Doing what I can…

…with what I have on hand.

Ideally, restoring, rebuilding or converting a vehicle starts with the essential (motor, drive train, electrical, brakes, etc.) then moves on to cosmetic stuff like making stuff shiny, painting, and style upgrades.  With this project I’m doing what I can with what I have while I wait for stuff to arrive in the mail.

The obvious absentee is the motor.  I’ve created a precise 3d representation of the motor in cardboard, and have a prototype motor mount also made from cardboard.

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I’m totally scrapping this design, but the process of aligning everything up and marrying the motor to the frame was totally  worth it.  The string is the exact chainline.  Everything is also plumb vertically to match the rear sprocket.  I have a 1/4″ thick aluminum plate that I will make the motor mount from, but am waiting for the motor to arrive before I cut anything.  The final design will use a lot less material, be mounted on the outside of the top rear mount, and I will not be using the forward mount.  I’ll be welding something across the bottom of the frame, and will mount to it instead.  I’ll also have a strap around the far end of the motor for additional stability.

But I’ve been messing with other stuff while I wait for the motor…

Cleaned up the forks today, but I’m waiting for the new boots to arrive before I can reinstall them.  Before and after…
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Cleaned up the rear wheel a couple days ago…
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Also in the process of rebuilding the front brake caliper which was totally fucking seized with rust.  It’s a miracle I was able to get the pistons out at all.  Took hours.  I’m waiting for some new seals and pads to arrive.as the old ones were pretty rotten.

Got in some motocross handlebars, and installed those with new switches (ignition, horn, turn signal, hazard, high/low beam etc.) and the brake fluid reservoir, and lever.  Have not decided what I want to do with the instrument panel, but I will be replacing it.  Waiting for my new twist throttle for the electric motor, and also grips.

I’ve also been continuously fucking with batteries.  Sorting the bad from good, and measuring capacities.  Only when I have that completed can I start assembling them into packs.

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I will continue doing what I can until the motor arrives.

Step 3: tear lots of shit off of the bike

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Holy shit getting that motor out was a lot of work.  First of all it felt like it weighed 200lbs, but I can’t find the engine specs anywhere online that list the weight.  Second of all, I swear I only had an eighth of an inch on each side of it to wiggle it out.  I only disconnected the bare minimum to get it out.  All the wiring harnesses were still attached, and I didn’t even remove the carbs.  The process was jack, pry, wiggle, jack pry wiggle…for about an hour.

The weight of the electric motor is listed as 39lbs and my estimated battery weight will be around 60lbs for a total of 100lbs.  If I guess that the old motor weighed 150lbs, the battery weighs 10,  3.4 gallons of gas weighs about 20,  and 2.6 quarts of oil weighs about 5 for a total of 185lbs shed.  So the finished bike should be about 85lbs or more lighter than the original.  If I shed 15lbs of fat, that’ll get me a 100lb savings.  I’m not including all the supporting crap, because I’m guessing that the supporting crap for both engines will be approximately the same.

Tore lots of other shit off too as you can see.  The heavy-ass chrome fenders will be going too, but I’m not sure if I will create the replacements out of one of these.  I have to see if anything closer to what I want is available.

The one thing I took careful note of was the precise location of the sprocket.

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I took another picture like this measuring horizontally to the edge of a mount welded onto the frame.  I also etched a line on the frame then popped a mark with a cold punch so I’ll know exactly where the ruler was even if I paint it.  The shaft the sprocket was bolted to was hollow, so I found a piece of dowel that was a hair smaller, wrapped it a couple times with tape to fill the hole exactly, and sharpened the dowel in a pencil sharpener to get the precise center, and I lined the end of the ruler up with that before I clamped it.  I did this with the goal of creating a motor mount to locate the electric motor shaft exactly in the same spot as the original.

As I was tearing shit off, I was constantly reminded that old, dirty gasoline engines are fucking gross…filthy, greasy, stinking, and filled with noxious petroleum-based chemicals.  One benefit of electric motors is that they are dry and clean.  Maybe I’ll price out a belt drive system so I won’t have a sticky, filthy chain to deal with.

Hobbies are fun.

Coversion Component Selection

Motor

After casually perusing other people’s electric conversions for weeks, and intensely researching motors for a few days, I have decided to go with one of the most popular motors for this kind of project.  The Motoenergy ME-1003 which I ordered with a controller, and contactor from evdrives.com in a kit.

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Shipped diagonally across the country it cost $1288.

It took me so long to decide because all the general articles I read about different kinds of electric motors sold me on the superior, quieter, maintenance-free, and cooler performance of brushless motors.  I found brushless motors that cost only about $40 more than this motor and provided more hp, and about 2000 higher rpms which would translate into about a 15 mph gain in top speed.

