Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve and in the shed nothing was stirring not even a mouse...

So it's Christmas Eve and the traditional grey British Christmas weather is setting in as the recent snow starts to melt away. Still the forecast for Christmas Day is clear sky so maybe there will be a nip of frost or even more snow - if so the bookies will be giving out some chrimbo prezzies. I've just fed Betty and Wilma as Mrs Cutter has to work today, then it's over to the Cutter-in-Laws to peel veg for tomorrow's meal (and drink beer) and then tonight we all go to Mr and Mrs Cutter Seniors for a continental Christmas Eve.

All the present shopping is done and I think the Cutter juniors' prezzies are going to please them. I have got a bench vice for the shed coming, and the t-handle torque drivers and may get some present money towards powdercoating or a bench grinding wheel (for polishing parts).

"Bah humbug!" you say. What about the Monster - what news? Very little directly, as the exceptionally cold weather has kept me out of the shed as I still haven't decided about putting vents in the eaves to prevent condensation when using a heater.

However, there have been bike related developments... I have just sold my daily ride, the bike that takes me to work and back (thereby preserving my sanity and extending my free time) and also takes me away on runs with the fearsome outlaw band known as The Flying Leaks (well once in a blue moon).

The latest in the line was a black  '03 CB1300 with renthals and a Blue Flame race can. However it's all round competence, huge torque and brutish good looks, were finally outweighed by it's blandness. Rather than a streetfighter it was an upmarket bouncer who never took his jacket off. Riding the 900 Monster, Mrs Cutter's amazing 695 ( I can't get over what an underrated great little bike that is, spesh with termis and a sports ECU), and lusting over various cafe racers for inspiration for this project took it's toll. Even my daily ride needs some character. I agonised about selling the bike for months ands months, because it was such a capable swift comfy all-rounder.Also I had put some money into it ironing out some problems, but I finally made up my mind.

So how does this effect the project? Well it may not, if I decide to blow everything I got for the CB on the most bike I can get (think early Aprilia Tuono or Ducati S4 for instance). However if I was to go for bargain-basement capable twins like SV's or Firestorms, I might liberate enough cash to pay for one of the project's bigger costs, the Keihin carbs, or paint, or suspension upgrades etc.

Something to ponder, trying to find a bike that puts a smile on my face, suits my bad back, is reliable and cheap, and might even put a booster under the project.  Lots of options, lots of potential, some gambling to be done but...CHANGE IS GOOD. And anticipation is the greater part of pleasure, so it looks like my Christmas present has already come. It's called "opportunity"

And speaking of opportunity,I must mention here that there are people out there who would be happy to have a place like the 'shack to live in in this weather. Some of them are young and just looking for a break before their life gets screwed completely. If you live in London, and you are looking to extend your giving and invest in our mutual future you could point your browser at : 

Happy Christmas!!!

Sunday, 13 December 2009


You have got to have milestones. Especially if, like me, you are so lazy that even the stuff you love has to struggle to happen. And, in my defence, if you have a fairly busy life, you know, kids need new phones which then don't work, Christmas is coming and there are a lot of work drinks, family birthdays inconveniently fall at Christmas, the band is supposed to be doing writing sessions, all the guitars need new strings cos they are so knackered they won't intonate, the cats need feeding, the dishwasher blew up, the security light doesn't work, the boiler needs servicing blah blah blah.

So while people on forums cheerfully post how they took their bike to bits last night, I have been carefully removing a component every 300 years or so. And then in the name of research - and basically love - you  read all these really cool blogs about people with the time, talent, material resources, and taste, to build the ultimate cafe racer, old school chopper, race bike, the best Monster special, the best airhead BMW cafe racer ( I am loving these - more of this later ), whatever it's going to be right? Inspirational.....

...and quite psychologically damaging to your cause. You don't have the time, you don't have the money, you don't have the engineering skills, whatever. Sometimes, as happened to me recently, such an icon suddenly becomes available at knockdown cost. It's covered in all that stuff you need for your bike that is way to expensive to buy individually, because it's made out of CAD/CAM turned unobtainium and can only be sourced from Doctor Grand Prix's Emporium in Osaka, or the California Speed Temple's House of Bodacious Billet. And there it all is in the classifieds on a finished special that you admire...

