The history of Little Project

I would like to give an informative and impressively detailed account of the history of Little Project before it came into my hands.   I would like to but currently I can not as I can’t find anything out at all except that the frame number suggests that the bike is an Australian model produced in 1983.   Never being one to stand in the way of facts.   Some of the following is probably true and some may have been improvised.  If you feel inclined you can check the dates and names for veracity.

Little Project was originally bought by the props master for the film BMX Bandits.   The idea being that it would be used with an onboard camera to film the chase scene through Manley Waterworks in Sydney.   Nicole Kidman took a fancy to Little Project because she liked the way the rigid frame caused intense vibration when the engine was freely revving, so she asked for and was given the bike in lieu of a 1% cut of the films Australian box office profits.   This means that the first time the bike changed hands the cost was approximately US$1246.50.

In 1985 Little Project was stolen from Nicole’s yard by a thug called Blaster and converted to run on fuel made from pig poo.   Blaster lost the bike as the result of a duel with Max Rockatansky who converted the bike back to run on normal fuel and rode it to Carpenters Motors (later Fitzgerald Motors) in Erinsborough in Melbourne.

By this time, although Little Project was only a couple of years old it was starting to look rather bedraggled.  It was here that glamour took over again as the bike was given to Charlene Mitchell for her first restoration project.   She tuned up the engine, cleaned up the frame and the results were good enough for her to pass both the first and second levels of the Ramsay Street Institute of Engineering exams.  In 1987 Charlene married Scott Robinson and an unfortunate and not reported incident between Scott and Bea Smith means that all track of the bike was lost for a few years.

It seems that the bike was brought into the UK in 1991.  Story has it that the Australian cricket team were very concerned that they would not be able to win the Ashes series and so Allan Border bribed David Gower with the offer of a quick flight in an aeroplane and Little Project to take home.  Gower leapt at the opportunity and after buzzing a cricket ground in the plane had Little Project shipped to his home in Leicestershire.   Unfortunately it had slipped his mind that he was now living in Hampshire and so the bike ended up at Mallory Park where it was put into use as a pit bike delivering cups of tea and the famous Swede Pies to members of the racing fraternity.

A track day for Leicester Tigers in 1998 and a drunken incident involving Dean Richards, Martin Johnson, a giant inflatable ostrich and a pike from the lake meant that Little Project had to be smuggled onto the team coach and taken back to Welford Road, where the bike was instrumental in helping the Tigers to the treble in the 2000/2001 season.   Watching the footage of the Heineken Cup final at Parc des Princes it is noticeable that Little Project actually returned the ball to the touch-line to allow a quick line-out in the 78th minute leading to a winning try for Leicester.

The gallant work of Little Project (along with a healthy disregard of the French) did not go unnoticed by the England rugby hierarchy and so in 2002 Clive Woodward approached Leicester with a view to taking on Little Project as part of the ERB backroom staff.    The bike was influential in developing the powerful back line that led England to world cup victory in 2003 in Australia.   Little Project refused to visit the home of its birth, fearing repercussions from the cast of Home and Away who had been spurned some time earlier but the when the victorious rugby team sang “Swing Low”, there was only one sweet chariot on their mind.

Things started to go wrong with the arrival of Andy Robinson in 2004 and went further downhill when Brian Ashton took over at the end of 2006.  During a heated exchange shortly  after the record 43-13 defeat to Ireland, Ashton wheeled Little Project out of Twickenham stadium, onto Whitton Road and with a mighty heave cast the bike out.   It rolled past the stadium, bounced across Rugby Road and settled in a garden.   There it stayed until I picked it up in January 2013.

Odd shaped balls

Some will be aware that I live in Twickenham.  Some won’t, most probably don’t care and there may be one or two thinking “Great, now I know where the Little Project is, I can wait for it to be finished and then go and nick it”.  I say to you crooks, you will be waiting an awful long time and it will be a challenge.  Little Project is guarded by some of London’s famous urban foxes.    The local foxes have a passion for grazing on fresh strawberries and are have a kinky habit of eating horse poo.  It is obvious that they’ve never been to the countryside because they’d know that every horse living outside the conurbations has been involved in fox hunting.  The horse poo that the local foxes eat comes from Metropolitan Police horses who prefer to patrol sports venues with a haughty horsy look on their face.

Today is an international rugby day.  The area is assaulted by Johnny Foreigner on such occasions, this afternoon they are all called Pierre and are wearing berets.  They’re probably not ALL called Pierre, but a surprising number are wearing berets.  I shall be checking later for strings of onions and so on.

