Tag Archives: restoration

Time to end the RGV restoration

I have recently come to the conclusion that it is time to put an end to the project of re-building / restoring the RGV.  Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending!  My decision is not to give up on the project, but to finish it.  Discuss Project management for long enough and eventually you will end up talking about the three competing factors on any project.  The saying goes “Features / Timeframe / Budget.  Choose two”.  Although most of my experience with project management has been with software, the same idea applies to any project. – The RGV restoration would be no different, except for the fact that I had allocated a monthly budget of what I was prepared to spend on it.  This makes the budget a function of how long the project runs for.  So, this unnaturally skews the balance of the three competing factors. Unfortunately, it also makes for a long project!  I could have spent more each month, but I have seen too many motorcycle restoration projects run out of enthusiasm due to the large money pit that they can become (and no doubt how quickly in debt their owners can become)

Speaking of large money pits…  I kept a spreadsheet to allow me to stick to my monthly budget.  This in itself seemed like a wise idea.  It does however put sharply into focus how much money I have poured into the project.  (Should that be “poor-ed”?)  Given the prices that RGVs demand these days, it is suffice to say that I would be making a loss if I sold the project at this point in time.

In terms of where the bike is “currently at”:

  • It is still two packing shelves full of pieces.
  • I have recently had the front forks and rear suspension rebuilt.  This was only the second time I have used a commercial business to do any serious work.
  • I have sourced all the parts and I am in the middle of rebuilding the brakes.  That process will hopefully be a story for another time.
  • About the only outstanding parts left to purchase are new chain and sprockets and new tyres.  (For some reason I just don’t trust twelve year old tyres…)

Things I have learnt along the way:

  • I should not have attempted to restore this bike.  Despite starting with a “free” motorcycle, this project has cost a fortune!  It would have been cheaper to buy a running and almost road-worthy RGV and start from there.
  • By doing the boring things first (such as frame straightening) rather than the fun things (such as painting fairings and buying bling parts) the restoration project didn’t start with a bang and run out of momentum.
  • Some planning would have avoided the need to do things multiple times.  – I had to completely strip the bike to get part of the frame repaired.  I subsequently put the swing-arm rear suspension back on, only to remove the rear-shock to get it serviced later.
  • Buy good tools.  They really do make the job easier.  On the other hand…  Some once-off style jobs are not worth spending a fortune on.  Sometimes it makes sense to take the part to a workshop where the job can be done for you.  Removing the bearings from the rear-suspension linkage was a good example.
  • I have become quite good at watching where things (such as nuts / bolts / washers etc) go when I drop them on the ground.  This is an under-rated skill in my opinion.

One thing which I don’t need to learn is that this isn’t the end of spending money on the bike.  A track-bike is never finished and rarely cost free. Until I get the chance to properly put the bike through its paces, I don’t know if the gearbox is mechanically fine, whether the clutch plates slip and whether the engine will perform properly under load.  All these things will reveal themselves in the fullness of time!

Look what I made!

As I mentioned earlier,  I recently fired up the RGV for the first time in a long time.  Before starting the bike, I needed to re-fit the various electronic boxes to the wiring harness.  Specifically the SAPC unit, and the CDI unit.  The SAPC unit attaches to the sub-frame of the motorcycle, which meant I had to re-install that as well.

This was the first time I had installed these parts, since installing the rear shock absorber from the GSX-R 600.  Unlike the standard RGV shock-absorber, the remote canister “piggy-backs” on the main body of the shock-absorber.  Although it did not touch the SAPC unit, this canister was in close proximity to the expensive box of electronic trickery. 

It was not hard to imagine that a minor tumble may have flexed the swing-arm sideways enough for the canister to collide and damage the SAPC unit.  Whether or not this sort of incident could occur was irrelevant – I decided it was safest to avoid the problem altogether by relocating the unit.

Mmmm.... Muesli...I am definitely no expert when it comes to fabrication of parts, but I was enthused with the optimism gained by having the right parts and tools for the job.  First effort was to make a cardboard mock-up of the tray.  I decided not to allow too much depth in the tray, as experience has taught me that the rear wheel travels further than would otherwise seem likely.  Careful measuring allowed for a neat fit between the rails of the sub-frame.  Having gone through this process, my only recommendation is you take great care to “flex” your cardboard cut-out as little as possible when lowering in and out of position.  Parts of the final design were influenced by the need to be able to manoeuvre the tray into position without bending it.

The rest of the build process was slow and methodical.  I used 0.6mm galvanised steel sheet – as that is what I had available.  After carefully measuring out the dimensions of the tray, a pair of tin-snips cut it to approximately the right shape, and then a bench grinder and hand-file finished off the shaping.

Folding the sheet was done by hand, holding the plate in the vice, with bits of timber to add support to either side of the fold line.   Somehow, I managed to avoid any silly mistakes caused by folding the sheet the wrong way!

Another rectangular sheet was riveted to the tray, and folded in position to form the “back piece” of the tray.  This then bolts to the sub-frame where the pillion seat brace is.

