83 Honda VF750 Sabre – “Fashionably Late.”

The story of this bike is all about frustration.

Busted knuckles, missing parts, expensive shit that didn’t fit, and buyers that didn’t come through.

The buyer part is maybe the simplest to explain – JT put down a deposit, chose the donor bike, and set us running on the build, but the week before it was done, he went and threw out his back.  No more riding in his future, and thus, no more room for this ride.

We all go down the road knowing that, in the blink of an eye, we might find ourselves at the end of our motorcycling careers.  I hope my body holds up at least as long as long as my urge to twist a throttle, but not all of us are that lucky.  Sorry, man.


To his credit, JT offered to settle up with me and sell the bike himself, but instead, we’ve agreed to split whatever comes in above the $5000 he owed.  That way, I get made whole and he gets some of his deposit back.  For the right price, the bike can be finished however you like, provided you’re basic taste doesn’t stray too far from core idea of the build, namely: a bobber, a scrambler, a cafe racer and a sewer rat making filthy love under a bridge somewhere on the wrong side of town.  If you aren’t into that kind of party, you might as well not come around the shop at all…

As for the bike, well, let’s start at the beginning with the 1983 Honda Sabre – a fundamentally ill conceived and overly complicated motorcycle with one redeeming characteristic: the powerful and silky smooth 750cc V4 engine.  This basic engine is shared between the Magna, a much loved muscle cruiser, and the Interceptor, Honda’s World Superbike winning sports machine.

I found this one online – the actual donor was so ugly I didn’t even bother taking a picture of it.


Our first goal was to throw half of the motorcycle in the nearest dumpster, and then to make sure  that the motor was healthy.  With the engine on the bench, we performed a leakdown test and inspected the head to make sure we didn’t have any of the “excessive cam wear” issues that appeared on some of the early V4.  Luckily the journals were nice and smooth and all four cylinders showed great compression.  We went ahead and adjusted the valves and installed an aftermarket system that supplies high pressure oil directly from the filter to the heads, so with any luck, this motor will outlive us all.  We also rebuilt the clutch slave cylinder and replaced a few gaskets and seals that were giving us funny looks.  The carbs also got a full rebuild, and we opened up the intake just a bit with a UNI foam filter.


At this point, with the motor sitting there on the bench looking handsome and eager, things start to go sideways.

This bike was getting the full treatment, including a fairly radical frame chop, and in order to get everything lined up correctly, we needed to have the actual suspension components we were going to use in hand.  Now it turns out there is exactly one guy who specializes in making high end custom suspension components for the Honda Sabre, and while he is very friendly and the final product is awesome, he does take approximately 6 months to deliver.  I of course don’t know this at the time, and we’re naively planning to have the bike done within 6 months.  So I’m calling about every 3 days, probably driving this poor guy totally insane, until finally we get the message: you probably won’t see this stuff till fall.


So the build comes to a stop.  Except for spooning on some new tires and making a whole bunch of late night ebay purchases for exotic components, half of which won’t fit and can’t be used (I’m looking at you, Ducati tailpipes), the bike just sits until we get the rear shock and fork parts in the mail.  And of course by this time the season is practically over, and we would be rushing like crazy just to have the bike ready just to be parked in a garage for 4 months.

So we beg a bit more time, fire up the diesel heater, and we get down to it over the long cold winter.  The forks are off a year newer Honda, which provided a slightly shorter front end without giving up the almost 6in of front wheel travel, plus gave us the ability to run standard handlebars instead of the awful high rise clip ons fitted stock.  We considered the now-ubiquitous “gold upside down forks” off a GSXR or some other sportbike, and while they definitely look trick, on a bike this big, they would have been deadly.  Too short, too steep, and not enough travel.  Instead, we reworked the primitive internals, bypassing the stock damping rods and installing shimmed dampers, stiffer springs, new seals and fresh oil.  We also eliminated the fork’s Anti Dive system, a 1980’s fad that mercifully disappeared along with Snap Bracelets and Devo.

The dual disc brakes out front were rebuilt and upgraded with drilled CBR600 rotors, grippy EBC pads, Galfer stainless steel brake lines, and a sportbike master cylinder, so she pretty much stops like a real motorcycle despite the “for display purposes only” drum out back.

