Brat Style

They Don’t Make That Anymore

My eyes glance over the tell tale words on the site, “Product out of stock.” My first impulse is to ask, “Why?” I know the answer, it’s always the same, “They don’t make that anymore.”

And why should they? They don’t make the bike anymore, why make parts for it?

I have learned, “they don’t make that anymore,” is a common refrain among despondent bike builders. Neophytes like myself have neither the skill or imagination to build a new part, and 3D printing parts is still a ways away from replicating solid options. There is a tremendous feeling of helplessness when one learns that simply replacing a part is not as easy as ordering a new one.

The latest example of this was my carb harness. I rebuilt the carbs a while ago, finding it difficult, and making it more so by pulling the carbs from the bracket that holds them together, something I later learned is unnecessary. I think I had some vague notion of painting them black, but changed my mind. So when I went to bench set them I was quite shocked to find a major problem.

IMG_0576                                    IMG_0578


At some point, between the time I took them apart and put them back together, or maybe even before the aluminum bracket cracked on the right side. After checking Ebay for a used one, it seemed like this was a common occurrence.  Sadly, “they don’t make that anymore.” So the options were, search for someone with a not yet cracked one, buy an expensive new set of carbs, or get it fixed.

I choose the later. Fortunately, there are people in this world with more skill and talent at metal work than I, and I was able to have one of those people weld the bracket back together. After a bit of grinding the carbs were good to go and ready to be tuned and put back on the engine.


This isn’t the only time I’ve run into this problem while rebuilding TIM. Some instances, like the carbs, are probably due to age, or an aggressive hand in pulling the bike apart, others are just sort of mind boggling. For instance, the brake pivot that was installed on TIM when I got the bike was too small for the bracket on the frame. It was only by a few millimeters, and could be made functional, but not really safe. (No one really wants to ride around with the constant fear of their brake pedal falling off the pivot while traveling on the highway. )


The reason the brake pivot didn’t fit is likely because the frame is and F model and the pivot was off a K model. The two bikes use the same L bracket style brake pivot, except they are of just slightly different lengths. So whoever put the bike together before I at least twice replaced a part with an almost identical, yet slightly different sized part. (The other time I’m aware of was the front fork, where the top and bottom of the triple tree were from different model bikes.)



Fortunately I was able to find a correct sized brake pivot for the bike, but it took time and a bunch of work. But that’s what I find fun about building a bike, solving a problem in a creative manner with what you’ve got, because “they don’t make that anymore.” And I’m sure whoever takes over ownership of TIM after me will shake their head and wonder why I did some of the things I did. After all, the bars I put on are off a 350.


Tanks For the Memories

It has been a while since I’ve really had the time to go into the shop to put any meaningful work in on TIM. So yesterday I decided to take the morning off writing, instead of sitting around waiting for the muses I thought I might get a chance to finally clear coat the gas tank.


This gas tank has been a thorn in my side for almost the entirety of the project. Among the litany of abuses the previous owners inflicted upon TIM, one of the worst has got to have been the gas tank. The knee dents they put in it were atrocious and unequal in size, forcing both them and me to use a massive amount of bondo, just to make it look okay.

However, despite the massive amount of time it took me to finish the body work and get the tank painted, it has generally turned out okay. In the rare chances I’ve had to get to the shop I’ve been able to put on several coats of paint and every thing looked pretty good, or so I thought until I walked in and saw this.


The gas tank lock flap had started flaking, bad. Even just touching it caused it to flake worse than in the above picture. The only option? Sand it down to bare metal and redo the whole thing.


Someone, I don’t know who, thought it was a good idea to drill a bunch of holes in the flap, and then fill them back in. Apparently, this mystery person thought speed holes in a piece of metal meant to prevent water or thieves from getting into the gas tank was a good idea. Probably the same person who drilled all the other speed holes.


With a little help from Dave, the bondo didn’t come out looking like a birthday cake. I managed to get it all sanded and primed, but forgot to take a picture. I’m hoping it will only require one last paint day and then I can final finish it up with a clear and be done with body work for a while.

I forgot to take a picture of the primed flap, but here’s a picture of a sick Yamaha xs650, Dave is building for a customer.


Stay tuned for the next installment of the ongoing adventures of TIM’s resurrection: They Don’t Make that Anymore.

