Tales from the lift #1: Mariposa Roja

Tales from the lift #1: Mariposa Roja
This is the first in a series of moto tales by one of the pillars of our local community- Mr. Armen Amirian. Well known rider, wrench and raconteur who has previously been found in the pits as a factory wrench, contributing to moto publications worldwide, teaching moto- mechanics here in NYC (for 34 years! these days hosted by Ryders Alley ) and now enriching our site with his work at the keyboard capturing the passion for it all. His unique writing style embodies the mojo of living and breathing old bikes here in the city. For our first installment....  

Mariposa Roja

So, it was Friday night. The next day I’d be up at 4:30 am, at work by 6:30. Once the regular job was over, there’d be errands to run, then bikes to work on ’til I go numb. Sunday it’s off to work again.

Tough being popular : )
For the moment, I was just farting around online. Looking for distraction
I started thinking about my ’79 R65 sitting in the corner of the garage for over 15 years. Last time she ran, I was heading off to work. Wife had followed me out the door to the driveway yelling at me about everything. Could hardly contain myself, knowing that when I got to work she’d call and continue the rant.
Slowly pulled into the street, praying she’d die of a massively painful heart attack by the time I got home from work 15 or so hours later.
What’s the line from the song? “Wondering how it ever got this crazy….”
Not all the way into the street and magically the bike disappears out from under me. 
Next thing I know, I’m laying there on the street.
It takes a while for it to make sense.
I get up and see my bike laying there on it’s side up the road a piece. The only new bike I’d ever owned, one of the few items of beauty in my life . Front end is twisted, broken plastic here and there. Just past it there is a Trans Am with a gouge down it’s entire right side, right rear mag broken, tire flat. I realize later that was the axle nut from my front wheel that did the deed. Some bubbleheaded bleached blond gets out and says “My boyfriend is going to KILL me! He lent me his car because I totaled mine!”
“I think I’m OK.” I offer.
The moron doesn’t even respond.
In the end, I got the police report. Insurance company blamed her. Even thought she was FLYING up a small street in a residential neighborhood, she didn’t even get a ticket. I trucked the bike over to my folks’ garage (I didn’t have a garage). Figure I’d get her back on the road soon.
When the insurance check comes, my wife grabs it and spends it.
Over the years, I slowly gather up parts and fix a lot of the bike. New fork tubes, triple trees and such. Never finished the rehab project. Jobs, kid, mortgages, commute, time/money-pit of a house.
Not going to happen.
Can’t even begin to estimate how many hundreds or thousands of hours I had spend working on that bike in the early years. Sometimes hotting it up, sometimes upgrading, sometimes dealing with her many issues. Almost always totally diggin it : )
Now it’s just a piece of mechanical sculpture gathering dust.
My first venture into writing was a multi-part article for the BMW club magazine about all the work I had done on her. That was the springboard into a part-time writing career that lasted for years.
The stock flat top Bing CV carbs the bike was born with were craptastic at best. Rebuilt and rejetted them 6 ways from Sunday. Never got them to work well. Sold them early on. Dug around and bought a set of 30mm Dellorto pumpers. Figured the 30mm Dellortos probably flowed as well as the Bing 32mm CVs, and I didn’t want to lose any bottom end by using too big a carb. Designed venturi manifold inserts based on the old Butler and Smith BMW Superbikes. Didn’t have a lathe, so I had my buds at San Jose BMW make them. Modified the air horns and made throttle cables. Spigot mount right onto the intake manifold. I’d have preferred rubber mount, but I had what I had.
Made up a chart on my computer with all the jetting variables: slide cutaway, main jet, pilot jet, needle, needle jet, etc.
Bought a million dollars worth of slides and jets.
Carried the chart, a pen, lots of jets, and some slides in my tank bag. Did lots of rides. Made lots of changes based on gas mileage and the Levi’s 505 Pants Seat Dyno. Learned a lot.
When it was all over, the bike ran beautifully most of the time and got 50 MPG. But I was pretty burned out by then.
‘Just bolts on’, they say 😉
Not when you are the person doing the development…
One summer day I’m sitting in traffic, look down at the clear fuel filters and see the gas bubbling up in them. Surmise that the heat is transferring through the solid manifolds into the carbs, boiling the fuel in the bowls and coming back up the fuel line. Sounds crazy, but I really think it was. So depressed after all my efforts. 
If I’d had been thinking clearer and had the dough, I’d have found a set of rubber mount Dellortos, transferred the jetting, and been rockin. Instead I just gave up. 
Dark times don’t offer enough light to see clearly.
The bike had been dead for a while by then, so I sold the Dellortos to a guy who says he is going to put them on his car.
Go figure.
On the later models, BMW had ditched the wretched flat top carbs and used the dome top jobbies on the R65s. With a little jetting tweak, they ran great.
I decided I had to have a set.
