As I write this, my 1982 XL250 rebuild project lies in pieces in my garage — engine out of the frame, cylinder head off, stripped of electronics, wheels, brakes, exhaust… I’ve officially reached the point of no return.
It didn’t take long to disassemble the bike — just a few evenings and a couple longer weekend stints. What took the longest was cataloguing and storing — making sure each bolt, cover and cable was labeled, grouped and stored appropriately.
Looking at the parts strewn across my garage, I’m reminded of something Sofi once said to me — because so many little things could go wrong, it’s a miracle when any motorcycle runs. All of these tiny pieces, that all need to work together… yep, I understand that now.
The process of disassembling the bike has been both illuminating and terrifying. I have always been a hands-on, situational learner, so being able to see exactly how everything works and connects— the brakes, the clutch, the the suspension, the fuel tank, the airbox — has given the inner workings of a motorcycle new meaning to me. I enjoyed spending my evenings removing grimy piece after grimy piece, marveling at exactly how dirty an old dirt bike can be, carefully storing each part away for later inspection.
With each component that came off, though, each nut and bolt, I found myself thinking — this bike ran before, so what the hell are you doing? What if it never runs again?
And looking at the (under-informed, but hopefully not ill-formed) project plan I’ve made for myself, I have to wonder again what the hell I think I’m doing. Not only will this project (as limited as it is) require lots of manual hours, but it will require a lot of learning. I don’t know how to do half the things on my list — re-spoke the wheels, replace brake shoes, clean carburetors, seal the tank, prepare the engine for paint, fix the bend in the frame that the side stand left when it must have been broken off…
Certainly, many of these are little tasks, and can be easily learned. But there are just so many of them… I would be lying if I said it wasn’t intimidating.
Funny how that duality works. Intimidating, but exciting.
I may not know how to rebuild the front forks (yet), but I do know this: I’ll be damned if I sell this bike off in boxes.
I haven’t made much progress in the last few weeks (life always gets in the way, doesn’t it?), but the time away has given me new determination. I’m already bored of saying I have an XL “in pieces” in my garage. It’s time to start cleaning, learning, and rebuilding.
On another note, I don’t think I will ever underestimate the value of the right tool again.
In most projects I’ve done before, whenever I needed to use one of the tools from my limited tool kit, I didn’t have to be exact. Any phillips head would do, any hammer would suffice. But so far, I have stripped the heads on exactly 6 bolts (I forgot JIS existed), and gave myself a nasty deep bruise on my wrist, just because I wasn’t using the right tools.
(Many thanks to the guys at Second Gear for removing those stripped bolts!)
Tools are often credited as the essence of our humanity, separating us from other animals. This, however, is not totally correct: many species use tools, like rocks and sticks, to help them retrieve and “prepare” food. Yet, where are the monkey motorcycles?
As I was tearing down the XL, marveling at human ingenuity, I realized something. The real thing that makes us unique in the animal kingdom is not simply our use of tools, but our ability to strategically make tools — tools that are durable, that conserve resources, and that can be used in a variety of situations.
These tools can’t be “made” in minutes from natural resources easily found on the ground, but require planning, forethought, patience, and time — just like my motorcycle.
It is just this human strength that I need to draw on now, to resurrect this bike from the grave I put it in.
Now that everything has been removed from the bike, my next step will be to clean and inspect. And clean some more. I have some rust to remove, lots of caked-on red dirt, and mud mixed with oil residue.
Then I’m going to replace (most of) the engine gaskets and bolts, and I need to fix some problems with the frame (stripped out RHS footpeg, to start) … and, for some reason, I find myself drawn to the brakes and wheels next… It’s a lot, but, to quote a proverb (maybe Confucius?): “It matters not how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.”
Thanks, as always, for reading and following along 🙂 Keep the rubber side down!
Ready to start your own custom motorcycle project?
If you want to build your own custom motorcycle, but you have no idea where to begin, I wholeheartedly recommend the resources created by Matt McCleod at Krank Engineering. His empathy and enthusiasm will provide the direction, support and guidance a newbie mechanic needs.
Plus, when you join his community through the link below, part of your membership will help support the RIDEWELL blog. Thank you!
Being an affiliate for Matt’s community helps me continue to create quality content for readers like you. If you’re interested, you can read more about my affiliate policies here.