So what are you going to do Chief? Buy it? Go on, it's cheap, these things depreciate like used shaving foam. So you buy it and then what? You cannibalise a fantastic special to bolt the bits on to yours. Or you ride it around and think why am I building another one? Or you sell some parts for a profit and keep, no, no, HOLD THE BUS! What did you start this for man? To do your own thing, and if you are going to come up a little bit aesthetically short on some components, a little sub-optimal performance wise, well sh*t, is that more important than the journey and the pride? Steer clear my friend.

So milestones help you negotiate all this dangerous ground. See, almost anything can be broken down into simpler components, the bike itself is a metaphor for this. Break the task, and our goal, into components, bite-sized chunks. "The 1000 mile journey begins with a single step", oh yeah, I been doing that stuff - that's why I haven't got anywhere yet!

So while you are working the Zen big time with the baby steps, a milestone tells you that you are getting somewhere, even if you don't know where yet. I picked mine - get the frame powder coated. Get the frame powder coated means take everything off, take everything off means drop the engine, so drop the engine becomes a milestone too. So "TA DAA" finally the engine is dropped!

In my earlier post I mentioned a few hiccups with various nuts and bolts and there were some more to come. But finally the other night I had the rear end off completely. All connectors pipes and tubes between engine and frame were unconnected. It was time to undo the two long bolts that run through the frame and the engine joining them at four points. I won't go into the gory details of how we freed a nut in a recess too small for a socket, other than to say that a tool was misused shamefully in order to wedge the nut as the hex was turned at the other end. And then the bit that broke off this tool lodged in the right place to facilitate release with no damage to any part of the bike. Sometimes the Gods are with you, and they do like a bit of drama when they help out a fool.

I had looked at the same paragrah of the Haynes manual for the 20th time, the one that advised getting the help of an assistant. I got my son down from the Eagles Nest (the attic room that used to be my studio until he got tired of me pushing mototrbikes through his bedroom), and we attempted to separate engine and frame.

A few things were then discovered that still needed taking off, a lot of dancing and wrestling took place, someone (my son) had to hold the plot together while I went to the little boys room etc etc - generally Laurel and Hardy. We finally get the engine out but my back was not too happy, even with two of us trying to get the lump on the bench. It is now midnight, and in through the out door walks a vision of loveliness. Mrs. Cutter has returned from a colleague's leaving party. She is wearing a cream coloured sweater, a velver skirt, tights and patent high heels. Get hold of this bit of the motor love...three of us can lift it easy.

A big hearted woman is a non-trivial asset my friends. She was the biggest milestone I ever achieved, and the biggest I ever will. (Yeah and for the sentimental smart-arses at the back saying "what about your kids?", well... where do you think they came from, Halfords?)

Engine's on the bench saying, clean me, paint me, feed me a light-weight flywheel.

Frame still has front-end attached. Is that easy to take off or would it have been easier before the bike looked like a grenade went off in the middle of it? We will soon find out, Christmas allowing......

Sunday, 29 November 2009

I Said "Vroom Vroom"

A quick post. More wiring traced and disconnected ready for engine drop. Clip-ons purchased on the 'bay for price of an Indian takeaway for two - Robbymoto alloy ones - arrived on Friday. Of course I had to see what they looked and felt like on the bike. Took the wide gold Renthals off and dropped the forks about 20mm so I could try them above the yoke. Why do people say dropped the forks? Actually they nearly always seem to mean they are dropping the rest of the bike while the forks are rising in the yokes - oh well. When I did this I rushed straight in and started undoing top and bottom yokes and luckily bike dropped just the right amount, the Chicken Gods of Stupidity must have been watching over me I guess.

The clip-on handlebars have a slight rise, and mounted above the yoke (which is a lot easier for a try-out) they felt pretty good. I have a dodgy back but if I can't try a sporty riding position on a special, what can I try it out on? I put the seat unit back on the bike and then realised what a big difference the tank makes to supporting yourself when using low bars, so I plopped that back on too. Cue a couple of minutes of going "vroom vroom" and having cafe racer fantasies. Luvverly. One of the clip-ons has a little sticker saying "competition only". This may be because the collars only fix to the forklegs with one bolt each. If I use them some Locktite "insurance" may be in order.

