Saturday, July 12, 2008

Radiator Grill

I've got everything ready to be powder-coated, but I can't decide on the exact colors yet. So instead of not doing anything, I started working on the cooling system, starting with the radiator. I want a radiator grill but didn't want to use the stock one, which I don't have anyway. The question I had was, do I need to keep the stock grill mounting tabs? Well, I figured out a way to make a custom grill AND lose the stock mounting tabs!

I started with a beautiful piece of heavy stainless steel mesh that I got from a metal shop that was closing its doors. I decided to form this mesh directly around the radiator.

Here's how I started with the fitment:

Cutting to fit:

Finished product:

And installed on my radiator:

I formed this using only hand tools and a vice; a pair of tin snips, diagonals, metal files flat and round, a hammer, vice and block of wood. The only thing I'm worried about is how much this might limit the air flow across the radiator. The only way to answer that question is a real live trial, which will be awhile...

Guiding Principles

It's good to have some guiding principles set out when you embark on a project like this for your first time. Writing these down will help remind me what this is all about, during tough times.

#1: Never sacrifice quality and thoroughness for lack of time.

#2: Always clean up when you are finished for the day as you share this workshop with someone.

#3: Remember, you are not smarter than the team of Suzuki engineers who designed this bike.

#4: Don't become frustrated. This process doesn't happen overnight.

#5: Be patient. It's not about getting it done, it's about enjoying the process.

#6: You are capable of doing anything you set your mind to.


Starting on the tail-chop was very difficult for me. I've never done this kind of thing before. I didn't want to make a mistake and cut-off too much, and it was tough to really visualize what it could look like when all I could see was the bare frame in front of me. I deliberated for hours each night, sitting on the ground in front of the frame trying to picture the design in my head.

Here's what the existing tail section looks like without any frame covers:

Here's what it looks like from the top with the rear fender missing:
(notice the location of the cross piece in relation to the battery. This piece will be cut off, shortened and moved forward. I need to shorten it because I want the new seat to sit closer to the frame than it does stock.)
Here's the rear-end marked up for the cut:
(you can see I've already ground out the welds on the frame. On the right you can see the raised square piece on the frame that the stock seat rests on. This will get removed.)

Here's the first cut:
I started slow and then cut-off more later. (again the square piece in photo center gets removed)

Marking out to cut the angle:

And now the angle cut. This took a while to get just right, and required a lot of grinding to get even.
And after the cut, mocking up the position of the cross piece and trying the new tail-light on for fit: (you can now see where I removed the square piece from the top of the frame)
I salvaged this tail-light off a '97 Honda CBR600 that I found derelict in an abandoned warehouse in Alameda during some of my travels. It just so happens that it fits right between the ends of the frame and hides the end cut. I decided to use this model of tail-light after much research and looking around. I then ordered a new clear version with integrated turn signals from Clear Alternatives that I'll use instead of the red lens one. The raw ends of the frame will get covered in some kind of rubber shielding, after the powder-coat, to protect the tail-light.

The Plan

Turn the humble Suzuki VX800 into a totally naked, street-fighter style, single seater motorcycle. At the same time, restore the bike to new condition. I will tear down and rebuild every single component on the bike.

I'll chop the rear end off the frame and completely redesign the seat, the rear frame, the brake light, turn signals and fender.

The frame, shocks, swingarm, front forks, and every other major piece will be refinished to look better than new. I'll change the color of the frame, rims, shocks, tank, fender, swingarm, brake calipers, engine mounts etc.

Remove all frame covers, plastics etc and any tabs used to connect them.

Grind out any and all imperfections in every component before getting them powder-coated, including removing any labels, logos or machine stampings. I'm going to the point of grinding off the raised lettering on the rims.

Remove any unnecessary electrical and emissions devices such as kick-stand safety switch, California emissions system etc.

Totally rewire the entire bike to enable clean wire routing. The bike will not have any frame covers so everything will be exposed, thus necessitating clean routing of cables and wires.

Remove the radiator grill that sticks out past the frame and custom make new low-profile radiator cover.

Re-route the exhaust in a custom configuration to come up under the seat. There probably won't be any mufflers on this bike. (undecided at this point)

Blast the engine casing and get refinished. (silver like original)

Change handlebar configuration. (maybe use clip-ons?)

Upgrade rear shocks to Progressive chrome cover style shocks.

Upgrade front shock springs to Progressive.

Change headlight mounting and front turn signals. Possibly replace front headlight to something more minimal.

Engine-wise, I don't have any plans for performance increases. I'm fine with the stock engine and the original design by Suzuki. When I take apart the engine I'll replace any parts that experience wear such as piston rings, bearings etc. The bike had 30,000mi on it when I bought it and the internals of the engine seem to be in great shape from what I have observed so far.

Condition Upon Purchase

Here's some close-ups of the bike as I received it.

Front end complete with leaking fork oil, rusted chrome on forks, oxidized parts everywhere...

Engine (left side) w/ oxidized engine casing, chopped exhaust, rusting chrome, no covers and partially disassembled.

Rear end w/ part of footpeg missing, shocks are beat and rusting, final drive housing is spray-painted, rims are oxidizing...

Needs a lot of work. In fact, my plan is to completely rebuild every single component on this bike, upgrading to better when possible, replacing with new when necessary and changing the overall look and feel of the bike.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Idea

I like wrenching on motorcycles. After semi-customizing my daily rider, a 2006 Triumph Speed Triple, I didn't want to work on it any more. It just needs to look good and get me to work everyday. I got the idea of a project bike about 6 months ago.

I can't stand the dime a dozen motorcycles you see all over, like Harleys and GXSRs, so I started looking for a somewhat unique bike to do a total makeover to. My friend and co-worker Shai Kahana rides a Suzuki VX800 everyday to work, rain or shine. After working with him for over a year and seeing his bike everyday in the parking lot, I realized the beauty and potential in this overlooked gem.

The idea is to create a unique bike out of a less popular but really good bike. Soon after deciding on the Suzuki VX800 as my project motorcycle, I found an ad on craigslist for a 'project' VX800 for $500.00 The bike was considered a project bike by the person selling it, and for good reason, it didn't run, was somewhat taken apart and was in terrible external condition.

Here's the bike as I got it:

It was missing the seat, the tank had some major dents, and most of the engine had been spray-painted black at some point.