Isaac Gouge's "Rag n' Bone" 600cc Heist
Every few weeks or so, someone on the CCW Tha Riders Facebook page inquires about anyone putting a larger engine in a Heist. It's do-able. There are probably much better candidates than a physically larger V-twin motor due to the area available for the engine in the stock frame. If I had any type of real budget I would have probably searched for a used Honda 750 Nighthawk (CB750 vertical air-cooled motor) and yanked the motor and guts out of that and been done in a few weeks time. I've also looked at the Yamaha 650 Savage vertical single engine but it runs a belt drive, which limited my rear wheel options, and I haven't been sold on the single cylinder sound and vibration just yet. I had some basic constraints on this project. I wanted to use what I had laying around the shop, and not spend any real money. I had a Honda Shadow VT600 engine, a king tank off a sportster, a used springer fork and 2012 Heist frame. That with the usual junk pile of steel and the need for a new rear wheel made for a very affordable bike. It's a true Frankenstein's Monster made from what I could scrape up from my shop and a few used Ebay parts. I was pleasantly surprised that I had a bike in my shop this whole time, just didn't know it.
Just from the physical measurements of the motor compared to the frame, it was gonna be an in-depth frame reconstruction. After sketching out scale drawings on the computer and kicking around a few different ways to go about it, I ended up cutting apart each section of the frame, keeping the bends and discarding the straight sections to replace with similar but longer sections. Over the course of getting the jig set up I made a few decisions to keep the overall shape of the frame similar, but also changed enough to meet a few of my own criteria. I needed good clearance around parts that required maintenance and also a better match to the mount points on the motor. The best solution in both areas was to raise the backbone angle a few degrees, which was easy enough. The rest of the room would be generated by dropping the lower portion of the frame significantly. This frame rides about 4 inches lower than the stock Heist frame and then about 3 inches higher and 2 inches longer. The sketches of the frame wherein I only raised the backbone with enough to clear the motor were getting into chopper territory and I wanted a bobber. This also meant reducing the rake of the frame a few degrees. The stock frame is raked out quite a bit for a factory product. As such, with the raised neck, extended forks would be neccessary and that took it in a chopper direction. Also more expense that I wasn't willing to drop on this project. The subsequent changes enlarged the frame up, down, and forward - which was also a goal to get the bike looking large enough for a person of my physical size. The stock frame is a tad small.
The jig was set up and the stock bends placed where I wanted them. I was just quick matter of cutting scrap tubing to size and connecting the dots. I also opted to create my own rear axle plates at that time - the hub I chose to use was a different diameter axle, brake type, and tensioning system. The VT600 engine is a fluid cooled design and I opted to place the thermostat housing in the same location as the Shadow, in the crook of the neck. Metric hoses, and especially shaped hoses are a real pain and expense to procure. In order to make room to let the thermostat housing lay where it would with the stock hoses meant eliminating the horizontal member of the frame above the motor. I reintroduced strength to the neck with plate gussets.
I kept the same diameter and wall thickness of tubing for the build. Hard tail frames are very strong, and had been made of the same size tubing or smaller until the softail bikes began to make an appearance. Harley, Triumph...anything prior to the 1950s that has a hard tail design used about 1" for most of the frame and then 1-1/4" or 1-1/2" for the backbone. The torsion forces on the frame are longitudinal - front to rear. There is no concern about twisting the frame. It's a solid triangle. It'll be alright.
I had a rolling chassis within about a week. I fabricated my own foot controls, the stock parts had been bent, mangled, and some of the angles were not going to work with the new drum brake and transmission location. I toyed around with a few handlebar styles and headlight placement for probably longer than I should have. I think I made three sets of bars and had the headlight repositioned twice that many times. To me...those two characteristics really do carry a lot of the look of the bike. Ulitmately I kept the 16" apes and slightly lowered and pushed forward headlight position. Apes are not my thing. I see alot of guys that go out, buy chrome apes and then suddenly think they have a custom chopper. I never really bought into that -but anyway. The bars are actually four bend sections welded together. After one attempt at a one piece bent four times to be symetrical...it was pretty obvious that wasn't gonna happen. I kept the apes after fabbing them up and sitting on the bike - for two main reasons, one was I was curious to see how it felt to ride with apes for the first time, and secondly that this was probably going to be my last 'typical' bike build and might be the last opportunity to use typical bars for a project. I fought the bars slipping in the clamps using several suggested means, but ultimately ended up making my own steel mounts and welding them as one unit. The idea of having bars in my lap at speed was more than I wanted to risk.
