Beat the rush. Bring us your little stuff.

So here’s a question: Is your machine ready for Spring? Is it really? It’s been a mild winter, but actual Spring is right around the corner. When it does finally get properly warm around here, it’ll mean a rush of people out to scratch the same itch — a rush of folks with a hundred little things that their bike needs in order to be fully ready for riding season. Sure, you could queue up behind all those people, OR you could bring us all your little stuff now and beat the rush. What does your machine need?

  • A carb clean?
  • Tire change?
  • Fresh fork seals?
  • Brake pads?
  • New grips or handlebars?
  • A new set of points or a timing adjustment?
  • Oil change?

Sure, we’ll take big projects too. We always love those. But for those of you out there (and you know who you are) with smaller jobs that need done, we want ‘em. We want ‘em NOW. Bring us that motorcycle this week, rather then in the rush of Spring three weeks from now. Bring us a wheel and a new tire for mounting. Bring us that bike that sat too long and doesn’t idle right because it has gummy carbs. Bring us a pair of leaky forks. Best of all, have yourself a machine that’s ready to hit the road as soon as the street sweeper rumbles by.

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The 3rd Annual BlueCat Motors Illegal Pinewood Derby

The BlueCat Pinewood Derby will be at Grumpy’s Bar and Grill 2801 N Snelling Ave, Roseville, MN 55113.

See you there!

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Custom Pinstriping and Black Metal: by Rob Savela

Observations on the visual similarity between Custom Pinstriping and Black Metal logo design.  by Rob Savela

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On The Lift :: Robb’s CB590

For all intents and purposes, this bike started its life as a run of the mill Honda CB550.  A stock CB550, while beautiful in its original form, is capable of a stock 50 bhp at 8,500 rpm.  In a day-to-day application these numbers, when combined with stock carburetion and exhaust, amount to a modest performer of a bike suitable for daily commuting and short highway jaunts.  Now, take a look at the cam profile in these photos of Robb’s motor.  If you’re new to the inner workings of reciprocating engines, look hard.  See that cam profile with its long duration, tall lift, and steep flank?  This beefy cam isn’t stock, it’s part of a Stage 2 kit from Action Fours, an old school performance mods company out of California.  When all is said and done, this Stage 2 kit transforms a stock CB550 into a 590cc machine capable of 80bhp, suitable for prolonged fun on the road and occasional track time.

Before the days of electronic rev limiting, companies like Action Fours used thoughtfully designed racing valve springs that effectively float to protect your engine from over-revving, in this case, at 13.5k RPM versus the stock 8.5k RPM.  Heavy duty Japanese-made piston heads and rings were also included in their kits, bulked up to match the stresses associated with Stage 2 type performance mods.  That said, it’s never enough to aimlessly “go big” with everything when modifying your engine.  For example, there’s no sense in running a hot cam without high compression to match.  Every modification that you make to your engine presents a new set of variables that need to be thoughtfully balanced, or “tuned”, to make for a fast and reliable motorcycle.

For those of you that know Robb, one of our lead mechanics, you’re probably not surprised to miss a glamour shot of a period-correct cafe racer in this blog post.  For Robb, it’s just not like that – mechanical perfection is priority one, and then there’s everything else.  Form follows function, or in his words “a bike that runs well looks good.”  For the sake of discussion, this no-frills CB590 will likely be a well running and ridiculously fast drag bike with a short wheelbase…but don’t expect to see a polished tank anytime soon.

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On Billy Al Bengston :: by Rob Savela

Meet Rob Savela, or “Sav” as he’s known to the guys around the shop.  As a local artist and longtime friend of Ryan’s, Sav is our fixer for all things arts related in the MSP and beyond.  In addition to our regularly scheduled programming, Sav will be contributing music and arts reviews and forecasts to the BlueCat Blog.  -Shaun

On Billy Al Bengston :: By Rob “Sav” Savela

What’s better than black poison, most Electric Wizard songs, and all of Fugazi? Anything really, but especially Alan Watts samples and influential people like Billy Al Bengston. Artist and semi-professional motorcycle racer, a central figure in early ’60′s pure Los Angeles Pop Art and custom car culture. Racing, not art, supported him financially, surprise. His identity was a combination of subculture and leisure – surfing, car customizing, racing and scuba diving. For his most significant works he adopted the techniques and materials of the vehicle customizer – lacquer, spray painting, and non-traditional surfaces not seen in art galleries. He thinks about the symmetrical, and the material experience as much as display conditions. Newness,slick, glossy, a gearhead’s sophisticated clean aesthetic. Do not touch.

