Adjusted Pushrods (Lifters). Engine Pau.

Oy. It’s been months since I’ve last written and worked on my bike! It was a busy end-of-the-summer finishing up other projects on my plate. I am happy to be able to give some TLC and attention to my Ironhead, which I have recently dubbed: Bright Lightnin'[rock and roll, rock and roll].

[I realize there may be gaps between what I last wrote and this post. That is the biggest challenge here–having enough time to work on the bike AND photo-document each step in the work. It definitely takes more time when a camera is involved! And while documenting this process is important to me, I’m also very antsy to get on my bike and start riding. I know you riders out there feel me. So if you are reading this, I thank you for accompanying me on this journey!]

Today I adjusted the pushrods (the term is “adjusting pushrods” but technically, it is the lifters that are adjusted), which was the final task in buttoning up my motor. The pushrods have an important function in the engine–they open and close the valves, which is part of the engine combustion process.

These four vertical pipe-looking things are the pushrod covers. The pushrods are housed in the tubular steel covers you see here. Inside the covers are the pushrods which connect to lifters, which are at the bottom of the pushrods and sit above the cams (the cams engage a wheel at the bottom of the lifter, which make the pushrod go up and down).

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Again, cutting-edge toolery holding up the pushrod cover–you can see the pushrod here. The lifter, at the bottom of the pushrod, is what needs to be adjusted. The motor must be turned until the lifter is at the lowest position. First the lifter bolt is loosened so the pushrod has a lot of play. To adjust the pushrod the lifter bolt is tightened enough so that the pushrod has no up and down play and spins freely, completely around. Sounds easy enough?! And sure, sweaty forehead and armpits and numb fingers later, all of them have been adjusted.

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Then, the pushrod cover spring retainer is put back by simultaneously pushing down on the pushrod cover and pushing in on the spring retainer.
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One down–
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And another one–
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And there you have it. Engine is pau. [For those of you not familiar with the word ‘pau’]
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Installing Cylinders and Pistons

Yesterday I started putting my motor back together.

Nikola walked me through the steps yesterday with the rear cylinder, and I repeated that today on my own for the front cylinder. BUT while I lubed both cylinder bores, I did not lube either piston so I needed to redo both of them. That was my arm workout for the week–they weigh about 25 pounds each because they’re made out of cast iron, and wiggling them on and off a couple of times each took good arm strength. Lubing is essential as part of the engine assembly process. If you forget or fail to lube any part, you’re going to have major engine trouble.

Remember these–the cast iron cylinders, which I sanded and painted?

Took off the tape, top.

Bottom. Took off the old gasket.

Scraped off gasket remnants with razor blade.

Used 60W oil and a few squares of toilet paper, folded up, to clean and lubricate the inside of the cylinder.

Squirted a bit of oil in the cylinder, and started on one side and repeated all around, on top and bottom halves.

A diagram of the cylinder components from my service manual.

Checked the fit of the gasket on the bottom of the cylinder.

Placed the gasket on the cylinder base.

Spaced ring gaps about equidistant around piston. Made sure they were staggered otherwise if there were gaps where air could escape, the compression would be low resulting in poor engine performance.

Then lubed the piston with extreme pressure, anti-seize engine assembly lube.

Placed the piston inserter ring tool around the piston and secured with the piston ring compressor.

Placed the cylinder over the piston.

Used a rubber hammer and alternated tapping the front and back onto the piston. My lovely assistant Nikola held the cylinder and piston up while I tapped.

Once the cylinder cleared the rings, removed the piston inserter ring and compressor tool and used my hand to pound the top of the cylinder down.


Got the sucker on.

The top view. The movement of the pistons up and down compresses the air in the cylinder and this is part of the engine combustion process..


For these old nuts, important to put a bit of this anti-seize lube on the threads so they stay lubed and don’t seize up the next time I need to take them off.


Just a bit on all of the threads.

Then got my nuts.

Common sense–one side is dirtier than the other, which means that side was exposed. The clean side goes down.

Tightened each nut to a snug fit with a wrench in a criss cross fashion, so that the weight distributed evenly. The last step was to torque all the nuts to 30 ft lbs.

Here’s my Buddhi positioning himself in the tight space near my lift to make sure I see his saddest face possible. Promise we’ll go to the dog park and beach tomorrow morning, Bud!

Sanding and painting II

9 thru 13 March 2013

As I mentioned in the previous post I did a bit of finishing work on the engine in the last few weeks.

Here is the cylinder head, taped up for sanding. These were a little difficult to tape up because the engine oil kept seeping from the valve springs. After a bit of Simple Green on the rim, I taped it up then razored off the edges and it stuck.


The bottom of the cylinder heads: the combustion chamber and intake/exhaust ports taped up.