This doesn’t have a lot to do with getting a motor cycle on the road other than we – locals – like to fleece the incoming rugby community in any way possible and make a few bob from them.   There are a variety of stalls in gardens selling burgers (possibly horse burgers, allowing that fox hunting is now banned and so countryside horses are all being sent to the knackers yard), selling ref-link so you can hear the referee telling the players to behave (probably with a Welsh accent today so it may be difficult to understand) and pocketing tenners for allowing car parking outside your house.  It all helps fund our lavish lifestyles and pays for whimsical hobbies.

It is also snowing off and on, so I may plod down to the stadium and try selling cups of weakened Bovril to chilled Frenchies.   Regardless, it is too cold to spend more than 20 minutes in the (unheated) shed today.  In those 20 minutes I have had some success.  You may remember the rounded bolt.  I decided to cut a groove in it and turn it into a screw.

Now a screw  Needless to say, this was pointless as although the screwdriver didn’t break anything, it still wouldn’t turn.  So, I thought I would cut off the sides and turn it into a not-rounded-off-bolt.

A square edge And this worked just fine.   With a trusty adjustable spanner it turned as easily as a polititian realising that the stance they’ve taken on wife beating isn’t going to look good in the Sunday papers.  We are left with…

a removed bolt

So all in all a brief but satisfying sortie into the land of Little Project. Finally, I am wondering where Seat is.  Allowing that it is going to take eight weeks to get here (that is 56 days to go halfway around the world, I should have sent Phileas Fogg) and it is 6 days into its journey and allowing that in my imagined trip it is being carried by a hitch-hiker, it is probably in Sumatra about now.  How exciting! 

Little Project Olympics

The summer of 2012 was an enjoyable time to be in London.   There was an optimism around the place that started with the Jubilee and grew massively during the Olympics.   I’m not sure whether the feel good factor spread nationwide but for a few weeks, London was the place to be.

I have been pondering the costs of Little Project.  Justifying the expense of rebuilding the bike was proving difficult so I thought maybe I could relate it to something else tangible and measurable.   The Olympics are recent enough to still be fresh in the mind and I have numbers at my fingertips.  I think it is safe to say from the start the cost of Little Project is not going to reach anything like the cost of building the Olympic Park, or even the amount of money lost by G4S for failing to employ sufficient staff.   Ticket prices though…

The total budget for Little Project is around the price of two tickets in a prime location for the day that the 100m final took place, or one ticket for the closing ceremony.  That’s not so bad.  Restoring the bike is going to keep me quiet for a lot longer than either of those events.

Two wheels, sandblasted and re-spoked.  With a tyre for each wheel.   Same price as one front row ticket for the beach volleyball finals.  Which would you prefer?

A family of four could have had an entertaining day at the preliminary sessions of Artistic Gymnastics, or they could replace their rear suspension and have some change.

Brake shoes or a burger and a soft drink?   A couple out for a bite in the Olympic Park could sort out my stopping worries (obviously I won’t have these until I have some motion in the first place).

Fencing involves those long wires and electronic bits to record a strike, or a stab or whatever it is called.   A good comparison for my electrical issues.  The cheapest ticket at the fencing final resolves the wiring loom and ignition systems.

My three tickets to see the mighty Gabon play South Korea at Wembley (along with a couple of pints and a foot long hot dog each) match almost exactly to the cost of the front and rear mudguards.

It all makes it seem a little bit more affordable. Perhaps when finished, the bike could get a guest appearance as the Derny in the cycling Keirin event.  Maybe I should have the Olympic rings painted somewhere onto the bodywork.

Rusted, rounded and sheared

Positive news.  I have found a seat.  Not just any seat either, it is a brand new “still in wrappers” original Honda seat. Seat has quite a journey to get to join the rest of Little Project as it is approximately 11,000 miles away in Tiaro, Queesnland.  I reckon that it will take around 8 weeks travelling time.  It is interesting to imagine the journey it might take if it was in a rucksack.  The first part of the trip is the most challenging.  I picture a steamship from Brisbane to Papua New Guinea then a rickety old DC3, island hopping up towards Malaysia.  A bumpy landing in Kuala Lumpur, a brief and steamy liason with a saddle from a 1950’s BSA Bantam just south of Bangkok then in theory the rest of the route is on foot.  The big question would be whether to risk going south of the Caspian Sea and facing the problems of Pakistan and then the rest of the middle east, or north of the Caspian Sea through Tibet and a good chunk of the PRC follwed by the new countries of the old Soviet Union.   I wonder whether retracing this route could be Little Projects final destiny?  A farm bike should be able to take such a trip in its stride I would have thought.