It’s a matter of personality, the way we try to impose form and meaning on things around us. What he touched became what he was. In all artists, hopefully, there is no line between art and life. It is not subject that explains essence but essence wraps itself in subject.

The road to simplicity is very complex. The power of simplicity, the passion associated with that focus. Heavy connection is needed, a zen-like it is what it is. Like Pop Art, the symbolism may obscure the real idea. Is nothing really simple? Art speaks silence…………..

references -
symbolism idea by Carl Jung, the book Proust and Signs by Gilles Deleuze, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/billy-al-bengston-papers-10220/more, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_5_39/ai_75577263/?tag=content;col1

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Humble Beginnings :: The DesertCat DT360A

In most of rural America, this 1972 Yamaha DT360A would be dismissed as a “barn bike” tucked away in the back of a shed, uncovered and left to choke on a carb full of old fuel.  More than likely, it would have been used as a farm bike and eventually dismissed in favor of it’s me-want-shiny distant American cousin.  I’m just as guilty of this dismissal as the next guy, particularly in my pre-riding years.  Now that I’ve owned several bikes, my eyes have adjusted and I’ve learned to see and appreciate the beauty in the lines of a bike like this.

Meet the humble beginnings of the DesertCat DT360A.  This 360cc single cylinder is so torquey that your rear wheel will come unglued from the dirt at a quarter throttle.  The absurdly long rake of the front fork balances out the power being delivered to your rear wheel.  Most importantly (in our view, anyway)…this bike is fast. Bikes of this stance and power aren’t meant for jumps and vertical trajectory, they’re meant for getting you there quickly and as directly as possible, true to desert racing style.  We’ll keep you posted as our plans for the DesertCat come together…

Tech specs aside, we love this bike’s history.  In the American motorcycling vernacular, bikes like this represent the dark side of the motorcycle world – and we’re damn proud of it.  While the “bright” side was busy laying the foundation for what later (and unfortunately) became a culture of overpriced American custom choppers and bloated machismo, the entire off road motorcycling industry was being built on the needs of the desert racers of the 60′s and 70′s.  In the beginning, there wasn’t gear – just the bikes.  A DIY article from a 1960′s motorcycling magazine shows how to modify a pair of combat boots for desert racing by simply sewing on leather reinforcements.  The Belstaff jacket was galvanized into motorcycling history simply because it was the most durable jacket of the time.  When form follows function, and not lifestyle, it’s a thing of beauty – but only if you let yourself see the lines.

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Happy New Year

On our last business day of 2011, after Jeff had fired up the last engine the year and the shop lights were turned down, a handful of us sat around the shop to talk about the year in review and discuss our plans for the coming year.  We cracked open a handful of beers and relaxed as we recounted 2011 and the fun we had.  We remembered events like the white out snowstorm at last year’s Pinewood Derby, to Jake’s wedding at the shop, and how we lucked out with a seemingly endless riding season.  As we moved on to talking about our plans for 2012, like Bearded Lady and our BlueCat Third Thursdays, we couldn’t help but be even more convinced that 2012 is going to be a banner year.  With all of the ways we can eat, sleep, and breathe our motorcycle culture in the Twin Cities, and with all of the amazing people who make up this incredible community, it’s no wonder that we love doing what we do: fixing bikes and burning up the pavement.

Happy 2012, everyone.  Cheers!

Shaun Liboon is an architect/chef/photographer with a passion for anything with two wheels.  His current rides are a 1978 Yamaha SR500 and a 2002 Ducati Monster 620ie.  He deeply regrets selling his 1974 Honda CB750 K4 “BlueCat” Cafe Racer…

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Away and back again

This time of year Christmas and New Year’s get most of the attention and fanfare. It’s the season of giving, and the bright promise of a new year and all that brings. There are other holidays clumped in around late December too — some cultural, some religious — but of all the days that can or even should be observed in December, my favorite is the Winter Solstice. December 21 is the day when our planet starts its journey back toward the warmth of the sun. It marks the furthest arc of our orbit and our deepest tilt away from the fires of fusion. From then on, it’s a steady march toward summer as Earth circles around to the shallower part of our orbit and with it, the top of our globe points back toward the light once again.

