Buying a used bike: Honda 599

In June 2012, I bought a new-to-me Honda 599, roughly one week after finding out they’d been sold in the U.S. for two years. In The Rest of the World, it’s called a Honda Hornet 600. Here, it’s the 599, because, supposedly, somehow the old AMC Hornet has a permanent claim on the name. For behind-the-scenes clarity, Honda designates this model as a CB600F, so let’s just go with that. In Honda-speak, CB usually means standard seating position, which is true of this bike.

2004 Honda 599The bike was essentially as advertised: the second owner’s cousin had promised he knew how to ride, then promptly augured the bike into the earth, damaging a few things on the left side. Nothing serious. But every used bike needs treatment before it’s “right.”

A short list, for an eight-year-old motorcycle with just 11,376 miles on it:

And after putting the new chain on, I decided I’d rather have new sprockets than keep the old ones for much longer. Another $60 in parts (retail price) and about an hour of labor. Could have saved some time doing it with the rear tire change.

Further examination revealed old damage to the right side of the bike, perhaps from the previous-previous owner. I opted to replace three bolts that suffered the worst damage, along with the brake pedal, which I’d originally thought was just badly adjusted. In addition, the coolant hose sprung a pinhole leak at around 200 degrees, so that was replaced, along with the decorative/protective spring over it.

As long as I was ordering a batch of Honda OEM parts, I also decided to add their “sport screen.” I’d noticed at highway speeds that the wind was doing a good job of pulling my arms out. The small windshield Honda sells did an excellent job of increasing comfort at 70mph, and it doesn’t ruin the looks of the bike.

And then in the process of riding it, I discovered the bike hid a fatal flaw: Every time I rode it, I ended up stinking of exhaust fumes. Low speed, high speed, didn’t matter. I considered various ways to remedy the problem, then decided to sell it instead, after about nine months and 2,000 miles. Funny how one detail like that can scuttle the whole machine. Besides, I needed an incentive to finish my VFR800.

by Andrew | December 28, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Outside Work | 3 comments

2003 Honda VFR800 running problem

I’ve been making a lot of “cobbler’s son” jokes this week. Of the three motorcycles I own with unexpired tags on them right now, exactly zero are running properly. One of them is a 2003 Honda Interceptor VFR800 with 7,000 miles on it. I bought it from a friend who bought it from a coworked who slid it down Gallatin Pike a solid hundred feet on its left side and then parked it for four years. After I bought it, I fixed a coolant leak (radiator damage from the crash) and then took it for one ride before the rear brake started locking up on me.

And I parked it for roughly one-point-five years, before I finally became so annoyed with myself that I actually disassembled the rear master cylinder, found the problem, and fixed it. (Root cause: someone had reassembled the master cylinder incorrectly. I swear it wasn’t me.) And then rode it for about 30 miles, hoping that it was running badly as a result of being parked too long and there being a bit of water in the fuel. (Did I mention spending 30 minutes to get the fuel cap open? Parking bikes outdoors for too long is bad for them, y’all.)

regulator diagramThe problem didn’t go away, which meant there was something deeper going on. I found cylinder #3’s exhaust pipe to be cold compared to the other three, which suggested #3 either wasn’t firing or was getting too much or too little fuel to ignite. Turns out it was the middle problem. Fuel-injected bikes that run badly and don’t tell you what’s wrong via the “FI” warning light have only a short list of potential problems. Three times, now (twice on customer bikes), I’ve had a Honda run badly as a result of the fuel pressure regulator’s internal diaphragm tearing.

Rather than just failing to regulate fuel pressure, this has the added symptom of dumping a bunch of fuel through a vacuum line and into the nearest cylinder. In the case of the 2002-2008 VFR800, this vacuum line runs into cylinders #3 and #4, which sure enough were the cylinders with fuel sitting on top of the intake valves when I looked inside.

In roughly one week, a new fuel pressure regulator will show up at the threshold, and a small fuel spill and 30-45 minutes later, I’ll have at least one bike that runs well.

And maybe I'll replace the worst fairing damage from the PPO's crash?

Maybe I’ll replace the worst fairing damage from the PPO’s crash while I’m at it.

by Andrew | April 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Outside Work | 4 comments

1977 Kawasaki KZ400, Part 3

I finished the oil and filter change at approximately 11:00 am Tuesday morning, about an hour after I’d promised Michael I’d get to his house. There, we loaded our bikes into his truck and headed out to Rogers, Arkansas for the start of the Ozark Mountain Scramble. We had agreed about three weeks earlier to use his truck because it’s a 550 mile haul, the bikes aren’t especially comfortable for interstate cruising, and one of the bikes (mine) hadn’t been sufficiently tested to be considered even vaguely reliable.

View from Tilly, AR

The Scramble was three days of riding the curvy, scenic, and surprisingly clean roads of Arkansas’ northwest quadrant. The Ozarks may not count as mountains by the standards of the American West, but what they lack in altitude they make up for in density of twisting roads that are lightly traveled.