At this stage, I have yet to put bolts in to secure the SAPC and CDI boxes.   Final placement of these parts is still to be determined.  If there are any readers with an RGV, they may be wondering where I am planning on putting the battery.  – On a standard bike, this tray sits where the battery recess was.  Well, rest assured that I have not forgotten about it, but that is a story for another time.
Installed with components
Shot from rear of bike.

RGV Update

“Good news everyone!”  The RGV’s engine officially works.  The reinstallation of the engine took far longer than planned.  That was due to a combination of intentional stalling to get the budget back on track, unplanned extra work due to faults discovered along the way and limited spare time.

When I went to install the engine back in the frame, I discovered a hairline crack in the engine cradle.  Although the engine has rubber mounts reducing the amount of vibration transferred to the frame, common sense dictated that I should not ignore such an obvious weak point.  A quick trip to a local aluminium welder had that problem sorted out.

During this time, I took the opportunity to superficially tidy up the expansion chambers.  (exhaust pipes)  I say “superficially”, as I made no attempt to reduce the carbon build up that is surely deposited on their insides.  Instead, I sanded back the existing layers of paint, removed as much of the surface rust as possible, treated the remaining rust with a “rust converter” and treated the pipes to a fresh paint job with heatproof paint.  Whilst being a “far from perfect” job, it should give the pipes a bit more protection against the elements.

The reinstallation of the engine, exhausts and cooling system went remarkably smoothly, given that I do not have a workshop manual.  I have yet to buy myself a workshop manual for the bike.  This is largely due to the fact that I used to have one and they are not cheap.  I cannot quite bring myself to buying a new one.  These days, “bootleg” PDF versions are available on the internet.  I have found the PDF version of the RGV manual to be an incomplete series of bad quality scanned in images.  Still, using this and referring back to photos I took of the bike at the beginning of the year meant I did not end up with “bits left over”.

Once it was back in one piece, half a litre of fuel and the battery were “borrowed” from the VFR, and I was able to fire the bike back into life quite easily.  The “build” itself still has a fair way to go.  The high-level short list comprises of:

  • Replacing the brake lines and servicing the brake calipers
  • Front fork rebuild or replace (to be decided based on pricing)
  • Replacing various bits and pieces that are worn out. (chain and sprockets / clutch lever and cable / etc)
  • Fitting the new bodywork.  But that’s a story for another time.
  • Straight as an arrow! (Is there a crosswind?)

    Well, the RGV is as straight as it is likely to get.  As you would imagine, the frame specialist has seen more than his fair share of bent bikes.  He showed me an immaculate looking cruiser that had been restored from a crash and re-sold.  The front wheel was about 40mm (over 1.5 inches) off centre.  Apparently it “rode alright” and it was not until the new owner was cleaning it did he spot the issue!  So, if you go to buy a second-hand bike, make sure you check it is straight.  The frame specialist also told me that it was common to find bikes were up to around 10mm out when they are brand new!  I guess that means some leniency may need to be shown when inspecting a second hand bike.

    My bike had bigger issues:  At some point, it had taken “a big whack” to the front end.  When this happens, the front forks (with their extra leverage) tend to stretch and bow the steering-head assembly.  The cups that hold the steering head bearings had also stretched “out of round”.  The bearings that are meant to fit snugly into their cups fell out in his hands!  It also has the effect of “steepening” the steering head angle, making the bike “quicker steering” and less stable.  If you are considering purchasing an insurance write-off to turn into a track bike, it is probably well worth remembering this point.  Obviously, a bike that has not suffered from a catastrophic reduction in wheelbase length should not be suffering from this issue.  People do crash in other manners!

    Not surprisingly, a couple of minor cracks had formed around the steering head and these have been welded-up. The tortured sub-frame has been coaxed back into being straight.  A common issue with the RGVs was a tendency for a crack to form on the engine mounting brackets.  This had occurred on my frame.  He welded it up “the best he could” but it was difficult to access.  This means the next task is to remove the engine and take the bare frame back for him to finish the job.

    I have been doing my fair share of web-research on restoring the Suzuki RGV.  Most of the write-ups I have found on-line are going to be registered for road use.  In addition, it appears no one bothers to write up “restoration on the cheap” projects.  I guess projects without the bling, do not attract the same fanatical owners. (or at least not the same desire to show off the project)  My goal is to build the bike up to be practical and functional.  That is not to say it will not end up with a few fancy parts on it, eventually, just that the purchase of these parts will not take precedence over what will make it an effective track-bike. 

    My secondary goal is to be “slow and steady”.  I have a monthly budget for the bike and a list of tasks I want to achieve.  There has been more than one web-site where the project starts off with a rush of expensive, light-weight components only to appear to halt with the bike little more than a rolling chassis of finely polished parts.  Strangely enough, you never really see a final post where the owner admits defeat / bankruptcy / declining interest.  Maybe all started and published projects will be “finished” one day… 

    The other point to make is “finished” is a relative term.  My declaration is this:  Once the bike is ready for a track day, the restoration project will be deemed “finished”.