UPDATE: Out Of Province Inspection and Fork Seals taking longer then expected. Oh well, we got a dump of snow, so its not like I could bring it home, even if I wanted to! :P
Step 1: Reasoning for a Simpler, Toned-Down Builds
Reasoning for not doing a true to the name Cafe Racer build was the low kilometers. If you bikes engine is in really good health (everything factory spec, good compression, etc) I suggest not putting on pod filters. Pods require re-jetting carbs, not a problem usually (although there are some bikes its impossible to run pods on, the carbs just won't jet properly), but they DO NOT filter as well. If you have a bike that is super duper, pods will gnaw away at the compression quickly. Pods do reduce the life expectancy of an engine, fact. With an engine with 1500km on it, I would not pod it since its a good bike and could last a VERY long time. As well, the airbox could only be removed if the engine was taken out (Which it was), but this makes for very difficult swaps to change it back and forth from pods to the airbox.
Another reason for the toned down build on my bike was if I am doing it up, but I still want to ride it a lot, I don't want it getting dirty so I decided to leave the rear fender on. Some Cafe bikes do have fenders, usually retro chrome ones, not cheap black plastic like mine. My fender came in 2 pieces, so the part that sticks out the back and holds the license plate came off and I left only the fairly well hidden inner half that would keep the engine from getting too much muck on it. If the fender on a bike is one piece, it could be cut and modified to have only part inside the frame to keep things clean without a big ugly black fender sticking out the back of the bike.
After going through decisions like this, I decided to do a Cafe Racer styled bike, but not true to the Cafe name. Essentially, making a true Cafe bike just requires removing more stuff that isn't 100% necessary for the bike to run and be legal and swapping out big ugly stock factory parts, like the airbox, with smaller/sleeker aftermarket parts, like pod filters.
Now I am not saying that don't do a full on Cafe build, but if you are, don't pick the bike that is like new, picking something with more kilometers, had its break in phase and won't suffer from some of the problems that a really super low mileage bike may. And be mindful of what complications some mods bring. As well, be weary or super low mileage bikes, sitting generally isn't good and you can easily get a money pit if you buy a bike with very low mileage that is old.
UPDATE: I am highly against Pod filters truthfully. They look good, I give them that, but are a pain. On XJ bikes, if you install pods you will HAVE TO re-jet, then re-jet again, fiddle and re-jet again, try syncing the carbs and re-jetting again, then try re-jetting again, and re-jet again...I think you get where its going. Pods can be a huge hassle on some bikes, and XJ carbs are too fiddly to have them installed (Although, some people have done it successfully). Its good to Google your bike and research its quirks as well.
The other thing I have against pods is that on cars anyhow, pods will 99% of the time give you no improvement or actually reduce performance. The engineers knew what they were doing with air-boxes, my suggestion is leaving them installed unless you know that pods can be fitted easily to your bike, don;t plan to do tons of riding, and you are in a dry, clean (not dusty) environment.
Step 2: Planning
Make sure to plan out your idea before doing anything. This will give you an idea what work will have to be done, get a budget set for what parts will cost (or at least what parts are needed) and will hopefully keep you from biting off more then you can chew. I mean, I would like a TRON bike, but I would finish the first hub-less wheel and give up. Look through Google images of Cafe Racers for idea, but don't go overboard planning stuff unless you have the time to put in and a wallet that will let you do all that. Make realistic choices, but don't hesitate to plan maybe one really expensive but fancy touch. On mine, I had planned from the get go on a 5-3/4 inch Harley headlight, knowing this would cost $100 for the cheapest one. Because it was a headlight, I didn't bother planning it though on my drawing and never looked how it would mount. This was bad, I did get lucky and a cross member used to support a manifold for the brakes was perfect, heavier metal and a hole drilled through it fit the light, but try to plan everything. Also, look at the pictures and look at the color of the tank. How many times did I paint it?
As well planning keeps you from getting part way through and saying to yourself, "Now what should I do I didn't plan for this? Maybe I could do this...", although inevitably this will happen a bit. Its hard to plan for everything, but cutting down on that as much as possible is a huge help.
