(This is an adaptation of a similar page on the previous version of this website.)
I like bikes -- both bicycles and motorcycles. At the moment, this is all about the motorcycles.
I have possessed about 3.5 motorcycles in my life as of this writing. I intend to own more.
Minibike [direct link]
The first half-a-bike I had was a minibike when I was in eighth grade, around 1988. I guess technically, by law, my father owned it, but I was the guy who rode the hell out of it, taking turns through a neighbor's big driveway roundabout at about a forty-five degree angle for fun. I have no recollection of branding or other specifics of the thing -- only that I hauled ass around the area on that thing, and it was a really fun time.
Taphoskandalon (1983 Yamaha XJ650 Midnight Maxim) [direct link]
I bought an old-ass UJM with some mild, superficial cruiser-ish styling on it from a friend of a (girl)friend, for about four hundred bucks. That put an end to the decade-ish dry spell without a motorcycle since the minibike, and I took a motorcycle safety course for all the benefits that came with it (no skills test for the license, cheaper insurance, and some good practice and learning). It was fun, but in seriously deteriorating shape, and I was not really equipped or trained for that kind of fixer-upper.
I "affectionately" named it Taphoskandalon, a portmanteau of the Greek words for "death" and "trap". It had fun issues like when, on one occasion, I came riding up toward an intersection with a red light at a pretty easy pace, and squeezed the front brake lever; it just squirted brake fluid over my hand and failed to slow the bike down at all. The rear drum brake was a bit out of commission already, and I had not gotten a chance to fix that yet, so I had to stop it the old-fashioned way (downshifting and trying to dig the heels of my motorcycle boots into the pavement). I ground it to a halt just past the crosswalk, then duck-walked it backward. Luckily, there weren't any more places I'd need to stop on the way home, so I cautiously got it home before hunting down a replacement brake reservoir at a local junkyard with the help of some crusty old biker guys I knew.
I eventually sold it, shortly after a seal blew on one of the bike's four cylinders, to a friend. I was moving across the country, and it was impractical for me to try to fix it and bring it with me, so I sold it for forty bucks and wished the guy luck on getting it running well and safely.
Gristle (2000 Buell Blast) [direct link]
I bought a Buell Blast, used, from an old Harley guy who said he was getting too old for anything but cruisers. It is a lot of fun to ride around. This nimble thing is a single-cylinder ("thumper" or "pounder", as some call it) 500. It has pretty decent torque at the low end for the engine size, but not a heck of a lot of horsepower. It will get out of its own way, but over 75MPH on the interstate it starts to feel a little weak, so it is a bit of a downgrade from an XJ650 in that respect (but an upgrade in other ways). It works great for zipping around on surface streets, but I need something bigger for more "serious" rides.
Before it came into my possession, the stock seat had been replaced by a custom gel seat, and the stock muffler had been replaced with a Vance & Hines performance exhaust. Bar-end mirrors had been added to replace the stock mirrors, as well, though they were angled upward like the standard mirrors had been (just farther out than the original mirrors). I fiddled with the bar-end mirrors and discovered that I got better rearview benefits out of sticking the mirrors straight out from the ends of the handlebars instead of angling them upward (or downward like a cafe racer style, for that matter). I also did not have to adjust the right-hand mirror nearly as often now as I did when it was angled upward, probably due to wind resistance putting more torque on the mirror mount so that it loosened more quickly when angled upward. I have no idea what brand mirrors they were. They're brown, with the mirror part rectangular, and they got relegated to sharing a box with some other parts I removed (see more about that below).
In 2017, I found myself thinking about the fact that in some ways the emerging aesthetic for this bike is something like a muscle bike. This fits with the fact it has had some performance improvements made to it. It is a bit difficult to think of it as a muscle bike, though, given the generally low-power nature of a Buell Blast. In a moment of mild epiphany, I realized it was not really muscular -- it was, in fact, all gristle. That is how I discovered the bike's name, "Gristle".