Fast forward: heads sanded and painted with high gloss black engine paint



On to the rocker boxes. These are constructed of aluminum. The one on the left I sanded for a few hours, starting with 60 grit [coarse] sandpaper, followed with 150 then 220. Repeated several times. Got the gunk off, but it can still use a lot more sanding with a finer grit paper for more shine. Aluminum can be sanded to a mirror shine using sandpaper and metal polish. This photo tutorial was posted by a guy who polished an aluminum coolant neck [engine part for his car] to a mirror shine; he started with 80grit –> 120 –> 400 –> 2500 and then used a drill with a polishing tool and metal polish. Pretty magical to see the transformation!

Alas, I have much more sanding to do.


Have you ever seen the silver robot man street performer in Waikīkī on Kalākaua Avenue? That is what my hands looked like. And I can do the robot too. Ask me, I’ll do it for you the next time I see you.


In the midst of all of our work, the motorcycle goddess came and visited our shop, and left a feather on the ground for me, Nikola, and Buddhi.


The end.

Sanding and painting I

25 February 2013

It’s been a month since I’ve last posted! It is a challenge/juggle to find the time to give to my bike along with all the other day-to-day work and several projects that I manage. I now understand Nikola’s predicament with his own bike; he literally spends all of his time fixing and giving good TLC to his customers’ bikes which leaves little time for his shovelhead baby.

On top of this juggling of time, what I’ve been working on has been a bit more labor intensive and time consuming–


These are the cylinders. They were painted black, and then [painstakingly] finished with red paint on each and every cylinder fin! In general my aesthetic is simple and clean, therefore I wasn’t digging the red trim. Both the cylinders and the heads, which are constructed of iron, were painted this way and before I could repaint, I had to sand off the black and red paint which took a bit of time. As you may know, sanding and painting aren’t one-time deals. They are each a process. When I sanded, I used mostly two grades of sandpaper: 60 and 150 grits. This took several hours. Then I used black engine paint, and I gave each piece two coats of two coats, and they needed to dry completely in between sprayings, so this took over a week to complete. I started with the cylinders.

This is what the cylinder looks like painted with black engine paint. [Mostly] sanded down to the iron on the left, and new black paint on the right:


Before any of the sanding or painting could commence, I had to tape up all the pukas [holes] so that debris nor paint could get inside, otherwise there’d be trouble in the engine. Taping took a long time too–because of the differently shaped areas and the residual oil neutralizing the adhesive on the tape. Eventually I learned an effective taping method.


Here I am, sanding the black paint off of the heads [which sit above the cylinders and under the rocker boxes] whose pukas I had to make sure were covered with painter’s tape.


Rear rocker box, heads and cam cover.

11 Feb 2013

I was excited to do more work on my bike! Today I spent about four hours continuing to take apart the engine. I told Nikola that wrenching is a kind of moving meditation–you get in a zone of mindfulness and the work is quite satisfying. I enjoy gauging/intuiting the bolt sizes to find the appropriate sized tool. And if the bolt is in a weird place, brainstorming a fix for that, whether it be an extension or adapter for the wrench, or a totally different strategy. The processes are very logical and results-oriented. Furthermore, I find that my heart (I love the bike because it was given to me by my love), mind [obviously] and physical self [pretty soon my biceps are gonna be so toned] are engaged. Wrenching is a kind of mechanical meditation and an engagement of the heart mind and physical self and breath! I envision me and Nikola riding around the island on a Sunday morning, while Buddhi is at doggy playcare. . .

Initially when we brought the bike to the shop, it was clear it needed lowering so I could be flat footed. But some how it’s turned into a much larger project of rebuilding the engine. I won’t do it all from scratch, but I want to make sure that the insides are good. And I want to see all of the insides.

Except for several stripped bolts, the engine is looking pretty clean, which is a good sign.

The rear rocker box; two bolts sit directly under the frame which prevent me from simply loosening the bolts and lifting it off. (The front rocker box sat much lower under the frame so it was easy to unbolt and remove.)

I was hopeful that these two bolts would clear the frame but I quickly discovered they would not. Therefore I had to remove both the rear rocker box and rear head. First I loosened the rear rocker box bolts just enough so there was a bit of give. Then I loosened the bolts to the head (the black ridged component that sits directly underneath the silver rocker box). The head bolts were probably the heaviest I have come across so far–they are usually tightened to about 65 lbs or so. I needed some help and leverage for the initial loosening of the head bolts.

The head and the four heaviest bolts. The two springs sitting diagonally are called valve springs. Both heads are constructed of iron—cast iron. Thus the engine name, Ironhead.

The cylinder, which sits directly under the head. Inside the cylinder is the piston which moves up and down.

I rotated the back tire to turn the engine so both pistons would rise to prevent debris from falling into the cylinders.

I put towels over the cylinders.

Points which govern the timing for the ignition.

The mechanical advance unit.

The mechanical advance unit, points cam, and bolts.

Nikola took these while I loosed the allen bolts to the cam cover~




The cam cover was stuck on, so giving it a few taps with a mallet was necessary before it could be pulled off.

Lovely gears!

