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Old 03-30-2014, 12:43 PM   #1
Tim McKittrick OP
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Race bike resurrection

My slightly older brother Kelly passed away about two years ago and among the few things he left behind was a pile of old RD bits. They were in the shop of a mutual friend, back in a corner, gathering dust. The mutual friend was selling the shop, and the parts were either going home with me or to the dump, so I took 'em home.



The prize of the pile was the remains of my brother's 1979 RD400F Daytona Special, a bike he had purchased new in 1980 and had converted to a full-on racer in about 1987 when he was living in California. Just about everything that could be done to a machine to prep it for racing at that time had been done: de-lugged frame, aftermarket swingarm and shocks, fork brace, TZ wheels, race tires, race bodywork, better brakes, steering damper, and a full house Spec II motor, plus Toomey pipes and 34mm carbs. And safety wire everywhere.

But it was all in a series of boxes.





400 f motor photo CIMG4126_zpsbad8c027.jpg



It had never been a successful racer- Kelly had ridden it a few times at Willow springs in the late 80's and it had run well for a while (he recorded a trap speed of 140 MPH with it) but it would fade after 3-4 laps and he ended up sticking it a time or two. It was taken apart and repaired, but kept failing each time it was taken to the track. Eventually it was reduced to a pile of bits in boxes, and as Kelly got married, moved from state to state, had kids, got divorced, and eventually moved back to Alaska, the number of boxes grew and the contents became more spread out.

He had planned to give it another go in about 2004, and had gone so far as to purchase a racing ignition system and to retitle it back to AK. But he got busy, and never got around to it.

As a tribute to Kelly and to keep my hands busy, I decided to give rebuilding it a try, and to see if I could solve the problem of the seizures.

Thanks to the interwebs I figured out that He had made two mistakes: first, he never paid attention to the squish clearance and this was leading to the overheating and power fade- excess heat was migrating to the cases and weakening the charge density, killing power. The excess heat was probably aiding the seizure problem too, but I think most of that was due to the use of the standard point ignition system and an increased redline. He was using a welded crank that could be operated to 11K, but I believe the points were beginning to wander at that speed and he was quite probably experiencing timing issues, which when combined with the excess heat, were leading to the piston failures.

In the bottom of one box, lo and behold, was a brand new PVL racing ignition system. This should solve the ignition issue. Too bad there were no instructions- again the web came to my rescue.



I was able to make a dry assembly of the chassis, and find all the things that my brother had done wrong... I had to remind myself he has been in his early 20's when he build the bike, so I dutifully mended problems as I found them. Zip ties holding on bodywork were replaced with welded on tabs and screws, hashed bolts were replaced, the fairing bracket redesigned, tach mount strengthened, and so on. It was beginning to look like a bike again!




The motor went together dry to make sure I had all of its parts. To my surprise, everything was there with the exception of the last set of ruined pistons and rings. I was missing a grand total of two case screws.... easily put right. Everything was dismantled again and the cylinders and heads were sent out to a specialist for refurbishing and to have a new set of slugs matched to them. Once the bits came back the engine went carefully back together, this time with the squish set properly and with the new ignition system and wiring harness.



Part of the problem with the reassembly puzzle was the fact that so many parts had been replaced or altered- the only part of the bike that had not been modified in some respect was the rear brake caliper. Not having a manual turned out to not be an impediment at all- It was all just one big 3-D puzzle. I finally had the entire thing back in one piece, then could set about repainting the frame, improving the forks, remounting the brake, and all the little detail bits that needed doing.



Once I got the PVL ignition installed, I realized there was a huge amount of unused space where the charging system used to be. I made a new cover from a sheet of aluminum and decorated it a bit..... This bike will never really be mine, after all...



It's finally all together and done, ready for the track this summer. It'll be my parade bike, if nothing else, and I hope to run at least a few hot laps to work the new Avon racing tires. It'll be a big step down from my Honda RS 250 and I cant wait to see just how bad the 80's really were!