One minor problem I had with the bike is something that is evidently a common problem with Buell Blasts: the timer cover really does not like to stay on the bike. After losing a couple of them (because the screws rotated out and the covers fell off while riding), I decided to leave it as is for a while and try to figure out some other solution to the problem. I thought I would rather not spend money on "official" OEM or aftermarket mass manufactured covers, because they would likely just fall off somewhere and get lost anyway, and considered either something a bit more interesting than that or something a bit easier and cheaper than hunting down a place to buy a timer cover with the right screws and wait for delivery (or buy a cover from a Harley dealership and "make" my own screws with too-long screws from a hardware store). Ultimately, though, I ordered a snap-on timer cover. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I started to think it might be better to just leave it bare, and figured that if the snap-on cover fell out I'd just call it done. The snap-on cover has been there for years now, with no sign of loosening. I guess that settles it. Maybe I'll add a sticker to the timer cover.
I am not a huge fan of the stock saddlebags, and when I used bigger bags I had left over from my (first) XJ650 I found that the right bag rubbed on the drive belt shroud. I started just doing without saddlebags, and started using a tank bag (that is not specific to any bike) as a pillion seat bag when needed, and otherwise just wear a backpack if I need to bring stuff with me. I want to bolt some ammo cans onto the frame as panniers, but that'll probably need some custom spacers.
I felt like there was too much unnecessary cruft on Gristle, so I stripped off plastic pieces I do not need. All those I do feel like keeping are black except the front fender, which has been painted black, though after a few years I'm finally starting to see chips in the paint showing the yellow beneath. The rubber on the footpegs is wearing out, so I will need to do something about that eventually, and I would prefer to solve the problem in a more creative (and cheaper) manner than buying official parts, but maybe I should just get some aftermarket pegs and call it a day.
There was a leak in the front forks, but that got replaced with forks from another Buell. That gets mentioned below.
I replaced the stock air cleaner assembly with one designed for a Harley Davidson Sportster, with the help of a friend; see more about that below, with photos. Along with that, the carburetor boot ("intake manifold") got replaced, and later the top end gaskets on the engine (basically everything above the crankcase) got replaced as well.
I thought I might try printing out a Ninjaflex replacement for the timer cover, using a 3D printer at the local hackerspace, because the rubbery material might keep the screws from vibrating out. I was also considering something a bit more elaborate: an operational analog clock as a timer cover. I was not sure how to make the clock idea work without spending a truly absurd amount of money. I considered using turnlock fasteners, which would certainly give it a somewhat unique look, but I didn't see any way to mount the backs of them, so I'm not sure that's practical. I also thought of just cutting a circle out of a cat litter bucket and slaping that on there with Loctite to make it stay. As described above, I ended up with a plain black snap-in aftermarket timer cover, though.
I considered a bracket to mount some 40mm grenade ammo cans as panniers, but now I'm leaning toward getting some billet aluminum spacers for the frame mounting points to bolt .50 BMG cans on it instead. The grenade cans might be too big. They might be just the right size, though, so I'm still on the fence on this subject.
I'm thinking of repainting the front fender with bedliner, now that the matte black paint is starting to chip off. I've considered getting a black front fender from another Blast, but at this point it's not enough of a priority to bother with that.
I want to put a grille over the headlight -- and maybe replace the headlight with something a little smaller than the behemoth currently on the bike. Even if I don't use a smaller light, though, I want to switch to an LED headlight.
It came with clown-car-yellow plastic all over it, and I eventually decided to start removing that crap. I want to pare it down to something approaching "minimal", and between home and a local hackerspace I managed to find all the tools I needed for that. The following photos show the progression of my plastic stripping project.
This is how it started, with all the plastic on it (except the missing timer cover). All the stock plastic is present, though the previous owner removed the Buell decals. He had replaced them with tiny plastic Harley badges, but I took those back off. Eventually, I decided I just didn't even want the plastic on there.
Here, I have removed the seat and the yellow plastic from the fuel tank. There is a wrench set sitting where the seat goes. Removing the seat was a temporary measure necessary to detach the yellow plastic over the tank.
With the seat reinstalled, you should be able to see how it looks less clownish without the big-ass yellow cover over the tank.