Cheaper Than Therapy

Standing at the paint table for what seemed like the umpteenth time (really only the fifth) sanding spot putty and primer from my gas tank I began to wonder, what’s the point. Why am I doing this? Why am I spending over a dozen hours trying to smooth down the lumps, fill the holes, and round the curves? Wouldn’t it be better to spend my hours toiling on a project that pays me money so I can just hire someone else, someone more skilled, someone who could do a better job than I could ever do?

TIM before

TIM before the rebuild.

The resounding answer is no. I wouldn’t be better off letting someone else do it. Why? Because the point isn’t the end result. No matter how misshapen, or terrible the paint turns out, the point is the act of doing.

Tank all stripped with paint idea marked out.

Tank all stripped with paint idea marked out.

Some people build bikes, because they have a passion for it or because they can’t do anything else. Other people build them as a hobby, something fun to pass the time. And a few, mostly naive hipsters fueled by trust funds, foolishly try to build them as a way to fame, fortune, and glory.

Me, I work on my motorcycle as a form of therapy, It gives me something physical and tangible to show for my money and time. Something that works, something that’s not just bought with money, something I’ve built.


This is way too much bondo.

This is way too much bondo.

When I first left my big boy job as an associate attorney, the one with the secretary, paralegal, office with a view, healthcare, and decent salary. I thought I was crazy. Many of my friends, who were still struggling to find work, almost two years after being licensed agreed. At the time I was despondent and filled with anxiety, so I began to see a therapist. Once a week for over six months I sat there telling him all my problems, paying him money to listen. Eventually though I realized that instead of repeating my same problems, I needed to do something.


A lot less bondo, not quite, but getting there.

A lot less bondo, not quite, but getting there.

I don’t have anything against therapists. I find they can be helpful and I have at times benefited greatly from talking to them. But for me the act of creating is ultimately more therapeutic than sitting around endlessly talking about my thoughts and feelings.

Building a motorcycle is more than just a hobby, it allows me, even if for a brief period of time each week to turn off my over active brain and ignore the problems I see in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s, the rising trend of religious fundamentalism, Russian separatists in Ukraine shooting down a jetliner, the ups and downs of the stock market, my frustration with a piece of fiction, or just my often depressed and anxiety ridden thoughts, even a bad day working on a bike allows me a respite. It allows me to escape into reality.

Underside painted with Truck bed liner.

Underside painted with Truck bed liner.

When I first got TIM I loved the knee dents and black pearlescent paint job. I wasn’t a fan of the silver stripes. So I took them off. In doing so I removed a not insignificant amount of paint, which led me down an epic rabbit hole. The knee dents were poorly done, and it was only massive amounts of paint, bondo, and spot putty that made the tank look decent. All of which only became apparent after I’d stripped the tank to bare metal.

Mandatory selfie of your Intrepid author covered in dust.

Mandatory selfie of your intrepid author covered in dust.

Lessons I’ve learned From my Work on the Tank:

1. Use less bondo than you think you need.

2. Sanding down takes longer and is more of a pain in the ass than layering up.

3. Mr. Miagi was right, “wax on, wax off.”

4. “Whatever you can see after it’s been primed you will see when it’s painted.” (Words of wisdom from Ernesto)

5. Doing it the wrong way is still worth while, but only if you learn how to do it better the next time.

6. Wear appropriate protective gear.

Tank prepped and mocked up on the frame.

Tank prepped and mocked up on the frame.

If I had to do it all again, I would be able to do it quicker and better. In all so far, I’ve spent close to fourteen hours sanding and prepping my tank. This doesn’t include the time I spent stripping the paint and old bondo, the time spent staring at it in agony trying to figure out what I was going to do with it. It also doesn’t include the time I will spend painting it, sanding it, repainting it, cleaning the insides of rust and then resealing it so it lasts another thirty plus years. I expect when its finished to put in close to fifty hours on a single gas tank.

Why? Why am I doing all this? Because it’s cheaper than therapy, that’s why.

(Side note, look for the soon to come release of the first original fiction piece Odyssey of the Heliotrope, written by yours truly, cover art by Tom Vincent, available for purchase digitally.)

Beat on the Brat Style!

Beat on the brat

Beat on the brat

Beat on the brat with a baseball bat

Oh yeah, oh yeah, uh-oh.”


