Education on a Budget: $300 Yamaha R1 (Part 4)

Two-wheeled race replicas stir emotions of speed, danger, and adrenaline. Even non motorcycle-savvy individuals view them as always game for racing shenanigans…

“Hey bro!” 

I couldn’t tell if that remark was directed at me or just something this guy normally screams out his window.

“How fast does that crotch rocket go?!”

Pulling up to the stop light, I was surprised by such a candid remark from such a well-versed member of the motoring community. If you’ve ever ridden a sport bike chances are you have experienced a similar public announcement.

“Fast enough,” I replied.

I was mid-analysis of the thought provoking conversation I had just participated in that the next event caught me off guard.

The light turned green and like a majestic whale jutting out of the ocean to catch a breath of fresh air, the inquisitive Dodge Caravan shot off through the intersection leaving the slightest evidence of a one-wheel-wonder in its wake.

I slipped the R1’s transmission into first gear, fed in a light helping of throttle and clutch, and casually left the starting line. With a bike like a Yamaha R1, there is nothing to prove. There are no scores to settle. It’s a lesson that riders who makes it through their first few seasons of high-performance motorcycle ownership come to learn. Sure, there are times when the urge to open up the petroleum floodgates comes on hot and heavy, but experience teaches us there is a when and where for such impulses.

The best form of learning comes through experience. While not always free, experience is a vital part of becoming more confident in one’s own decisions and abilities. Sometimes, building that experience comes in the form of adopting a neglected two-wheeled machine and hanging your wallet out to dry. What do you have to lose? It’s only your hard-earned money, right?

This series of posts was assembled to share the feelings – the highs and lows – that can be experienced when resurrecting such a machine. Taking on a learning experience such as this, in its most basic form, is a four step process:

  1. The Acquisition
  2. The Tear Down
  3. The Reassembly
  4. The Giver of Life

1) The Acquisition

This is an exciting stage. I have made the decision to forfeit my social life for the next 2 months in a pursuit of mechanical rebirth. Overwhelming feelings of happiness and glee begin to take hold.

2) The Tear Down

A sobering reality takes the forefront. Two days in and I realize I have no idea what I am doing. I begin to question my previous ambition. Eventually a defining moment occurs: I don’t care what happens and I dive in wallet first.

3) The Reassembly

At this point the money is spent and the learning is at its peak. The excitement surrounding the project returns and things begin to take shape. I start throwing all of my doubts out the window and begin to feel confident that I can handle anything that comes my way.

4) The Giver of Life

Everything is assembled. The crankcase is filled with 10W-40 and the tank is brimmed with 91 octane. I hit the starter button and…

Crank. Crank. Crank. Nothing.

Queue the all-too-familiar panic mode. I thought I had done everything to ensure it would start! Why wouldn’t the darn thing light? So commenced an hour-long hunt for a nonexistent problem. It didn’t occur to me that it takes a number of fuel pump cycles to prime all four of the carburetor float bowls. Turn the key on for 10 seconds, then off. Do that 10 times and you are good to go.

On the 10th attempted start, the engine sprang into life. At the time I marked this up as a blessing from some magical mechanical wizard. All of a sudden, the whole rebuild process became justified. After an 8 year coma this bike now had a beating heart. Electricity ran through its copper veins, oil sloshed in the crankcase and gasoline turned into a plume of exhaust. It was alive!

A little carburetor synching later…

…and it was time for this R1’s maiden voyage.

Usually when buying a vehicle, you try it before you buy it. This was a strange situation because I had never so much as sat on this bike before. No one had ridden this bike for many years. When I threw a leg over it and knocked it into gear for the first time it was a surreal experience. A bike that was once a bare frame in which I had thrown into the back of the 4Runner was now a sturdy and eager motorcycle. What a transformation.

Getting a feel for the clutch engagement and throttle response, I made my way out into the street. The brand new tires sucked up sand from the road and slapped it up against the fairings. I slowly crept along, getting a sense for all of the sounds and vibrations of the bike. Nothing felt out of the ordinary – it was all very well mannered. The brakes felt strong and the clutch was secure. Everything worked from the turn signals to the trip odometer. I hadn’t left first gear yet.

Turning out onto the main road I gave the 998cc engine a little more gas. You wouldn’t guess this thing has carburetors because the engine responds to throttle inputs with lightning speed. The time had come to shift gears and up next was second. Clutch in, left foot up, mechanical clunk, clutch out. Phew!

The transmission shifted seamlessly and all was right in the world. It felt like a new bike going up and down through the gears. Have I mentioned it’s fast? Yeah, it’s fast – stupid fast. Riding around town I could feel the weight of the steering stabilizer resisting steering input. The front end gets quite light with even half throttle inputs in the lowest gears so the stiff damper was comforting insurance. The Arata exhaust made a rich baritone howl when opened up but was not overly loud or annoying. The riding position was surprisingly comfortable for such a track focused motorcycle.

I pulled the bike back into the driveway and shut her down. A great feeling of pride overcame me as got out of the saddle. The project was finished; the budget superbike was complete at last. 

I happened upon this project simply by chance. A random text on an unassuming Sunday morning took me on a 2 month adventure of mechanical resurrection. It took a degree of ambition to act upon it, but more importantly it took the endless desire to learn. I paid for the mistakes I made, but moreover I was able to grow through the experience. Sometimes, experience doesn’t come cheap. On this particular occasion, I was glad I bought it before I tried it.

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