Old Motorcycle Parts & Projects

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS by Buzz Kanter

SHIFTING GEARS, by Buzz Kanter, Publisher

Junk or treasure? I guess it all depends on how you view it.

For each of us, our view is defined by our personal perspectives and experiences. I unsuccessfully try to fight my deeply engrained tendency to accumulate stuff I find interesting. Some call it obsessive hoarding, I prefer to think of it as long-term preservation of motorcycle history. Call it what you like, but over the decades I have collected, bartered, bought, and generally accumulated lots of motorcycles and related memorabilia.

The other day I got inspired to actually clean up and better organize my garage. I was digging through motorcycle stuff in boxes and trays I had put aside for future projects. Most of it was familiar and expected, but there was a growing pile of parts I had forgotten about. While I was excited to rediscover these rusty or shiny treasures, I felt foolish when I realized I’d purchased replacements for some of these forgotten parts.

Some readers have asked about my process when considering a possible classic bike project. I wish I could explain it in a few, brief sentences but I can’t. Part of it’s emotional, how I respond to a bike and how strongly. If I look at a bike and don’t feel greatly excited, I’ll pass. If I find a motorcycle for sale that does get me excited, I want to learn as much as I can about it. I search my motorcycle books, call friends, and ask questions on CAIMag.com and various Facebook pages focused on classic motorcycles. Once I get as much info as I can on the particular motor­cycle model and year, I then need to decide what to do with it. This usually falls into one of three options (in decreasing cost to accomplish): 1) restore it to show condition (seldom my choice as I like to ride my bikes), 2) find or make the missing parts and get it running, knowing it isn’t totally correct, or 3) build a custom, hot rod, or racer out of it.

If a bike is mostly complete and correct but doesn’t have the original paint (I never paint over original paint motorcycle parts — ever!), I’d lean towards a full restoration. If the bike is mostly there and looks cool, even without being 100 percent correct, I usually build it as a fun rider. No matter which direction I go, there are a few safety rules I try never to break. One is that I always want to ride on decent rubber. If the tires are cracking, bald, or anything but safe, I mount up better tires. Another is that the brakes have to work reasonably well (we’re talking vintage bikes and brakes here). I don’t care how fast you can go on a motorcycle, you’d better be able to slow down and stop when needed. A third rule is that I spend my money first on function and then on fashion. I will always spend on rebuilding an engine/clutch/transmission/brakes/wheels, etc. that work properly long before I’ll pay to paint or plate parts.

In this issue, we sort out Paul Ousey’s mostly original Panhead at Wheels Through Time in North Carolina. What wasn’t correct and original on it was pretty cool and era-correct, so we left most of it that way and just got the old Harley sorted out. Then we fine-tuned it and got it back on the road where it deserves to be.

In a couple of issues, we’ll share a complete mechanical teardown of my 1936 VLH. We strip it down to the frame at Retrocycle in New Jersey. Then, we inspect, measure, and mechanically rebuild it from one end to the other. Our goal is to leave it looking pretty much as it did before the teardown, but to have it run dependably across the US on the Motorcycle Cannonball as part of Adventure Power’s Team American Iron.

A third example is the 1928 Harley J I bought a couple of years ago that’s a real mix-and-match machine. It was constructed by a previous owner with mostly 1920s Harley J parts, plus a ’30s Harley VL transmission, teens Harley Bosch magneto, and a cut and welded sidecar fender with a non-Harley taillight. I’ll clean, box, and carefully store them away for other future projects. Wait a moment … isn’t this how I got into the situation I described at the start of this column?

Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.

Buzz

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This article originally appeared in issue #308 of American Iron Magazine.

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