From pad­dock to pris­tine

Old Bike Australasia - - HONDA XL250 -

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.

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