Many of you reading this will get far different things from what I write. Some will see this as a bike-specific technical project. Others will see this as reflections of a father indirectly teaching lessons to his son. Many will take the contents as a general primer on how to…and how not to…approach the reclamation of a neglected motorcycle. I’m sure a good size group will simply chuckle into their coffee at the ramblings and failings of an aging goof in his garage.
Regardless of what you get out of it, I hope you enjoy yourself.
Before getting into the project at hand, a bit of back-story is owed to you who take the time to read. I’m a late-forties guy who spent his teen years in lower Michigan, learning to love life on two wheels and anything motorcycle-related.
First, of course, was the love of riding itself. This was done mostly in the woods and trails that spread across “the mitten.” I fancied myself an eastern-woods enduro rider of sorts, with dreams of the six-days and GNCC glory that stayed safely nested in my imagination. In all honesty, I was at best a relatively quick woods rider who rarely got both wheels off the ground. What may be different from some is that I never spent any time on a motocross track at all…even to this day. You couldn’t pay me to attempt a triple or rail a berm in my youth.
The second level of love for motorcycles was mechanics. I had moved to Michigan from California, and dirt bikes were a first distraction to soften the impact of the move at age 12. My father refused to pay for mechanics if they could be avoided, and he’d help me learn to fix something…once. If the same problem came up again, it was up to me to take care of it. To this day, I believe this training did more to sharpen my mind for systemic thinking than any schooling I ever experienced.
The short-day, super-cold winters that Michigan provided were the bane of my existence. Sure, there were a few winters where I shot knobbies full of sheet metal screws and scared the snowmobiles on frozen lakes, but that was short-lived. Most of my cooped-up winter existence was dedicated to repairing or improving whatever dirt bike I happened to have at the given moment…and there were a few. Starting with my first XR75, then a big move to a ’78 Husky 250CR, a Yamaha MX360, a KDX250 and an ’85 Yamaha IT200 (my first-ever new bike), they all got my attention, and each taught me different lessons regarding repairs, maintenance, design decisions, mods and raising bikes from the dead.
After that, I moved into street bikes for my college and adult years. The bikes were all over the place, Honda 350/360 twins, Suzuki 380 triples, an RD350, an SOHC 750-four, an ‘82 Seca 650, an ’88 Concours 1000…you name it. Across all of these, though, a consistent pattern emerged. I’d buy a very-neglected mess as the autumn color change began. I would then spend my winter researching and bringing the parts pile back to reasonable shape. As soon as ice was off the roads, the bikes would be thoroughly enjoyed for one or two seasons. Finally, I’d find these bikes their next owner and sell them off to fund the next save-me-from-winter project.
Through these, I came to enjoy the process of reviving the bikes as much or more than the actual riding.
Fast-forward more than a few decades of this repeating pattern. I now find myself living in a great Central Texas town called Liberty Hill. I’m a father to a seven-year-old son and an almost nine-year-old daughter, with a wonderful wife who understands…and sort-of appreciates…my mechanical passions.
Given my boy’s natural display of skill and aggression on battery-powered toys and bicycles, I decided to buy a $75 pile of parts that was once an early-90’s Suzuki JR50 to see if he would also take to riding. I took he and my daughter, along with the completed bike, to a great kid’s motocross training school in Austin called Little Speedsters (littlespeedsters.com).
At this point, I need to break away from my story and shine some light on the school. Christophe, the owner of Little Speedsters, along with his instructors, provide an incredible service. Any parent will know that most kids occasionally need someone other than dad to be coach. They provide properly-maintained, properly-sized, properly-governed bikes, with all the gear that parents aren’t ready to invest in, so that a child can explore a passion before spending tons of money. Thanks to great teachers, great equipment, and a quality learning facility, both of my kids caught the dirt-bug.
We paired this school with a trip to the vet-track at Del Valle Motocross Park near Austin International Airport. At the time, Del Valle hadn’t built a dedicated pee-wee track (now complete), so the vet track doubled for the kids. Alexander was getting the front-end off the ground over the old-man jumps, even when he was still on training wheels. He’s even faster now.
His preferences in riding are peculiar, but it may just be his age. He wants to ride with a bunch of people (doesn’t like being alone on the track) but insists that he doesn’t want to race. He also tells me he really wants to go on the trails with me, yet he’s never been in single-track, and doesn’t seem too turned on by GNCC or enduro footage.
Regardless, my son loved riding the JR, but has grown out of it. He's pining for a newer, but not necessarily faster, bike. My daughter has taken to riding a restored 2006 TTR50 as well, both through Christophe's school and at Murphy's Motocross park just South of Austin.
This puts me in a wonderful situation. My son and daughter want me to ride with them off-road as much as possible.
So, I’ve sold my most recent street bike (a pristine 2005 Yamaha FZ1) and have chosen to abandon street riding for many reasons:
- First, I can avoid a tree more easily than I can avoid a “cager” on a cell phone, which makes my wife breathe easier.
- Second, I can’t think of better riding partners than my own family.
- Third, this is a solid excuse to get myself in better physical shape.
- Finally, off-road bikes for the family means high-priority tinkering…and a need to build myself a primary dirt-ride.
...time for the projects to begin again...