There’s one little problem though…there are no reliable controllers for them that wouldn’t have added about another grand to my total project cost.  A “controller” for an electric motor is basically like a big dimmer switch that controls how much power goes to the motor.  It’s like a gas pedal on a car.

In the end, I decided that a top speed over 60-65mph, and not having to change brushes once every two or three years was not worth $1000.  The noise wasn’t much of an issue either.  Normal motorcycles go BRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPP! so what do I care if my wwwwwwwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr is slightly louder than a brushless motor?

Batteries

Every time I explore the performance, weight, cost, and customization potential of various battery technology, I always quickly return to 18650 cells.  These are the little batteries found in everything under the sun…laptops, cordless power tools, vaporizers, and most importantly for my application…Tesla’s electric car batteries.  Tesla picked these batteries because they are the best, lightest, and most compact battery chemistry currently available.

The only downside, is that good ones down at the consumer level are a bit pricey…$5 or $10 dollars each.  BUT if you can scrounge up enough used laptop and power tool batteries on ebay, you can tear them apart, sort the good from the bad cells, and then reconfigure them to provide any voltage you want.

I lied…there’s another downside…in order to use these batteries you have to do a lot of work to salvage them, and solder hundreds of batteries into usable packs that provide the voltage and capacity you need.  There are lots of videos on youtube about this if you’re interested.

But the upside is that you get the lightest, most compact battery technology for EASILY half the price (if you go alibaba) or 1/4 of the price if you buy from western vendors.

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Next I’m going to start tearing all the crap off my bike required by the combustion engine.  Hopefully my title application goes smoothly or I might have some problems when it comes time to register the bike.  I just don’t have the patience to wait 6 or 8 weeks to start this project!

First blog post

I am creating this blog as a place to dump some pictures, and text relating to my 1974 Yamaha tx500 conversion.  I am not creating it as a comprehensive “how to”.  It is simply a place I plan on sharing with friends interested in checking this project out.

Here is what I’m starting with:
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Why

Just for fun.  I like projects, and tackling things that I don’t know anything about.  And I like motorbikes.  I watched youtuber jehugarcia convert an ancient vw bus into an electric vehicle, and thought the project looked interesting, but I don’t quite feel like taking on a monumental and super-expensive project like that, and don’t really need another vehicle.

So I thought I’d try something I have space for, and that my wife volunteered to bankroll.

What

I scoured craigslist for about three weeks looking for a cheap bike.  I was not at all picky, I just wanted something not too big/heavy, and not a fucking cruiser/chopper (barf).  I found shit tonnes of potential cheap bikes, but not a fucking one had a title!  Some might be stolen, but I think most just fall through the cracks created by irresponsible owners, and/or bikes that have mechanical issues beyond their owners ability to repair.  The issue for me is that I wanted a title so that I would not have to go through any kind of inspection of my home-made frankenbike.  If you get an indemnity bond to create a title for an untitled vehicle, they send a cop out to inspect your vehicle, and sometimes you’re required to get a safety inspection before they grant you a new title.  Plus there’s a lot of extra paperwork, time, and expense involved in jumping through all the hoops.

All of that can be avoided if you manage to find a bike with a title.

The first low-priced bike I came across with a title was also exactly what I was looking for.  An old standard bike with medium cc’s with a rolling chassis in good condition.  A 1974 Yamaha tx500.  These bikes are super-versatile as far as the kinds of customization I’m interested in…mainly cafe racer/street tracker style.

Here’s what they looked like new:
Yamaha TX500 73

Although I feel a little bad for not restoring the bike to an original-looking state, I don’t feel too bad because they were apparently suckish new, and their motors had a mutlitude of problems.

Plus, restoring a bike puts so many constraints on what you can do, and the project is centered around the historical restoration of the original machine rather than creating something original crafted by and for me.

How:

The plan is to research, research, research before I dive into this project.  I’ve already been checking out other diy conversions for a few weeks, many of which suck balls.  There are a lot of conversions out there that barely do 40 miles per hour, which, as you’ll be all too aware of if you’ve ever ridden a motorbike, is extremely unsafe.  Motorcycle riders need good acceleration, and a reasonable top speed if they are going to safely merge into traffic.  Another thing that sucks about many conversions is that they look like total shit.  One of the most frequent reasons for this is that people often build them with old-technology batteries or with modules salvaged from electric/hybrid cars.  So instead of having an internal combustion engine, they have stacks of batteries or they seal them in giant, bulky boxes.

Kind of like this:
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or this:
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Not very appealing.

So I’m following leads, taking tonnes of notes, pricing out lots of options, and formulating a plan to create a motorbike that provides me with safe speeds, and doesn’t look like total shit.

Next post I’ll talk about some of the stuff I plan on using.