Since my last update on my XL250 rebuild project, I’ve gotten a lot better at keeping my project moving. It wasn’t easy to integrate yet another responsibility into my day-to-day, but it feels good to make progress on a project that’s just for me, even if it’s only a bit at a time.
I started writing this “rebuild journal” to record my thoughts and experiences during this build, so for this update I’d like to try something a little different: a series of vignettes describing what I’ve been up to lately.
They don’t have concrete beginnings and endings, but really nothing I’ve done lately has. I’m still in the taking apart, scouring, and sourcing phase, so I’ve had the pleasure of completing very few projects. Really, the only part of my bike that’s truly done right now are the carbs, and that’s only because they were practically brand new when I got the bike.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the format, and the glimpse into my mind. As usual, I look forward to hearing from you in the comments 🙂
The sun is setting, and I’m standing on a wrench trying to use my body weight to loosen a particularly tight bolt on my swingarm. One foot is already on the wrench, and I steady myself on my shop bench as I add the other. The wrench doesn’t budge.
I try a few cautious bounces, even letting go of the bench to put my entire weight on the bolt. No dice.
I sigh and step off, reaching for my impact driver to go through the routine again: a few whacks on the impact driver, a few more squirts of PB Blaster. Then I wait a few minutes for it to sink in, before going back to stand on the wrench.
With each round the lubricant builds up on the floor, and the soles of my boots. I can only do this a few more times before it escalates from ill-advised to unsafe. But, a few more bounces will probably be alright.
It’s mid-day on a Sunday, one of the last sunny days of the year. I’ve worn through five pairs of mechanic’s gloves already, and my thumb aches from scrubbing, but I can’t stop now. I’ve been working all weekend to get the last gasket off my cylinder, and there’s only a nickel-sized piece left, stuck on as if it were molded into the aluminum.
At this point I’m only removing microscopic particles of black paper with each pass, but when I started yesterday it was only half gone. Something I’m doing must be helping.
My neck aches, so I look up at my garage’s unfinished ceiling and roll my shoulders. I’ve been going at it for awhile now with a plastic scraper, so I add another squirt of brake cleaner, swap the scraper for a small square of Scotchbrite, and keep scrubbing.
A millimeter-wide fragment breaks free. Progress.
After watching dozens of YouTube tutorials, I’ve decided it’s time to tear my front forks down so I can have the sliders powdercoated. I put on my oil-stained shop jeans and head out into the weekday twilight.
My forks have been lying on our old vinyl sofa for months now. I check my manual, and get to work. First, remove the air pressure caps and release the air pressure. I use my needle-nose pliers, and am surprised by how little air comes out. Is that normal? I make a note in my manual to look it up later.
Next, the spring retaining cap. I’ve heard this is hard to get off, and because I lack a decent vise grip (not to mention a sturdy workbench to attach it to), I head back inside to retrieve the owner of my second pair of hands.
A few minutes later, J and I are crouched on the floor of the garage. J holds one of my forks upright, and I slowly rotate the cap with the ring end of a combination wrench. Both of us are bracing for the promised explosion when the spring finally breaks free. I find myself once again extremely grateful for my $10 set of foam floor pads.
The explosion, when it comes, is mercifully underwhelming. I manage to not lose any of the pieces, and carefully lean the fork, still full of old oil, against my work shelf. Then we repeat the process for the other side. I also make J stick around to take a couple pictures of me pumping the old oil out of the right fork.
My mom used to laugh at the idea of me cleaning anything, but I find the grime accrued on old bikes perversely enjoyable. How long had it been since this oil was last replaced? Judging by its dense muddiness, it’s possible these fork springs haven’t seen daylight since before I was born.
It’s 2 PM on a Tuesday. It could be any Tuesday, but I know it’s summer because it’s sunny out. I’m at home, as usual, sitting at my desk that overlooks my driveway. I know I should be working, and really I’d rather be riding, but I can’t help myself. I’m scouring the internet for the perfect fenders, without much luck.
Ebay searches turn up hundred-dollar vintage parts, the plastic dirty and worn. Google isn’t any better, revealing only shiny, angular dirt-bike pieces. I’ve run this loop of searches dozens of times, hitting all the same websites.
I return to my parts spreadsheet. A few weeks ago, I pasted the link to one of the cheap dirt bike fenders next to the cell marked “Front fender,” just to have something to show for my hours of searching.
The rest of my list is full and getting fuller by the day. At this point maybe half the items are “Obtained,” but I’m not fooled. I know by now that, though there are 100 distinct parts on my list now, there will probably be at least 100 more before I’m done.
I’m on my fifth Partzilla order, because as I go through my bike I keep finding other parts that I need. It’s disheartening how much I spend for such small items, $50 arriving without fanfare in my tiny mail slot.
This — the searching, listing, organizing, ordering, re-ordering — this is what a rebuild project is. Yes, there are long nights in the shop, but there are even longer lunch breaks and evenings poring over forums, eBay listings, Youtube videos.
Because the tools and parts you need won’t show up in your garage unbidden. The knowledge of what you’re supposed to do next won’t suddenly come over you while you’re staring at your stripped frame. I hate to admit it, but I think some small part of me hoped it would.
As usual, when I finally break free from my internet haze, much more time has passed than I thought. It’s 2:45 PM, and now I really have to get back to work.