Suspension duties in the rear come from a re-valved and custom mounted CBR900 rear shock, which along with the stiff chassis and updated forks, makes the bike feel very planted and stable.

With those goodies installed and the bike sitting on two wheels again, we were able to set our suspension geometry, weld in the subframe and tank mounts, and fabricate brackets to tuck the battery, regulator, and other major electronics up under the tank.

We fitted up the Biltwell saddle and dirt bars for a comfortable, neutral riding position, and got the exhaust routed and mounted.

Then it was all stripped down again for paint and clearcoat, grease for the shaft drive and final assembly.

I don’t think that’s how you spell “Muff.”

At this point, we’re pretty close except for one crucial thing I haven’t mentioned.

You may have noticed that nobody seems to build custom Honda Sabres, and while there may be many good reasons for that, if I had to speculate as to the main one, the one feature of this bike that is sure to drive any custom builder to the brink of madness, it would have to be the wiring harness.


This bike had so many fucking sensors, idiot lights, dummy switches, and mysterious boxes mounted under its fairings, I probably spent three full days with the wire snips in hand sweating bullets like a goddamn bomb squad technician as I cut away everything I dared to remove except the key connectors between the ignition, battery, stator, and lights.

defusing bomb

In the end, most of the harness that’s on the bike is custom, but the main multipin connectors are intact.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the the bike decided to protest the removal of 10 pounds of wire by starting up with great difficulty and only running on two cylinders. After some poking around, I determine we had no spark on the back cylinder bank.

Of course I assumed I had fucked something up, cut a red wire when I should have cut a blue or whatever, so I’m poring over the diagrams, checking my work and trying to determine whether burning the motorcycle in the alley would be considered arson (“But officer, it was self defense”) when I stumble across a forum post about how a huge percentage of the early ignition boxes on Honda Sabres fail.


So I swap the two ignition boxes and suddenly the FRONT cylinders have no spark.

Problem solved!

Except the replacement box I get off Ebay is also Dead.

I finally pay an outrageous sum of money to get my hands on working black boxes, and now the bike starts right up and pulls on all 4 like it bloody well should.

A bit more grinding and welding, some tapping and threading, and a some careful hammering and it’s a fucking motorcycle.


So here we are.  Bike is done and running, on display at Dunn Lewis MC for one more weekend, and looking for a new home.  Come on out for our final weekend and catch some deals on gear from Icon, Grifter, Tobacco, Reign and more.  Email clay@streetspiritcycles.com and we can talk paint and finishing touches if you want to make it yours.


And if not – me and my V4 friend have a date with some mountain roads next month…

Announcing Dunn Lewis Motorcycle Co.

Excited and nervous to be kicking off our new moto gear store this weekend: Dunn Lewis | MC.   Many thanks to the folks at Union Market for making this possible.  We’re happy to be a small part of their big plans for the neighborhood.  We will be at 1270 5th Street NE, right up from Florida Ave and across from the main market.


Our goal is to stock the very best motorcycle riding gear we can find, and we’re starting to build an awesome list of brands for urban and adventure riding. If you make something for riders, let us know – we would love to carry it.  So far, we’re rocking out with Grifter, Wolfman Luggage, Town Moto, Explorers, and lots more.

Dunn Lewis is also a Parts Unlimited dealer, which means we have access to their huge apparel catalog that includes brands like Icon and Alpinestars, not to mention tons of aftermarket part from the likes of Biltwell and Lowbrow Customs, as well as tires, batteries, fluids, and all the basics you need to keep your bike purring like a big angry kitten.

Join us at 3pm this Saturday 6/20 for our opening day party to get an early look at how things are shaping up.

Contact mason@dunnlewismc.com with any questions.

FZ6 Fighter for sale

My daily rider is going up to make room for some other projects.

R6 front end and brakes, MV Agusta style 4-4 undertail exhaust, Renthal bars, heated grips, Trailtech computer and lots more.

Currently on craigslist for $3500: here.


Join us for a Spring Cleaning Swap Meet – Saturday March 7 2015

SSC Swap Flyer

Come by the Street Spirit Cycles shop for a spring cleaning swap meet with bikes, parts, art, and refreshments. We’ll have a ride out after the meet.  RSVP at our Facebook event page.