Step 3: Bikes
Assuming you are looking at bikes that aren't complete piles of garbage (If it looks like garbage, it probably is), the first thing to buying a bike, have someone help you gently set it on its side on a soft grassy area. Try picking it up by yourself. If you can't, its not the bike for you. The first rule is if you can't pick up the bike unassisted, you shouldn't be riding it. If you establish that you can pick the bike up (And there are ways of doing it with larger bikes) you can move on to the next steps.
You will want to check to see the engine turns freely (not seized), and check that it has compression. Look at the mileage, the lower the better. My bike was 1500km, very low for a 30y/o bike, but you can find lots with 10000 - 20000km which is decent. Do the frame numbers match the engine? Look at the brake pads, are they really worn down, are the rotors scored? If it has drum brakes on it anywhere, assume they need replacing as they should be anyhow as de-lamination of drum brake pads can become fatal. Are the forks leaking oil, compress them a bit and let them rebound, is there a ring of oil? Fork seals aren't a big deal to have replaced, but they are nice to know about. Is there rust in the tank? Put the bike in gear roll it forward until everything grabs, then roll it back until everything grabs, is there a lot of play there? Do that for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, these are the gears that usually get most wear. Does the owner have keys? Replacing ignition and all that can be a pain. Lastly if you can, check the electrical. Hook up a battery or jumper to a car and turn the key, do all the lights work, horns, this that and the other thing? Most people don't like wiring, it can be hard. Also, if possible try to turn it over (MAKE SURE IT HAS OIL), and if it starts, let it warm up a bit and give it one good rev to see if it will make it through a good rpm range. if it doesn't want to make it through many after a good warm up the CDI box might be going.
The parts that if you notice they are failing that immediately say don't buy it are;
- rust in tank
- seized motor
- low compression
- numbers on frame and motor don't match (Even if numbers match, a good idea is to have the local Registry/DMV run it, if it has a lien or a non-repairable title, no go)
- really high mileage (I wouldn't touch most bikes if they have 60 000+km)
Also be aware of the seller, do they really try to push it, do they say something then later contradict it? Be wary of buying anything from a shifty seller. Its also a good idea to take a friend when going to look at something.
UPDATE: There are some thing that you shouldn't be frightened away from a bike from! These include things like Out Of Province (OOP) inspections. In Canada a bike purchased in one province and intended to be registered in another will need an OOP inspection done. This does add $150 on to your total, but if its a good bike, good for it, it also just means someone will check your handy work (So do a good job!). I don't know if there are similar from state to state or in other countries. As well, salvage bikes are not to be run from. Salvage bikes can still be registered, but will require an inspection as well.
Only if it has a status or condition that will make it NOT road legal/register-able in your area should you turn it down. My bike was from BC and is going to be registered in another province, so it will need an OOP inspection, which is going to be done over the weekend hopefully (I order some new rear shocks, the old ones leak a little, which is a fail-able problem, but they haven't got here yet!).
Step 4: Parts and Materials
- brake lines (steel braided is preferable)
- new oil (coolant if its liquid cooled)
- tires (if they are more then 6 years old, or close to it, or if they look worn out or bad, replace them)
Brake lines and a brake flush is a good idea for any bike, brake lines are only good for so long and 30 year old rubber lines are no good. Same with tires, unless they have been replaced in the last 5 years and have good tread left they should be replaced. Change all the fluids.
Things needed for conversion will depend on taste but common parts that are changed include:
- the seat
- the lights (head light, directionals/signals, tail light)
- air filter
- gauge cluster
Overall for the build I required;
- A fairly well stocked tool chest (sockets, wrenches screwdrivers, various sizes bare minimum, tin snip were used a lot)
- $120 in paint cans (3 clear coats, one engine paint, one frame paint, one tank paint ignoring that I did it twice, and one primers)
- Car edge protector/moulding
- Electrical tape
- Heat shrink tubing
- LOTS of crimp connectors
- A can or 2 of brake cleaner
- Paper towels
- 4L 10w 40 oil (not motorcycle oil, don't even bother)
- Automotive tape
- A car jack helps if you remove the engine
- Polish compound (a small tube will suffice unless you know you have LOADS of chrome)
- New gauges (new to the bike)
- New oil gaskets
- New headlight
- New signals
- New taillight
- New mirrors
- New Grips
Step 5: Delicate Bits
The oil filter on my bike had to come off to remove and install the engine, so I wrapped it in a clean, but oil soaked rag and set it in an oil drain pan off to the side as well.
