Author Topic: "what was i thinking!" story  (Read 18864 times)


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"what was i thinking!" story
« on: August 25, 2018, 12:36:39 pm »
Attached is a story i wrote for the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts (VME) newsletter about my FT500 winter project you all might get a laugh out of.  A friend who works for the Dutch bike mag "Het Motor Rijwiel" translated it to Dutch and they published it - trials and tribulations of working on old bikes are applicable internationally!  Al 


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Re: "what was i thinking!" story
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2018, 03:02:00 pm »
Excellent story!  8)

A common phrase heard coming from a shop/garage/cave as a person gets stuck into the latest motorcycle reclamation project is “WHAT WAS I THINKING!”, often with several expletives in the appropriate places...

Well, I was thinking I needed a winter project and what better way to while away the cold wet months than bringing an old, abused motorcycle back to life. Having a soft spot for 500cc singles it seemed that an ‘82/’83 Honda FT500 Ascot would be a good choice. According to the Ascot 500 forum they “were inspired by the classic flat track races run at California’s famous Ascot Park. The single was only imported into the US from 1982-84. The engine was based on Honda’s 1979 XL500. The single overhead cam 4-valve engine has a bore/stroke of 89mm/90mm. Dual exhaust ports allowed for twin pipes to clear the central downtube and provided a nice vintage touch, twin port exhausts being the rage in the 1930’s.”

Spending way too much time on craigslist I finally spied a black 1983 model listed as “complete, stuck engine” at a seemingly not totally unreasonable price. Went to have a look at it, armed with my list of reasons not to buy it: rusty tank, seized engine, rust beyond the patina stage, rusty chrome, bad tires, seized brakes, etc. It was last registered 8 years ago and at least some (most?) of the time was left out in the elements with water probably getting into the carb and engine... The bike in question turned out to have all the above attributes but I bought it anyway – what could go wrong? So began the quest to bring it back to life – with the goal, of course, being able to do so without spending more than the bike would be worth. Ha, Ha, HA! Actually I figure that the difference in price between the amount you’ve got into a project and what it’s actually worth is the “fun factor” of working on vintage machines.

First thing – try to un-stick the piston to begin the disassembly/evaluation process. Searching the forums suggested putting a 50/50 mix of acetone/ATF down the spark plug hole. Then pPut it in gear and every time you walk by jar it by rocking the rear wheel. Things weren’t looking good for a while but lo and behold one day she freed up! Removing carb, head and cylinder revealed a VERY rusty cylinder bore and valves. But there was a glimmer of good news in that all the rust in the cylinder was above the piston, and very little surface rust to be seen on the crank. Cleaning out the rust and honing the cylinder it became evident that it was definitely a case for cylinder boring and oversized piston. Adding up the cost of that sent me to ebay (again) to see if a cheaper solution might be a “good” used cylinder and piston. One thing in my favor is that the Ascot is not a really sought after machine so they are worth more in parts than whole. Perfectly good bikes are being stripped down and sold part by part. Most parts are available on ebay and the prices aren’t bad, well, real bad anyway. Very few of the parts are now considered made of “unobtanium”. A listing came up for a cylinder and piston for less than boring/new piston that looked good – the bore appeared real clean from the photo’s and the original black paint looked better than most. Anytime you get something from ebay there’s a certain amount of breath holding until it arrives but this time they turned out to be good items, exactly as advertised – whew!. In the original head the valves were caked in rust but after some wire wheel treatment the head and valves looked better than expected. The seats were good except for one intake valve with a questionable seat. Off to friend Norm’s old valve grinding machine from same era as the bike and suddenly the head and valves looked great.

The tank..... Real rusty inside so filled it with that magic elixir Evaporust to see if it could be reclaimed. No leaks and looking hopeful until one morning I walked into the shop and there was evaporust pooled on the floor. It had rusted through along the bottom seam. After further evaluation I came to the conclusion that it was probably beyond sealing and the paint was bad to boot... Back to ebay (again). And there was a tank that looked in good shape and very reasonably priced, so I bit on it. It turned out to have a little rust inside but the evaporust treatment seemed to clean it up nicely – knock on wood, no leaks yet – and the original paint is in real good shape.

The Achilles heel of the Ascot is the Rube Goldberg designed electric start system. An odd assortment of gearing between the starter motor and flywheel – and an over complicated wiring circuit with multiple relays and solenoids. So it wouldn’t turn over. But it would turn over if I jumped it across the solenoid terminals. Solenoid seemed ok. The Ascot Forum to the rescue again! Turns out there is a “starter control unit” (fancy name for a relay) that often is faulty. Cutting and grounding the yellow/black wire to that device and it turned over fine. Of course a good starter control unit is hard to find, with chances being that any on ebay either have the same problem or will on the first trip down the road. Consulting with the forum and local folks that understand wiring diagrams resulted in replacing it with a standard automotive relay.

Carburetor was another sad story. It didn’t look so good and appeared to be more complicated project than I wanted to take on. Searching the web I found Adrian at Atomic Motorcycle Repair that said he rejuvenated carbs. Sent it down to him but it turned out one of the jets was so corroded it couldn’t be removed. Back to ebay (again), a better looking carb body was sent to him, and before long I got back a good looking carb.

Turns out another issue with the Ascot is the exhaust headers have an inner pipe that breaks loose and clatters. Even though it’s a single cylinder it has two exhaust ports, and the inner pipes were indeed loose. Randy over at Western Workboats LLC is the local go to friend for odd repairs and he fixed the problem with a few welds – his only guarantee being that the welds probably wouldn’t hold long due to dissimilar metals. But it’s good enough to see if the bike will run and new headers, if needed, could be put off – perhaps, hopefully, indefinitely.

A nice thing about the ascot is that there is very little chrome on the bike, which is usually in pretty bad shape after 35 years. The engine is painted black so no case/engine oxidation issues. No spokes to deal with as the wheels are cast and look fine.

Putting all the pieces back together it was time to see if it would run. I’d ignored all the cosmetic issues to be dealt with later, just concentrating on things involved with seeing if it would run. Would the rebuilt carb work or need a lot of adjustment? Would the electrical system still function? Lots of questions but only one way to answer them. Pushed it out of the shop on its old rotten tires, turned on the fuel, hit the button and – IT STARTED right up!!

New tires, rebuilt brake calipers, new chain and she’s on the road again, instead of being dismembered and sold piecemeal on ebay, or relegated to the scrap heap. Cosmetic issues will provide me with “project security”. All that makes what I have into it worth it to me!


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Re: "what was i thinking!" story
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2018, 05:15:51 pm »
Good write up. So common a story to so many of us, but we still love the FT.


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Re: "what was i thinking!" story
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2019, 09:09:39 pm »
I agree, good write up.
Congrats on getting your old Ascot running again. My wife has ab '82 and she loves it. Starter is a PITA, but once running it's a fun bike to ride.
Enjoy!   :)
1982 FT 500 Ascot
2006 Suzuki C50 Boulevard