Thursday, May 28, 2020

MrHonda is bitten by a small white shark…

So, I saw this bike listed on Facebook Marketplace for sale, right before the owners were moving to TN. I had seen the bike for sale on Craigslist and eBay auctions in the past year, then it disappeared for a while. Now it was back...

Ad text:
This is a very clean bike. You could ride it down Ortega or park it in your man cave. Over $5,000 went into making this bike so pristine. It has been garaged, It has CA plates but currently in Non Op status. I have pink slip.

Well, with the Coronavirus thing happening, all there is to do is work on motorcycles and/or buy/sell some. I had worked the herd down from 5 to 2, but that situation doesn’t last for long around here. My brother, Jim, had a 1984 VF500F Interceptor for a number of years and I wound up working on it a few times. Honda changed the carburetor calibrations several times, plus put out a TSB on “drive-ability” for the 1984 models, which carried 102-105 main jets and even different needles between front and rear carburetors. In 1985, the main jet sizes dropped to 90 front and rear with all the same needles. I tried to get the update kit for my brother’s bike, but Honda wanted to know if the bike had excessive leak-down, which this one did, probably due to lean jetting affecting the valves. I wound up buying one of the takeout engines (Honda had some bearing problems with early models and replaced whole engines under warranty) and replaced the heads with fresh parts and put a DynaJet carb kit in it at the same time. Wow, that bike was fun to drive after those upgrades!

So, back to the little white shark 1985 VF500F Interceptor for sale…. They dropped the price down a few hundred dollars on the ad, but when I spoke to the owner, he offered it for an additional $300 off, considering I was making a 180 mile round trip from San Diego to Mission Viejo, CA in Orange County. I was lead to believe that the bike had been running a few months back and that he put stabilizer in the gas tank. He offered a OEM shop manual and tons of receipts for work done in the past, including new head gaskets from Cometic being installed.

Dazzled by the amount of work done to the bike and the overall look, I over-rode my internal guidance about not buying dead bikes for too much money and drove up and bought the thing. You could see that massive amounts of work had gone into the bike over the years. The whole chassis was powder-coated as were the engine covers and even the water tubes that transfer coolant across the engine. The wheels were powder-coated and the bodywork was all refinished in “Shark white” paint. Well, what the heck.. how bad could it be, given the story behind the build from the owner who had had the bike for 5 years. Well, it was worse than I thought, but somehow expected.

The battery was stone-dead, due to a lack of battery acid/fluid which had never been maintained. I bought a battery from the local auto parts store and had to service it before use, so it sat overnight on the charger. The next day, with a fresh battery installed, I checked the gas tank and found it empty! I went to the 7-11 and bought a couple of gallons of premium fuel and filled the tank. I turned the ignition switch on and moved the petcock knob from OFF to Reserve and hit the starter button. It burbled to life after a few moments, but then I noticed a pool of gasoline beneath the bike! I turned everything off and looked carefully at the carburetors for signs of an overflowing float valve, but nothing was noticed there. Looking further back, I saw fuel drooling down the rear cylinder, right below where the petcock would be located on the tank. Off comes the seat and the two bolts holding the tank on and with the fuel line disconnected, it was obvious that the fuel leak was coming from the petcock seals.
I had to drain out the gasoline and then turn the tank up to access the petcock body. It is held on with 2 bolts and comes right off once the fuel knob is removed. I first thought that the little sediment bowl was leaking, but with the petcock on the bench I could see that the normally riveted petcock plate was held on with a couple of screws. The internal gaskets on these petcocks are the same 4 hole gaskets as were used on the 1960’s Honda Super Hawks and Scramblers. Fortunately, I had an aftermarket kit in stock and borrowed the 4 hole gasket to use on the Interceptor petcock. It didn’t fit quite right, at first, but with a little bit of pushing, it finally seated down in place and the outer plate was reattached. I put gas back into the tank, while it was sitting on the ground and there were no leaks, so I put the tank back on the bike.

It fired up again, with no leaks, this time. I put the seat back on and decided to try the bike on a test ride around the block. While it sounded throaty with the little cone mufflers attached, it seemed to be running on all four cylinders until the throttle was cracked open. It stumbled and bucked and felt like it was running out of gas, so I pulled some choke on and it improved slightly. A few more blocks down the road and the bike continued to run rough and irregular. Even with full choke, it wouldn’t take full-throttle, so I marched it back to the garage, knowing I was about to face what I feared the most; carburetor cleaning!