Supported by DC Triumph, Two for the Soul, and Dirt Church.

Interested in vending? Contact clay@streetspiritcycles.com

Follow us on Instagram for more meet updates, parts and bikes available: Clay @streetspiritcycles, Jason @messickjc79, Tyler @hadakaty


So it’s officially winter, but it’s not too late to properly winterize your bike.

So if you’re anything like me, you probably try to push the riding season about as long as your gear and pain tolerance will allow before the cold makes it too miserable to be out on the road on two wheels.

Son of a bitch.
Son of a bitch.

In the past, “winterizing my bike” has looked like this: after a series of terrible, dangerous rides for which I was under-dressed and emotionally unprepared, a major winter storm buries my bike in a snow bank and say “fuck it” and I leave it there until spring.

I can tell you from experience that this is not the preferred method of winterizing a motorcycle.  If you have a modern fuel injected bike, you might get away with it for a season, but after a while, the weather takes its toll and the bike simply begins to to rot.  Electrical connectors go bad, rust sets in, mice nest in your nice warm airbox (yes this has happened to me) and your list of spring repairs starts to spiral out of control.

If you have a carbed bike, things are even worse.  One winter sitting with gas in the carbs, particularly if you have a leaky petcock, is enough to require a major overhaul.

That’s why I have compiled a brief list of recommendations to ensure that you don’t end up like me.

1. It’s worth it to find an indoor spot for your bike.  I know this is hard to do in the city, but the northeast is no place to leave a bike parked on the street.  The road salt and grit go everywhere, and they will begin to eat your bike alive.  We have some limited storage space available at the shop, and may be able to organize more if there is interest.

2. A normal bike cover is not enough for a full winter.  If you must park your bike outside for more than a month, take the time to protect it.  There are some covers on the market that offer wrap around protection, including the Cycle Shell shown below.  We have also figured out how to create a sealed plastic bag that fits a whole motorcycle and keeps it moisture-free for the winter.

Doubles as a homeless shelter.
Doubles as a homeless shelter.

3. Pull the battery and place it on a tender to keep it healthy.  Many older bikes or bikes with lots of aftermarket accessories have a tendency to drain batteries while parked.  Combine this issue with the fact that lead acid batteries bleed a bit of voltage over time, and you may end up draining the battery so low that it can’t be resurrected.  Better to keep it topped up.

4. Stabilize your fuel and keep the tank full.  If you can find ethanol free gas, it definitely keeps longer, but a good marine grade fuel stabilizer will take your through a winter.  You also need to make sure the tank is as full as possible to avoid rust inside.  When wet air has room to enter the tank, it will end up mixed into the gas and coating the inner surfaces of the tank.

5.  Lube your chain and cables, wax everything, and change the oil.  Basically you want as much of your bike as possible covered in some kind of protecting oily film.   A dab of grease at the ferrules works great to keep water out of cables, fresh oil in the engine prevents nasty deposits that can cause damage on startup, and a clean oiled chain will prevent stuck links.  Applying appropriate wax or protective oil to your tank and chrome will keep things looking fresh.  Just don’t oil your brakes or your first ride next season is going to be interesting.

6.  If you have carbs, keep them empty!!!  You have already stabilized the fuel in the tank, and a fuel injected bike should be run for a bit to circulate the stabilizer, but the best thing for the carburetors is to be dry for the winter.  Turn the petcock off and disconnect the fuel line.  If you have good access, each carburetor has a drain plug that can be backed off to let the old gas out.  If they are hard to reach (usually) or stripped due to a careless previous owner (almost always) you can also simply start the bike and run it till it’s out of gas.  Just idling will work but it takes a long time, so I usually keep the revs up until it starts to run funny and then let it idle till it dies.

7.  Take steps to keep out the vermin.  Plugging the airbox and exhaust pipe is pretty much all you need to do, but I’ve also found that rodents can’t stand scented dryer sheets, and if you stick a few of them into the places a mouse might like to hide – under the seat and tank, down on top of the engine – they won’t use your bike for acorn storage.

Stay warm out there, and if you’re in DC and need help with any of this, give us a shout.

