Help me fix up an old motorcycle
February 4, 2005 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a used motorcycle that needs some work. Warning...i'm asking a stupid question. More inside.

It's a Honda CB 550. The battery in the bike was dead, but it started at the guy's shop when we hooked it up to a big external battery.

We loaded it into a pickup truck, and when we got home, it seems like the front brake is locked. It won't budge. The clutch doesn't help, putting it in neutral doesn't help. And when I try to start it, it lurches as if I was trying to start it in a high gear.

This happened to me once before, years ago, when i went to go get a bike that had been parked for a few months. it wasn't worth much and i finally just gave up. but this time it was fine when we rolled it onto the truck and this was just a few hours later.

I can't find anybody mentioning this problem anywhere online. I cannot help but feel like i must be really missing something dumb..
posted by milkman to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Pick up the front end and spin the tire, to make sure it's the front. There *might* be a detent on the brake lever, kinda like a parking brake. Look for that.

You're not getting it into neutral if you can't start it and let the clutch out in what you *think* is neutral. Make sure the clutch cable is actually moving the little cluch arm down in the tranny.
posted by notsnot at 9:16 PM on February 4, 2005

If the bike lurches when you try to start it, it's in gear. This doesn't have anything to do with the brake. notsnot is correct about the clutch arm.

Can you pull the clutch in and roll the bike around while walking beside it? If you can and it rolls with no resistance, the clutch is disengaging as it should. If there's resistance, the clutch is remaining engaged. Rock the bike back and forth while trying to kick the gearshift lever into neutral. Once you get it into neutral and can roll it around with no resistance, you should be able to start it.

I don't know what vintage the bike is, but if it has a hydraulic clutch (with a little reservoir on the left handlebar) you may want to check the fluid there. If it's a mechanical-only linkage, check for adjustment at the lever (two nuts, one adjusting, one locking).
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:08 PM on February 4, 2005

Oh, additionally, if you can prop the bike up on its center stand (with the rear wheel off the ground) you can start it regardless of whether it's in gear. If it IS in gear, once it starts the rear wheel will spin. If it spins, pull the clutch in to see if it disengages.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:09 PM on February 4, 2005

Previous posters are correct about the lurch: you're in gear. Even if the clutch is gummed up or broken (I think the 550s had cable clutches, m_c_d) or something, you should still be able to shift through the gears by rocking the bike back and forth while lifting or depressing the shift lever. Eventually, you'll find neutral, and it should be easy enough to start if you've had it running before. If you try jumping it from a car, make sure the car is OFF!

If this is your first bike, or it's been a while since you rode, let me suggest that you take one of the rider safety courses they offer at various places in CA. A lot of new & re-entry riders get whacked because drivers are much dumber and more aggressive than they used to be, and they have bigger cars.

Good luck, the CB550 is a classic.
posted by spacewrench at 10:57 PM on February 4, 2005

From this picture, I'd say the clutch is not hydraulicly-actuated; there's noreservoir on the left bar. The clutch could be sticking from long disuse.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:37 AM on February 5, 2005

CB550's are old bikes. Those Honda's were very reliable and that sometimes makes people skimp on maintenance. Since the clutch and transmission share the engine oil, it may have been a while since anyone changed it. You should do that before you do much of anything else to it (and what everyone else has said).
posted by tommasz at 8:12 AM on February 5, 2005

If it is the front wheel and not just in gear, the pistons in the calliper for the brake might be locked to the disk (aka binding). Try bleeding the brake system since any moisture that gets into the system is a bad thing, ditto for air. If worse comes to worse you could always pull the calliper off of the bike (two bolts on the fork tube that hold the calliper in place) and if it "needs some work" it might be a good idea to take a look anyway, as tommasz points out the old Japanese bikes tend to be used and abused.

kirth, that black object on the right bar, at the base of the mirror is the reservoir.
posted by squeak at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2005

Squeak, no kidding. That's why I was talking about the left bar. You know, where the clutch lever is, since I was addressing the possibility of a hydraulic clutch. (And here I was, expecting to be castigated for my failure to use spell-check.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:11 PM on February 5, 2005

doh! I was thinking brakes for some reason and couldn't figure out why you couldn't see it, sorry.
posted by squeak at 4:39 PM on February 5, 2005

No problem. The thread started out with a possible front-wheel lockup. I can see how the rerail onto the clutch could get missed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:14 PM on February 5, 2005

I am a little late to this but I see that you are in SF. If you continue to have issues - do not hesitate to call Charlie's Place. He is the god of vintage hondas.
posted by Wolfie at 7:33 PM on February 6, 2005

Response by poster: if anyone is still reading this, i'm pretty sure it's a problem w/ the front brake.

when i lift the front wheel up, it won't spin. i can't find any kind of obvious detent on the brake...though i don't know what i'm looking for really and i cant' find pictures or descriptions of what it might look like on this model.

i'm going to bleed the brake system -- which i've never done before -- and see what happens. any more advice is appreciated.

posted by milkman at 9:24 AM on February 8, 2005

Response by poster: found neutral just now and got it started.

so i think it's a brake problem.
posted by milkman at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2005

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