View Full Version : Thanks to RC, I'm building a motorcycle

09-16-2016, 06:46 AM
I've started work on building a custom motorcycle and I've had several people ask my why. The truth is, I owe it all to RC.

Everyone has a narrative that they tell themselves about who they are. My narrative has always included ďIím bad with my hands.Ē I canít build things. I canít fix things. Iím neither mechanically minded nor Ďhandy.í

When my daughter was young, I bought a book of carpentry projects for kids. It includes a simple bird house made from a single 1x6. Iíve built that same birdhouse half a dozen times and I managed to mess it up on the first five tries. Remember, this is a book of simple projects for little kids.

Attempts to work on my cars always ended in nightmares of one description or another.

On the computer, on the other hand, I was pretty good. Photoshop, 3D modeling and animation, 2D animation Ö I could do them all but I could never translate that to creating real things in the real world.

Six years ago, I got into RC planes. (Thatís an even longer story that Iíll skip.) At first, I bought planes that were ĎReady To Fly.í And I was pretty good at flying them. Eventually I got some that were ĎAlmost Ready To Flyí (read: Some assembly required.) And I got those to fly, as well. And then I built a couple of planes from scratch and they usually flew, too. Finally I started scratch-building simple planes of my own design and darned if most of those didnít fly.

In the last six years Iíve gone from scared of cutting Styrofoam to customizing, modifying, repairing, designing and building. Iíve fabricated wings and firewalls. Iíve replaced bearings and shafts in electric motors.
And that experience began to creep into the real world. I built a simple ramp to allow my dog access to the dog door. I used fiberglass and epoxy to repair a busted drier door. I used my soldering skills to repair my granddaughterís broken toys. Et cetera.

It began to occur to me that I could, just possibly, build something on a larger scale. I toyed with the idea of a hot rod or an electric hot rod, but I have little budget and very few large tools. (My RC habit has resulted in my collecting a lot of tools, but theyíre all tiny, suited to working on airplanes a couple of feet wide and one ounce motors.) I donít have an engine hoist, or a welder.

And then I remembered the Kawasaki that has been sitting in my garage for several years. I last rode it, briefly, about five years ago but the turn signals were broken and I never got around to fixing it.

And I suddenly realized that, hell, I could probably fabricate some new turn signals. That I could probably look up tutorials on YouTube that would show me how to change out the fork seals and make sundry other small repairs. That, despite the long-running narrative that Iím ďbad with my hands,Ē I might be able to build a cool custom bike Ė something that I would never have considered a few short years ago. And I decided to give it a go.

Thatís my story. Wish me luck.


09-16-2016, 07:25 AM
Good luck, if you think it through carefully, I sure you can do anything you want.

09-16-2016, 08:10 AM
Thanks. Because there's no deadline, I can take it as slowly as I need to. That's something I've learned from my RC builds. Sometimes, I'll spend days thinking about how to attach landing gear, or how to fabricate a fuselage or whatever. If that's what it takes, that's what it takes.

I'll need to borrow some help from buddies with angle grinders, or welders, or strong backs. As I said, all of my current tools are comically diminutive.


09-16-2016, 01:40 PM
1. You're gonna need a bigger hammer.
2. Don't under estimate a shop manual from a Kawasaki dealer, can be a lot of help.
3. The hammer is sometimes called the Harley tool.

Good luck.

09-16-2016, 10:50 PM
Thanks. I've tried to find a shop manual but, since the bike is 30 years old, that's proving a challenge. The best I've found so far is a CD with a PDF of a photocopy of a shop manual.

09-16-2016, 11:44 PM

If your bike is anything like the 454 EN........try this link or click through it. This site has many references.....:


09-17-2016, 06:36 AM
I've gotta subscribe to this thread! I'm kinda the opposite of you. 4 years jet engine mechanic in the Navy on EC-130Q and E-2B. 9 years as a GM technician. 3 years as a Saturn technician. 13 years as a Mitsubishi technician. 5 years as a Mitsubishi independent shop owner. 4 days as a Toyota technician then I left the automotive business forever. 9 years with Target as tech support for all freight moving equipment. I guess you could say I'm good with my hands. Now that I'm an old fart and can't do all that physical stuff anymore I now sit behind a computer as a project coordinator/manager at a local university. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I ever foresee myself at a desk job. ????

Anywho....... I've got a 2004 Kawasaki EN500 Vulcan. I put over 40,000 miles on her in the last 3 years. The Phoenix sun has really taken its toll on the old girl. Clear coat burned off the front fender. Seat burned and cracked badly. Tank paint fading. Fork seals leaking etc. I haven't ridden her in a month and a half. It's starting to cool down a bit now so I'll be able to spend more than just a few minutes outside without bursting into flames. I'm going to start returning her to her original glory. A new seat cover just arrived today. I have a new front tire, plugs, oil and filter, coolant, valve cover gasket, K&N filter oil and rear brakes. I'm going to take care of the maintenance that is coming due first then I'll go after the cosmetics. I love this bike and see myself keeping it well after the 100K mile mark. I'd love to pick up another one in bad shape and do what you are doing. Make a custom bike just for the hell of it and probably use EX 500 (Ninja) top end and carbs.

It's hard to tell from the picture exactly what you have there but I have to guess a 454. Really looking forward to seeing what you do with this project. Go for it. You're going to be so proud of yourself when you're done.


09-19-2016, 01:49 AM
Pizzano - Thanks. Great link!

Joe - Yep. It's a 1987 454 LTD. I'll certainly be proud if I ever actually get it running again! :D Most of the mods I looked at on that bike start by converting it to a hard tail. Dude, I'm 56, fat, and have a bad back. Hardtails are out of the question.

10-05-2018, 12:13 PM
And... she's done.