I didn’t think much of Solstice before I started riding scooters and motorcycles. Growing up, the passing of a year was measured in grade years or semesters, Christmas presents, birthdays and summer vacation. Now my years seem to measure from one riding season to another. There’s that first proper spring rain that washes the salt and sand off the streets. Then again, it’s not spring, it’s street sweeper season. When will the sweepers be out in my neighborhood so that I can finally ride my motorcycle without worrying about the grit undermining my grip? I end up counting the days between rainstorms in June rather than paying any attention to the numbers. How many weeks until Bearded Lady? Can I get my bike painted in time? Is there a Rattle My Bones this year? When can I sneak away for an overnight along The Great River Road? How late can I keep riding before the snow comes again and they start salting the roads? These are the things that mark my passage of time now. So with this year’s Solstice come and gone, my thoughts keep drifting off to one question: When can I get back on my motorcycles again?

Thing is, the Solstice is somewhat misleading. It’s the year’s shortest day, but it’s not the end of winter. Technically, it’s the beginning. Up to now, we’ve still been coasting on the lingering warmth of autumn. We’ll get colder at first on our journey back toward the sun. We’ll probably see some proper snow before winter is out too. And yet, spring is inevitable. Riding season will come back to us like it always does. The question is, what are we going to do with it?

This year was a pretty major season for us. We had a new shop space to establish, new people to work with, and much to our delight, a lot of new customers bringing their bikes in for service. If anything, the only aspect of riding season missing for us was the thing itself: riding. We never ride as much as we mean to, and this year, we really didn’t ride as much as we meant to. The cobbler’s children were barefoot. However, looking at everything that’s on the lift this winter, and all the bikes that finally got sorted out this year, I’m optimistic about this coming riding season. I’m three for four on old Japanese bikes that run right now — up two from when the season started. Jeff got his CB250 sorted out and purring along. Robb’s putting his CB550 back together as I type. Ryan has big plans to update his Bonneville, and that’s just our own projects. Then of course Rump’s bike ran all along. There’s customer work to get done too — Winter Service lined up to help some of your riding seasons kick off right. As I look in the back, at all those bikes in for Winter Storage — at the rack of batteries being tended and the log book full of dossiers on each machine — I can’t help but feel optimistic. With this much vintage iron roaming around, it can’t help but be a good riding season.

So hang in there. It’s going to be a great year. It’ll be cold at first, but the sun will get high and warm again before we know it. The sweepers will clean up for us in the spring and time will keep turning, turning, turning. There will be old customs to observe and new adventures to take. Best of all, there will come a time in the next few months when it will make sense to have our bikes out again. I can hardly wait.

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Bikes we love: Honda CB350

There are a handful of machines that seem to bubble to the top of the classic Japanese bike scene. Honda’s unassuming little 350 is one of those bikes. Whether it’s the CB350 with its sporting attitude, or the CL350 with its ray gun side pipes, the Honda 350 is the classic champion of mid-sized parallel twins. Even though it was only sold from 1968 through 1973, the CB350 still managed to sell more than 300,000 units — enough bikes to make them relatively easy to come by still today. Good thing too, as they’re brilliant little motorcycles.

We love the CB350 for a variety of reasons. They’re relatively simple, quick for their size, reliable, but most importantly they’re fully supported. We’re still able to get basically every part we ever need for a CB350. Try finding OEM air filters for your CB450 and you’re SOL. The charm of the 350 extends beyond parts availability though. It’s as versatile as it is good looking. It’s a bike you can leave stock and just ride, or they’re a prime candidate for a small japanese cafe racer. The bike is already light at just 378 lbs, but trim the unneeded weight from the chassis and you’ll add speed with little effort. The CB350, on paper, was capable of the ton right out of the box, if only just. A small amount of tuning and the 350 will punch well above its class.