I have had horrible experiences with a 1988 VF400 NC30 JDM bike a few years back and it never really ran well, even after several dis-assemblies and parts replacements. Those carburetors have a pivot bolt that holds the bodies together, but allows the V to be flexed a little bit in order to fit them back into the manifolds. The VF500 does not have that feature and once the mounting plate is removed, the whole rack of carbs kind of falls apart, losing the connection tabs that synchronize the carburetor shafts. I threw the whole pile into a drain pan and pulled each float bowl, cleaning the jets and checking float levels. I noticed that the main jets were #94 from a Dyno-Jet kit, designed for the 1985 model carburetors. The needles had no marks and the clips were at the #2 notch from the top. There were notes in the shop manual about the jetting and needle clip settings, which verified that this was a kitted carb set.

I really didn’t find a “smoking gun” problem with the carbs, although you could see that old fuel had been left in the bowls for an extended period of time. The bike’s registration ran out in 2018, so that was probably the last time it ran, anyway. I moved the clips down a couple of clicks and reassembled everything again. Getting the linkages back together was a challenge and I finally put the mounting plate back on the carbs, to help hold everything together. Unfortunately, the throttle cables are difficult to install with everything connected, so I eased the mounting plate back off to allow the carbs to reconnect to the manifolds, but then the linkages came adrift and the whole event just got very ugly. It probably took an hour to get the carbs into the manifolds and get the linkage tabs reconnected with the little springs set just right. Finally, at 7:30 PM I got the bike to fire back up again, but I left it set with the air filter housing removed and gave it all a rest until the next morning.

The next day…

After reassembly, the bike fired up on choke, sounded “okay” and it ran for about 10 minutes, but then suddenly lost power and stalled. I checked the gas cap for signs of a vacuum blockage, leaned the bike over to the left side for a moment and then it started back up, limping back home slowly, stalling twice more before finally returning home. I had only put 2 and a half gallons of fuel in it and had run it around on several trips, but when the fuel tap was opened to ON or RESERVE, I could see some fuel flowing through the inline gas filter. Still, something was seriously wrong. Was it dying electrics or some kind of fuel flow issue?
As I pondered the possibilities, I noticed a couple of harness wiring connectors that weren’t connected to anything. Finally, it dawned on me that these bikes came with an electric fuel pump one of which was sitting in the parts box that came with the bike. Despite what appears to be a gravity-fed fuel delivery possibility when you look at the relationship of the tank to carburetors, Honda thought differently and put a pump in the system. I fetched the pump, read the book about how to jumper the fuel cut relay connector (fuel cut relay was missing, unfortunately) and the pump rattled to life. The next task was to re-plumb the fuel lines from the petcock, back to the pump which is located a couple of feet away, then return the fuel lines back to the carburetor fittings. Honda has an elaborate system of pre-curved fuel lines, fuel line connectors, an in-line filter and other fittings, all of which were missing.

I tried to work out a deal with an eBay seller who had the whole used fuel line system, but he wanted $35 for shipping the fuel lines and a tool box. We wound up in a stalemate, so other options were needed. Some 1/4” hose from the auto parts store started the process and I discovered that some 10-12 gauge electrical butt connectors could make fuel line connectors to use in the interim. Perhaps, that the whole issue, all along, was just a lack of fuel feed to all the carburetors. I had used an infrared temp gauge to check the header pipe temperatures and both right side cylinders were colder than left side cylinders. Being that the coils fire front and rear cylinder pairs, that eliminates a lack of spark to the ignition system.

In an effort to eliminate other possibilities, I removed the radiator to access the spark plugs and allow the use of a compression gauge to check engine health. The speedometer was also not working and when the fairing cowl was removed, the speedometer showed signs of being broken and 1984 VF500F was written on the back of the meter unit, consistent with coming from a salvage yard. Instead of a nicely-built custom bike, it was looking more like a bitsa-bike instead. More eBay shopping turned up a good used speedometer and a few other necessary items.

The newer 1986 Speedometer came in and installed fairly easily, but the first test ride yielded the same outcome; no speedometer function. Pulling the lower fairing allowed for use of a small floor jack to fit underneath the oil filter and provide a lift point to pivot the bike on the centerstand. Removing the front wheel hardware just enough to remove the speedometer drive brought clarity to the problem. The plastic/nylon speedometer gear teeth were stripped along the edge where the spiral gear contacts the drive sprocket teeth. It’s not a commonly found part, but Partzilla had one that arrived with a $30 price in a few days. Meanwhile I decided to order a new set of tires and a pair of good used OEM mufflers to take some of the roar out of the exhaust note.

In a now-normal bit of confusion, I wound up with a pair of right side mufflers and nothing for the left. The eBay seller who had mislabeled the muffler, took it back for refund and another left side was tracked down and purchased. New muffler packings were also ordered as they seldom survive muffler refitting.

