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Bike Profile - Posted 22nd October 2010

Honda XBR500
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Alan Cole wanted a modern classic motorcycle so found himself a 25 year old, big single, which needed a little bit of fettling to make ready for the road...

In the past I've rebuilt a 1937 Norton 16H and a 1963 BSA Gold Flash but this time I decided I didn't want to spend years searching for parts again. I wanted something that was old and a bit classic but with more modern technology. The end result was a 1986 Honda XBR500.

At almost 25 years old I reckoned this bike was the answer to a maiden's prayer. For those who may not know the model, it was introduced in 1985 and aimed at competing with the old British bike market. As a single cylinder, four-valve, twin port 500cc bike it produced 44bhp and with twin shocks and café racer styling it looked a really attractive proposition… 25 years ago. At that time I was Glass's Guide's motorcycle valuation editor. My valuation team, and myself, thought the new bike would do well but we were very wrong! Only three years later the bike was discontinued, joining other Honda import disasters.

Peashooter silencers look the part... 1985 Honda XBR500

If I recall correctly, only about 1800 examples were imported. In Europe the XBR500 was replaced by the GB500, with even more retro styling but this was equally unsuccessful and was never brought into the UK.

But - with less than 2000 UK bikes I reckoned this may be a 'classic' in due course and, at almost 25 years old it was a more viable proposition than my previous 73 year old Norton or my 47 year old BSA.

I bought the XBR with four months MoT and two months tax as a going concern, which I rode home from Exeter. It had been owned by a lady and had been restricted to 33bhp. How I yearned to restore it to its full 44bhp! Everything worked, it stopped, the lights and everything else worked OK and it ran quite well. It was quick enough to enjoy back road scratching although dual carriageways would need to be avoided (as always). It was only when I began to take it to bits when I got it home that I realised it was much more of a 'project' than I had appreciated!

Braided oil lines hint at dirtbike roots... 1985 Honda XBR500

Although the XBR had a valid MoT I decided that those items were the first to concentrate on. On dismantling I discovered that the front disc and brake calliper were completely shot. So much so that the front wheel couldn't be removed without taking the calliper off with it, removing the disc from the (Comstar) wheel and forcing the disc out of the calliper in the bench vice! A new disc and a complete rebuild of the calliper ensued, together with new pads and a braided brake hose.

The next 'difficulty' concerned replacing the bhp restrictor because I wasn't too sure what the standard inlet tract should have. Neither were Bransons so a full repair manual from David Silver spares, along with many other bits and pieces used up some more money. eBay helped, however, and I found a standard inlet manifold together with an airbox to carburettor rubber pipe to replace the rock hard original, which I was unable to refit because of its inflexibility.

A new chain, engine and rear wheel sprockets were fitted together with new cush-drive rubbers. The tyres had lots of tread remaining but were of indeterminate age and specification so I replaced back and front with Avon Roadrider Universals, which Furlong fitted to the loose wheels at a very reasonable price. New rear shocks were found at a quite affordable price thanks, again, to eBay.

Turn it sideways and it disappears...
500 Hondas on ...

New grips were required to replace the (awful) foam rubber things that were on the bike and I also replaced the rear view mirrors with a single bar end mirror on the offside. The (droopy) Honda indicators were also replaced with sensibly sized - tastefully smaller -- direction indicators. During this work all the fastenings were replaced with stainless fittings, so Wentin Fasteners on Pen Mill Trading Estate is now a place I know very well.

Much Gunk has been used to get rid of 25 years of oil and road dirt, and one day my fingernails will be back to normal: if I do enough washing up! The aim has been to get the bike ready to ride safely during the remaining days of the summer before more of a winter rebuild. This I know will include new exhausts that will be an enormous expense because they'll have to be specially manufactured as originals are no longer available. I don't think an engine rebuild will be necessary because it runs very well and they are said to be bulletproof, but cosmetics will have to be resolved to bring the bike up to tip-top condition. (Perhaps I don't actually want it to be in tip top condition because it might put me off riding it as I'd be afraid of getting it dirty - instead of enjoying it as it should be enjoyed.)

Mirros look like they've melted in the sun... 1985 Honda XBR500

Once on the road, the XBR was running a little less smoothly than I was happy with and it had a tendency to refuse to idle when it was fully warmed up. I didn't feel that an 'ordinary' dealer, Honda or otherwise, would have the necessary expertise or interest to sort this out so I took it to Ed King of JEK Motorcycles at Ilton Business Park.

I delivered the bike before I set off to Italy on my Kawasaki and impressed on Ed that there was no hurry to sort the bike. Despite this and without any prompting the bike was fully sorted for my return, two weeks later. To say I'm delighted with the work Ed has done for me is a bit of an understatement. To say I was pleased with the total cost is also an understatement! Ed charges £28 an hour, which compared to the more usual £48 an hour from a franchised dealer is very reasonable. More importantly I doubt whether a franchised dealer would be flexible enough or very interested in fettling a 25 year old machine. Have a look at www.jekmotorcycles.co.uk to see all that he offers.

The problem - which even I should have been able to work out - was that the carb needed re-jetting. My Norvil Peashooter non-standard and very definitely straight-through silencers meant that a larger pilot and main jet were required to correct the mixture suitably for the new exhaust system. (The stainless steel pipes were made by OS Stainless at Hixon in Staffordshire). Some other carburettor problems were also identified and the carb was rebuilt with the new jets, needle valve, air cut-off diaphragm and pilot screw.

The obligatory proud owner photo... 1985 Honda XBR500

With the carb now properly set-up, not only does the XBR tick over perfectly at idle but it feels entirely different, is quicker and smoother and even sounds better!


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