From paddock to pristine
The featured XL250 here is the work of Tim Margin from Bundaberg, Queensland. Here’s his story of the road to recovery… The seller, who owned the sad looking 1972 Honda XL250 for 2 months and baulked at the restoration challenge then wisely deciding to resell the bike, said, “I don’t know anything about it except that it came from Bathurst.” A farm obviously, where it had remained outside for many years to rust away. At this stage he would normally hand over the keys except there weren’t any and therefore the seat, or what was left of it, couldn’t be opened to check what issues were lurking beneath. The general rust everywhere was obvious as was the broken chain that looped over the top of the bike as a reminder that this is what had killed the bike many years ago. The broken chain had taken out the rear of the engine including a wiring harness and engine number too. Having no experience in bike restoration and little in the way of skills, the restoration looked an immense job and it turned out to be exactly that. The 1972 Honda XL 250 was purchased on the 7th of July 2014 in Sydney for $750, first ran again on the 14th of January 2016, and was registered for the road on the 27th of June 2017. So, officially, the restoration took just under 3 years. As the bike was being dismantled, stubborn rusted bolt by stubborn rusted bolt, it became apparent a lot of parts needed to be completely replaced. This included the handlebars, seat, exhaust pipe, bash plate, the rear brake plate and the rear mudguard. The rest of the parts were restored. I tried to use genuine new old stock (NOS) parts wherever possible however some parts were unprocurable, or if second hand, in similarly poor condition, so replica parts were used instead. In the case of the ignition, steering lock and seat lock set, which were
impossible to find for the XL, these were sourced from NOS from a similar vintage Honda road bike. Parts for the 1972 or 1973 XL250 are becoming increasingly rare and more expensive. I tried to do as much work as possible myself however I outsourced the engine overhaul, wheel re-spoking, painting of the guards and tank and application of the pin striping and Honda letters to those painted parts. The tank had leaks as it was rusted through in a few places so I had it epoxycoated inside. The overhaul of the front forks, rear shocks and the speedo were all out-sourced as was the sand blasting of parts to be painted and also the chroming. Powder coating of the frame I left to the professionals too. As a broken chain had taken out the original engine number, to get another number, I purchased a lower engine case with the engine number intact (this particular engine had a catastrophic camshaft failure but the lower engine half was fine). For the sake of longevity, I decided to fit stainless steel spokes and stainless steel bolts on the frame as long as a special bolt wasn’t required. For visually obvious places, such as the pan head bolts for the side covers, I used genuine parts. The frame was powder coated rather than painted as the original, again for longevity. This is a decision that has to be taken at the early stages of the restoration. I didn’t want to be in a position of having to redo parts of the restoration again in the future. Hopefully, it will still be going strong in another 46 years! All cables were replaced with genuine new ones including the front and rear brake cables, clutch, speedo and tacho cables. A new gear lever, clutch and front brake levers were fitted and the handlebar grips, after much searching, were replaced. These were exactly the same look as the originals. New wheel bearings were fitted and new brake shoes front and back. The swing arm bolt, spacers, sleeves and rubber seals took some sourcing with just about a different supplier for each of the 15 parts! The exhaust pipe was sourced from the U.S as was the complete seat including original seat cover. Unfortunately the seat cover had a small hole in it, so I ended up getting a replica cover and in future, if I can get the original one repaired, I’ll put that back on as it is much more substantial. The headlight, after the cracked lens was removed, was found to be completely empty. The Honda XL 250 parts book lists 32 individual items making up the headlight. I had to source all these with the exception of the rusty chrome rim. The hardest part to find were the 4 items making up the high beam blue light indication. The speedo that came with the bike was restored and I bought a NOS tacho from here in Australia. The tyres I ended up choosing were Dunlops as they most closely represent the original tread pattern. They are a trials tyre and are fine for road use. The original fitment was Bridgstone Trail Wings and they are still made today, however they no longer look like the 1970s tyre. The rear foot pegs were missing and they were difficult to find. I eventually ended up getting them from Germany. The indicators were missing from the bike as well and the wiring harness was simply cut with side cutters, so a huge amount of the wiring harness was simply missing. Being an ex-farm bike any unnecessary parts were removed, sometimes in a brutal way. The parts list catalogue specifies 71 parts in total for all 4 indicators. I decided on replica parts and ended up using an Elsinore indicator lamp that appeared to be exactly the same as the XL 250, not surprising as it was from the same vintage. The sourcing, fitting and trying to get them to work took up most of the extra year I needed in finishing the project. A faulty new flasher ended up being the culprit and when another new one was fitted they worked straight away.
In total there were 7 countries I sourced parts from, so if doing a restoration, you really get used to being on eBay and other sites. In fact, I would estimate that I spent 3 times the amount of time on the internet than actually working on the bike! An essential document to have is a parts list with diagrams and part numbers listed. Just typing in a part number on a Google search often produces good results. The project ended up costing way more than I had anticipated, however, if you take into account three years of so called entertainment and the continuing enjoyment, maybe it was worth the cost. To get it restored and finally registered cost a total of $20,000. Yes, you could buy a really good new bike for that, or two reasonable ones, but maybe that would not be as satisfying when you can take pride in the fact that every last nut and bolt was put together by yourself. It also puts a smile on other people’s faces as they see you riding by, obviously bringing back memories for those who owned one of these XL250s back in the day.
It’s interesting to note that when I was looking for an XL 250 project there was one for sale that was completely restored to an incredible standard, advertised for $4,000. Recently it came back on the market for $7,000. You can deduce that it would make economic sense to buy one already restored, but you obviously wouldn’t get the satisfaction from the restoration project.
I always tell people the most satisfying thing to do is to set out on a project you feel certain you can’t do and then go ahead and do it. This is what happened with this project. I had never done anything like this before and wasn’t expecting to ever get the bike running again and to think that it would ever be registered for the road again, well that seemed utterly impossible. So why did I chose to restore an XL250? I never owned one, but I did own a similar vintage XL175. I couldn’t afford a “big” 250cc bike at the time, however my brother could and I got to ride it on a few occasions – what we would call today ‘adventure rides’ to far away places. It’s versatility, dependability and ease of riding really impressed me at the time and also it has historic significance in its lineage.
As with any project there are stuff ups. In general I found if third parties became involved things seemed to get lost in the translation. The biggest issue is the engine cases colour, which came out green when it should be silver. The side covers I sent as samples for paint matching had a slight green tinge from ageing but this effect was amplified to be the prominent colour on the final product. The wheel rim anodising also didn’t turn out satisfactorily, even after 2 attempts. The exhaust pipe was sent to a specialist with the hope of getting a properly painted black pipe that would be long lasting. The opposite was the case with the paint being able to be blown off by a puff of breath! These issues I will revisit in the near future for rectification. I’m often asked would I do another restoration? I don’t know, I think you have a certain amount to give on a project like this and I think I pretty much used all mine, not to mention the cost involved! I’m still thinking about it though. Maybe an easy XL175 restoration?
“I always tell people the most satisfying thing to do is to set out on a project you feel certain you can’t do and then go ahead and do it. This is what happened with this project.”
The smashed crankcase which took out the original engine number. The contents of the float bowl. Original speedo was restored, tacho is NOS. A multi-national collection of NOS parts. Finding original indicators (and getting them working) was a challenge.
From hideous to handsome.