Back to the strip down. All went well with clutch slave and rear-sets and front sprocket all coming off again, fixings bagged and labelled. Then it was time to take out rear shock. The bottom of the shock is secured by an 8mm hex bolt with a caged nut on the other side, You reach the hex through an access hole in the swinging arm. No room for my nice hex bit sockets. My only 8mm allen keys are made of cheese, and even a good one may flex and twist a little too much. Going to sleep on it and ask Roly whether he has something that will help tomorrow. Saw a "long" 8mm hex bit socket on the 'bay for about 7 squid that may do it so that is in on my watch list. Steady wins the race....

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Always Know When to Re-Group.

So as storms rage above the 'shack I pull the throat, heart and lungs out of the Rooster's torso. Yep, carbs are off with all associated plumbing including carb warming pipery. This was a system that utilised hot engine oil diverted from the main engine feeds to try and ward off the carb icing that plagued pre-injection 2-valvers on winter mornings. You can learn about carb icing here:

I mentioned taking off the airbox, battery and coils  in an earlier post - this is what the bike looked like when they were still on:

 If I go the expensive Keihin FCR route (see this very informative site: ) then I will probably use separate K&N filters. This will mean that the coils and associated components, and the battery, will have no mounting. I will have to fabricate a battery box etcetera. However this may be a chance to clean up wiring and pipework and make everything simpler. The Keihins don't use a choke and they don't need carb-warming kit. Additionally a lot of the battery mounting clutter was rotting away. A previous owner had made up a support from a piece of tupperware box, a bit of alloy mesh and silicon sealing gel. It worked well but it was pretty primitive - it remains to be seen whether I can do better. It looms large in my mind that all I have done so far is take things to bits, by far the easiest part of the process.

Two nights ago I drained the oil and took off the oil filter in a frankly shameful bout of botchery. Thinking I had no filter wrench I used the ancient method of banging a screwdriver through the filter to use as a lever. All that did was make a succession of holes which released dirty oil which slicked the now jagged metal surface of the filter....nice. Various experiments with G-clamps and other unsuitable devices left me further de-moralised. The watchword in these times? It doesn't have to come off today - take your time, and definitely don't hurt yourself..

Then Captain Cro-Magnon's one brain-cell stirred fitfully. Wasn't there something in the bottom of the old toolchest? A weird socket with a bit of bike chain attached to it. Wasn't that some sort of filter wrench? Did I actually have one after all? This was pressed into service, carefully due to an intrusive bit of crankcase. That 's another watchword - don't break anything expensive (either in time, hassle or money), anything else is fair game.... Earlier I had used a T-bar socket handle with a hex-headed socket to get the sump plug out. Putting a pair (grammatically a pair although actually a single length of pipe - although they tell me the fashion world is calling a pair of tights a "tight" now) of drag bars (yes, yes the concurrent use of the words "tights" and "drag" was coincidental not Freudian) over the T-bar made for a powerful lever or "breaker-bar". You have to go careful whenever you bring extra force into play like that, but a sump plug and a crankase are a hefty combo and unlikely to see any shearing or stripping. So I thought and so it proved, this time anyway.

With the carbs, battery, airbox and coils off things look like this:

So a few other bits need to come off before the engine can be easily dropped out. Wiring to alternator, oil level sensor, and so on, vacuum fuel pump, gear change shaft connector, and exhaust system. I started taking the exhaust off with some trepidation, but the studs and nuts holding the manifold on were in good condition and pretty loose. I had taken the precaution of soaking them in WD40 a few nights before, but the fact that they weren't over tightened or corroded adds to my feeling that the owner before last was a practical and mechanically sympathetic bloke.