At this point, I have removed both the yellow tail plastic and the tiny yellow flyscreen (sport fairing).
The saddlebags were removed here so you can see the absence of the yellow tail.
Unfortunately, I did not think to take a picture with the yellow tail plastic attached and the saddlebags off. I think I have some older photos that show the yellow tail a bit better, somewhere. Maybe I will find them later.
Air Filter Assembly Photos
As of 2015-07-26, my Blast has a new air cleaner assembly, actually designed for a Harley-Davidson Sportster. My friend Phelan ordered it from eBay (with my money) because eBay sucks and I wanted nothing directly to do with it, then cut the (superfluous for my bike) mounts intended to be used with a Sportster off the thing and painted over the cut metal. I went to his house with the bike and we installed it directly on the carburetor.
This eliminates the unslightly bulge of gigantic plastic airbox, provides more direct airflow for the carburetor, and looks pretty slick. On the ride home, the bike seemed to run a little more smoothly. I was not sure I could say I felt a difference in power at that point, though in theory there should have been a modest improvement. I subsequently came to realize it's a little snappier when I goose the throttle, which is nice, and cooler weather makes it even more fun.
These two image pairs show roughly equivalent views of the "before" and "after" air cleaner assemblies:
As you can see, there's considerably less to see of the air cleaner assembly in the after picture. I think it looks better, too.
This is more complete version of the image from which the "after" detail was taken.
This is another angle of the bike with the new air cleaner assembly, and a detail image of the assembly from that image.
Ported, Polished, Decked, Blackened
A friend (Phelan again) with the skills, and access to the tools (because he did machine work for NRHS when it was still in Berthoud, CO), gave me a huge favor by pulling the cylinder head off the bike and porting, polishing, and decking it. We didn't think to take "before" photos, but for the "after" photos he set it side-by-side with another (un-adjusted) Blast head for comparison:
Gristle needed new shocks, had an oil leak from the cylinder head gasket, and still had a yellow front fender. Rather than screw around with doing the work myself, I went the lazy route and had Dan at NRHS V-Twin Performance do everything for me -- including painting the front fender black, which he threw in for free. It turned out he had an extra set of Blast forks from his wife's salt flats speed trial bike, from before it had undergone its transformation, so he just swapped the forks rather than disassemble my forks and change the seals (thus saving a bunch of time on labor). As for the gasket, obviously that just had to be changed.
This is the state of the bike after that work:
(The second image is a close-up of the copyfree sticker from the first image.)
A few years after that work on the bike, Phelan had moved on to a different job in another town farther away, and Dan had moved his entire operation to Missouri.
In the summer of 2020, the Year of Cyberpunk, Gristle acquired a new aftermarket seat (the Gunslinger from Corbin). It's a huge upgrade from the custom gel seat a previous owner got for the thing. I have two pics of it on IPFS, the first of which is a link to a much larger (and better looking) version of the same photo (also on IPFS):
(That was my modular Schuberth C3 helmet on the bike, visor up, tinted inside lens down.)
(This is a photo of Gristle in the park, by the side of some kind of snack stand that looked permanently closed.)
Those images were from was August. Afterward, still in 2020, I replaced the stock handlebars with relatively low-profile offroad style bars with a crossbar, I replaced the front turn signals with close-set matte black bullet-style turn signals with horizontal grilles over them (intentionally similar to the style of the air filter assembly), and I swapped out the Pirelli Diablo street tires with Shinko 244 dual-sport tires. The new handlebars were ⅞" bars, while the stock handlebars were 1" bars, so the previous owner's bar-end mirrors no longer fit.
I bought an inexpensive set of bar-end mirrors and mounted them on the bike, but the mounting hardware frankly sucked. My first ride, after tightening the mirror mounts as much as possible, I went maybe two miles before the mirrors started vibrating loose. I tightened them up again, and made it three more miles -- to the library -- when I realized they were falling out again. I tried putting them together again, but it simply wasn't working out, so I returned them.