TIM initially went into the shop because of electrical problems, but it soon became clear that there were more problems than just bad wiring. Among the numerous and seemingly insurmountable issues there was one that stood out as painfully clear even before TIM went under the knife; the uncomfortable riding position.

I’ve had several bikes in my life and ridden many I didn’t own, and one thing I’ve learned is that a comfortable riding position is the key to enjoying a bike. Nothing ruins a ride more than an uncomfortable position. A bike can be a ratty, rusted POS that continuously breaks down, and still be great fun to ride, but if it’s uncomfortable for its rider it will sit and gather dust even on the nicest of days.

Whoever decided on the set up for TIM was either thinking more about aesthetics or had the sadistic inclinations of the Marquis de Sade. For one thing, the drag bars were the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in reverse, neither high enough nor low enough, but right in the middle ground where they were guaranteed to cause discomfort. The solo seat was alright, but a little too wide and without any meaningful padding. And who ever had owned it before had failed to put rear sets on TIM, forcing me to bend double over the tank, with my feet in front of me, a position guaranteed to cause cramping within fifteen minutes and back pain that lasted for days afterwards.

My initial desire was to throw on a pair of clip-ons, or classic clubman style bars, and rear sets, but my lovely girlfriend quickly put the kibosh on this idea with the innocent question, ” When can I ride on the back?”

That was that, the solo seat had to go along with the drag bars and the non existent rear sets. It took me a while of hemming and hawing before I decided upon a solution. Brat style.

The term brat style refers to two things. The first is the amazing Japanese custom motorcycle shop named Brat Style. I first learned about this shop and their bikes while I was teaching English in Japan. Unfortunately, due to uncontrollable circumstances, namely the Enron style downfall of my employer, I was prevented from visiting the shop in Tokyo, but I was able to see at least one of their bikes on the road and was pretty impressed.

The second and more common use of the term brat style, is a custom bike setup somewhere between traditional British cafe racer and an American style bobber. Typical features include but aren’t limited to: An empty center triangle and removal of as much weight and unnecessary material as possible, a shortened suspension, non drop bars, a frame with an up turned hoop end, and a seat that is relatively long and flat.

Example of a Brat Style bike produced by the shop Brat Style.

Example of a brat style bike produced by the shop Brat Style.

While there have been bikes like this around for a long time, brat style has recently been gaining in popularity in the custom motorcycle scene and a Google search will turn up hundreds of examples. This is probably because it is relatively simple and inexpensive, allows for a great deal of flexibility in customization and also provides a more comfortable riding position as well as the option of riding around with a someone on the back.

TIM with a Bratty hoop and all painted up.

TIM with his new bratty hoop all painted up.

Sadly, because of computer and camera issues there are few pictures of TIM being stripped and cut up. This namely took the form of cleaning off the meatball welds the original builder had done and adding a new up turned hoop end..  Some of the recent pictures show the remarkable transformation that is still under way.

TIM has been slowly changing from ratty cafe racer to brat style super star. Ignore the beat up tank and instead focus on the Honda CB350 style bars, and the beginnings of the brat style two up seat. It’s hard to believe these are pictures of the same bike.


“With a brat like that always on your back, what can you do? Lose?” (Ramones)

TIM at the Gates of Hades

For the ancient pagans of Greece and Rome, Cerberus was the multi-headed-hell-hound that guarded the passage into the underworld. In the stories, Cerberus has a taste for living flesh and like the Eagles’ song Hotel California, allows one to check out, but never leave.


Maybe because of this, I felt a lot of trepidation as TIM rolled off the back of the tow truck and into the Egyptian themed building, which is both home to Cerberus Motorcycles and one of the last remnants of San Diego’s early twentieth century art deco period.

I had been to two other mechanics searching for help with the daunting project of resurrecting the dead TIM. Anyone who has tried to undertake rebuilding an old machine knows it is a time consuming project, which can quickly become more expensive than it might seem worth. While the mechanics I had spoken with were knowledgable and helpful they were also expensive and less successful than I would have liked.

On two separate occasions my ride home was cut short by the same loss of power that had caused me to bring the bike to the mechanic in the first place. The resulting walk back, pushing the still squeaking TIM was almost as painful as the mounting bills. I became depressed. The whole point of buying an old motorcycle had been so I could work on it myself. Yet, there I was shelling out more money for someone else to not fix the problems.

