Buying Someone Else's Project ('81 XS650SH)

nexizen

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I always told my kids not to buy someone else's project. I didn't follow my own advice.

I was hungry for a motorcycle, and a buddy of mine mentioned he had an old project bike he had given up on. ('81 XS650SH) His plan was to make a cafe-racer style bike. He had already swapped the handlebar, installed a dual Mikuni carb kit, new exhaust, chopped the frame to better fit a new seat, welded the fender to the frame tucked under the seat, and swapped the headlight and tail light (along with turn signal delete). He sold the whole kit to me for $500.

So how bad is it?

Started didn't work. When kicking it, he couldn't get consistent spark. Turn signals didn't work. Seat not mounted. The welds are disgusting. (Apparently he didn't have any gas for the MIG he borrowed.) And he painted most of the bike with spray paint.

Here's what I have done so far.

1. Found that the right control cluster was not grounded due to the powder coat on the new handlebar. Without the ground, the start button didn't work. I ran a new ground and got that working.
2. The starter keeps kicking out. Ordered a new number 4 starter gear and spring from Mike's. Should be here in a day or so.
3. Used the 'dead cylinder' method to figure out what was happening with the spark. The coil appears to be fried. It gets decent spark on the left, but sporadic hits on the right. New coil ordered from Mike's. Also being delivered soon. I was able to get it running pretty well for a few minutes, but the coil could not keep the right cylinder going for long. (Video)
4. Pulled all of the wiring out of the headlight and tested/cleaned everything.
5. Turn signals still not working. Pulled apart the left control cluster and found that the wires had broken free from the contacts on the turn signal selector. Re-soldered and looking good now.
6. Gave it a bath. I gave it a decent once over to clean off most of the gunk. I also found that the crap paint peeled off of tons of areas. I'm going to have to consider media blasting everything when I take it apart later.
7. Ordered front foot pegs. The previous owner was planning to move to rear-ward controls. He pulled the stock foot pegs and lost them. I bought a pair off eBay for $35 and they were delivered yesterday. They're in pretty decent shape!

To do:
1. Fuse block is dead. Two of the contacts are broken. I am replacing the whole thing with separate fuse holders and rewiring to combine headlight and turn signals through 1 fuse. (it's all LEDs now, so the amperage is low)
2. Considering a complete change to the wiring system. I want to swap to a lithium battery and compact all of the electronics into a smaller area to clean up the look. This is a topic I'm still researching. I want to keep the starter, and I know I need to change the reg/rec. I'm just not sure what to actually do to make this happen. Yet. (Advice?)
3. Replacing gauges. I want to ditch the tach and find a small, clean-looking speedo. I also want to swap the neutral/bright lights to small LEDs.
3. Full engine teardown/cleaning/re-gasketing. It obviously leaks some oil. It's not dripping, but the underside was super slimy. I have no idea how long it had been since the bike's last bath, but it definitely leaks
4. Removing unnecessary components and frame elements. ex. I won't have a passenger (single seat), so I'm cutting the frame mounts for those foot pegs. Any mounts for signals, covers, etc. Remove center kick stand, etc.
5. Fixing existing welds. Holy cow are they bad. I also want to adjust the seat mount while I'm at it.
6. Welding up a new battery/electronics box. Once I figure out how I want it wired, I want to mount all of the electronics in a small, clean package.
7. Media blasting components that are over-painted, rusted, etc.
8. Painting/powder coating.
9. New wheels and tires. I'd really like to swap to wire wheels with some fat tires. I just love that look.

Overall Goal: I want to continue some of the cafe race aesthetic and keep the whole thing looking like a home project. I don't want it super clean. I want everything to be a bit rough and well-loved.

Lastly, I'm really excited to be joining this community. There are some amazing bikes out there, and an amazing wealth of knowledge!
 

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I always told my kids not to buy someone else's project. I didn't follow my own advice.

I was hungry for a motorcycle, and a buddy of mine mentioned he had an old project bike he had given up on. ('81 XS650SH) His plan was to make a cafe-racer style bike. He had already swapped the handlebar, installed a dual Mikuni carb kit, new exhaust, chopped the frame to better fit a new seat, welded the fender to the frame tucked under the seat, and swapped the headlight and tail light (along with turn signal delete). He sold the whole kit to me for $500.

So how bad is it?

Started didn't work. When kicking it, he couldn't get consistent spark. Turn signals didn't work. Seat not mounted. The welds are disgusting. (Apparently he didn't have any gas for the MIG he borrowed.) And he painted most of the bike with spray paint.

Here's what I have done so far.

