Lessons from a Bike Build

Thinking about doing up a project bike? Read some of my hard-won do's and don'ts before you pull the trigger.

In two months, it’ll be the anniversary of my trip to Peru – a trip that inspired me to purchase a dirty off-roader and restore it over winter. Now, easily mid way through Summer, it’s still in the garage awaiting parts… forever awaiting parts. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve picked up along the way, mostly through stubborn trial and error…


I’m the kind of guy who’ll swap out and rivet a new chain, change the fluids, filters, bulbs, change discs and pads and bleed out the system, hammer out old and gently tap in new wheel and steering bearings. In short, I’m not one of those muppets that might take their bike to the garage for a wheel alignment, lest they get their hands dirty. So – involved I am. But that said, I’ve now got enough (hard won) spannering experience to know the savings don’t necessarily justify the effort. That’s considering all the spare parts mistakenly chewed through, all the bolt heads that have sheared (i.e. the three exhaust header bolts that sheared off in the engine recently…), and not mentioning the depreciation of resale value when a potential purchaser looks down at a 3 year absence of stamps in the service book. Which brings me to my first lesson…

Lesson One: First build? There’s no way you’ll be flipping for a profit.

I took the healthier angle of treating the build as a ‘classroom for one’ on motorcycle mechanics. A way to learn all the intricacies of a modern motorcycle and, if needed, develop the skills and swagger to roadside repair equipped with nothing but a torn up buff, pannier strap and a handful of sand. But I’ll admit it, while out searching for bargain basement bikes there was part of my mind hopelessly attached to the possibility of making some dollar. If this part of my mind were any bigger – or didn’t have the learning element to fall back on – I would have experienced a near-fatal shock. The cost of tools alone is a cause for despair. And while most of these can be used for other garage work, there’s an expensive minority that’ll fit nothing but one bolt on the bike you’re working on… If you’re gearing up to do more, great. If it’s a one off – you might be better finding another hobby. Like Crochet.

Honestly – you’ll shit yourself when you find out how much a crankshaft bearing can cost.

Lesson Two: Buy a bike that preferably works

Sounds obvious, right?  In practice, not so much. Remembering your pre-flight checks when you’re staring as something just made for getting in trouble can take serious restraint. Take a look at what £1250 bought me, nearly 10 months ago…

Yet to be named – my 2002 LC4 640 project bike! (Not my garage btw! I wish!)

Looks alright, doesn’t it? Let’s gloss over the fact it took me two days of every possible kick-starting technique to get it going because the electric start was out of order. Low and behold there’s a whole art form to it! Then, when it FINALLY fired up the engine temp warning light flicked straight into action, and further inspection showed how basically every electric component was bodged on with electrical tape. All in all, artistic license had been used in abundance when the PO stated “Will need a little bit of TLC”.

Over the course of working on it, I’d also figured out the wiring wasn’t the only thing bodged. The bike was sold as a 2002, but the occasional bit here and there (like… the engine…) were ’03 components.  Nothing some delving into the service manual wouldn’t fix, just a sprig of wasted time and bearing kits that don’t quite match up. While I’m on the subject, being able to find a service manual should be part of your pre-purchase checks, it’ll make the whole ordeal waaay simpler.

Lesson Three: More haste less speed

The underside of the frame had chewed up paint and rust and the engine was stained yellow from various fluid leaks during its inevitably hard life. Naturally, I wanted to strip everything away and get them blasted (but only soda blasted for the engine case!) and powdercoated so the building stage could begin in earnest.

All well and good having a tidy frame – but where on earth do all these bolts, hoses and wires go??

Truth is, bike building starts way before you’re assembling shiny components together. You need to take ultimate care tagging nuts and bolts and jotting down where they came from. If not, you’re in for a world of hell down the line. I ripped everything away from my bike in order to get the frame and engine coated early on. I’ve lost track of how much I’ve spent replacing components that were reusable, only because I’ve lost them. You should see the box of bits I have left over – it’s a little terrifying…

Not a clue where these little buggers’re from…

If I ever pick up another project bike (likely, even now), I’d probably label the parts as they came off, as well as making annotated sketches of where they came away from the bike. In the process I’d check the condition and make a list of which parts need replacing – ordering them in one go can save a small fortune in postage costs. I’d also take a little while to get my garage in order as I’m fairly sure dirty hidden corners have swallowed up lots of necessary nick-nacks. Also, my moms fairly fucking furious with the number of oil stains on the new driveway…

In the next post I’ll be sharing all the fun and games involved  in engine rebuilding. Any requests? Leave me a comment!



1 comment on “Lessons from a Bike Build

  1. Pingback: Lessons from an Engine Re-Build | Badventuring

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