However, my good luck run came to a halt with the jubilee clip style connector that links the rear cylinder down-pipe to the the rest of the system. The hex bolt on this was bent and rusty, and rounded out straight away. Due to the routing of the pipes I don't think the system can come out without separating it at this point so I was temporarily scuppered. The exhaust system runs back from the front cylinder under the crankcase where it meets a four way union of pipes. Two of these are the left and right feeds to the silencers, the remaining junction rises up through a gap in the swinging arm up to the cursed rusty connector. It may be possible to play about with the order of disassembly when dropping the engine, which is fixed at four points on the frame and at the swinging-arm pivot point, but this looks like a potential nightmare. More likely I need to get working with a hack saw on the rusted bolt and get the connector off.

At this point I had been in there a while and achieved quite a bit. I was excited about dropping the engine and I had a borrowed car jack sulking in the corner ready to do this. But with several tasks between me and that goal, and one of them now a problem, it was Time To Stop.

One of the most important areas of discernment in any field I reckon, knowing when to stop. Re-group and come back in a positive frame of mind and with a sense of perspective. And be realistic about your task schedule. Bit like this blog malarky really - Top Gear is starting and I need the loo and another beer. Oh, and before I go I've had another colour scheme idea, but it breaks all my rules about reference and quoting so I am going to keep it secret and see if it's a stayer. Laters.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Colour Angst Thing

So this week is panning out as a low productivity one as a load of social stuff has formed a gang and beat the crap out of my weekday evening shed time. In consequence dear readers, this is a good time to ponder on colour angst. I am the first to admit that I am more of an arty farty type than an engineering type. I'm not talking about appreciation here - I'm full of appreciation for trick engineering - just lacking capability. I need something visually great as a goal to drive me on, and in terms of making something different and tasty, a good paint scheme is a quick easy win.

So colour angst is my constant companion as  I think about the bike every day. I always admire paint jobs that reference, quote, or (kill me now) "channel" other appropriate stuff. What do I mean by that? Well I am not going to paint a Ducati in Kawasaki green, it just isn't right. Now every rule exists to be broken so hypothetically I might break the rule for something obscure like Moriwaki flat blue and yellow, but that would be because those colours look retro and retro can work nicely with a Monster.  I might reference something totally separate like that bluey turqouise (with black and dull gold detailing) that Bianchi use on their bicycle frames. It's Italian and it's retro.

But referencing Ducati history, what about the Mike Hailwood Replica colours? Don't see them on a Monster very often. NCR (see the links list) have built a MHR special where they made the green darker and metallic, the shapes simpler, and the borders between green and red bolder. They also have "New Blue" a tribute to  Cook Neilson's 1977 Daytona victory on a Ducati 750SS, known as OLD BLUE, tuned by Phil Schilling. This mates an electric blue frame with silver metallic bodywork. Nice.

What are the other obvious applicable schemes? White with a red frame, red with a red frame or a black frame, black all over, black with gold stripes like an old school original 900ss, Red with white stripe. I like the red body work with red frame and black engine and wheels, with the modern Ducati logo in white. Very 90's Ferrari F1. However Mrs Cutter's 695 comes like that as standard so why would I do that?

I thought about all those recent choppers and cafe customs that are using old-fashioned muted colours like primer greys, creme, etc. An off-white with a muted red muscle car stripe is nice...Or I could put a spin on the dull bronze of the original frame colour and go for a rich gold. That way the red bodywork would look fine as it is, and it would be a subtle twist with a touch of early John Player Special Lotus (before they went to black and gold)  if I then added white elements with gold pinstripe outlining.

I could go on for ever. Trouble is I can't go on for ever. I am going to drop the engine so I can get the frame powder-coated. That is pretty much next on the list as the frame is in a bit of a tatty state. I may or may not get the wheels done at the same time, (there is a question mark over the health of the rear wheel, The bearing is not as tight an interference fit as it should be.)

Hmmm, dark blue frame and darkish silver bodywork is winning it at the moment. Timeless, quotes from past glories, tasteful. Will I feel the same when I wake up tomorrow, shit will I feel the same in 15 minutes time....

Monday, 16 November 2009

Only 100% Fresh Chicken

A a few people have been commenting on the slightly unreal appearance of Betty, one of our two resident chicken Ducati experts. I can assure you Betty is real. The images have not been manipulated, but Betty was manipulated (that sounds wrong) when I put her on the tank and then she jumped up on the handlebar. Wilma may also star later but she is a bit flighty (pun intended) at the moment. Betty is currently producing eggs, apparently that starts once the red floppy mohican develops on their little chickeny bonces. Wilma still doesn't have a proper coxcomb or whatever said mohican is properly called. She prefers drag racing (and I am talking straight line speed over a short distance not cross dressing...)