The Scramble was also three days of all sorts of things going wrong — all but the crashes being an expected outcome of the rules. ($1000 total cost of the bike and preparation, 1980 or older, 750cc and smaller) To iterate:

I’m sure I’ve left out other mechanical hijinks, but I think this backs up my take on the Ozark Mountain Scramble’s theme: worn out old bikes, resuscitated cheaply and made rideable, but not so reliable as to eliminate the surprises and challenges of fixing them on the side of the road and in hotel parking lots.

Additional photos on Flickr.

by Andrew | July 18, 2012 at 12:24 am | Outside Work | No comments

1977 Kawasaki KZ400, Part 2

I’ve lost track of how long the KZ400 spent on the other side of the shop, collecting dust, before I got back around to working on it. I do know that I finally got back to it on a Monday, eight days before the event I was preparing it for.

The last minute work included some straightforward bits: replacing the fork seals, affixing an Emgo replacement headlight and shell, adjusting the valves, changing the oil and filter, replacing the hand grips, and installing a new chain and sprockets.

The more difficult work included repairing an enormous hole in one exhaust pipe, right up at the cylinder head. A previous owner had apparently applied window glazing putty to the hole to seal it up. I have no idea if that actually worked, but it surely fell out when I bolted the exhaust back on. I had Stan Pugh come by (this was very last minute), and he spent at least an hour welding and grinding and welding again. This was not a “clean” fix, because the edges of the hole were terrifically rusted. But for the Ozark Mountain Scramble, you patch things up well enough that they’ll work for 600 miles, and you cross your fingers. (That was my take on the ethos of the event — others had much cleaner bikes than I.) After welding the exhaust pipe hole shut, we also banged on the muffler to help it clear the rear brake arm. It didn’t take much, and the rear brake could be applied and released normally after that.

I never did sort out why the handlebars and front axle weren’t parallel, but once I proved to myself the bike would ride in a straight line regardless, I left it alone. What I did figure out was a way to hold saddlebags to the KZ400’s original luggage rack. It seems this bike was a KZ400 Deluxe, which came with a windscreen, rack, and saddlebags. Only the rack remained, but I remembered I had a pair of Honda Silverwing (GL500) saddlebags in my basement. They hooked over the rack in two places, then a tie-down strap got them away from the rear shocks, and a few large zip ties held them to the rack well enough to prevent bumps from kicking them off the rack.


A lunchtime road test of the bike showed that it was tracking pretty straight, but the engine wouldn’t idle normally. Instead, once it warmed up, the engine wanted to race to something sounding like 5000 rpm. Sometimes I could bring it down by using the clutch to slow the engine. Sometimes that wouldn’t work. I confirmed the problem was most likely a vacuum leak, then decided there wasn’t time to address it properly. (I recalled the hateful job of putting not-quite-fitting carbs back on the engine and didn’t really want to repeat the experience.)

The same treatment was applied to the clattering cam chain, but less out of laziness than out of fear that removing the cam chain tensioner would expose worse problems. Better to leave it until after my return from the trip.

I never did treat the fuel tank. I decided instead to put gas in it, see if it leaked, and deal with any loose crap in there by adding a small fuel filter to the system. (Keep that in mind for later.)

I did, at some point, put new float valves in the carbs, and those worked great. It’s nice knowing that if you forget to shut off the fuel petcock, you probably won’t come back from lunch to find half a tank of fuel underneath the bike. I also tried replacing the carb holders (rubber boot between the carb and the cylinder head), but the ones I got weren’t a correct fit. (So I did try to resolve the vacuum leak once, at least.)

I never did figure out why the luggage rack looked crooked relative to the rest of the bike. Given the bike’s handling, there’s no reason anymore to think that it was crashed badly. Perhaps it was just dropped, bumped by a car, or generally mistreated.

by Andrew | June 18, 2012 at 12:24 am | Outside Work | 3 comments

1977 Kawasaki KZ400, Part 1

I’ve decided to participate in the Ozark Mountain Scramble, a three-day event/ride in June that has just three simple rules: Your motorcycle must be from 1980 or earlier, 750cc or less, and cost no more than $1000 complete. This appeals to my sense of practical motoring.

I’ve chosen two bikes for the OMS. (Yes, I know I can only ride one at a time.) One is a 1974 Yamaha RD350 that I’ll write about later, and the other is a 1977 Kawasaki KZ400. I spent some time Christmas Eve checking it over, and I’ve already learned that while the bike is a 1977 model, the engine has been swapped in from a KZ440, probably from 1981. (The frame should be the limiting factor for the OMS age requirement, so I think we’re in the clear on that.)

1977 Kawasaki KZ400

1977 Kawasaki KZ400

An initial list of things that will need to be addressed, or perhaps just ignored to stick to the budget:

Oh, and then there’s the right muffler rubbing on the rear brake arm, plus the angle of the luggage rack relative to the fuel tank, handlebars, etc. Based on the evidence so far, I suspect this bike was crashed at some point, and that as soon as I get it to where I can do an actual road test, I’ll find that the frame is “tweaked.” Whether I try to remedy this problem will depend on just how badly it rides. Fingers crossed on that one; I’d really rather not have to convert this into a parts bike. (Or maybe it will give me a chance to learn frame straightening, because that’s a great idea.)

by Andrew | December 27, 2011 at 11:28 am | Outside Work | 5 comments