I expected today to have a frame that ready to be sanded and painted.  Ha.   Whilst removing the forks (they are going to need replacing, of course) one of the bolts in the bottom yolk sheared whilst undoing it.  This isn’t the first sheared bolt by far.  Sheared bolts are a favourite of Little Project.   Just when one thinks “this is going well”, bang! Sheared bolt and bloody knuckles.  The problem with this one is that it won’t easily drill out.   It is (I am fairly confident) the last of the sheared bolts for me to face but it just ain’t gonna move easily.  I thought that at a push I could just replace the steering head.   Second hand ones for similar bikes are ten-a-penny on ebay.  This is where second and possibly more challenging issue arises.  The yolk, being part of the steering head, comes out when you undo the nut at the top of the steering head.   The nut at the top of the steering head can only be removed once the handlebars are off.   The handlebars are held on by two brackets (described as “handlebar brackets” by the manual, it is so concise). Each bracket is held in place by two flange nuts – what a great name!  The world is better for the existence of flange nuts.

Still with me?  Rather like the old lady who swallowed a spider, we need to remove the flange nuts to remove the brackets to remove the nut to loosen the steering head to remove the yolk with the sheared off head (that possibly wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside).

Three flange nuts are loose.   They are loose before I attack them so it is likely that they were loose when Little Project arrived in the shed (or there may be a bunch of elves living near my shed who are keen to emulate their shoemaker counterparts and had predicted where I was going to be working this weekend).

Fourth flange nut?  It is no longer a nut.  I suspect that it gave up being a nut some time in the 20th century.  It could possibly be described as a “flange round” if one was being charitable.

I have a device for removing rounded nuts and bolts.  It requires a 1/2 inch socket drive (off to the shop again) but has never failed me until today. It failed today.  Plan B (not the singer/actor/director, although he is welcome to come and help) involved cutting a groove in the “flange round” so that I can get a screwdriver into it instead.  I have a “flange round” with a groove that the impact screwdriver will not budge (or bodge).

At this point I thought I’d do something else. so I took the tyres off the wheels.   I can do that, it is just brute force and I have that in abundance.   I am still at a loss as to how to handle the flange nut situation.  It may be possible to drill it out, but at the moment it seems that it is going nowhere.   Suggestions on a postcard please…

On a positive point, the frame is solid.  It does not appear to be twisted and the rust is so minor that it will fall off with just a brief frown in its direction.  The hubs from each wheel are salvageable and the front brake plate needs little more than a vigorous going over with some wire wool and a big pile of elbow grease.   Onwards and upwards!

A wheely hard day

There was a song in the 1940’s and 50’s popular amongst the American folk and country scene. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter and Wink Martindale all had a hit with “Deck of Cards”.  The story of a soldier arrested in church in Italy during the second world war for seemingly playing cards.  The trooper explains that the cards are his Bible, his almanac and his Prayerbook.   You’ll find a recording on the internet a lot more easily than you will find a seat for a Honda CT125, so if you feel the urge, go get it (after finishing reading here of course).   The song has been lampooned many a time since.  I am a touch concerned that Little Project is turning into my own personal deck of cards – occupying my thoughts at all times of the day.

My plan for today was to take the wheels off the bike, remove the forks and mudguards, give the forks a quick service and see what state the wheels are in before sending them off to be re-spoked.

Front wheel came off without any problems and I was rolling along merrily (well, not exactly rolling, I only have one wheel on the bike).   The broken exhaust that can’t come off until the rear wheel is removed attacked a few times so it was scolded and tied to the frame.   The cotter pin…   Wait.   A few forgotten words and phrases.

Cotter pins – Like an automotive hair pin.   It serves a similar purpose as it keeps things in their place.

Conrod – The bit of an engine that connects the top part to the bottom part.

Gudgeon pins – Connect the piston to the conrod.  From the French word goujon, remember that when you’re tucking into your fancy fish fingers.

Woodruff key – A little half-moon slither of metal that helps anchor a rotating object to a shaft.

These words are the words of my youth.  I urge you to try to use one of them tomorrow.   Don’t let them stay in the garages and sheds of the world. Free them!

Back to the cotter pin.  Slipped out as nice as you like.   The castle nut came off easily so it is just a case now of sliding the bolt out of the wheel and the wheel is off (I’m not mentioning the brakes and stuff, they are all broken so came off politely).

It won’t move.   Not having it.   It is staying there until the end of time (it thinks).  Back on with the nut and give it a tap, still no movement.   I glanced around to ensure that nobody was looking and then gave it an almighty whack.  It looked back at me with a “is that the best you’ve got?” look on its metallic and now slightly dimpled face.

I thought I’d attack it from the other side with a spanner.   If I could get some rotation going then the rest would be easy.

Ex spanner

I’d like to point out that I don’t buy cheap tools.  Cheap motorbikes and cheap wine but my tools are quality.

Rummaging through the inherited bits of my tool box I found a sledge hammer.   I was getting a touch offended by now and reckoned the joy of seeing the bloody bolt shoot out of the other side of the wheel and embed itself in the plastic cookie knight (don’t ask)  was worth the loss of any thread.

No.  It moved about 1mm out from the frame and that was it.