So Betty and Wilma are real. Whether anything else is real I am not so sure about. At least not since the band I play in, Boomthang, played a small and secret private music festival this weekend. We set up and sound checked at about 3pm on Saturday, went on at 11:00pm and crashed out on the singer's kitchen floor at 5:30am. I am definitely too old for that guano, but it's too much fun to stop, (despite having to drive various off-their-faces musos and wannabees away from my wife and daughter at regular intervals.).

FEAR NOT, normal service will be resumed this week as I cut through the fog surrounding my cerebral cortex and work out the best way to drop the engine without spending any money on sensible things like stands and jacks..... expect something big to fall on my foot any time soon, in technicolor.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Moonlight Sonata

OK it's 11.40pm. I went to the shed with the intention of getting to the bottom of the broken choke cable, but in my dark heart I knew full well that the same journey leads to full strip down. The thousand mile journey begins with a single step after all... So I needed to ease myself in - I admit it. In reality I want Keihin FCR carbs and they don't need no stinking choke, but whether I get the readies together for them or not the frame won't powdercoat itself, ya knoworra mean?

The World Tonight, In Our Time on the discovery of Radiation, A reading from the The Glass Room, and a nice comedy series about a mini cab firm - Elsmere Cars or something. By the time that lot was finished I had the battery and airbox out. that meant a load of connectors tagged, hoses disconnected, the tank off, a load of fixings bagged, Ignition unbolted etc etc.

I work slowly, I mooch, I savour. It suits my lazy personality and cuts down the chance of accidents. Tissue blocking the carb mouths, try and leave nothing to chance, don't want anything falling down there eh? What can I tell you, sometimes it's Radio Four, sometimes it's The Black Crowes, just like life really. Night night John Boy....

You actually done anything yet mate?

So whassup with the Rooster so far? Tail feathers clipped but yet to be dressed - an LED light with integrated indicators maybe? Will that MOT?  What I have ordered is some tail plugs for the cut-off frame tubes. The tail chop is a Monster build given, but taking a hacksaw to the sub frame was a rite of passage for me as it has been for many.

Also see below the lovely and exceptionally light Italian Silmotor cans. These replaced the robust but slightly shonky Vipers the bike came with. Still not sure that the length of them, or the angle of dangle, is correct. More upswept would be nice. I let a two-into-one hi-level manifold go by on Ebay and now am regretting chance to do something very different. Specially since the Hypermotard shows that 2-valve Ducs can run 2-1s no probs. The Sils are cool but may yet be sold to finance something more radical.

I tried to track down a fluid leak which led me to the clutch slave cylinder. Taking that off revealed a broken clutch slave pushrod. I replaced that and because it meant taking the pressure plate off I splurged on a nice new plate, springs and retainers. Just need a fancy open cover now when funds allow... Of course what I really need is a nice aftermarket slave cylinder as the originals are known as leakers. It's on the list. The plate was on special offer as it isn't in the latest lightest shuriken death star style. However I like it more old school. The colour was chosen for what was the dominant silver and blue paint scheme in my head at the time (much much more on colour scheme angst later) so this may still end up unsuitable. However a cover with smaller apertures may make the blue a subtle feature rather than a no go. Glints of colour can work where blobs can't.....

The above picture also shows the RSD rearsets which needed a bit of discussion with the helpful manufacturer/supplier and a couple of extra spacers to fit. They are designed to be an economical solution for racers and so they are plain and functional - that's fine for me and fits present budget (i.e. I can pay in eggs at about one a day). They don't actually set the foot position back any more than standard but they are very light and they replace a big chunk of metalwork. However, that metalwork supports the 'zorsts so a new hanger solution is required. I have experimented with 4mm alloy sheet which I cut and bent into an interesting shape but I can't work it without scoring it horribly (limited tools and skill) so still thinking about that one. Probably just needs more care. It would be nice to fabricate something with my own gorilla like mitts, but with only an elk's thigh bone and a surgical truss in the metalworking toolbox, a ready-made solution would be equally welcome....