Join Us for Two Wheel Worship – Saturday September 6 2014


Roll on down and join us for food, drink, and all things two wheeled.  Motor or pedal, modern or vintage, everybody has a good time.  We will be giving out test rides on a prototype electric bicycle that we’ve put together, so come on by the tent and say hello.

This event is organized by Union Kitchen and our friends at Milk Cult DC.

We encourage you to RSVP over at the website  below so that the organizers know how much food to cook.  You can even get discounted drinks when you buy in advance.  Not bad.


Indian Arrow 149

This little bike was recently featured on Pipeburn, so to see the full writeup, head over here and take a look.

49 Indian Arrow 149 2 small

This post is just to highlight a few cool details of the Indian Arrow 149.

This was really a “minimally invasive” build, mostly stripping away what was heavy, ugly, or unnecessary and letting the lines of the bike and the gorgeous engine speak for themselves.

IMG_0407 small

I also wanted to try and preserve the really lovely patina that had developed on the machine, and this meant I couldn’t resort to the usual “rip it apart and sandblast everything” approach that many restorers take.     

One of the coolest things about working on old bikes for me is the sort of forensic observation of the mechanical interventions that have been performed over time.  As I went about my work on this Indian, I saw the ideas and tool marks of other mechanics that I’ll never meet but who are communicating with me through the medium of this machine. We both spent hours of our lives thinking about it, cursing at it, and bleeding on it in the process of trying to fix it and make it a better motorcycle.

This bike went through at least one and possibly more major overhauls before it arrived at my shop, and it turns out that some of the bike’s issues had been dealt with already.  It was running an improved carburetor and ignition system, and somebody had done a top end job on it.  We could tell because they had welded the aluminum block at all four corners where it had apparently cracked around the cylinder studs during assembly.

IMG_0423 small

We inspected and adjusted the valve train and resealed the side cases, but otherwise left the motor intact.   Everything else about the bike is as simple and minimalist as possible so that attention remains on the really beautiful and unusual looking motor.         

What kind of bike do I want?

Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good Venn diagram, but when stumbled across this (kind of ugly, not created by me) infographic, I simply had to share.  There is so much confusion and misinformation in the market about what particular bikes are good for, it’s important to get back to basics.

With that said, as a custom builder, the goal is to take different parts of the diagram force them to get busy with each other. Sometimes this produces beautiful babies like the cafe racer (standard + sport) and sometimes it produces unholy bastards.

Yes there is such a thing as an offroad sidecar observed trials bike, and no you could not pay me enough to ride one.

The digram may not show all the weird and wonderful combinations people have come up with, but it provides a good basic understanding of the types of motorcycles available from major manufacturers today. It’s also useful for understanding whether a custom bike build you’re imaging is really such a good idea.

While any combination is in theory possible, some are obviously undesirable (at least to me). I’m not sure why anybody would put ape hangers on a sportbike, or attempt to take an adventure tour on a scooter, but maybe the owners have some explanation.  Sometimes weirdness is the overriding goal, and at least on that level, I can get behind pretty much any kind of bike build.

However, some custom projects are simply much easier and cheaper to approach from one direction than the other.  If you look at the design of supermotards, the goal was to build bikes that handle well on tight asphalt corners, deal with a bit of dirt, and can hit big jumps. Could you get there by modifying a sportbike?  Yes, probably at great complexity and expense.  But starting with a dirt bike is so much simpler that it’s what practically everybody does.  Better brakes, shortened, stiffer suspension, different wheels and tires, and some gearing changes and you’re off to the races.

I you want to do it that hard way just to prove that it can be done, again, I can get behind that kind of project – but it’s important to go in with eyes wide open.

To get back to the original question of “What kind of bike do I want?” it’s important to take a step back from the marketing speak and think about what capabilities, features, and style elements are important to you.  Maybe the real answer is “two bikes.” Maybe you answer that there is a hole in your life in the shape of a rigid hardtail with dirt tires and a big honking turbocharger.  Whatever the result of your soul searching, we can make it happen – but I reserve the right to try and talk you out of it.



Confessions of a Moto Slut


Sorry if this is actually you.

No, no, not that kind of moto slut.

I’m talking about the kind of rider that just can’t commit. Can’t be faithful. Can’t stay married to just one motorcycle.