The motor was a week or two getting mounted. It came out of my first motorcycle purchased used way back in 1999, that poor bike had been cut up, stretched, raked, lowered, welded, rewelded, used and abused by me over it's lifetime so many times that I ended up scrapping the whole frame and keeping the 14000 mile motor in the shed. It had no flat surfaces to rest upon, or use as reference points to orient it with the rest of the bike, which made things....interesting. The offset of the sprocket was also different than that of the rear wheel. The wheel was the older 3 inch from center offset, when bikes ran thinner rear tires and the motor the newer 4 inch for modern wider tires. So...after a week of using levels, lasers, shims, steel bar, and good ol' eyeballing I pulled the trigger and began the process of welding the mounts. I fabricate all my own stuff, and small parts like mounts and tabs take forever. Within a few days though, I had what I needed and had the engine secured. The major headache with the Honda V-Twins is that they have no top mount and no options to anchor one. With a top mount you can just weld a top mount first, hang the engine from that and then find it's correct orientation with washers. Not so with this project.... it all had to be held up from the bottom. There was alot of cursing involved with the engine installation. Also note that one half of the mounts themselves have to be removeable so the engine can even be removed and installed. The engine has to be installed from the side - permanent mounts get in the way. The 1999 VT600 engine puts out between 39 and 45 horsepower depending on the year and mods. My mods where mild, so I just assumed no more than 45 max.
Things went fairly quickly after that. Brake brackets, tank mounting, oil can, and wiring all came together at the good pace.
The motor cooling system was a lesson in patience and plumbing. Fortunately the metric hoses corresponded well with standard American copper and steel tubing for a good fit. The radiator was placed behind the main post of the bike for my own aesthetic purposes. I've never liked the radiator as it is usually placed on cruisers. Just a big rectangle slapped to the front of a frame - rock damage, dirt and mud from the front wheel just collecting over time in the small fins. I knew from experience that Honda used a standard size cooling system that was used on almost all of their bikes from that particular era, all the way up to the 1100cc Shadows. I also knew that with proper jetting and an open exhaust the radiator dissipated enough heat without forced air to keep the engine below 200 degrees under the hottest conditions. I made the decision to see if it would work behind the motor - worst case it didn't and I'd move it back to the front. I works very well though in it's current position. The tested fan and it's thermo switch have yet to come on. All parts of the system have been checked at various levels of normal demands and each time, no single part exceeds 200 degrees, and the fluid being returned to the engine is between 130 and 160 degrees, the lower temps actually resulting from higher rpms and moving on the road. I can't recommend this radiator placement for any other motor than the VT600 with the mods mentioned.
The wiring was also a new idea. Bike wiring can be over-complicated a bit. I wanted the easiest and most accessible wiring possible. The overall idea was to have two main power terminals on the bike. One that was always energized for systems that had their own switches for on/off, and then one other terminal that all other components that needed to be turned on to run the bike and then shut off to avoid draining the battery. Placement worked out to the full time 12v terminal near the neck, and the switched 12v terminal near the rear. All components are grounded to the frame at their own location, most times at one of the bolts that mount the component. There are no long ground wires running around the frame. Each system could be wired individually during installation, and only had two trouble shooting locations to inspect. The power terminal or the ground, and I know exactly where each of those have to be, no guesswork or headaches. The result was a simplified and easily traced system. No plastic connectors. Half the wires. Each system isolated. I located the battery at the front lower portion of the frame in what looks like a storage box. Having a full time 12v terminal post also allows for easy connection a wall charger.
I grabbed some used rims from Ebay, looking mainly for the rim size, axle size and horsepower of the bike it came from. I would up with a 1974 GT550 Suzuki drum brake rear wheel assembly, a bike rated at 50Hp. I'm fairly certain that most Japanese bikes used the same wheel/hub for all of their street bikes of useable highway power, so looking for a 50hp hub was probably a waste of time, but....I had time. The front rim is from a 250 Suzuki dirtbike...2007 I beleive. I initially wondered if a dirtbike wheel assembly was safe or adequate...then I realized that dirtbike rims take more abuse that a road bike wheel, and are aluminum for weight - whereas crusier rims are usually always chrome, requiring steel construction. At any rate, it works just fine, weighs much less, and despite having a smaller brake rotor, stops the bike without any problems. It will lock up the front rim no problem. I chose to run trials tires on this build. The tread pattern was retro to me, like something off an old Army bike. They are also inexpensive and very easy to mount. I plan on using them for most of my future builds where I want a old-school tire.
I use a GPS speedometer for simplicity's sake, and then the rest of the bike was used standard Japanese motorcycle parts, like handlebar controls, cables, hoses, brake calipers, pads and shoes.
With the exception of a minor coolant seep on the first fill, everything came together without a hitch. After 500 miles of testing and adjustments, I'm gaining a real confidence in this bike being both one of the most reliable and fun bikes in my stable. It gets up and goes when you ask it too at just about every throttle position, which is nice. It's not a large engine by any means, but there is very little weight to the bike and that translates into a great throttle response. Being able to get up to 65 in a hurry and then twist the trottle from 1/2 to 3/4 and then to full and have the bike lurch forward each time is a great feeling. Almost as good as riding your own creation. My total cost on this project, (accounting for buying a used VT600 Engine and carb/ECU -which I already had) is in the neighborhood of $1500. Not bad.
I christened it Rag n' Bone. The rag and bone man was a guy that used to come around to see if you had any junk you wanted rid of, he would in turn sell it for himself. Today people go 'junking', same concept, just sounded better for a name of a bike made from parts that other people wanted rid of due to rust, damage, or just wanted out of their garage. Also a good song by the White Stripes.