This engine has four cams. From left to right: rear exhaust cam gear, rear intake cam gear, front intake cam gear, front exhaust cam gear.

Underneath the rear intake gear is the pinion gear, and to the right of front exhaust cam gear is the idler gear. The gear at the top right is the generator drive gear.

Timing marks on the cam gears—the gears need to line up according to these marks so all the valves open at the right time.

Here’s a photo recap of parts I took off today:

Rear push rods and covers, and the shifter.

Rear rocker box and head.

Cam cover and the points cover, case, and panel.

Where has the engine gone? It’s in pieces on my lift :-)

Tearing the engine apart.

11 February 2013

A few days ago I took the second exhaust pipe and gas tank off. Today I took off the carburetor. Like most Harleys, my bike has just one. The screws for the cover and carburetor required an allen wrench (yet another kind of wrench!).

I took off the cover which left the carburetor exposed. Then unbolted the component off.

[If you’re wondering why the towels are there–important to plug the pukas to the engine so no debris gets inside, which could cause problems in the engine.]

What the bike looks like with the carburetor, intake manifold, and top motor mount off.

Nikola said I grunted when I rotated the wheel so the engine would turn. Turning the engine causes the push rods to move up and down (this could only be done after putting the bike into gear, which was accomplished by turning the wheel and adjusting the shifter). Needed to manually turn the engine for the right positioning of the push rods so I could loosen them.

Cutting edge technology: a wooden clothes pin to hold the push rod tube up while I loosened the top and bottom nuts, after they had been turned to the right position. Then I started on the engine. Took off the front rocker box (which sits on the head, which sits on the cylinder).

Parts from top clockwise: gas tank, top motor mount (black brackets), second exhaust pipe, carburetor (round unit), ignition coil and spark plugs (yellow tubes which are the spark plug wires), front push rods and their tubes, above that the rocker box, and the skinny tubes to the left are the rocker box oil lines.

Close up of the engine, sans the front rocker box, push rods, and everything in the previous photo

Nikola has mini wrenches.

And bambucha ones too.

This is where she’s at today.


6 February 2013

This ’73 Sportster sits higher than the newer ones (14″ rear shocks as opposed to 12″). My feet barely touch the ground. The battery and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or stock oil tank (which looks very retro so I love) jut out under the (quite wide) seat which further compromises my feet being flat on the ground.

So today I set out to take some parts off of the bike and did some minor wrenching. Looked at the part, the connecting bolts, figured out which wrench to use (varies depending on the location of the bolt). I was surprised at how many fancy wrenches there are (box end, 1/4″ drive, 3/8″ drive, rachet) and the multiple ways a bolt can be wrenched off.


I started with the battery, which must weigh about 20 lbs. The oil tank followed and I needed to drain it first. That took a ton of weight off. I then took off the seat, the front fender, one of the exhaust pipes, and finally the little license plate bracket.

[I’m blessed that my husband, a proficient mechanic, was on hand if I needed to ask him a question!]

I quickly learned that it’s important to keep track of the bolts. They can easily get mixed up, so best that once the part is off, to put each respective bolt back in its puka.


Here she is, minus all the parts, looking pretty sweet. Got some ideas for an oil tank and a seat. Gonna change the shocks out (current ones are 14″ eye to eye) to shorter ones so the bike sits lower so I can be flat-footed for comfort and safety.

My husband is an excellent mechanic and creative parts fabricator but I’ve decided that I would do all the work on this bike. Before I start riding this bike I feel like I need to know its insides and outs. Of course I’ll have to consult with him especially when it comes to the mechanical, engine-related work [which I know just from watching him can get extremely complicated, especially on old bikes], or fabrication, but I’d like my hands to do all the work. And I haven’t ridden the bike yet because first I’m going to tear it apart.

Taking her home.

4 February 2013

Today is Monday, February 4th. It’s my birthday. I was expecting some dinner and Vans checkerboard slip ons, but I got a 1973 Harley Davidson Ironhead Sportster instead.

The bike was listed on Craigslist for a couple of months and when the owner lowered the price, my husband and I went to look at it. Luckily my man partner is a super smart, experienced mechanic and checked the bike thoroughly; after doing so we started the negotiation hundreds lower then we had planned because the gas tank liner is peeling, the shifter isn’t working properly, the tires are hard, the chain needs to be changed, and we need to lower the bike. The owner agreed, and we took her home.

Our go-to motorcycle tow company is Confer Motorcycle Transport. Paul tricked out his Ford F-150 with a nice hydraulic lift that is able to lift and hold motorcycles securely and safely. He’s pretty much the only guy on the island with a set up like this, and he’s been towing for us for years. The other tow companies don’t have a set up that is specific to motorcycles, which can be worrisome to many bike owners.

Here she is, in the bed, ready to go. As you can see everything was golden (as in Light), which was a good sign.

Back at our shop in Waipahu, my husband rolling her off.

Left side of the bike.

Right side.

On the lift, ready for some work.