Step 6: Prep
Remove as much from the bike as possible that is easy (plastic, gauges, handlebars, seat, lights, horns) We want to try to get it down as much as possible to assess. One thing I noted in my assessment, lots of wires up front, where all the wires connect which meant a big headlight to hide all said wires. My bike had all the connections made and hidden inside a box in the front fairing behind the headlight. The big fairing had lots of room, without it, a big headlight was required to hide the snarls of wire. I also noted the fuse box, which was still installed, was disconnected and individual fuse holders installed, so I had an empty box just taking up space so I installed a new fuse box where the old one was, and removed all the individual fuse holders, more room! Lastly I noted that the lights had been removed from the factory wiring harness along with the horns and were not installed well (no daytime running lights, etc) so I did connect them up to the wiring harness as they would have come originally.
I noted the battery leak (no battery there, but was clear a battery HAD leaked at some point) and where it removed paint from the frame a little and engine, oil leak from several dried up RUBBER gaskets (the rubber ones dry up and tend to leak quite a bit) and one worn rear brake (which has not yet been replaced as it is still within factory spec safe measurements but will be changed soon), fork seal leak (I am having a shop do them and installing steel braided brake lines). The dent in the tank was obvious, and everything else I didn't care about because it was on parts being removed that where not going back on.
Try removing it down to just a rolling frame with the engine in the frame (take it out if you need to or want to) and the wiring harness (again, unless you want to remove the harness and can put it back. Harnesses are pretty easy to put back).
If you do plan to remove the engine, this is a good guide for removing it on the cheap. Try to use more padding then this guy though, be a bit more gentle;
Otherwise try this method;
The second method really helps for putting the engine back in! With the first method, try and get 1 or 2 other people to help put the engine back in while the bike is still upright. Trust me, putting a 750 motor back into a frame by yourself is not fun at all, and you will be sore for a week.
Wiring harnesses (if you plan to take it out) are usually bundled nicely and are easy to see how they go back. Take pictures though! most of the time all the plugs and wires are color coded, so even if you have 2 male connectors of the same type of plug, they are usually different colors, and go to the other plug that color matches.
Step 7: Frame Cutting
It is very important to measure twice and cut once though! Think this through before cutting unless you can weld bits back. You don't want to take too much off. I suggest figuring out how long the seat and cowl have to be, possibly adjusting them and cutting the frame at a location that is easy to cut, that will end just before the cowl, or just after.
On my bike, I used bar end plugs in the holes where the little part of the frame was to keep water and debris out of the frame. You can see they stick out a little past the cowl, and they don't look that bad. If you cut them just under the cowl you can weld a piece of bracing across the ends. On my bike, the support for the fender is right there (part of the reason I choose to cut it there) so I did not weld anything across them.
Again, be very careful you don't cut off anything important. Check where your shocks mount to and make sure you aren't taking the mounts off with the cut, or anything else vitally important or structural.
Step 8: Paint or Just Cleaning?
If a lot of the frame has surface rust, a lot of paint is gone, you may have to remove everything from the frame and have the whole thing soda/sand blasted and repainted (yourself or professionally). There is no point in leaving problem areas that aren't problems yet only to have them become problems. You will also need to remove everything if you want a painted frame (TACKY! Unless you have a Ducati or Bimota with a red frame, then its legitimate).
This will also apply to the tank (since its really the only painted thing going back on). Will a good buff and polish make it look like new, or is the paint really faded, scratched, dented? If the tank is dented, definitely fix that. If its a big dent, look into a new tank (what I would try) or see if you can seal the tank off and hook up a pressure washer to it and use a hydroforming technique to push the dent out maybe? I would try using tie down straps around other parts that you don't want pushed out that seem like they may get pushed out, that way the tank doesn't get deformed, only the dents come out. I wouldn't worry if they come out all the way, just enough that a little body filler can smooth them out. If its small and shallow dent, body filler is your friend.