Where's me airgun? I'd let 'em stay in but they will just poo everywhere....

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


So what's the plan?

YAWN, another customised Monster.

OH NO, there are already some great ones out there with more ingenuity and money thrown at them than I can muster.

Yes, but that negative stuff is hardly the point. What is it I like? What is it I don't like? I like retro and I like hi-tech, I like "trick" and I like purposeful. I like different but quoting something, a colour scheme, a heritage thrown into the mix, taken out of context.

I like:

Cafe racers, race bikes, sports bikes, tasteful customs like Exile and Krazy Horse and Ritmo-Sereno and Deus. (Search for these on the 'net - I will get round to links). I like 70's and 80's endurance racers, I like obscure little european sports two-strokes,  I like cultural hybrids, retro-techtro, Buells and old BMW's cafe'd up, naked 70-'s style muscle bikes with modern performance bling, I like iconoclasts and those who don't obey pigeon-holing rules, people like Roland Sands. I like machines with soul. I like the fact that you can enjoy yourself on little bikes and big ones - if they've got soul. I like a bit of attitude. I like crossover, I like to mix it up.

I don't like:

Pigeonholing, race rep. and sports bike rider prejudice, perfomance at the expense of style or style at the expense of performance. I don't like fake performance upgrades. I don't like people who look down their noses at bikes because they don't have enough power, aren't new enough, are too small etc etc etc. I don't like ugly bikes but sometimes ugly can be beautiful and then I like it.

Why does it matter what I like? Simple, this project is for me. It's going to be my expression, and it won't necesarily be right even for me. It won't necessarily be the last one either. Sometimes we can't stop looking over our shoulders wondering if we're doing the right thing, whether we're coming up to the mark. Right thing for who? Whose mark? Screw that, time to relax, it's supposed to be fun.... If I can learn that lesson the whole thing will be worth it.

In the Beginning....

I grew up reading custom car magazines and going to watch motor racing with my dad in his black cab. I already liked bikes but at 17 when my dad offered a second-hand bike as an incentive to get into university, (a car was too expensive), I got even more interested in bikes.

That was the start of 30 years biking, but I was never a confident mechanic. I admired anyone who modified vehicles and dreamed of doing it myself one day. It took most of those thirty years to gather the confidence to have a go. What was it going to be; custom, track bike, cafe racer? For the first time I was buying a bike that wasn't my daily transport. I didn't have to put reliability or practicality too high on the list of criteria. I had owned a lot of muscle bikes so didn't want to do one of those. I wanted something that was fairly light and that had good handling in it's DNA. And it had to be cheap. And I'm half Italian. So, Italian, exotic, light, good handling, cheap and easy to work on. Hmmm...Ducati two valve air-cooled twins. Monsters and Super Sports. Dreams.....

So in the summer of 2009 I took out a loan and ordered a 15ft by 9 ft shed. With the help of my fragrant Ducati-riding missus, I dug out earth in the back garden, broke up hardcore, laid framework and then got concrete pumped through the house.

Yep, my new bike workshop had no access to the street. We had tested the concept by pushing Mrs Cutter's Ducati 695 through the house (and through my son's bedroom). When my son realised that as well as motorbikes and bicycles, he was now going to have concrete pumped through the house he decided to move into my studio/office in the loft. The highest and lowest ends of the house got swapped as part of the general chaos.

The loan of 5k covered the shed base and shed, some new garden paving, a chicken house (this secured Mrs Cutter's total loyalty) paying off what was left of the loan on my daily ride AND a project bike. The bike was a private sale, a 1996 Ducati Monster 900. I rode it back from Nuneaton to London and didn't spare the horses, so it obviously worked after a fashion. And it was the right engine number to be an original large- valve model.

A couple of a months later a bench built from timber recycled from the shed base framework, some shelves, some insulation, some old tools, some piccies of all sorts of tasty bikes on the walls, and the Chicken Shack was turning into a home from home. And that big red rooster of a M900 was installed right in the middle of it all. Now for the hard stuff: creative and mechanical decisions, aspirations, no cash left and no skill - game on!