Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of joining the flat track motorcycle races that are held every winter in Oregon’s capital city of Salem, located just an hour south of Portland. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was pretty young, but other than keeping pace with the neighbor’s dog who used to chase me as I ripped up the mountain roads toward my childhood home, I had never really raced one. Have I gone fast? That’s probably relative — but yes. Raced another human? Not really. I felt determined to change that this winter. What’s the worst that could happen?
My biggest obstacle was trying to find a bike in time for the November scheduled start. I swung by Portland’s Cycle Heap and started talking about the possibility of scaring up a 2-stroke that I could quickly rebuild and start putzing around on. I don’t want anything huge or fast; a 125cc – 200cc motorcycle is in my wheelhouse and comfort level. Besides, as an absolute beginner I’m looking to race but I’m not looking to win.
Not yet at least.
While still at the shop I decided to hop onto Craigslist and see if anything interesting had popped up. And there it was at the top of the listings: A 1976 Honda CR250M Elsinore, posted just 30 mins prior. Non-running, non-titled, pretty ugly and $300. I called the seller up and he happened to be about 10 minutes away from Cycle Heap. Luckily I had driven my truck to the shop, and all said and done the bike was back at the Heap within an hour.
It had been leaned up against the seller’s house for the last 3+ years, a purchase to get his son into dirtbikes. The bike had compression but didn’t fire up. It had a pretty nasty bang-up on the right side, with a dented tank and a set of awesomely red (and bent) bars. But it had everything that a motorcycle needed to run: the carb was intact, the forks were blown but straight, a dirty but functional K&N filter sat on a dirty but sturdy frame. All the plastics were there but showing their age and sun exposure. The seat was covered with a garish white vinyl… but it was pretty comfortable and the seat pan was original. The knobbies inflated and held air.
I had to get it started that night — it’s a 2-stroke so how hard could it be? I pulled the giant (hopped up?) Keihin carb and opened it up to find a relatively clean unit. I cleaned the jets and made sure everything was intact. The bowl gasket was toast but I procured a large o-ring from parts savior Casey, who runs his service shop out of Cycle Heap. Anyone who has used an o-ring on an oddly shaped Keihin float bowl knows the struggle and finger gymnastics that are required to get it to work. But it did and held the gas (mostly) in.
I threw in a new NGK B7ES plug along with some questionably fresh pre-mixed gasoline stolen from a lonely Benelli, gave it a few solid kicks and… nothing. A few more kicks and all I got was a sore foot sitting inside a Chuck Taylor that was not prepared for the kickback that the Elsinore was giving me.
Sometimes it would kick through so easily, then sometimes BANG – the kickstart lever would remind me who is boss and snap back so hard it started to make me gun shy about kicking it. After a few more kickbacks and choice words, I decided to hang it up for the evening and come back the next day with my tools and a set of boots.
I sat on the bike and looked it over as I chatted with the guys at the shop about the prospects of getting the bike ready for a dirt-track race that was happening that Saturday — a short three days away. I decided to give the bike one more kick before tucking it in, and RING DING DING DING. The bike sprang to life, I kept on the throttle and ran through whatever gas was in the carb.
It was a great place to end the evening, and I couldn’t wait to get back the next day to put the bike through its paces.