Keith Turk has land speed records. His wife has land speed records. He teaches people to fly military helicopters. He runs high-level drag races. He is one of Freiburger’s very best friends. He is, to put it lightly, sort of a super bad-ass. He is also a very good story-teller, and when he offered to write up his recent chopper (bike, not heli) adventure, we were all over that. Take it away, Keith:
It all started when I was hanging out reading a classic motorcycle site and up popped this semi-fine chopper with a 550cc Honda motor in it. Having quite the affinity for these lumps of junk I checked it out. The owner posted six photos of dubious quality, and it was in Orlando, Florida and it was wintertime where I was. ( I think, cold beer and warm beaches). The seller is a lady named Suzelle, who bought this thing with her biker husband thinking it would make a great “girls” bike. She bought it off a guy back in 2002 who used it as his work vehicle, an everyday rider so to speak. The new owners got it running and took it up down the street a few times and parked it in favor of a Harley. It all sounded good. I wasn’t even suspicious yet.
We posted a couple of notes back and forth, and I got some more pictures of marginal value. These pictures made it obvious I wasn’t going to throw a battery in this thing and ride off into the sunset, but it didn’t stop me from going out there for it anyway.
Sorting out the plan was fun. My buddy, Doug Wothke, was driving home past Tampa with a load of vintage parts and volunteered to give me a ride to another buddy–Ken Settle’s–house in Tampa. Ken owns a bike shop in and he’s been on several of my misadventures. He volunteered a truck and trailer to go over to Orlando and pick this new misadventure up. My thoughts were to snag the bike bring it back to Tampa and do my best to get it running and ride it home to Alabama. Notice there was no back up plan.
The packing list:
- Riding gear
- Parts to get it running
- Tools to install the parts
Seems simple, right? Each category here requires scrutiny and experience.
Riding gear is all well used, it’s comfortable, it’s reliable, you won’t get wet in it and you look like you just stepped off an actual motorcycle.
Parts. It all comes back to Autoshop 101—fuel and air in the right ratio, spark at the right time, compression. The only part of that equation I can’t bring to the dance is compression, but since the thing ran 15 years ago, we’re gonna assume it still runs.
Tools. Having worked on this particular motor for several years there are a few tools that are obvious, vise grips, hammers and crescent wrenches, impact screw driver. I custom-made a few that make work easier, like a spark plug wrench and carb float bowl screwdriver.
Let’s Close The Deal.
Doug showed up in Enterprise, Alabama in a Ryder truck, we made it to Tampa by 7:00 pm. Ken had dinner laid out and we scarfed it down and I grabbed his truck and trailer and headed out to Orlando, two hours away. Arrived at 10:15 and got my first look at my new jewel in person. We sorted out the paper work and searched for a key. No key. Hmmm. Pushed it on the trailer and away we went.
I got back to Tampa with the bike around 2:00 am. Woke up at 6:00 am and into the fray. I took the bike down to a local parts store which was conveniently open, so I decided to start the rebuild right there in their side parking lot. I snatched the tank off and started whittling on the stuck petcocks. I get semi-clean gas to a new set of carbs and I was ready to hook up the battery which was BURIED under the bike, and as soon as I attached the first thread of the positive side, it started letting smoke out of the wiring under the seat. The first thread of the positive screw totally engaged and was now welding itself into place while I’m fighting desperately to unweld it prior to ALL the smoke getting out of the wires. I finally get it off and pull the seat to inspect the damage. It’s significant. The regulator seems to have taken the big hit but several other wires are burned beyond recognition.
I’ve still got Ken’s F250 and trailer, time to formulate a plan B.
- Call my wife to come get me,
- Rent a car drive back to Enterprise get my truck and trailer
- Drive Ken’s truck home, then return it.
- Fixing the bike wasn’t even on my mind… the wiring was Pure OD Fried. Screwed, blued and tattooed.
Ken offered to assess the damage. Seems he knows how to re-install smoke into wires. Turns out there were only two really badly burned and we sorted those out fairly quickly and then Ken laid his magic hands on everything else and we end up with three out of four cylinders. I’ve made it home on less before and I’m pretty sure the 4th joined in now and again. Plenty enough to start a trip home. I loaded it all up, shook hands and fired that muther up.
I’m not a dramatic person, but this was the first thing that came through my mind as I put it in gear and it started to roll. “HOLY CRAP… I’m gonna DIE.”
