Ok, so I’ve wanted a motorcycle for years. I finally got around to taking the MSF course back in 2011 but I just couldn’t afford a bike. I bought a non-running bike that winter for $250. Unfortunately, there was no title, the seller was not the title holder, and I learned the hard way that the result is not legal (to ride; I still have that bike at my in-laws’ place).
But now I’m in the Army with a regular pay check. Still hard to buy things, of course, but the tax return increased considerably. Amanda allowed me to take $1500 out of our tax return this year to buy a bike. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate her support. But that had to include all the gear, tax, title, license, and all immediate repairs. Not exactly a huge budget.
Amanda also stipulated that it be legal (so I would actually ride it) and running ( so I would actually ride it). Well, I got one out of two. This 2005 Ninja 250 was listed on Craigslist for $1000, not running, needs new carbs, has new battery, extra tires. I thought if it’s complete, that could be an easy fix: just clean the carbs and mount those new tires, and I’m good to go.
When I called, I was told he’d bought it for his girlfriend but she never got into it and it hasn’t run in a while. Nothing was missing, he said, and it ran fine when he bought it. I asked why he thought it needed new carbs. He said that’s what his “mechanic” told him since it hasn’t run in a while, they’re all gummed up. I thought, great, this guy doesn’t wrench or know about older bikes.
My friend Hutch donated her time and truck to go with me. Well, the battery was not new, and dead as a door nail. There were a couple of little things missing, like body screws and some springs for the seat latch. But it looks good.
I’m thinking: I can get this thing running easy. The chain was loose, the battery dead, the tires bald, etc. So I told the seller, “I want it, and I can get it working. I just need some wiggle room for the unexpected.” I asked him what he wanted. He said a grand but he can come down. I offered home $700 and he took it.
So I brought it home and started taking it apart. The carbs were gross but they cleaned up nice. Clearly, the mechanic had said it would take a lot to fix it and the guy said to stop. Most of the parts were there but not put together, just thrown back in. A gasket, and float needle were shot, and a bracket for the choke cable didn’t make it back on. But the rest cleaned up fine.
A new battery was purchased, charged, and installed. The igniter, or ECU since this has digital timing control, was unplugged. Once reconnected, the spark was nice and strong.
With the new battery in, I could now do a compression test. Number two was right on spec: 145 psi. Number one was a little low but still 125 psi so I left it alone.
Finally, the tank was rinsed out by just shaking the old gas and dumping it into a gas can. I added a generic filter inline and took the petcock apart to clean it. A quick inspection of the air filter showed it was in good shape. That’s compression , spark, and fuel and it fired right up!
I took the wheels off and brought them to the auto skills shop. Unfortunately, motorcycle wheels don’t fit on tire machines for cars. Crap, I would have to change them manually. My bike buddy Jessica helped and we wrestled with them all day. The next day I tried to balance them and I realized that I’d put the balance marks on the wrong side: they wouldn’t balance. So it was back to the shop, this time on my own. It went much quicker the second time. Mounting tires sucks!
So I started to ride it. The bike was grumpy, refusing to idle. I just rode it anyway and it got a little better. Everything else worked fine; its a simple machine. Except the bike was more willing to turn one way than the other and the bars weren’t pointed straight. So I loosened up the fork bolts and realigned them. Twice.
I also ran into a problem with the idle. It was hanging: when I close the throttle, the engine RPM only came down slowly. This would normally mean it’s too lean, but I was already 1/4 turn out from the baseline. But it could also be explained by a tight valve. So the bodywork came off again to adjust the valves.
There was a lot to come off, but it gets easier every time. Seven valves were fine but one exhaust on cylinder one (remember the low compression) was very tight. Adjusting was easy and the bike went back together fine.
Today I took a long ride and everything is working great. The bike runs fantastic. Even with only 250cc, full throttle produces an impressive shove and an awesome sound. Brakes, suspension, and tires all work flawless. In the end I have a great bike for a grand total of:
Not bad, right?
Don’t worry, I got good gear too which I’ll write about next. Right now, I’m off the explore the Northwest on my new machine.
PS- her name is Kate.