I have resorted to a hacksaw.   The original hacksaw blade lasted about 30 seconds before acknowledging that the hardened steel of the axle was more than a match for it but a diamond tipped (yes, really) blade managed the job in two hours. Now all I have to do is work out how to get the remains of the axle out of the hub.

Why on earth?

It seems that the most common question people ask of my after hearing about Little Project is “Why?”. The bit that follows is not always the same. “Why bother with such a little insignificant bike?”, “Why do you want to spend all of your spare cash on this?” and “Why are you doing it?”.

Admittedly, Little Project is not a superbike.  There’s no “Harley Davidson” emblazoned across the tank and if it ever goes above 55mph it will be because it is on the back of a pick-up truck.  It is not a bike that you hear people idly day-dreaming about, I am fairly certain that I have never heard anyone wistfully sigh “I’d love a Honda CT125”.

I would like to say that it is about recycling, taking a green view towards transport.  Frankly, that would be codswallop.

Just to wander off on a tangent.  I wondered on the origins of codswallop.  Arguments relate relatively to a degoratory term for a weak beer (take note USA, that’ll be you) to something relating to a thump in the scrotum, with the “cod” implying codpiece.  I hope that life is better, still not knowing the root of this word.

Back to Little Project.   It was there and it spoke to me.   I wouldn’t care to say that it was neglected, more forgotten about.   Like the peeling piece of wallpaper that you will get round to sticking down one day, except that Little Project is 230lbs of rusty metal.  Some of you will get the “spoke to me”.   Mostly, it relates to abandoned kittens (I already have one of those) or puppies.  Little Project just popped up and came into being at the right time and the right place with the right people around being available to help get the poor thing into my shed.

Wandering off again.  February in South West London is bloody cold.  If Little Project really wanted to be helpful then a genie would pop out of the petrol tank (I actually have that bit) and provide some form of heating in the bitterly cold shed.

In summary, there’s a motorcycle for which I paid nothing.  In perfect condition with a really keen buyer, it would probably be worth £1000.   The cost to restore it to something like concours condition is going to be £1500 (even if I can locate the parts – Ross at Tiaro Motorcycle Wreckers, Queensland, Australia, so much depends on you).    My reward is seeing the bike come back to life.  I could spend the money on some sporting events, a gig or two, cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women, but all of that would be fleeting.   Little Project will probably take up 12 months of my evenings but perhaps one day there will be somebody who looks at the completed Little Project and says “not bad”.  That will make it worth it.

Strip Down Saturday

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single cylinder engine in possession of a goodly amount of rust is in need of a lot of WD40.

There was excitement.  Emma (not the Jane Austen one, the helpful lady at Haynes manuals) told me that the manual for the XL125 1978 – 1987 would be useful as it covered my bike – Mostly.   A visit to Amazon (web site, not tropical rain forest) located one on Friday and taking advantage of “Express next day delivery” – free for a month – I was pleasantly surprised an 8:30 knock on the door.   Frustratingly the manual covers the next generation of Honda trail bikes to mine so it is only good as a coaster for my tea.

Never fear.   An expedition to Halfords.  Casting my mind back through many bleary years.  Can you still get Gunk? Swarfega? T-cut? You can.  A bag-load of chemicals and I was in the shed by 11:00 with a cuppa, radio, chocolate biscuits and a big pile of eager anticipation.

The eager eyed amongst you will have looked at my shopping list and thought “He’s forgot the WD40.  It ain’t going to be possible to strip down Little Project without a very big can of WD40”.   Good spot.  I’d also forgot that I am no longer the owner of an impact screwdriver (I realised this after I was back from the trip for the forgotten WD40) so by 12:30 I was really ready to start.

I thought for years as a kid watching my father do things to his bikes that “buggerit” was the proper and polite term for mishaps involving tools.  I sort of associated it with the black bruising one gets on ones nails for accidentally striking them with a hammer.  It definitely also applies to those moments when the spanner slips and knuckles drag across rusty casings.  I have plasters to make the ghost of Michael Jackson proud.

As the manual may as well have been for a Honda Civic, I was being pretty inventive with the strip down.   The objective was to have the engine and wiring loom an the workbench and not to leave too much blood on the shed floor (I added this last objective at around 3pm).  I’d worked out which nuts and bolts needed to be removed and so removed them all.   Engine wouldn’t budge.  Bloody (literally in some places) thing.   Anyone else stripping down a Little Project in the sam state of mine, there’s another engine bolt.  It is near the swing arm.   It will be covered in mud so you won’t see it, but it is there.   It will also be rusted solid and seem totally inaccessible to any of your tools.   It’s out now.  I can’t reveal how because I do have a reputation to maintain.     A bit of wobbling, grunting and heaving and the heart of Little Project is resting on my workmate.  Waiting for surgery.