I had the stock mirrors, which were not on the bike when I bought it from the previous owner, but he gave them to me. The threaded end of the left-side mirror had snapped off at some point before I had the bike, but the right-side antenna-style stock mirror was still in good shape. I just added that mirror to the bike so I'd have a mirror and called it "done" for the time being.
Shortly after adding the new front turn signals, northern Colorado started to look like like the end of the world, so I thought it was a good time for some photos with all those modifications in place.
Among those two photos, the first is Gristle posing in front of the apparent end of the world. That's smoke from wildfires in the background, not a stormcloud.
The second image happened because I met a man named Bruce who graciously gave his go-ahead to photograph Gristle with his 1949 CJ2A. That was the last production year of the first Civilian Jeep (thus "CJ") model, nearly identical to the WWII military Jeeps of the era. I took a couple of photos, but figure the iconic front end of the jeep would be the best to share. This way, you also see the front of Gristle for a view of the three most recent changes to the bike: turn signals, handlebars, and tires.
The rear tire in both shots, by the way, is the same Shinko dual-sport tire as the front.
In early 2021, I bought a new axle-mount tail light and license plate holder, but did not want to mount the plate and light on an axle. Instead, I bought a separate license plate holder designed to be mounted on the tail, and bolted the tail light assembly and new rear turn signals (to match the front signals onto the new license plate mount on the tail of the bike). This eliminated the big black plastic tailpiece that was part of the stock bike. Along with the turn signals, I swapped out the flasher relay for one better suited to LED signals, and I relearned how to solder while installing the signals; I had not done any soldering in decades.
After riding around a bit like that, one day in April I was about an eighth of a mile or less from home and, for no discernible reason whatsoever, the one stock mirror on the bike just snapped off. It banged against my arm and clattered onto the street. I whipped the bike around and went back to get it. It turned out the threaded end of the mirror that screwed into the mount had snapped off, much like the other mirror evidently had for a previous owner. I did not want to ride around without mirrors; it would be no fun getting pulled over, or missing something important behind me at a key moment and getting into an accident. I ordered some Fenrir bar-end mirrors and waited the five or six days it took for them to arrive.
When the mirrors finally did arrive, and I installed them, I then waited a few more days for some very rainy weather to pass by before taking Gristle out for a spin. I did not really relish the prospect of these new mirrors vibrating out in the middle of a rainstorm
On 2021-05-04, with testing the vibration-resistance of the bar-end mirrors and the tail section as my excuse, I took Gristle out for a ride through the mountains to a neighboring town in the morning. When I got there, my hands were bitterly cold. I really need to get some handguards to keep the wind off my hands, and I need to remember to wear my glove liners inside my motorcycle gloves when the air's cold. I pulled into a gas station to get some hot chocolate, mostly so I could hold the cup to warm my hands. While I stood by the bike in the parking lot, sipping the hot beverage, sixty percent of the people who passed by my bike complimented it, so I guess I might be doing something right.
(That's a fuel bottle and a toolkit tied down between the back of the seat and the tail light.)
I still haven't gotten around to replacing the headlight or mounting ammo cans as panniers. I'm thinking about painting the silver frame parts black (the frame parts where the footpegs are mounted and the copyfree sticker is stuck) and adding header wrap.
Sleipnir (1981 Yamaha XJ650 Maxim) [direct link]
In 2016, I traded a broken 1991 black Nissan 300ZX with t-tops for a Yamaha XJ650 Maxim a decade older than the 300ZX. The bike was in good running condition. The only notable issues were a dent in the right side of the tank, turn signals that didn't work, and stock handlebars that were just not right for me (and I'm actually not so sure they were stock; they're very different from the bars I had on Taphoskandalon).
I quickly realized that the stock handlebars are far from ideal. I could keep them up in a "normal" position, where I couldn't adjust the mirrors to show anything behind me -- I could only get them to reflect my shoulders or off to the sides (which I could see without mirrors, without even turning my head), basically. I could also rotate the bars back and down toward the rider, which would angle the bars so that I could get the mirrors to show something behind me -- which also happened to look better, but would cause my wrists to ache after riding the bike for more than ten or fifteen minutes. Obviously, neither was a very acceptable solution. Clearly, the Midnight Maxim handlebars on my previous XJ650 were a little better designed for purposes of mirror placement.