1. Found that the right control cluster was not grounded due to the powder coat on the new handlebar. Without the ground, the start button didn't work. I ran a new ground and got that working.
2. The starter keeps kicking out. Ordered a new number 4 starter gear and spring from Mike's. Should be here in a day or so.
3. Used the 'dead cylinder' method to figure out what was happening with the spark. The coil appears to be fried. It gets decent spark on the left, but sporadic hits on the right. New coil ordered from Mike's. Also being delivered soon. I was able to get it running pretty well for a few minutes, but the coil could not keep the right cylinder going for long. (Video)
4. Pulled all of the wiring out of the headlight and tested/cleaned everything.
5. Turn signals still not working. Pulled apart the left control cluster and found that the wires had broken free from the contacts on the turn signal selector. Re-soldered and looking good now.
6. Gave it a bath. I gave it a decent once over to clean off most of the gunk. I also found that the crap paint peeled off of tons of areas. I'm going to have to consider media blasting everything when I take it apart later.
7. Ordered front foot pegs. The previous owner was planning to move to rear-ward controls. He pulled the stock foot pegs and lost them. I bought a pair off eBay for $35 and they were delivered yesterday. They're in pretty decent shape!

To do:
1. Fuse block is dead. Two of the contacts are broken. I am replacing the whole thing with separate fuse holders and rewiring to combine headlight and turn signals through 1 fuse. (it's all LEDs now, so the amperage is low)
2. Considering a complete change to the wiring system. I want to swap to a lithium battery and compact all of the electronics into a smaller area to clean up the look. This is a topic I'm still researching. I want to keep the starter, and I know I need to change the reg/rec. I'm just not sure what to actually do to make this happen. Yet. (Advice?)
3. Replacing gauges. I want to ditch the tach and find a small, clean-looking speedo. I also want to swap the neutral/bright lights to small LEDs.
3. Full engine teardown/cleaning/re-gasketing. It obviously leaks some oil. It's not dripping, but the underside was super slimy. I have no idea how long it had been since the bike's last bath, but it definitely leaks
4. Removing unnecessary components and frame elements. ex. I won't have a passenger (single seat), so I'm cutting the frame mounts for those foot pegs. Any mounts for signals, covers, etc. Remove center kick stand, etc.
5. Fixing existing welds. Holy cow are they bad. I also want to adjust the seat mount while I'm at it.
6. Welding up a new battery/electronics box. Once I figure out how I want it wired, I want to mount all of the electronics in a small, clean package.
7. Media blasting components that are over-painted, rusted, etc.
8. Painting/powder coating.
9. New wheels and tires. I'd really like to swap to wire wheels with some fat tires. I just love that look.

Overall Goal: I want to continue some of the cafe race aesthetic and keep the whole thing looking like a home project. I don't want it super clean. I want everything to be a bit rough and well-loved.

Lastly, I'm really excited to be joining this community. There are some amazing bikes out there, and an amazing wealth of knowledge!
Welcome to the forum.
Great starting point of a machine you have. I'm sure you will enjoy the rebuild process and end up with the bike in your minds eye.
Apart from suspect welding the bones of it look good.
I dont have a center stand on my tracker build; the side stand is fine for trips out. I use a paddock stand in the workshop and have not had any problems.
Keep us posted with your progress.
 
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Welcome, a spray can in some people hands is a gift. Not so. For others, it should be a crime.🙈

Before tearing down the engine. Compression test it. Check for oil leaks around the clutch pushrod seal. Notorious leaker and retourque the head, another notorious leaker on a bike that has sat a while.

Don't always assume, do or buy stuff, ask first. Not saying don't do things you know, just that their is a lot of infornation on YouTube Facebook and well meaning friends that will cost you time and money only to find, problems still their or worse.

Anything and everything, 99.999% of any problem, quirk that the XS650 has, has been found and discussed on here. Will get pointed to the best suppliers, for the best value or there could b a choice on the way to go or buy.

God luck with your project
 
Before tearing down the engine. Compression test it. Check for oil leaks around the clutch pushrod seal. Notorious leaker and retourque the head, another notorious leaker on a bike that has sat a while.
Thanks for the advice. I will certainly start with those!

You guys have convinced me to keep the center stand; at least for now.

I should have all of the new parts today or tomorrow, so hopefully I'll have an update later this week.

Thanks for all the kind words, gang!
 
Just fill those welds in and take a flap wheel to them, they'll be fine. That's not a high stress area. And while you've got the welder out, brace the tang on the centerstand or it will eventually break off .....

Braced Stand2.JPG


BrokenTang.jpg
 
Well here are some updates in case anyone is in the mood for a bit of schadenfreude.