Since you are customizing the bike and the tank is already off, you will probably want to paint it anyhow. The most important part of painting a tank, well 2 parts actually. Don't sand down to bare metal unless you are using body filler on a dent, the factory primer is far better then your spray can primer, so taking it down to bare metal will mean rust coming through down the road. Taking it down for body filler in one small area isn't too bad though, but be sure to wipe clean really clean before priming and do a good job priming. The second thing, prep work is key. Spend hours with fine sand paper smoothing the primer and what not. I only spent an hour or 2 prepping for paint, and you can see striations in the paint even though its smooth as a babies ass. And the clear coat won't fix that. I mean, my paint doesn't look bad from far away, but up close, it looks kinda not really that awesome. And I tried twice. The first time was REALLY bad.
This step also applies to individual parts.
Step 9: Reassembly
Doing a stylized bike is fairly straight forward before the seat, its just reassemble it with original parts and new/aftermarket parts. Some aftermarket parts won't fit, or some new parts won't. For example, the new gauge cluster I installed was off a similar model and year bike, but still required re-wiring and custom mounts to fit this bike. Likewise, the headlight is an Arlen Ness Harley Davidson headlight and was never intended for a mid 80's Yamaha so it needed to be custom mounting.
Test fit things before putting them on and test them with a few other pieces, especially aftermarket parts. Rather then putting something on and taking it off again and again, if you test it you can usually get stuff put on once and not have to undo it again.
Being that its reassembly and parts may have been painted and what not take your time as to not scratch paint, and undo work you have done already.
Now at some point you will realize, this thing COULD be ridden as is. DON'T DO IT BRO! It may be tempting to take it for a test drive, but don't. By this point you have long since drained the oil, she will be dry, you may have missed a vital component (brakes maybe!) so its best not to drive it until its finished. However, test everything as you go. Once you get to the, I COULD drive this stage, fill the fluids and turn it over though. It easier to fix something now while its accessible rather then later, but don't do anything stupid. Feel free to pull it slowly out of the garage in first if you want to check all the drive train is connected though.
Step 10: The Seat (Incomplete ATM)
The other option that I opted for was sheet metal. Sheet metal I like because once you have the shape, no need to muck around with messy fiberglass and glue. On the other hand, its harder for most people to work with and the final product may not be near as good. There are pros and cons to each, fiberglass and foam is the way I would suggest most people to go, but if you are versed in sheet metal go for it.
I went with metal, and one thing I found nice about it is that since you can use rivets to hold it together as well as welding, you can also use rivets for decoration, I really like the rivet look and don't mind having a few on the cowl. I don't know that rivets would play well with fiberglass, they may crack it or just fall out, but could always be glued in for the same effect.
The shape of the seat is fairly simple, either a flat pan that comes up to the base of the tank, and has the cowl at the rear, or the seat can climb up the tank a bit, like mine.
The cowl is usually a half bullet shape, a smooth curved surface. Although another fairly common cowl is more like mine, squarer, has some edges to it. Mine is a bit of a cross between the 2, I made the base a square with very slightly bowed out sides with a curved top.
The seat and cowl should be one piece. One thing to consider before building it is how will it mount? My bike has a little holder at the front under the tank where a metal rod slips into. Most bikes are like this, so make sure that the mount from the seat fits snuggly into the holder without much play, as play will cause the seat to move while riding. I am not 100% of how most bike seats mount at the back, mine had a locking mechanism on one side, on both sides it had a little tab you pulled to unlatch each side. You can use these if you want, mine were broken so I looked at bolting it down on each side. There were a variety of hole to choose from including some from original fairing bits there were threaded with bolts already, these are handy. Don't plan on using holes inside the cowl is my suggestion. You will find in a hurry these are hard to reach and do up unless the wheel is removed, especially if you leave the fender on.
For seats that will be riding up the tank a bit, its suggested to buy some cheap car edge protectors/moulding to edge the seat with, as well as add a few rubber bumper pads.
The Materials used for my seat were;
- One large piece of sheet metal (believe to be 20 gauge)
- one package edge trimming
- 1/2 a meter of vinyl will do one seat (They probably only sell it by the meter, so 1 meter will do 2. I am redoing the original seat and my custom one)
- foam padding (this stuff is surprisingly expensive, $30 for one pad of bargain bin stuff, more if you want more comfy stuff. I suggest only using it on the custom seat and using the original seats original foam if you are covering it as well, if possible)
- Eyelet tool and many eyelets (buy the tool, it comes with eyelets, don;t use them, buy a big package of them, use them and return the tool when your done, saves you $25)
- One long Converse/high top shoe lace
- rivets and riveter
- Tin snips
This step is currently not finished, I wanted to submit this into a contest, and have not quite finished the seat. It will be done in the next week or so as I intend to be riding by then.
