Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Sat 3rd Jul, 2010

Committed to the job

There's an old joke that goes: what's the difference between 'involved' and 'committed'? In making bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Well, having just spent $1500 on a broken motorbike, I feel committed to building an electric motorbike now. Up until now the parts I've bought - the Enertrak hub motor, the Kelly motor controller and peripherals - could all have been sold to someone else willing to build an electric motorbike. But the choice of a bike is a personal one, and I'd be lucky to get $500 for the bike now if I sold it for parts. So I've now committed money I really can't get back.

The problem with building an electric motorbike is that what you ideally need is a motorbike that is working in every respect but the engine is blown. This isn't the usual failure mode of bikes - they usually get enthusiastically smashed into or scraped over immovable bits of terrain at speed. My initial 'wanted' requests on classified ad websites and on web forums were fruitless, and from my many and various web searches I determined that no-one was advertising the type of bike that I wanted. I also didn't really want to buy a bike that was registered and working and try to resell its engine and peripherals, despite one claim that with the right bike that could make my money back. Time to look further afield.

A friend who's a bit of a bike expert and is helping me with this project recommended Motorcycle Disposals, a company in Sydney that takes bikes that have been wrecked, repossessed or confiscated and sells them for whatever they can get. Their web site is a bit 1990s but proudly declares that it is "best viewed in Mozilla Firefox v 3.6" (which is nice) and its main page, the list of bikes they're currently tendering for, is kept reasonably up to date. If you're prepared to spend a bit of money on some replacement parts, or don't mind something with a few scrapes, then there's plenty of bargains there ready for the new rider to take away.

However, the bikes on that page are only about half of their total stock - they're the ones that are rideable or popular so are a good bargain. They have at least that many bikes that have been written off and can only be used for parts, less popular bikes, and bikes with engine problems or larger defects. I spoke to Joel one day and he recommended coming and having a look through their extra stock to find an option. This meant a 300-km drive from Canberra to Sydney and back, so I planned this with the bike-expert friend and we set off.

We narrowed it down to four options. One I liked but was on the expensive side was a Honda CBR1100XX 'Blackbird' - a large, modern bike with a very strong frame and sporty looks. For my purposes I was looking at larger bikes (to carry the load of possibly 100Kg of batteries and 26Kg of motor) with good fairings to reduce wind resistance, and this fit the bill. Better yet, the exhaust had just been sold and I reckoned I could do them a deal on the radiator and oil cooler. But its entire front fairing and headlight assembly was missing and that cost a fair bit, making it a bit less appealing given my budgetary constraints.

There was a Kawasaki ER-6N that was OK, a Honda VT250 that was running but quite old and a bit small, and a Yamaha FZS 600. The latter was within my price bracket, had a motor with part of the engine and starter missing from impact, was a solid build and of modern appearance. I reckoned I could bargain them down a bit on the price, since I wouldn't need the radiator and exhaust, they could be easily unbolted, Motorcycle Disposals also has a side-line in spare parts. Rob and I repaired to a nearby Subway to deliberate.

We fed ourselves, fulminated briefly at the diabolical slowness of 2G modem speeds, and did some searching. The Blackbird looked like costing at least another $800 to get back to working order, and though I could afford it in the long run it was harder to get enthusiastic about it. The FZS 600 only needed a nosecone and windscreen, which could cost less than $400 all up. Finally Rob said "What time do they close?" I looked up the web site. 12:30. "What time is it?" 12:30. Time for a quick phone call!

Joel said that they'd stay there for me and we hurried back. I made them an offer of $1500, $250 less than their asking price, and after a bit of theatrical clutching of hearts and reeling, they agreed when I threw in the exhaust and radiator. It turned out that they didn't need the radiator since it was dinged, but they took the radiator, I signed the bill and wheeled the bike up the ramp onto the trailer. After strapping it down securely we headed off, feeling slightly odd at picking up a non-working bike.

Fuel efficiency was 12.5Km/l (8l/100Km) going up with the empty trailer, and about 11Km/l (9.1l/100Km) going back, compared to the Liberty's usual 15Km/l (6.7l/100Km) on the highway. We felt it most when we were on the hills - it was like we'd added an extra ton of car. I went at 100Km/hr on the return journey too, just to lessen the effect of towing a bike-shaped sail behind us.

The brightest moment of the trip was on the Federal Highway. A Ford Laser Sports coupe - one of those ones with the blue stripes down the centre like it's a giant equals sign - rocketed past us at easily 140Km/hr. Five minutes later we passed a police car on the verge with a speed gun, and we spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out why they hadn't taken off after the boy racer, and the general injustice of seeing so many speeding violations happening and no evidence of police action despite the numerous police cars we'd seen on the road that day. Then, near the Bungendore turn-off, we passed a highway patrol car that had pulled over the sports car.

We felt like going back and high-fiving the cops. It's a vicarious form of justice, to be sure, with more than a touch of schadenfreude thrown in, but it was totally worth it.

Finally, we got the bike home, unstrapped it and gently wheeled it off the trailer again, and parked it in the garage in front of the other two. It feels odd to have gone from owning a car each, to owning a single car, to a car and scooter, to a car and scooter and motorbike, and now we're a four vehicle family. I'll probably sell my bike when I finish the conversion and have the electric bike on the road, but until then it's going to be a bit crowded in the garage.

The Yamaha FZS 600 "Fazer" is actually a moderately rare bike, as it was only made from about 1996 to 2001. It's unfaired - which is a bit of a shame - but has a good solid frame and the motor probably weighs about 100Kgs or so, so putting in my preferred battery pack is going to leave the bike at specified weight. It has fixed front but adjustable rear suspension, which is important as we have to readjust it for the weight of the hub motor, and it's black.

I can't prevaricate any more about building the bike now...

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