  • The foot rests I bought off eBay were obviously for a different bike. The mounting holes were too far apart. Ordered up some different ones. The right is here and fits. Left is still in the mail.
  • Turns out the clutch lever that was on the bike was doing nothing. I think it was just too short. I bought a used one from eBay and mounted it up. Works like a charm.
  • Pulled the rear tire to drop the swingarm low enough to fix the ugly welds. I like the overall look of the fender attached like this, but I think it's just a tad too far forward. I have a welder and a plan. We'll see how that goes.
  • While I was pulling the rear tire I went ahead on pulled the chain to give it a deep clean. It's nasty. Proper chain cleaner and lube are on the way.
  • Replaced the fuse block with in-line fuses. It's just a temporary fix. Once I have the full wiring solution figured out, I'll redo the whole thing.
  • Removed the reserve lighting unit and jumpered the necessary wires.
  • Started drawing a custom wiring diagram taking into consideration the changes I plan on making. So far I've only create a few of the elements. I still have a long way to go.
  • I built a foam mockup of the lithium battery I intend to use so I can start to plan the locations for all of the electronics once I remove the factor battery box.
  • Researching a gauge replacement. I'm liking the look of the Dayton Velona 60.
Once I have the other foot rest in and the welds cleaned up a bit, I want to get on the road with this machine. Then when the PNW rain starts in the fall, I'll tear it apart and start the frame and engine work.
 

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Time for the next episode:

  • Footrests came in and fit perfectly. Controls are all back to stock.
  • Spent more time cleaning spray paint off the engine. I still have to finish cleaning the top end.
  • Had to replace the headlight. The one that came with the bike didn't actually have independent lights for the turn signals. Apparently it was the version for cars where the whole thing would be just one side of the turn signal. But that's all fixed now.
  • Had to adjust the clutch cable a bit to make it more comfortable to shift.
  • Bought a grease gun and lubed the swing arm.
  • Still having issues with the turn signal wiring. I tried to add diodes per this diagram, but could not get them to blink. The dash indicator would come on as well as one side of the signal lights, but nothing would blink. If I pulled the diodes, I could get blinking, but all of the turn signals blinked together and the dash light didn't do anything. What I ended up doing (just to get the bike on the road) was to install a diode on each turn signal leg; one for the right, one for the left. This got the signals blinking independently, but killed the dash light. I still don't know how to get it all working correctly. A least I have everything wired with spade connectors, so I can swap things around easily.
  • Rear brake needs to be adjusted. Have to push the pedal way too far. Simple fix. I just haven't gotten to it yet.
  • Going to add a quick connect for a battery charger. Already have it on hand, just need to bust out the crimper.
  • Finally got to ride the bike. She runs pretty well. Still something not quite right about the right cylinder. More detail below.
  • There is still some sort of electrical gremlin. 1 out of 20 times I go to start the bike I get nothing from the start button. The neutral light and tail lights come on just fine, but the button does absolutely nothing. I'm always able to kick start it when it happens. It's just weird.
  • Still working on the wiring diagram. It's slow going, since I'm spending as much time outside as I can manage. (We don't get a lot of sunny days in the PNW.)
  • She still drips a bit of oil after every ride. I've checked all of the bolts on the bottom end and everything is tight. I'm guessing I'll just have to keep tabs on the oil level until I rebuild everything.
So about that right cylinder. It's been my problem child the whole time. And it's still acting up. Here are a list of current symptoms:
  1. When idling the right exhaust note seems... hollow? distant? It's definitely different from the solid pop, pop, pop of the left side.
  2. When just holding steady throttle, it sputters. If I give it gas, it sounds fine. And if I'm off the throttle it sounds the same as the left. It's only when I'm trying to maintain speed. And it seems to happen across my normal usage RPM range (2000 - 5000 RPM). I didn't really focus on testing it higher than that.
  3. When it's cold, that cylinder really struggles to run. I basically have to choke to left side to keep the whole thing running. Once it warms up, it does ok.
  4. The air/fuel screw on the right carb has to be between 1/8 and 1/2 turn out for it to run. (It has the Mikuni VM34 kit from Mikes.) Every guide I've found say to start around 2 to 2.5 turns out. The left carb is around 1.5 turns out. I'm sure there's something wrong with the carb, but I don't know what I should really be looking for. (I've rebuilt a couple of carbs in my life, but I've never been good at tuning them.)
  5. The plug is pretty black, but that makes sense with everything else.

At this point, I just want to get that right cylinder running better and get out and ride some more.
 
The mix screw on the VM carbs is a true air screw. Turning it in reduces the amount of air being added and richens the mix. That may be why that plug is black. I'm pretty sure 1.5 turns out is the norm for those carbs. If you haven't looked inside the carbs, you need to, at the very least just to see what jetting is installed (write it down), and where the needles are set at. You'll also want to check the float setting (level).
 
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