IENATSCH TUESDAY: A 30-Year-Old DIY Experiment

Involving one 1986 Suzuki GSX-R1100 covered in an oily mess.

Suzuki GSX-R on a truck bed
Suzuki GSX-R on a truck bed.Nick Ienatsch

Nick Ienatsch began writing for Cycle World in 1996; this is the first of his weekly Ienatsch Tuesday columns celebrating a motorcycle life. Expect everything from projects to YCRS riding tips to interviews and product evaluations. Enjoy.

The 1986 Suzuki GSX-R1100 wasn't completely rusty because copious amounts of engine oil, fork oil, gasoline and brake fluid had seeped unchecked for years. What wasn't covered in oily mung was covered in surface rust. Grime or rust. Oh, and some primer paint.

I loved it!

My brother Bill and I had loaded my motley 1992 Kawasaki KLR650 in the truck as a possible trade. Yes, the GSX-R owner wanted to trade and my truck held the surprisingly complete 1100 for the ride home. The KLR was a conglomeration of three wrecked 650s…and the GSX-R was my chance to experiment.

a mixed pedigree KLR

Photo #2

What I left behind: a mixed pedigree KLR. Rob Muzzy once told me he could build a strong single-cylinder roadracer out of a KLR, so Denny Berg laced up some wheels and then, well, um, it spent most of its life plonking around southern Colorado. Good trade? We also got a 250cc gas-powered engine and a separate water pump. Barter lives on in rural America!Nick Ienatsch

What I left behind: a “mixed pedigree” KLR. Rob Muzzy once told me he could build a strong single-cylinder roadracer out of a KLR, so Denny Berg laced up some wheels and then, well, um, it spent most of its life plonking around southern Colorado. Good trade? We also got a 250cc gas-powered engine and a separate water pump. Barter lives on in rural America!

ONE MAN’S JUNK IS ANOTHER MAN’S FREEDOM

Many of us are held victim by classic stock motorcycles, myself included. We own neat older bikes and are loathe to modify them because they’re worth more in stock form and they are so nice that it would be a crime to tweak them.

Not so this GSX-R. As I removed the bodywork it became clear that this bike had been through the ringer. The odometer in the broken speedometer read 37,544. The MRA (Mountain Roadracing Association) stickers on the fork and the drilled bolts told a tale of racing, and the ground-down fork caps told tales of sky-ground-sky-ground.

tools necessary to remove the bodywork included pliers for the stripped non-metric fasteners, dikes for the zip-ties, and rubber gloves to keep hands free from oil, grease, brake fluid, and gasoline

Photo #3

Just unloaded and stripped. The tools necessary to remove the bodywork included pliers for the stripped non-metric fasteners, dikes for the zip-ties, and rubber gloves to keep hands free from oil, grease, brake fluid, and gasoline. This is also the picture you see in Webster's Dictionary when you look up neglect.Nick Ienatsch

Just unloaded and stripped. The tools necessary to remove the bodywork included pliers for the stripped non-metric fasteners, dikes for the zip-ties, and rubber gloves to keep hands free from oil, grease, brake fluid, and gasoline. This is also the picture you see in Webster’s Dictionary when you look up “neglect.”

turn signal and taillight wires

Photo #4

The mechanic who race-prepped the 1100 simply snipped the headlight, turn signal and taillight wires rather than go through the time-consuming process of unplugging. And the mechanic who put it back on the street used household twist connectors to reunite said wire and added some speaker wire, too.  One week into the project and I was a Master Solderer!Nick Ienatsch
wiring

Photo #5

Wiring.Nick Ienatsch

The “mechanic” who race-prepped the 1100 simply snipped the headlight, turn signal and taillight wires rather than go through the time-consuming process of unplugging. And the “mechanic” who put it back on the street used household twist connectors to reunite said wire…and added some speaker wire, too.  One week into the project and I was a Master Solderer!

Don't let keys and keyrings mar the triple clamp

Photo #6

Note to new-bike owners: Don't let keys and keyrings mar the triple clamp! Hmmm, actually quite a few notes in this picture. Don't do your wiring work in the dark. Don't leave your bike uncovered. Don't disrespect a fantastic motorcycle.Nick Ienatsch

Note to new-bike owners: Don’t let keys and keyrings mar the triple clamp! Hmmm…actually quite a few “notes” in this picture. Don’t do your wiring work in the dark. Don’t leave your bike uncovered. Don’t disrespect a fantastic motorcycle.

I laughed throughout the first few hours of disassembly. Laughed at the mismatched fasteners—and I mean mismatched metric to American. Laughed that the oil filter was not even hand-tight. Laughed that two carb-slide springs were sideways in the carb tops (and the easily fixed reason why the bike wouldn’t rev over 5,500 rpm). Not only that, but the front tire was so oversized that the fender had clearanced itself. Topping it all off, the turn-signal flasher had no cover and the ECU innards were falling out.

Welding: plastic and aluminum

Photo #7

Welding: plastic and aluminum. YouTube helped me grasp plastic-welding basics, and friend Ray McPeek renewed the cracked subframe. I also trimmed the bottom two inches off the fairing side panels because there was so much missing material. I've never liked the fairing lowers on these early GSX-Rs anyway, but these pieces were my backup plan because I had an idea: 1052 Limited!Nick Ienatsch
Fairing side panels

Photo #8

Fairing side panels.Nick Ienatsch

Welding: plastic and aluminum. YouTube helped me grasp plastic-welding basics, and friend Ray McPeek renewed the cracked subframe. I also trimmed the bottom two inches off the fairing side panels because there was so much missing material. I’ve never liked the fairing lowers on these early GSX-Rs anyway, but these pieces were my backup plan because I had an idea: 1052 Limited!

Apparently the bike had never been washed because there was crud in places I’d never seen crud before. The rust hinted at outdoor storage and water had infiltrated every wiring harness and loom.

front wheel spacer

Photo #9

This front wheel spacer is a good example of the mung on every part of the bike that wasn't rusted a conglomeration of fork oil, brake fluid, and years away from a cleaning cloth. I may build a disappointing project bike, but it'll be clean.Nick Ienatsch

This front wheel spacer is a good example of the “mung” on every part of the bike that wasn’t rusted—a conglomeration of fork oil, brake fluid, and years away from a cleaning cloth. I may build a disappointing project bike, but it’ll be clean.

But as the bike came apart, no show-stopping problem appeared. My mechanical abilities lie somewhere just short of competent, and there was nothing in the disassembly that scared me. And the bike was so rough that I actually felt a sense of incredible freedom. No matter what I did, the bike could not be worse.

And I had a plan.

More next Tuesday!

GSX-R

Photo #1

Good from far but far from good. Some girls say that about boys, but it holds true for this GSX-R, too. Water had pooled in places it should never be. But it started and ran (up to 5,500 rpm), shifted through five speeds, stopped and then started again. I'll take it.Nick Ienatsch