The good news is that the bike fired up and loves having a fuel pump in the system. It pulled to redline in lower gears, pulled well at mid-range, shifts well and rides with authority. This was the bike I remembered from back in the 1980s!

Really “tired” of this…

The May 5th tire order, from Chaparral Motors in San Bernadino, via eBay, seemed to go well at first, with promised delivery in a couple of days. What showed up was ONE rear tire with labels attached, and some Fed-Ex messages about a damaged bar code, which was apparently reconstructed. There were no notes about the second tire. I tried to contact Fed-Ex via phone but was put on endless wait times. I tried to contact Chaparral Motors to find out what had happened to the order. Three times, I was on hold for 30 minutes, then gave up using the “call-back” option with a selected time for the return call. Well, that didn’t happen for over a day. I tried to use an old CS email message to hit them directly, but that didn’t have any response. I was assuming that Fed-Ex had somehow lost the other tire, but usually, when a pair of tires are shipped to me, they are banded together, which these were not. Finally, Chaparral called back from the automated system. The woman didn’t know who I was or what the issue was as there is no tracking of the calls in as to what the issues are. She said that there were only three people available to return calls and they were backed up for over a day, so far. She pulled up my order account information and noted that “We didn’t have the 16” tire in stock, so I’ll have to order it now.”

So, now I have lost 2 days waiting with the bike off its wheels waiting for fresh rubber. A couple of hours later, another woman called from Chaparral off of the second “call-back” message I had left and I asked her to verify that a tire was ordered for me. She said that it was coming from another vendor warehouse in California, but the invoice had been sent for the purchase. From that point, things spiraled downwards for several more days. You can see that the tire was ordered and shipped, via UPS this time. It had to come from Visalia, CA which is a good 300 miles from San Diego. Tracking showed it coming down to LA overnight, then stalled out due to unexpected delays.

Out for Delivery
05/12/2020 11:32 AM.
Chula Vista, CA, United States
Out For Delivery Today

05/12/2020 2:14 AM.
Chula Vista, CA, United States
Destination Scan

05/11/2020 1:30 PM.
Chula Vista, CA, United States
Delivery will be delayed by one business day.

05/10/2020 10:34 AM.
Chula Vista, CA, United States
Arrival Scan

05/09/2020 9:53 AM.
Vernon, CA, United States
Your package has been delayed due to events beyond our control. We're adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.

05/09/2020 8:07 AM.
Vernon, CA, United States
Departure Scan

05/09/2020 12:53 AM.
Vernon, CA, United States
Arrival Scan

05/08/2020 9:16 PM.
Visalia, CA, United States
Departure Scan

Past Event

05/08/2020 7:22 PM.
Visalia, CA, United States
Origin Scan

 The tire shipped on Friday, stalled in LA, then arrived in Chula Vista (12 miles away from me) on Sunday morning. I had gotten delivery messages from UPS, first for a Saturday delivery before 9PM. They don’t work on Sundays, so I expected the delivery on Monday, which was indicated in the next UPS message. That didn’t happen either, even though the tire was sitting in the depot. Every time I checked the delivery information, there was only an arrival scan, not a destination scan or out for delivery message. Later on Monday, the “delivery delayed by one business day” message showed up on the tracking log.

Tuesday morning showed no changes. I called UPS to try and get a live person, which wasn’t available on Monday, and finally got connected to an off-shore call center, probably in the Philippines, that said that it was scheduled for delivery on Tuesday. Later on, a UPS notice popped up showing that the tire was out for delivery between 12:45 and 4:45. I needed to coordinate the tire arrival with a trip to a shop to get it changed and balanced, so I can get the bike back up on its wheels again. When I rechecked the tracking status in the afternoon, the message reverted to “delivery by 9PM” again. It’s a 50-50 deal if the tire actually makes it here on Tuesday after all, as far as I can tell. I wouldn’t be surprised to get another “delayed one business day” message later on. To be fair, we are in the middle of the Corona-virus pandemic and businesses are impacted greatly in many cases. However, if the original order had been tracked properly, the second tire would have been shipped at least a day earlier and perhaps gotten here on time.

Part of the worry was that I had my 1967 CB125SS up on my repair rack, with the Interceptor parked behind it with the wheels off. The little 125 had been sold on BAT auctions and the shippers were set to pick up the bike on Tuesday. My options were either to put the old wheel back on the bike and gently roll it out of the shop to clear room to remove the 125 or pull the front stop off of the repair rack and go forward with it into the shop, then drag it around to fit out the side door to the garage, then out past the Ford Focus parked inside. The car was parked to far to the left, so I had to get the keys and move the car out of the way, roll the bike out, put the car back and wait for the shippers to arrive. So, at least that worry was handled by 10:30 AM. The bike shipping people showed up around 11AM and the bike was gone within 20 minutes.

