Skips Cafe Racer Project

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Skip's Café Racer Project

My Café Racer started out as a rusty old '69 "basket case" TR6-R chopper. The engine and frame had matching numbers, but the engine was totally frozen up! A "bolt on" hard tail was attached to the main frame hoop. Included in the "basket case" was a rear hub, brake drum, chain, 70's style chopper exhausts and a tin can full of rusty nuts and bolts. I paid $500 for the whole shooting match. I checked to see if my prize was ever titled in PA and it wasn't, nor was it ever registered. I then went about getting it titled and registered by using a service in Nevada that "on paper" buys the bike from you, transfers it to a place in Alabama, where you get a Bill of Sale in your name, but the bike is registered in Alabama. Don't ask me how, but armed with this paperwork, I got a legitimate title from PA and then registered it......amazing! Once the paperwork was done, I set about building the bike.

I decided to attack the engine first. At this time I discovered the reason why the engine was frozen up. Someone installed a new set of pistons without checking the "piston to cylinder" clearance. Triumph's need 4.5 to 5 thousandths of an inch clearance when using cast pistons. This one had none, zero, nothing! The engine was totally stripped apart and all parts were cleaned and carefully measured. When I split the case halves, I found a piece of a tappet block (the size of an m&m) lying in the crankcase! I decided to keep the engine a 650 and build it with a single carb. However, it was going to get a good dose of massaging. I x-rayed and polished the rods, bored it out .040 over, hepalite pistons, new tappet blocks, "R" cam followers, aluminum/titanium pushrods, new bearings, seals, hardened valves, new valve springs, special lightweight adjusters, 220 watt alternator, new clutch and basket, ported intake tract, new primary chain, MegaCycle 1050 camshafts, new primary adjusters, new 20 tooth sprocket, custom fitted 750 rocker boxes and 34mm Mikuni carb with new manifold. I polished the covers and wire wheeled the cases. The transmission needed nothing. When finished, I set it aside.

By the time the engine was complete, my wallet was $2500 lighter. At this point I researched what the British 60's Café scene was all about and what the Ton Up Boys were riding. The blueprint for a Café Racer is not cast in stone, but certain elements should be in place. Clip Ons or "Ace" bars are required fare, a fiberglass or alloy racing tank, racing style seat with bum stop, rear set foot pegs, highly tuned engine with some type of racing exhaust and alloy rims fill out the build sheet. I decided early on that my bike would sport a disc brake for safety reasons. Contrary to what some "experts" will spout, real Café Racers did use disc brakes once they became available. The search for parts was now in full swing. A weekend at AMA Vintage Cycle Days yielded - 73 disc brake front end, complete, front 19 inch Avon Speedmaster tire and tube, all cables and many small parts. The Internet provided - gauges, gauge mounts, clip ons and again many small parts. An original '63 Thruxton seat (later highly modified to fit alloy tank) came from Coventry Spares. The alloy tank was found at a flea market in York, PA. It was brand new from a Royal Enfield Café Kit....$500, which is a great buy and in my opinion, makes the bike. Homemade rear sets, '69 rear fender, Harley front fender, '63 rear seat frame hoop,'69 oil tank and tool kit cover, home made tabs, brackets and oil cooler mounts. The remaining parts were purchased from Herb Roberts in Morrisville, PA, Big Boy's Toys in Harrisburg, PA, Motorcycle Services in Hatboro, PA and other venues too numerous to mention. Collecting parts is one thing, building the bike is another matter!

One of the advantages of building a bike from scratch and one that doesn't have to be a 100 percent restoration, is that you can pick and choose the parts you want to use. The idea is not buy stuff you CAN'T use! This is difficult, because sometimes you find a part that you're sure you'll use and then find a better or more interesting one. Two mistakes I made were, that although my main frame was a '69, I bought a '63 seat frame (to fit the thruxton seat) and I traded away the chopper hardtail section for a '67 swing arm. The problem with the seat sub frame was not that it didn't fit the bike, it was that I already had a '69 oil tank, tool kit side cover and battery tray. None of these parts fit the '63 sub frame. The '67 swing arm needed to be machined and I had to farm out all of the other parts to be refabricated to fit. This was more costly than having the correct parts to begin with. Oh well! I then sent out all parts to be painted (Lacy's in Roslyn, PA). The seat, although new, had to have 3 inches cut off and the bum stop moved aft, then needed recovering. While this was going on, Eddie Singer and I built and trued the wheels, mounted the tires and balanced them. When all parts were back in my garage I went about carefully assembling and wiring the bike. I don't use factory wiring looms or their wiring diagrams. I make my own with better grade connectors and wire, with ease of repair while on the road in mind. Stuff will fail, so make repairs easy on yourself. I wired the bike with negative ground and I use the Boyer Electronic ignition fired by a Harley coil and ignition wires. Once the bike was assembled, I was ready to start the engine for the first time.

Before even attempting to kick her over, I removed the spark plugs, put the bike in gear and pushed the bike about one city block to see if any oil pressure was building on the gauge. It was, so now I pushed her back to the garage, confident that oil was flowing as it should. I tightened the plugs and filled the tank. Not so fast buddy boy, the fuel line started leaking and I had to repair this before the big moment. I broke the clutch free (a Triumph ritual), engaged the choke, kicked it thru one time, turned on the key, kicked it hard (she fired, but didn't continue to run), I then turned the idle speed screw in 1/2 turn more, kicked it hard and Blimy the beast was alive. Wow, what a rush to slowly blip the throttle and see that my original carb set up was close, but not perfect. I let her idle in the driveway while I donned my helmet, jacket and gloves. I snicked her in gear, checked for traffic, slipped the clutch a little and off I went.

My first impression was that for me, the rear sets were well placed. The "clip ons" felt ok, but do put a strain on the wrists, shoulders and arms. This lessens as the speed increases though. The first flaw I found was the front disc must have been warped, because the lever pulsed as you engaged the brake. I also felt that I was too optimistic on my choice of front sprocket as the bike built speed slowly and didn't get near to being on the cam. I rode it about 5 miles around the neighborhood, parked it and checked the plugs to make sure the timing wasn't too far off. On subsequent days I repaired the brakes, strob timed the ignition and rode the bike about 25 more miles. On one of these runs I ran into Mike Abrams in the neighborhood. At 50 miles I changed the oil to fully synthetic and cut about 1 mm off of the carb slide to make the throttle response crisper. At 65 miles on the clock, I took my first real ride to New Hope and got a chance to see how she handled. I wasn't dissapointed either! The gearing on the bike was more suited for doing the "ton", so I changed the rear sprocket by making it 6 teeth larger and she really can get up now. At present, my friend Peter and I are fabricating the connector pipes that will allow me to mount up a set of Norton Peashooters to complete the project. I am very pleased with the looks, handling, performance and personal satisfaction it has brought to me. Thanks for letting me share this with you and special thanks to Eddie, Lori and Peter for their help and perspiration! I can't wait until the Norton meet in April to show her off...........Ride safe, Skip Chernoff

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written by Skip Chernoff