- then there's getting it back together.

I'm not joking, I was sent to this guy. He cares about this stuff. And that's true of a lot of the custom makers. Like at that cafe racer site. They do this because they love the machines, and they love the work.

John Lien said...

Thanks for the details. That Cannonball run article was a good read as well. An old bike is on my bucket list. Will probably be a while though.

Rick said...

I asked my brother about the bike, since he's the one with the photographic memory. He said,

"The first one I had I bought used out in Brockton (MA) at a yard sale in the summer of 1977, that one was a yellow '71 SL-70 that I had to get running. That Christmas I got the red one which was a '77 XL-75. They only made the SL-70 until '73, that was why I sort of settled for the XL."

He had been doing a restoration on the SL-70 to the molecular level, and at 11 with no job and no money was taking forevers. So at Christmas, mom and pop gave him the XL.
So, it wasn't a 100cc bike after all, but I was 25% smaller back then so it all evens out.

mushroom said...

Those XL were fine machines, too.

A kid who used to ride with us -- he was several years younger, about 14 or 15 at the time -- had a 90, I think it was a CL but it might have been an SL. He'd modified it quite a bit -- sometimes even intentionally -- for off-road. It was a lot of fun.

Rick said...

So the photo of the TY in your post, with the cat on the seat, is that a photo of the bike you had restored?

mushroom said...

Yes, that's Dottie checking out the work. I took that a couple of days ago.

Rick said...

Nice. I really like how it looks broken-in and not brought all the way to brand new condition.
I like the Enterprise too; I like new things. And comfort.
I bought a used convertible this spring. I have to say, and I didn't expect this, but it is very close to the way a bike feels. Very open this design. More so that the others I've driven in over the years. Must be the height of the doors or the width to length ratio or where the windshield is positioned. On the crisp, damp mornings here it reminds me of how it felt on the boat when no one was out there yet.
I do like the idea of a simple bike (especially since watching The Worlds Fastest Indian) something easy to maintain at my age; one spark plug, one cylinder, and about 5 other moving parts. Riding it would just be a bonus. I'm sure that would last 5 minutes and I'd want to jump a rock in the yard - like the old days.

mushroom said...

My wife put in a vote for a convertible before we bought the Enterprise, but I told her the only way we could do that was to trade in her cross-over since I have NO MORE ROOM IN THE GARAGE. After having to park stuff in driveways for years, I'm kind of obsessive about having everything under roof. She wasn't willing to do that, but they have a lot of advantages.

My oldest granddaughter was about four years old. Like her mother and grandmother, she gets sick if she drinks orange juice. One morning she and Grandma had breakfast at McDonald's, and she wanted orange juice. Grandma complied without thinking about it. After breakfast, they were on our way to our house in the van when the granddaughter got sick. Grandma had to pull over so she could throw up on the shoulder of the room.

Later, my granddaughter was looking at a convertible. She observed, "If you had one of them when you had to throw up, you wouldn't have to stop."

Rick said...

See, now, if you change that story a little and have the granddaughter throwing up in a convertible (not possible on a bike since there is no "in" to throw up in) I could sell, I mean, tell this to my wife and build some kind of case for why we need a bike.

I hear you about the garage. We have one stall and no shed. I bought a nice cover for the lawn mower. I named the cover "shed". It was pretty easy to install. But with the vineyard coming next spring, this can't continue. I'm going to have to get a shed. If there's a little extra room in there for a bike,well, I can't help that.

robinstarfish said...

This was a nice segue from a book I just read - "Shop Class As Soulcraft" - kind of a ZAMM tangent sort of thing. I liked his descriptions of deciding to rebuild an old bike and the craft thereof. Your piece would have made a good chapter.

I have an old Honda S90 sitting in my shed. Been there for years. I took it in to have it merely tuned up about 15 years ago and it came back in pieces. One of these years I might look into rebuilding it, who knows?

I know, an S90 is a toy bike but it would be fun to cruise down to the market with for milk. Or vodka.

mushroom said...

Honda 90s are cool.

Bikes have just gotten so big. I remember when 750s were superbikes. I don't think the first Gold Wings were much bigger than that. Maybe 1000cc. Now 800s and 900s are considered mid-sized, and 500s and 650s are small.

badman400 said...

Pardon my late respsonse. I stumbled across this blog by following link after link until I saw this story. It rang a note in my past. I too had first a used Yamaha 175 Enduro as a teenager, complete with the little chrome luggage rack on the back fender. We siphoned gas from my father's work truck and rode on the weekends. We were fortunate enough to have a father that would ride along with us, and who helped us learn how to maintain and work on our bikes. Years later, in my early 20's I purchased an almost identical bike from my uncle. It was the model with the gold metal flake gas tank. Those bikes were tanks and the injectors on mine worked great as long as you kept the level up in the reservoir under the hinged flip-up seat. If the injector ran out, you'd need to remove the side cover, back out the bleeder screw and prime the pump to get her back online. Heavy, well made machines that really made the living good in those years. Thanks for your story. It took me back to a good place.

mushroom said...

Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked it.

My wife passed away last year, so I got rid of the big Victory which I had bought for her and replaced it with a couple of Yamahas -- an FJ-09 sport-tourer and a VStar 1300 cruiser.

It's a nice day today. I should be out riding one of these bikes, but I have to work.