We know this first hand. Our man Rumpal has a CB350 that he’s trimmed down to a minimalist footprint. Genuine Dunstall pipes, foam filters and a bit of tuning has his 350 running as mean as it looks. He’s able to easily chase down Ryan on his Triumph — a bike with nearly twice the displacement. But even if it wasn’t genuinely quick, the sound alone would make Rumpal’s bike enviable. Doesn’t hurt that it’s a one-kick bike either.

Beyond our own machines, we see a lot of customer CB and CL350s and even sold a few this season on consignment. We had one up on the lift just this week getting some oil seals replaced. I love seeing a CB350 in this kind of shape — the classic english green tarnished only by sunshine and the occasional spill of gasoline. It’s got just the right amount of surface patina and little spots of rust and wear here and there on the frame. Nothing to the point of rot, just character. It’s exactly how these old bikes ought to be, in my opinion. If you’re not doing a frame-up restoration or cafe racer conversion, then patina is your friend. It’s like a streak of grey in a man’s hair: distinguished. “It’s not worn out, it’s worn in” as Robb would put it. To my delight, this is usually the condition I see CB350s enjoying when they come through our door.

The CB350 brings together a lot of our favorite things. We love small bikes. We love parallel twins. We love old Hondas. We love it when we can get all the parts. The CB350 is a bike with a lot to offer to a lot of different riders. It’s a great starter bike because it’s light, forgiving and not too powerful. It’s a great project bike because the engine is easy to work on and there are only two carbs. You can find sporty, modern tires to fit the wheels. You take off and bolt on any number of different accessories to really make a CB350 your own. With the right tires, there are worse trail bikes than a CL350, too. That versatility combined with its intrinsic charm makes the CB350 one of our favorites. Personally, it’s on my list of motorcycles that ought to join my fleet. I can’t think of too many better bikes to knock around town on. Can you?

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The times, they are a-changin

Maybe it’s the jet lag (I’m in Austria at the moment). Maybe it’s the pace of things for me right now, but as I think about what to post today there’s only one thing that really seems to matter. After a year of regular weekly posts, I’m going to be stepping away from the sweetest gig I’ve ever had: writing the blog here at BlueCatMotors.com. It’s a sad thing for me. Life is taking me to Chicago in a couple weeks, and while I’ll still occasionally post here from time to time, the regular task of keeping the world up to date on the week-to-week here at BCM will have to fall to someone else’s capable hands.

While I think we’ve found that person, it’s still bittersweet to hand over the reigns. It hasn’t just been fun to write here, it’s been fun to all but live at the shop. It’s been a blast to get to know the people of BlueCat, the customers and all the groovy machines that have gone up and down on our lifts. I’m going to miss it something fierce. This motley group of guerilla motorcycle mechanics, artists, dreamers and lovable misanthropes have become brothers in arms — wielding wrenches and carb cleaner in the ongoing fight against atrophy, rust and neglect. There is no Endangered Species Act for old motorcycles. There are only people like Ryan, Jeff, Robb and Rumpal (the other Jeff) left to conserve these old machines for those who care enough to keep them in the wild. It’s noble work that they’re doing very, very well.

So looking back, I’m grateful. Grateful to have been a part of this place for so long. Grateful to have learned so much about motorcycles and the people who love them. Grateful most of all for readership. This little corner of the internet shouldn’t get much notice, yet time after time some of you have found me at the shop and told me how much you appreciate what I’ve written here. Thank you for that. It really means a lot. Hand in hand with gratitude is also sadness. I’m sad to go. Sad to disconnect from from such a fun place doing such great work. But hell, I’m sad for more practical reasons too. Now I have to find a good bike mechanic in Chicago. You’re spoiled, Twin Cities, whether you know it or not. Keep bringing your machines to BlueCat Motors.

Cheers,

-Nathaniel Salzman

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Contact Us

BlueCat Motors
460 N. Prior
St. Paul, MN 55104
(651) 645-1172‎
info@BlueCatMotors.com

Restoration Services

BlueCat Motors Restoration Services

We believe there's nothing sweeter than an old machine running as good as, if not better, than when it rolled off the factory line. A close second is when that machine looks as good as it runs. That's why we offer comprehensive vintage motorcycle restoration services. Whether it's a concourse bike, a resto-mod custom, or even your own take on the perennial Cafe Racer, give us a call at (651) 645-1172 and we'll get the wheels rolling.

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