Yes, the paint is horrible and beyond ugly. But I didn't do it, and I don't know if I can change it. For now it stays as is.

And finally- how you know it's a real racer:


Tim McKittrick screwed with this post 03-30-2014 at 12:53 PM
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Old 03-30-2014, 01:34 PM   #2
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Just awesome
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Old 03-30-2014, 01:41 PM   #3
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Sweet!
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Old 03-30-2014, 03:10 PM   #4
NortwestRider
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I raced a production RD400 in 1983,I did well and remember it did awsome power wheelies between 2 and 3rd gear.
I think you will be surprised by the power and LACK of handling !!!.
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Old 03-30-2014, 04:24 PM   #5
Tim McKittrick OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NortwestRider View Post
I raced a production RD400 in 1983,I did well and remember it did awsome power wheelies between 2 and 3rd gear.
I think you will be surprised by the power and LACK of handling !!!.
My current racer is a 1995 RS250 Honda- alleged to be making about 70 HP on the pavement and good for 160 or so with proper gearing- its now geared to top out at 135 or a little better but would easily pull more. Of all the Dyno pulls I've seen with old RD's I would expect this one to make a max of 50HP, but have a lot more torque down low than the Honda. As to handling, I just hope it doesn't try too hard to spit me off. The Honda is easily the best handling bike I have ever ridden, and will let one slide the front, rear, or both tires over rough pavement with no drama. It's the first bike I was ever able to do a "Knee save" with, and I was so surprised by how easy it was that I kept pushing in the same turn and did 3 more before coming to my senses and pitting to replace the worn out front tire.
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Old 03-30-2014, 08:23 PM   #6
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This has to be fast. It goes to 11.
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Old 03-31-2014, 10:00 AM   #7
anotherguy
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Hey Tim. Nice job on the assembly.

Just one thing. The PVL is not what I'd use on an RD. If you want to ride it reliably take a look at the Zeeltronic PCDI-10 for it. Not all that pricey and the guy who makes them (Borut is his name) will program a good curve into it so it will plug and play. Well install and play.
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Old 03-31-2014, 01:52 PM   #8
porter_jamie
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that takes me back - i have an rd400 i used to race a long time ago - it has tz pipes, femsa ignition, 34mm carbs and barrels tuned by a guy call Harry Barlow. I used the same Avon tyres you have there. it was really fast but i didn't realize how scary the handling was until i rode a newer machine on modern tyres. i love it and will never sell it

great that you got it together again
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Old 04-01-2014, 04:20 PM   #9
Kevan Garrett
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Parade bike? Nyet!

Very cool build. I am sure your brother would appreciate your putting everything back together. However I must warn you:

"It'll be my parade bike, if nothing else, and I hope to run at least a few hot laps to work the new Avon racing tires."

No way. This is no Parade Bike. It's a racer. If you parade it you will piss it off. If you race, even just once a year it will thank you bike going fast and not trying (too hard) to throw you into a tree.

You have been warned.

Cheers

Kevan
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Old 04-01-2014, 08:28 PM   #10
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Fan-fuggin-tastic!
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Old 04-02-2014, 05:40 AM   #11
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Very sorry to hear about your loss. I also lost my brother and inherited his Daytona, and as you can tell by my screen name I also race RD400's (and my name is Kelly)

I continue to do this mostly in my brothers honor.

Your build looks great and I hope you get it on the track...they are just too much fun.
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Old 04-03-2014, 12:59 PM   #12
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I just stumbled upon this section of advrider yesterday (usually in the Thumpers forum- have a Husky TE630.) Just wanted to say this was a great read, great pics, and I really admire what you've done in honor of your brother!
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Old 04-04-2014, 11:12 AM   #13
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Thanks for bumping it Eric. I accidentally found it and I enjoyed it as well
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Old 04-06-2014, 08:49 AM   #14
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Trust me, when Tim says "parade lap", we're talking really fast!

BTW, it turned out very well. Nice job Tim!
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Old 04-06-2014, 05:03 PM   #15
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Nice job and tribute!
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