This is the initial state of the bike (with stock handlebars adjusted to let me see past my shoulders):
I picked up a set of dirt bike bars from a motorcycle salvage yard for cheap, and they worked out great other than the fact one side turned out to be slightly bent, and the ends are about half an inch too short (the grips overhang the ends of the bars by about half an inch, which doesn't really interfere with my ability to ride the bike but isn't really optimal). The bend was visually obvious when mounted on the bike, but not so much before that. The salvage yard had a great return policy: I could just return them for full value in purchase credit. Unfortunately, forty-five minutes of searching did not yield something I wanted, so I'm stuck with slightly bent handlebars until I can find a set I like somewhere that'll fit the bike and isn't bent. I guess I could take a hammer to these to see if I can straighten them out, but that won't make them longer.
I discovered the bike was missing its flasher relay, so I got a replacement. It is not a stock replacement, so the self-cancelling unit probably won't work, but it didn't work on my previous XJ650 and there was no self-cancelling unit for the turn signals on any other bike I've ridden, so I guess I don't care and don't know what I'm missing. The relay seems to work, but I've only been able to test it by manually bridging a switch connection with a screwdriver because the turn signal control on the left handlebar switch assembly is broken. I need to get a new left handlebar switch assembly.
I have replaced the stock XJ650 Maxim tank (dented, chipped, and ugly) with an XJ750 Seca tank (thoroughly reconditioned, painted the "Anthracite" color of some 1993 Toyota Supras) I picked up from a member of the xjbikes.com forum, which then required me to get a custom seat that would fit the new tank. I got the seat made by Steve Gowing in Fort Collins, CO.
I bought a new battery for it; the old battery was pretty well shot, and the previous owner obviously hadn't taken any care of it. I also got the brakes serviced at CJM Enterprises in Loveland, CO. I would've wanted to do it myself, except I was pretty sure the rear drum brake would still have original asbestos brake shoes, and I didn't want to deal with asbestos brake dust. As a nice side-effect of paying someone else to do the work, I got to improve my confidence in my brakes much more quickly than if I insisted on doing it myself.
I intended to make some of the major cosmetic changes after a bunch of functional stuff that would contribute to better safety, reliability, and functionality. Getting things moving in those areas has been much slower than expected, though, so when I made an appointment a few months in the future to get a custom seat made, I suddenly found that the future was NOW, and ended up getting all the tank and seat stuff done before most of the work that still needs doing.
This is how the bike looked with the new seat and tank added, still with some gnarly old handlebars and no other cosmetic work, and with the side covers missing so you can see the white battery (I put them on again later):
I had just put the new tank and seat on it the night before, and decided to ride it around a bit and check for fuel leaks periodically. I poured fuel into it from a gas can (which I got from the other tank, of course), and had no real idea how much fuel I put in the thing, but figured it was surely enough for me to meet up with a local biker group (the 40+ Motorcycle Club in Fort Collins). We met up, went off to have breakfast, and on the way home I ran out of fuel, probably about a mile from my garage. That's how it ended up at the curb near an intersection, while I tried to get in touch with the missus to bring me a gas can.
I intend to add some links and names to the last few preceding paragraphs soon, but I feel lazy right now. I also have plans for a lot of cosmetic and functional updates. The first things I need to do are probably:
- fix the turn signal switch (still)
- replace the handlebars for better comfort and mirror placement
- replace the intake manifold boots (and probably rebuild carbs)
I eventually want to do something like wrap the headers and pipes with exhaust wrap and replace the mufflers with some matte black shorties like Dime City Cycles sells. I'm still undecided about whether to keep the existing airbox, do something different with an airbox, or just add pod filters.
I don't want to hole a piston because the engine's running lean due to the fact all four intake manifold boots show cracks visible to a casual glance. Consequently, I probably won't ride the bike much (if at all) for a while.