Step 11: Aftermarket Parts / New Parts
First gauges. Gauge clusters are a giant paint in the arse. The best solution is finding a cluster off another bike that fits your bike (wiring wise) and making that work. Trying to get all new gauges can become a wiring nightmare if you don't know what you are doing. For this research is key. I found on my bike, XJ650 and XJ550 clusters will swap out fairly easily. They used the same plug, but the opposite sex to what they needed, but being Yamaha's they used the same color coding and it was easy enough to cut the connector off the old, and wire it onto the new, and it works great. One thing to be aware of is back lights and indicator light. Some bikes may have more then one light for things and wiring 2 together will make things work improperly. An example is the turn signal light on the gauges. The original set had 2, one for left, one for right. They had the same ground, but different signal wires. The new part only had a light to tell you your lights were on. Wiring only one signal wire will cause the light to only tell you when one side is operating, and this will fail MoT's. Wiring them together and then through the bulb will turn your signals into 4 way flashers. 2 diodes were needed to isolate one from the other but that they could still use the same bulb. Be mindful of small things like this.
That being said, be aware of what your bike has, does it have a mechanical or electronic tach? mech. or elec. speedo?
Mounting for clusters usually isn't too bad, welding a washers on the original mount can make it easy to mount a new gauge cluster.
Headlights are fairly straight forward, you usually have a hi beam and a lo beam and ground. Some bikes have grounding wires, like mine, others do not. If you get a headlight with only 2 leads, chance are one is for hi, one for lo, and its grounded through the body as this is very common. Also, make sure that you buy headlights with H4 bulbs. H3 bulbs are dim and useless. Japanese lights usually mount with 2 clamps that mount to the forks and then to the light. Other lights will have one central mount, and this is common to Harley Davidson parts. Japanese round headlights can be picked up for $30, but if you don;t like the look and you want a look like a HD headlight, it is a Harley part so you will have to pay accordingly, and they can range from $100 up to $600.
I utilized an existing cross member to mount my headlight, although in some cases a mount will have to be made. Whatever the case, allow for adjustments of the light for aiming.
It also occurs to me, a cheaper method (If you own a 3D printer) would be to just print a big bullet shaped shell, assuming the printer could print in an area 6" x 6" x 9'' or larger, you could print out a 5-3/4" headlight (A bit larger then 5-3/4") and fit a 5-3/4" sealed beam to it. Some of these lights cost upwards of $500, so I am sure a printer would be far easier on the wallet (Again, assuming you already own one).
New grips are always nice, and they are cheap. When buying a set, know what size your handlebars are. One will have a large inside diameter then the other, this one is for the throttle grip. To install them, rub soapy water on the inside of them and on the handlebar. They will slide right on and when they dry will stick really nicely.
These are listed before the mirrors because if you go with bar end mirrors, best to put these on first. Some bar end mirrors come apart enough that you don't have to take the difficult rubber plug out to put grips on, some don't come apart that much. The ones that don't come apart enough add an hour just to put grips on. Best to do it right the first way and figure out you could have done it in any order then do it in the other order and find out you have to undo everything.
Bar End Mirrors
Bar end mirrors are coming very common place it seems. For normal mirrors, these usually just screw out of the handle bars and new ones screw in. Bar end mirrors replace the handle bar end plug. Not all grips will accept these, only if the grip is open at the end. Essentially these are pressed in, tightened and they expand (rubber is compressed and pushed outwards, or a mechanical unit pushes out) to hold them. For rubber these usually fit VERY tight even before tightening. Loosen them off apply soapy water again to them and to the inside of the handlebar. Turning them helps. Once you have them started, grab the rubber and turn it and push it. This will take time and effort. To get them almost all the way in, you may need to loosen them a bit as you go as they will tighten up. Once you have them most of the way in, enough that the grips covers everything up to the nice finished part on the mounts, roughly adjust them up and down by turning them. Tighten the bolt up. For the mechanical ones, they should slide right in if loosened off and them are tightened up. I prefer the rubber mounts though, although harder to install, the rubber reduces vibrations.