Again, without my RC building experience, I never would have even considered this project and I certainly wouldn't have thought of recycling so much junk as part of the build. I've built planes with barbecue skewers, tooth flossers, old packaging materials, broken toys ... you name it. That gave me the mindset to use an old lunch box, PVC tubing, an empty liquor bottle, an old license plate, a gate hinge, an unused Dremel accessories box, doll heads, a broken shop light and more - not to mention LED strip lights - in putting this bike together.

Thanks, RC!

10-05-2018, 05:53 PM
That looks amazing Mark! The black and red look totally sinister. I wish I could fall into a killer deal for the belt drive and alloy wheel setup like yours from an early EN500. (not certain if the 454 is interchangeable). It's so much nicer than wire wheels and a messy chain on mine.

Did you paint the red or powder coat? I'd be interested to hear how whatever you used holds up on the head pipes. Again, it looks just amazing.



10-05-2018, 06:04 PM
Looks great. Not sure I would last very long on that seat though.

I am slowly working on my 1985 Honda Goldwing 1200 LTD
Trying to repair leaky front seals, and replace bearings, brakes, rear disk and tires.
Repainting wheels and some polishing while I can get to things.

Slow progress with all my other projects.

10-05-2018, 09:54 PM
Looks great. Not sure I would last very long on that seat though.

Yep, with my herniated discs I could never ride a bobber. They do look freaking cool though!


10-05-2018, 10:04 PM
Good luck with your build Mark.
I have a neighbour that used to have a bike business. He now just owns a couple of Harleys and a Yamaha.(or two)
He had to give up the business due to back problems. Between that and getting robbed every so often, one day he just packed it all up and moved out to the country.
He has containers full of bike parts and literally hundreds of wheels and dozens of frames/motors at his property. I was there a couple of days ago and asked him about a row of forks he had stacked. He said he had sold over 200 sets recently to pickers and it looked like he still had a couple of hundred stacked there. He actually traded some parts and an old Harley with a blown motor for a brand new Harley that he cherishes. It is a bike restorers dream place. I often thought of building a bike up as he would give me the parts for nix but I just have too much else happening.

Don Sims
10-06-2018, 12:42 AM
Excellent looking ride. Glad to see you're finally done with the project. Hope you really enjoy the ride.

10-06-2018, 01:10 AM
Just realized I haven't started mine all summer. (It's been brutally hot here). It took a while to get gas to flow into the carbs but she finally lit off. Because the carbs were dry for so long the floats were stuck wide open and she was dumping gas everywhere from the overflows. That's OK as it happens every time I let it sit too long. The gas now in the bowls will loosen the floats and she'll be fine tomorrow. Then I'll take her down to the quarter car wash and blow off all the dirt from about a dozen massive dust storms (https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-weather/2018/07/10/haboob-definition-meaning-name-dust-storm-wind-monsoon/770406002/) that have blown through this summer. Temps are FINALLY dropping out of triple digits here so maybe I'll take that ride up to Sedona that I've always wanted to do. ;)


10-06-2018, 01:38 AM
Very nice Mark.....now we need to see a video of you on that bike, maybe doing a wheely down Main St in Wichita.....;)

10-06-2018, 01:46 AM
Thanks, guys! I'm not too sure about the seat, myself, but so far it's surprisingly comfy. I'm not planning any long road trips on it and at least I've still got rear shocks!

The pipes are painted with VHT (very high temp) paint. We'll see how they hold up.

As I said, without the past few years of building RC planes out of foam and wire and bits of trash, I would never have considered taking on a project like this. I've never even changed the oil before! But RC building taught me that this thing can often be made into that thing.

Some of the details:
A heavy-duty gate hinge attaches the seat pan - chopped out of a sheet of steel with my Dremel - to the frame.

The PVC posts bolted to the seat pan sit inside of these rubber furniture feet.

The license plate bracket (top; black) is actually made from my last motorcycle license plate, bent into shape, with a small strip of LEDs inside.

The battery box is my actual 1st grade lunch box.

The headlight hood is cut from a broken shop light. The front blinkers are LED bulbs inside of PVC elbows, with some clear acrylic epoxied in front.


The brake light and rear blinkers are LEDs.

The radiator reservoir is a rum bottle, held on with some old leather belts.

Some switches, mounted in a tin from my favorite brand of beard balm.

Electrics are housed in a Dremel accessories box, which is hiding behind the IC igniter.

10-06-2018, 03:31 AM
I've also gotten into making other things, such as Altoid tin and cigar box guitars and amplifiers, clocks, wooden figures, junk sculptures, and what-have-you. And before I got into RC about 7 years ago, I never made or fixed anything.







10-06-2018, 09:39 AM
Innovation at it's best. Those are some amazing creations! I especially like what appears to be a Steampunk camera (?) in the last picture.


10-06-2018, 11:55 AM

I'd thought of him as a little robot but, now that you mention it, he does look kinda like a steam punk TV camera. :)


Stick Dude
10-24-2018, 03:55 AM
Not too shabby, I have restored a couple of scramblers that I ride when the sun is a shining.:DKeep a brain bucket on your head! Stick dude!:D

10-24-2018, 02:29 PM
Great Job Mark :ws: See, I told you Years ago when you got into RC, that you can do anything that you put your mind to Doing, See, I was Right :D Take care and Stay Sweet, Chellie




https://www.ebay.com/itm/KAWASAKI-EN-450-454-LTD-1985-1990-Custom-Hand-Made-Black-Motorcycle-Seat-Cover/221115935938?fits=Year%3A1987%7CModel%3A454+LTD%7C Make%3AKawasaki&hash=item337b896cc2:g:VfcAAOSwjDZYmNJr:rk:34:pf:0

10-24-2018, 10:21 PM
Thanks, Chellie!