I sometimes see these guys on the forums who will throw out statements like “Well, I bought her from the dealership when I was 18, and I’ve put 260,000 miles on it in the last 57 years.  Still in love!” I have to respect it, but I can’t imagine settling down like that – at least not without doing some whoring around first.

I’ve ridden, owned, or built a disturbingly large number of bikes, and I have never once gotten off a ride and said, “Well, that’s it, I’m selling all the others and keeping this one forever.”

I want one thing on Sunday afternoon and a completely different thing Monday morning. And furthermore, I believe this is normal and right, and we need to stop the slut shaming. I just love and want to ride all the bikes!  If it has two wheels and a throttle, it’s probably good for at least 15 minutes of fun.

Hell, my father who is a veteran flat tracker and a grown ass man insists that the most fun he’s ever had on a motorcycle was racing 50cc monkey bikes around a warehouse, but do you really want to ride one of those things in to work?

This guy does.

Instead of getting irrationally obsessed with one particular bike, or worse yet getting wrapped up in the manufactured brand identity and motorcycle-as-fashion-accessory nonsense that the industry generates, just enjoy all the different flavors that riding has to offer. Stop hating and release your inner slut.

I love the feel of a sportbike between my knees, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also love the sounds and sensations of cruising on a Sportster or the thrill of two stroke as it comes on the pipe.

The is a rush that comes from using a motorcycle exactly as it was intended, putting yourself and the machine in the context where its qualities will shine. It will enhance and extend your abilities in ways that make you feel superhuman.  Unfortunately for most of you, your jobs do not entail taking bikes for test rides every day (mechanic FTW) so you’re probably going to have to settle on just one machine.

In spite of what I said about all bikes being fun, there is no “perfect bike,” and there are trade-offs with every configuration.  What we always try to do with our customs is to understand how the bike is going to fit into the lifestyle of the rider, and build a machine that’s optimized for the type of riding he is actually going to do.

Our next post will look at the major categories of motorcycle and the key design trade offs that we face as we put together our custom bikes.

I just want to escape this burning desert.



The Beginning of a Build – 1989 Honda VTR250 Interceptor

I’m normally hesitant to release early stage pics of “work in progress” project bikes, but after this weekend’s awesome testing trip to Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia I just had to share:

VTR250 in Track Rat Trim
VTR250 in Track Rat Trim

Rolling into the pit at the Shenandoah Circuit for the Motorcycle Xcitement track day and unloading this old girl, I drew more than a few “What the fuck?” type stares.   Not only is the VTR250 a rather rare bike, but surrounded by fully prepped race machines sitting up on spools with their tire warmers humming, it looked comically out of place.

Tech inspection was equally hilarious.  The inspector told me “That is literally the rustiest chain I’ve ever seen.  Looks well lubed and properly adjusted though!”  Yeah, I know buddy.  For being a dirty little rat, it actually runs and rides quite well… but I had reached the limits of what testing on the street could tell me about how to optimize the setup.

I’m just not comfortable pushing an unknown bike too hard with the possibility of deer or dump trucks lurking behind every bend in the road.  But on the track, I can do it all day long!  The goal (in addition to improving my own skills as a rider) was to figure out where the bike was weak and needed performance attention.

The Shenandoah Circuit is a tight and technical track, which includes nasty jogging pace hairpins, a downhill corkscrew a la Leguna Seca into the back straight, and an exact replica of the banked Carousel turn from the Nürburgring:

This little VTR is intended to be a country road killer, so I just had to push it hard to find out what needed attention.  I haven’t done much yet other than get it running and strip it down, but as you can see, there was a lot that needed stripping:

Stock VTR250

The heinous body work was either binned on is in the process of being sold on ebay, and the bike is starting to take shape in my head.

I found it was stable all over the track, particularly the sorts of fast sweeping turns where bigger bikes like to wallow and flex frighteningly.  It turned in effortlessly, and the suspension was sufficiently stiff with good damping.  The weak point was definitely the front end.  My efforts will be focused on getting more weight over the front wheel, getting more bite out of the front brake, and getting stickier rubber to take advantage of it all.  It may be necessary to ditch the awesome steampunk looking stock wheel in favor of something more conventional, but either way, it’s going to be a great little bike.

Check back soon for more progress!