Do things ever work out exactly like you planned when you bring a new-to-you bike home? If you’re reading this, chances are excellent that you probably already know the answer to that question. You may even feel it in your bones, it’s that deep—and you know what? You’re right. I should know better. We all should know better, honestly.
Yet, of course, you spot that dream you’ve been chasing in some classified ad somewhere, and pretty soon, you’re talking yourself into it. You can tell yourself that you’re being as objective as possible, even go so far as to write out lists of both the pros and cons of purchasing said bike. Whether it’s at the seller’s asking price or you plan to negotiate doesn’t matter—what matters is how firmly you’ve convinced yourself that this is the ONE.
You tell yourself that it may not be perfect, but it’s perfect for you, and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes (within reason) to do right by this bike and have some fun with it. In truth, it’s not a total basket case—it's just an older bike, and one that maybe hasn’t had a perfectly smooth life. It needs a little TLC, and you’re just the person to put in a little time and effort and get it back into better condition than it was when it came to you, right? (Right.)
Gallery: Project Honda VF500F Update: So Close, And Yet So Far
In November, 2021, I introduced my new bike—at long last, a 1985 Honda VF500F Interceptor. It ran nicely, the previous owner told me that the carbs had been done in the past couple of years, and it had clearly had more than one tip-over—but no major, serious damage. It also had the original exhausts, and importantly, it wasn’t rusty. Minor issues associated with age and use were, of course, to be expected—but overall, it looked like a pretty solid machine when we brought it home.
How are things going in September, 2022? Although I did always plan to write about my experiences with it here, it’s still something that gets worked on in spare time—both my own, and my partner’s (who, luckily for both of us, also rides—and is also more experienced at wrenching than I am). Since this summer has been a bit busy, finding spare moments to work on the thing hasn’t always been easy—but through sheer determination, the box of parts (mostly OEM, a few aftermarket) that I’d assembled gradually began to shrink.
What have we done so far? Since we didn’t have anything like a good service history on this bike from the previous owner, we naturally decided to do all the regular maintenance items and catalog them. Among other things, that means all the liquids have been flushed. We put braided stainless steel brake lines on the front and the rear, so we changed out the brake fluid and rebuilt both the front and rear brake master cylinders at the same time.
...and that’s when the screaming started.
Naturally, when you start to take systems apart, you want to clean them up, right? After all, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of disassembling a thing, you want it to be in the best possible condition it can be in before you put it back—otherwise, what’s the point? You clean things, and maybe you also lube or thread lock various items as and where appropriate. It’s just the normal process of reassembly, and it’s kind of soothing in a strange way.
The brake caliper pistons on this bike were so corroded, you guys. While there are some OEM parts that are harder to find than others for this bike, luckily, that wasn’t the case with these pistons. I knew and accepted that there would be more (and possibly worse) that we would discover on the journey, but whew, they were a sight. New OEM brake caliper boots immediately went into the basket; the pistons were actually salvageable with a winning combination of sandpaper and my partner's elbow grease.
Rebuilding the brake master cylinders wasn’t too difficult—and while we were at it, we also replaced the grungy, terrible-looking sight glass on the front brake reservoir. I got a set of Pirelli Sport Demon tires, which were then mounted and balanced on the stock wheels and reinstalled on the bike. The front fork was also rebuilt, and is now ready to do its job again.
Draining the coolant of course meant examining the hoses, and finding out that one of them needed replacing. It’s a part that Honda doesn’t make anymore, so it then became a matter of locating a suitable replacement part—which I found through an awesome local shop, which had the teeny-tiny diameter I needed sitting on a shelf somewhere, and we were able to cut the excess length down to size. (Shout out to Albrecht’s Fast Track and also DSP Motorsports for the assist. It’s further proof that if you ask local bike folks for help, they will do their best to point you in the right direction because they’re awesome.)
While I already had a nice new OEM thermostat and o-ring to install, I did also end up sourcing a used thermostat housing to replace the one that came on the bike. As you can see in the pictures, that thing was in worse shape than a simple cleaning could fix.
First Test Ride
While the braided stainless lines—and fresh fluid, fully bled—did seem to make some difference in how well the VF500F was stopping, it wasn’t as much of an improvement as I’d hoped. The new tires were an unbelievable improvement over the ancient, cracked, mismatched tires that the bike had come with—so it was already handling quite a bit better than it had been.
Although there was quite a bit of meat left on the brake pads, I decided a set of Vesrah sintered pads were probably just what this bike needed. (I have and love them on my Hawk GT 650, and will happily put them on just about any bike they’ll fit.) More parts ordered, because why not?
The existing brake rotors showed wear—but we didn’t realize just how much until we looked more closely. I was planning to look into resurfacing them, but one of the fronts had some grooves that looked better suited to a piece of vinyl than a brake disc. So, unbeknownst to me, my partner ordered some Brembos as a nice birthday surprise for me (aww).
Second First Test Ride
New brake pads and discs were installed, so it was time to take it out again and see how the whole package was running. Unsurprisingly, it’s much better! We each took a short ride around the neighborhood to get the feel of the bike, and it ran so well that we felt good about taking it out for one of the longer rides we usually do every weekend.
The first long-ish ride we went on went fairly well! The bike handles quite nicely with its new tires and rebuilt front fork—and the new brake rotors and pads (along with the braided stainless lines) make a huge difference. I was starting to find the fun and get deeper into enjoying my time riding this bike when a new issue arose.
There’s Always Something
There’s a weird intermittent stalling issue that both of us have noticed, and it started happening before we ever took the thing apart for the first time. We suspect that it’s the fuel pump—which means I have to decide if I want to try bypassing it completely (yes, the bike is carbureted, but it has a fuel pump), or else replacing it with an aftermarket one. (Although I’ve seen various forum reports saying that the fuel pump relay is often the culprit, we don’t think that’s it in this case, after getting consistent, proper readings with a voltmeter.)
Unfortunately, that meant we had to turn around and nurse the untrustworthy VF500F carefully back home. (On the plus side, that just meant I hopped on the Hawk and took it out for a ride instead, so it’s clearly not all bad news.)
So, that’s where the VF500F is at. So close—and yet, we’re not quite there yet. It’s frustrating, especially now that I've had a little taste of how much fun this bike will be when we get that stalling issue sorted. I suppose that’s good motivation to fix it quickly, right?