UPDATE: If you do have the rubber ones, trying to start them is a pain if the rubber is cut flat and has an edge to it. Take a knife (carefully) or scissors and angle the end that goes in first a bit all the way around and this will make it easier.
Signal Lights and Taillight
Bright trailer marker lights work REALLY well for some of these. They are DOT approved (good for inspections if they are really observant), cheap and mount quite nicely. Although, local bike shops usually sell (non-DOT) lights for $40 for 2. These are usually either various flush mount styles for fairing (useless on Cafe bikes usually unless you have fairings) and the ones that stick out. They usually just have a threaded end, you stick through a hole and tighten down. If you can use flush mounting ones somewhere, the marker lights are cheaper, a set of 5 for the top of a truck runs like $25 at Walmart. 2 holes and bolt them down flush, wire them in. Easy, no harder then purpose made ones. Try testing marker light before you buy them, or if they do returns, buy them, use jumper leads in the parking lot to test them and return dim ones. Another nice thing about marker lights, many use LEDs now.
Step 12: Money Saving Tips
There are a few things I figured out while building this that you can in fact get away with and still pass inspections (Without a doubt). I also learned, not from experience but just talking to other motorcyclists. The first part, just because you can find a $100 part for $10 does not mean you should buy it. I can by brake pads for my bike for $2 a set if I wanted, but its better to pay $30 a set. Some stuff is just garbage and is not worth buying, and it really is better to pay more. Its not bad to shop around though. I was looking for a fuel petcock because the "Prime" setting on mine doesn't work (Not a big deal for the time being so I am putting it off until next month) so instead of buying a rebuild kit I thought I would just buy a new one. They range from $90 up to $150 for an original OEM part. In this case, its fine to buy the $90 one. I had looked around and there are other petcocks that would fit costing $20, but again, what quality are they?
On another hand, there are bits and bobs that are cheaper because they are intended for a different use. Most notably for my build was lights.
For the rear turn signals and the taillight I used marker lights, and the three of them cost me about half of what I would pay for a single turn signal. Even more notable, the lights I got are LED lights and the price I compared them to was a normal incandescent light. What else is great about marker lights? Well for one they are usually all DOT approved and say so right on them (which is great if the guy doing your inspection is super anal), and they are readily available (Princess Auto has an entire aisle dedicated to them). They also come with mounting hardware and what not so they mount nicely. So the price was right, they are DOT approved, easy to get, and mount nicely, but being LEDs they lent themselves very nicely to adjustments as well.
Now you have to have a daytime running taillight, it has to come on when the bike is turned on, as well as gets noticeably brighter when you brake. If you have seen marker light you will know most only have 2 leads, positive and negative which generally means on or off. But there is a way around this. Since LEDs draw far less power then ordinary incandescent bulbs, you can use a 2.2kΩ 1/4 watt resistor in the circuit with them to make them run all the time (while the bike is on). Bikes should have a 3 pin connector of some sort for the taillight (2 if your bike uses the frame as ground, mine has a ground wire) and these are for brake light, daytime running and if you have a third pin, ground. From the LED light, connect the negative lead to ground via the connector or frame whichever you have, then the other lead from the LED light I cut the connector off. Strip it, and another piece of wire, twist them together and put a crimp connector on them. From the other piece of wire, we had the 2.2kΩ resistor and another piece of wire to that (all in series) and them put a crimp connector on the end of it. The connector that has the 2 wires goes to the brake light plug, the connector that has the resistor goes to the daytime light plug.
When the bike is turned on, the daytime circuit immediately comes on and stays on, the resistor reduces the power that gets to the LED light and it comes on about half brightness, but when the brakes are applied, the resistor is by passed and the full system voltage gets to the light and it lights up at full brightness. I would suggest using a 1.2kΩ to 2.2kΩ resistor.
The one thing to be warned about marker lights, test them in store if you can, if you can't buy them, test them in the parking lot with your car battery. If they aren't bright enough, return them.
Because all bikes now have to have a license plate light I also spliced wires into the ground and daytime running circuit for it.