The clutch was sticky from sitting so when I pulled the lever and dropped it in gear, it started forward all on its own. Now keep in mind it was the rear wheel that started forward, the front wheel takes a second to catch up and spring forward as well, when it does this, well there’s a moment of instability and it’s just evil. Ken said, and I quote. “I thought I was going to be the last one to see you alive. Figured you were going to crash before you got outta the driveway.” Once it was rolling and making tracks I figured it was best I got outta there before I came off of it in my buddy’s presence.
Part of the gig of learning a new scooter is to give yourself plenty of space. Follow something slow and be slower, just sort out what it does and what you need to do about it. How’s it brake? Run up through the gears, learn to identify when it’s having issues. This bike with straight pipes was fairly obvious. It would be running on three-and-a-half, then three, two, one and then it would die. Hopefully by the time it quit I’d found myself a secure place to work on it. Hard ground is preferred and something with hardtop or concrete is perfect. If your only option is grass then your riding suit becomes your ground cover. On previous trips I’d spent a week in one day looking for a jet in the grass. It’s not a mistake you make twice.
A Series Of Failures
The first one came from a clogged fuel filter. For the first 130 miles it went about 30-40 miles before I needed to clean the filters. The right two cylinders ran off that side of the tank and the left ran off the other, so normally they wouldn’t fail together meaning I almost always had at least two cylinders running to get me to the side of the road.
Hwy 19 out of Florida is a nice four-lane most the way although it’s got stop lights. If the bike happened to be running poorly–which was frequently, when a stoplight came up, revving it up was the only way to keep it running. The clutch was slipping just a little bit and unlike a car clutch you could feel the exact amount in the throttle. The goal when approaching a light was to find neutral well before the light so I could coast up to a stop with the bike idling and the clutch out. If it stalled during the exercise, I had to find neutral, flip out the kick-starter and give it a shove or two get it moving again. It was important to remember that that kick-starter had to return to the upright position and should it become stuck inside of your pants leg, that leg is no longer available for stability on the right side.
I finally got tired of the thing running like crap. It was raining, it was cold and the motor was acting up again so I found a nasty, dead, gas station that had an empty carport and an old table off to the side. I pulled off into this puppy and decided to go through the carbs again. With all the trash in the fuel there was no question some of it had found its way to the jets. The carbs had two jets, an idle jet and the main. The main jet is pretty large so it takes a BIG piece of trash to plug it while the idle jet has a very fine hole and clogs with little effort. The bike was running above 3000 RPM, so that said idle jet to me. With the open frame design of the bike I could have the carbs off and disassembled in less then five minutes. I was stunned to find the #3 main clogged solidly shut, along with a couple of the idle jets and a ton of trash. Ok, fixed that, this should run better.
Reassembled, the bike ran like a top, Fired on the first kick and hit solidly on all four chambers. I’d not heard this sound since we started this project. I mean it was SWEET. Best of all, by this time the trash in the tank had flowed out or settled to the bottom corners and wasn’t affecting the fuel any more. This thing now hauled ass but now that it finally made speed, the rest of the handling characteristics were amplified. One still had to stop, and that wasn’t a super quick process.
I’d spent the better part of the day just to make it 175 miles and it was raining and close to dark so I found a cheap hotel and figured everything would be better in the morning.
Well, it rained all night and the bike had exposed filters so in the morning when I threw the switch we’d zip tied to the frame and gave her that first kick with full expectation of big noises, it was not to be the case. It popped like one was trying to ask the others to get up and go but they just rolled over and went back to bed. After enough kicking to start getting hot, I gave up. That show Survivorman is right, never sweat when it’s cold. Part of why I chose the motel I did was because there was a parts store right next door. I snagged a set of plugs and a can of starting fluid. I popped off the air cleaners, created a fog bank of explosive stuff behind the engine and voila, the bike fired right off. I shut it down, re-loaded all my junk, re-dressed myself and we were back in action.
I’m a huge fan of side roads, but the trip to my home in Southern Alabama required at least a bit of Interstate 10, and before I got the carbs sorted I was really dreading it. Once I had power and speed was possible, if not desirable or recommended, I was sorta looking forward to opening it up. The bike with four semi-angry cylinders sounded truly incredible, loud, okay obnoxiously loud but dang it man it sounded, disco bitchen’, truly dapper.
175 miles later I rolled into the hot town of Enterprise, Alabama with my brand new chopper. My wife, Tonya was already trying to sell it before I even had my helmet off. She was offering a cold beer and dinner to the first cash offer on the bike. Any offer. She always has been the smart one in the family.