All the while I am waiting for signs of the UPS truck and arrival of the tire. While writing this, it is 4:40PM and no tire has arrived so far, so now we go into Wednesday for arrival and tire mounting. Also coming this week is a new speedometer cable, which was supposed to arrive here on the 12th, but tracking shows it headed towards New Orleans! So more messages out eBay sellers to find out if they misrouted the cable or if USPS has lost it in the system. It’s not been a good week for bike parts and repair schedules.

In the meantime, I installed some new OEM-looking front turn signals to replace the fragile little LED units that had been mounted previously. The wires must have been about 22-24 gauge, as they were easily dislodged from the printed circuit board when the wiring routing was changed. I had to re-solder the wires twice in order to get them to work for my initial ride a week before.

The new units were less than $40 for a set of four, including proper dual filament fronts so that the running lights could be used properly. They are still made in China, of course, but were a good deal more sturdy than the installed LED lights. There are aftermarket OEM-type turn signal mounts and light assemblies still available for these bikes, but each part was about $25-30, so about $50-55 per corner.

UPS was supposed to deliver a customer’s CT90 big-bore kit from DrATV in Nebraska today, the 12th, according to messages on Saturday, but at 4PM today a message came through that the delivery is now on Wednesday the 13th from 10:45 to 2:45. As Shakespeare once wrote, “When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.”

I called UPS at 8:30PM, knowing that the tire was not going to be delivered in the darkness. Fortunately, I got an honest man on the customer service line who told me that the tire never was loaded onto the truck that day, for reasons unknown. He offered to have the local office call me with an explanation and to see if they will just hold the tire at the depot so I can go and pick it up instead of waiting fruitlessly for another “delivery” on Wednesday. I have no idea what is going on with this office, but it is not in the best interest of the customers at this time.

At 10PM, an hour after the “cutoff-time” for the Tuesday tire delivery, I received a new message from UPS:

Hi William, your scheduled delivery date has changed.

Rescheduled Delivery Date:
Wednesday, 05/13/2020
Estimated Delivery Time:
by 9:00 P.M.

 So, again, despite assurances that I would get a call with update information, neither event came to pass. On Wednesday afternoon, I drove 8 miles over to the UPS depot, stood in line for 30 minutes in the sun and then was told that the tire might be on the truck for Thursday, or I could ask for it to go into Will-Call status and I could pick it up on Wednesday evening from 7:30-8:00PM. Finally, at 8PM on Wednesday night, I was able to receive the long-awaited 16” front tire for the bike. On Thursday morning I received a message from UPS stating that my tire had been “delivered” at 8PM, the night before.

I hauled the wheel and tire down to my friend’s shop in National City, CA. He was able to change it out and install a new valve stem in less than twenty minutes. Then, off I went to go home and reassemble the bike. With correct-sized tires, the bike sits noticeably lower than before and seems much more responsive to changing directions and the ride-quality has improved, as well.

During all of this waiting and uncertainty, I received the $30 plastic gear for the speedometer drive unit, as well as a new replacement speedometer cable for the bike. Also received was a new set of brake pads for the triple-disc brakes. Everything went back together fairly smoothly and the bike received a favorable test ride experience, including a working speedometer.

On Friday, the left side OEM used muffler showed up, so the little custom stainless cones were removed and replaced with twenty pounds of OEM stock mufflers, which were substantially quieter than the slip-on units. I used the bike to make a trip to the Post Office for mailing of some motorcycle parts and was able to really fully experience the solid feel of this little Interceptor for the first time. It has been a love-hate experience for the past few weeks, but the bike’s potential has finally been fully realized. Now it is time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, perhaps for the next few months or longer. I am really beginning to like this bike a lot now!

Bill “MrHonda” Silver

Several friends, who rode behind me, noticed some “smoke” coming from the exhaust system on hard acceleration and coming off of stoplights where it idles for a few minutes. This kind of behavior points to worn valve stem seals in most cases. Apparently, when the head gaskets were replaced, the valve stem seals were ignored. On a 140 mile run, the oil level dropped down to the add mark, requiring most of a quart of oil to refill to the top fill line. Subsequently, on a 80-mile trip, the oil level dropped again about halfway down the stick. I have ordered a set of engine gaskets, which are in short supply now. These are coming from the UK. I am not looking forward to tearing the top end off of this bike for stem repairs. I attempted to buy a whole parts bike locally, but after driving 50 miles to see it, the seller promptly left to go on errands when I was 5 minutes away. The white shark is nibbling away at me again.


Label Created
05/08/2020 9:59 PM.
United States
Order Processed: Ready for UPS