I have always tinkered with motorcycles. I started thinking about engines at about the age of six when we moved to a house in the suburbs (really doesn’t matter where as they are all similar, but I will say we ate a lot of beans and watched hockey regularly). I didn’t know anything about engines, but I was fascinated with my neighbor’s lawnmower. The sound of a small engine would pull me out of the house faster than the music of an ice cream truck playing from the street. Noise and motion was a great combination for me. My first thought was to ask my step dad questions about engines because he had walls full of important looking books. I was amazed to find out that he didn’t know anything about lawnmowers or lawnmower type engines, and that there wasn’t one book about anything mechanical. He was busy mapping the human brain, or studying it. I know that because he showed me brains in some liquid in big glass jars. (Brain surgeon or horror fan. It didn’t interest me what he did if gasoline wasn’t involved.) So, the job of yard maintenance fell on mom and me. The mower that came with the rental house didn’t have a pull rope; it had a wind-up crank that must have been popular for a few weeks in 1967. It made the lawnmower as easy to start for a body builder as a six year old boy. This was the drill that I followed:
1st: open the crank mechanism
2nd: wind it like a clock
3rd: close the crank
And then I guess there was some kind of lock release. Hit that and the engine would spin and if the choke was right and there was gas, it usually ran. I mention this to give you an idea s to where my engine confidence came from.
For the next few years I had mini bikes and go carts with lawn mower engines. I got pretty good at keeping them going. The next big step would lead me to buy an early 60’s Ducati 160 Monza Jr. from a scrap yard in Modesto, California for $20.00. I took it home to my apartment, completely stripped it, painted it, and rebuilt the engine in a couple of weeks. I guess I didn’t really rebuild the engine. Just took it apart and cleaned it and then. re-assembled it. Not sure why I did that as I had no information that there was actually a problem with the engine. It was interesting to see all those gears that drive the cam shaft. I had the bike in 500 plus pieces all over the house. I feel bad for the landlord now, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. I have no memory about buying or making gaskets, an I know it didn’t leak oil after I was done as we had carpet in the apartment, and I don’t remember getting yelled at for staining it. There was no manual, so I didn’t have to waste time looking up the technical information for setting valves, plug or point gaps. I don’t know how I knew what to do back then, but with misplaced confidence (and an accommodating mom) I vaguely remember that I wanted to decarbonize the bike. It must have been something that I had read in some national bike magazine, probably in an article about two stroke bikes. This was a four stroke single but that is the only reason I can think of to take the piston and rings out. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.
The year was 1976 and I don’t know why but I thought Ducati was out of business. so I decided that I needed new rings for the single. I didn’t put them in the cylinder and measure with a feeler gauge to see if they were out of spec. And I know they weren’t broken or scored. I don’t remember the next thought process that led me to the service department of the local Honda shop to ask if they could hook me up with some rings. I took the old piston and rings with me so that they could see them. The Honda people were very nice to me. I saw the service manager take a micrometer to the rings or the piston and he came back with a 4th oversize ring set to an old Honda 305. After paying for it I drove home on my 75 Yamaha RD 125 twin two stroke with a windshield, saddle bags and a tank bag, and put the Ducati’s engine back together with the Honda rings. No need to waste time measuring the rings for proper fit or honing the cylinder for this mechanic. I don’t know how I timed the valve gears but maybe I made my own marks. I lost one of the headlight mounting brackets so I made something that looked close in metal shop at school. I was the first time I focused on anything in school all year. My shop teacher was amazed. It was the same teacher who told me that I would be a failure if I didn’t apply myself and come to school every day. He was mistaken. The next day, I put it all together, siphoned some gas out of my mom’s 1970 F100 XLT pick-up with manual steering and bad king pins. This was before it was bad to swallow gas. I think the gas might have been good to remove my tooth plaque as I didn’t get a cavity for many years after the Ducati job. I remember the 160 starting right up. I rode it around the neighborhood all day. It was the only bike that I had ever ridden that I could start off in high (4th) gear without stalling the engine. I didn’t know about torque in those days. What a great bike. I wouldn’t know where to start that project today without a manual and someone to hold my hand, a workshop, motorcycle lift, beer, room heat, etc.
I loved that bike, but I had my eyes on a purple Triumph 750 Trident. It was a tough choice between that and a Kawasaki 1000 like Ponch and John rode on the TV show CHIPS. The Triumph seemed cooler though. Maybe that is why I have a 750 Triumph now. So I put the Ducati up for sale in the local paper (pre-craigslist days); sold it the first day for $200.00 to an old man in his 20s. The man came back an hour later and told me a great story of how he needed the $200 back for a few hours to honor a commitment that he had forgotten about and that he would come back that night to re-buy the bike. It sounded good to me as I respected a guy who honored commitments. I was into Clint Eastwood, Billy Jack and Mr. Rogers, and I knew that they would honor their commitments. I waited for him to come back, and didn’t ride the bike as it wasn’t mine anymore. So, of course, he didn’t show up, and, in the days before caller ID, he never answered his phone again. Not sure how he managed that unless my rings sounded really pissed off. I was pretty good with internal combustion, but hadn’t quite mastered human relations yet. In the end, it didn’t matter, as I sold the bike again a day or two later. Took that money, and some of the money that I made in the stock room at a men’s clothing store, and I bought my Triumph 750 triple. A 120 pound boy, a 750 that leaked oil and left a trail of parts like Hansel and Gretel, and no helmet…but that’s another story.