It took almost a year of the bike sitting and going back and forth to various shops before I discovered Cerberus Motorcycles. A bit like it’s mythical namesake, Cerberus is a multifunction motorcycle garage and co-op.  The type of place where a garage-less, tool-less, know-nothing like myself can wrench on a bike, while in the next bay over a crew of talented and knowledgable bike builders turn out speed machines as fantastic as Hermes’ winged sandals, such as Julio’s CL 350 Honda. Not only does the bike look amazing, but it runs like a bolt of lightning flung by Zeus himself.


Almost as soon as TIM was off the truck and into the shop I felt my trepidation and fears subside. Instead I began to feel the giddy excitement of a young child rushing down stairs on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to get started, but I didn’t know what I was doing or where to start.

After doing some quick diagnostic work, with a little guidance from master mechanic Dave Hargreaves, I determined that the electrical problem was not with the charging system, but somewhere a bit further down the line. The good news was the money I had spent hadn’t been wasted. The bad news was that, like Pandora, I had opened a jar overflowing with problems that once discovered could not be ignored.

Some of the problems were minor, like the meatball weld a past owner had done on the frame to hide the battery under the rear of the single seat. Other issues were more problematic, like the tangled snake-ball mess of hodgepodge wires, solder, and tape that was supposed to serve as a wiring harness. I quickly decided the only way to proceed was to do a complete tear down and rebuild from the frame up. It would be more expensive, frustrating, and time consuming, but it was the only way to insure that TIM was able to stop limping along on life support.

It was the beginning of a quest, which like Jason’s search for the golden fleece, would be difficult and at times perilous.


TIM, short for “That Infernal Machine.” I should have known better, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Yet, there I was paying too much money for a thirty-two-year-old motorcycle with electric problems.

A 1976, Honda CB 550F, TIM was everything that I had been looking for: sleek black, with knee dents, drag bars, and a solo seat, a caffe racer through and through. So what if I only got to test drive it for five minute before the battery gave out and I had to wheel it back to the guys selling it. I wanted it.


The two guys I bought it from were a pair of backyard builders who had been laid off during the recession and were trying to make a few extra bucks flipping motorcycles. When I brought it back they swore it was just a problem with the battery and if I returned in a couple of hours it would be fixed and I could ride it home.

That’s when I should have said, “thank you no,” kept my money and walked away. Instead a little bit of haggling and a few hours waiting and I was riding it home. That is, until I got about four blocks  from my apartment. While stopped at a red light, the power gave out and the engine sputtered and died.

Wheeling it to the side of the road, I tried the starter — Nothing. I tried to kick it — Nothing. I cursed and screamed like a mad man, hoping that my words would somehow break the evil spell that was keeping my bike from running.

Those four blocks home felt like an eternity. I was like Sisyphus, only instead of a boulder I was pushing an awkward lump of metal with a front brake that kept squeaking.


When I bought TIM it was clear I would have to do some work, but I didn’t know how much. I’d had other motorcycles in the past, but except for replacing a battery I’d never done any real work on them. Yes I’d taken a shop class in high school, and my first car was a 1960 MGA 1600 that I’d partially restored with my dad before leaving home for college, but I’d never really worked on a motorcycle before.

To make matters worse my apartment didn’t have a garage or covered parking spot, and the homeless travelers around where I live love to take motorcycle covers and use them as shelters. Never the less I was determined to make TIM run again.


After ordering a Clymers and Owners Manual, and buying a multi-meter I set out to diagnose the problem and try to fix it. As I began to run through the bike I started to notice more and more problems. The battery wasn’t the right kind and didn’t have sufficient power. And I quickly realized once I’d trickle charged it and started it, that the battery wasn’t getting any electricity from the engine.

I bought a new battery and a new regulator/rectifier believing that would fix the problem. I tried to perform some basic services like changing the oil, but the drain screw was so mangled once I’d unscrewed it, it wouldn’t tighten sufficiently to prevent it from leaking oil like a sieve. Believing the oil pan was cracked I tried to replace it, ending up over tightening and breaking a bolt in the process.

It was at this point I decided to call on a professional for some much needed help. In most cases like this calling in some help is a quick, though often costly solution, but this was just the beginning of this adventure and not the end.