I started looking for a set of used dome top CVs. Carbs are REAL expensive, and I’m always real broke back then. I end up with a set that had lime deposits in them so thick they had to be chiseled off. No amount of soaking has any effect.
Years go by and I buy an ultrasonic tank to clean my guns in. Oddly enough, Dawn dishwashing liquid is my fav ultrasonic sauce. I try the carbs in the magic solution.
NG. Like playing pool with a piece of rope. 
Make a note on the BMW airhead forum. Suggestion was made to use Simple Green for a short period of time, then Dawn. I try it. Carbs get pretty clean, but badly discolored by the Simple Green. Discouraged, I leave the carbs on the kitchen counter for years (yes, I’m single).
Not going to happen.
Back to the present. This riding season is pretty much over for me. For the first time in my life, I have two bikes running well and legal. Have boxes of hot-up parts for both bikes, but they both run. Can conceive of the possibility of another project.
Thinking about the R65 triggers something.
It’s been way too long that she’s been sitting there. It’s just not right.
Most of the active volcanoes in my earlier life have gone dormant.
Divorced for years. Child support over. The tens of thousands in divorce legal bills paid. House given to the IRS (thanks, wifezilla). Kid finished with grad school. Best bud/racing co-conspirator whom I spend millions of hours with, dead of cancer. Best bicycle bud dead of cancer. Best gun-nut bud swallowed a 12 gauge. Haven’t had sections of my intestines chopped out in years. Not drinking 15-20 cups of coffee a day and living on 4 hours of sleep. 
Much less crazed.
It’s time to reopen that room- literaly and figuratively, turn on the lights, blow away the cobwebs and bring that bike back to life.
‘Mariposa Roja’.
Red Butterfly.
Named after my one-time girlfriend and longtime dance partner in college. One Halloween party she wore a Spanish Dancer outfit-red rose in her teeth and dancing like a butterfly. So beyond beautiful. We would close our eyes and dance barefoot under the stars ’til the sun came up. Never had a dance partner like her again.
Haven’t seen her in decades. Not going to happen. That’s ok. Last I heard, she ended up with a great guy and is happy.
The way the bike looked and the way we fit together was as close as to dancing with Nancy as I could imagine, so I named the bike after her.
There were a lot of times when that bike was the only friend I had. Only thing in my universe I could count on.
One of my few anchors in some very stormy seas.
Knew when I had that accident I didn’t have the room in my head to be riding a bike into NYC during rush hour. A millisecond difference in timing and I’d have been wearing my ass for a hat. Needed to clear the head to ride safely.
Not going to happen back then.
Bike has been sitting quietly in the corner of the garage, waiting for the right time.
Oh right-that Friday night.
So, I had punched ‘R65 Carbs’ into Ebay a few weeks ago. Up came one set for a ton of bucks, one for a few hundred. Missed the buy on the one for hundreds. Then there was a set with an opening bid of $75. Some rusty fasteners, but basically intact. Convinced myself I could make them work. Watched them all week and finally bid. Luck was with me-so it seemed-I won the rascals.
Could work.
This could happen. 
Accent on ‘could’.
When they show up they look like they were boiled in a cesspool at a nuclear waste dump site. No amount of cleaning/soaking does any good.
Not going to happen.
Remembered how well a bike a customer’s bike ran with nice new set of Mikunis. Convince myself it’s time to act. Call the supplier, talk, grab chest when I hear the price, shake head. Try to remind myself that done is beautiful, but just don’t have the cash.
Not going to happen.
Out of nowhere, I end up doing a 15 hour flog (finished at 2 AM!) one day that could cover the cost of the mixers.
Must be a message from the gods.
Pull up the carb site. A few keystrokes and it all starts to happen. New carbs are in the mail 😉
Start a triage list in my head for when I drag the bike out in the springI’ll do a short version of the electrical upgrade I started. Leave the oohbabyoohbabyooh-I-want-it-I-want-it-ungh high compression 850 cc top end kit that we did for the bike magazine with the ported heads complete with titanium retainers and and and… on the shelf for now. And the frame braces, and, and…
As they say in therapy-‘attainable goals’.
This could happen.
Just finish the retro of the better breathing later model airbox. Nice coincidence is that the Mikunis have their choke lever on the carb, and the later airbox lacks the choke lever perch of the early style ‘box.
Change lots of fluids. Hope the brakes haven’t glued themselves solid. Rebuild or replace them if they did.
New battery.
New tires and tubes.
Theoretically possible.
Prob take a few dozen hours of puttering. Prob a grand or so before the dust settles. I have the time and the dough these days that I never had before.
It’s beginning to sound more possible.
Still have the leather jacket I designed and had made 30 years ago, with the striping accents that matched Roja’s colors. 5’7″ at 122 lbs was my size then.
That bus left, but I know people who do leatherwork. 
It’ll happen…

One Response

  1. Markus
    | Reply

    Great stuff Armen, I’m looking forward to more of these! (yes I read the other one as well)

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