If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It lives again!

The XT, bless it, is finally back on the road. Or, at least, running again with some nice new shiny bits.

To recap - when I bought the bike, the exhaust pipes were tidily finished in matt black. I knew what had happened: all mild steel exhausts rust, and painting them only improves matters for a few weeks. I knew this is what the seller had done, but it's what I would have done too - make the bike look its best for sale. I therefore had a new set of headers in my mind as a future purchase from the word go. Motad do some nice stainless steel ones for a bit over a hundred quid, and I had planned to get some of these as a Final Solution.

So when the bike started backfiring a few weeks ago, I strongly suspected rust holes in the exhausts. Sure enough, there were parts of the headers you could almost poke a finger through. So I ordered the Motads, and the next weekend planned to do the swap. It should have been simple - unbolt rusty ones, remove, put new ones on, bolt up, off you go.


Nothing in life is ever as simple as you think it's going to be, from marriage to choosing a pair of shoes. And so it was with the XT. The first stud (out of 4) sheared off in my hand when I tried to take the bolt off. I should point out that trailbike exhausts work in the most inhospitable environments. They are alternately heated to several hundred degrees and cooled back to room temperature; they are immediately behind the front wheel and get all the road crud and (in winter) salt sprayed on them directly at high speed (trailbike mudguards are more to protect the rider than the machine); and no-one ever looks at them until they go wrong. So corrosion here is pretty much the order of the day.

So I ordered four new studs, and some nice stainless nuts to go on them, rather than Yamaha's patent 'special nuts' that are priced as if they were solid titanium, and go rusty faster than the eye can see. And the next weekend (you can see why this takes so long), I took all the studs out and tried to remove the headers. Nothing. They were as firmly stuck into the cylinder head as if they had been welded there. Nothing for it - the cylinder head would have to come off, and the job would be done on the bench, where mighty tools can be wielded and room to manoeuvre can be had. But I was totally without success. Normal tools, then big tools, then a hammer and chisel, then an angle grinder, then all of the above plus heat from a propane torch. Nothing. I couldn't even shift either of them a millimetre. It was getting to the point where I feared I would cause some damage, and alloy cylinder heads of discontinued Japanese bikes are not particularly cheap.

In the end, I had to take the cylinder head to a man. He used an oxy-acetylene torch to basically burn them out, which I would not have had the equipment, skill or courage to do. Now, while the head was off, it made sense to reseat the valves, as an inspection and a test with a thimbleful of petrol showed that they were ever so slightly leaky. So, valves were reground and cylinder heads and pistons were decarbonised. But when it came to putting it all back together, I realised that the rubber and metal bits that mounted the carbs were not, in fact, supposed to be in two pieces but in one piece. I had taken them off a bit clumsily, and I had parted the rubbery bits from the metal bits. Not clever. A bit of research in the parts catalogue revealed what they should look like, and ten minutes on eBay got me some replacements. (Apparently, this is a common occurrence, which made me feel a bit better.) The head was duly refurbished and put back where it should be - on top of the engine, tightly bolted down.

So today, after the rains of yesterday, I was out on the back drive, tool kit in hand, ready to mount the final assault on the North Face of Yamaha. The carbs went back on without a murmur (after I had dismantled the airbox to make room - ah, so that's why the mounting rubbers broke) and everything else just slipped into place. Engine back together, petrol tank temporarily mounted, ignition on, and ...

Brmmm. Or, rather, ka-bang, ka-bang, ka-bang, as I had not put the new exhaust on yet.

I am now 56, and I have been tinkering with engines and mechanical things since I used to help my Dad 'do the car' on a Sunday morning when I was about six. So that's 50 years of fettling, fossicking and furgling where a sensible person would say 'take it to the garage, pay them some money, and stop worrying about it'. And yet I have never got over the thrill of putting something back together and hearing it start again.

New exhausts on, all the panels back in place, and final adjustments made, and I started it again. I let it idle (quietly, now) for ten minutes or so to let all the gasket compounds cure and the smelly smoke to burn off.

And then it started to rain. Brilliant, brilliant timing.

Here's what the new bits look like:

A quick test run tomorrow (I have the afternoon off) and then if all is well the XT will be back to commuting duties. I have been using the Pan to get to work while the XT has been indisposed, but it's not been much fun. Faster, yes; more comfy, yes; better weather protection, yes. But it's not fun in the way the XT is. It has no character and no soul. It's impressive, even awesome (I still can't get over how quick it goes, and how well it handles), but the XT is fun, homely and begs you to love it.

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