The Dueling Projects (2021)

1979 XS1100SF Special <——-> 1980 XS1100LG Midnight Special

This will be an ongoing story about attempting two bike projects simultaneously.

After a 3 year hiatus from the XS11’s while agent orange was trying to kill me, and while writing and finally publishing my book “Rucksack Grunt,” I began working on a new bike project yesterday!

Many readers may know that I bought a 79 xs11 special from my good friend Frank about 3 years ago, fixed it all up, and then sold it to a nice guy named Joey. I recently bought it back! My intention now is to transform Frank’s bike into an Army tribute bike.

Many readers may also know that I have already customized a 1980 xs1100 Midnight Special into an Army tribute bike. I love that bike but have always felt a tiny bit guilty about producing it from a rare midnight special. So I’ve decided to convert it back to it’s original form.

Pictorially what I have planned is taking this:

and converting it to this:

And at the same time, taking the above pictured Army bike and converting it to this:

It’s an ambitious project(s) !!!

October 2021

But first I have to get Frank’s bike running again!

Right away I regretted selling this Bike (79SF) because it was one of the best running of all of my projects and looked good too! But I needed the cash for a different project. Anyhow, long story short, two and a half years later, I bought it back from Joey. Unfortunately not running and not looking so good.

The bike developed some difficult problems to troubleshoot a year or so after I sold it, and I tried to help Joey as much as I could but could only do so much from a distance due to some health issues.

After sitting in my garage for a month, I pulled the bike out today to see what I could see! I was happy to see a good battery in it. That’s always a good start. The starter button was broke so I shorted out the starter solenoid to see if I could get the engine to turn over. And it did. So I pulled the spark plugs out and did a compression test on each cylinder while watching for spark at the same time. The compression was good across all four cylinders, but no spark at all across all four. I checked the pickup coil wiring but that seemed to be ok, so I swapped out the TCI and sure enough, got spark! Compression and spark… 2/3’s of the way there….

I hooked up an external gas tank and shorted across the starter solenoid again and with a little help from some starter fluid spray, she fired up, but revvved wayyyy too high. And as soon as I removed the screwdriver from the starter terminals she died. I did this repeatedly. It made no sense to me why I could start the bike when jumping out the starter, but it died every time that I removed the starter jumper.

Thanks to BA80 from for posting this very helpful wiring diagram.

Eventually, with the help of the above wiring diagram, I found a fuse problem with the 10 amp ignition fuse holder, but it took me hours. The fuse was good, the wiring was good but the fuse holder/receptacle had a loose contact internally, causing an undetectable intermittent connection.

It’s hard to see in the picture above, but the left terminal was loose with white corrosion, notice the right terminal has a nice clean curled tight connector that the left side doesn’t have. Manufacturer’s defect maybe? And again, hard to see in the picture below, but the left prong was covered with white corrosion.

After solving the two electrical problems, The bike would start up easily, but revved way too high. I found the throttle cable was hung up or sticking or something…. maybe it is kinked… not sure yet. I just disconnected it for now to get the bike to idle. I’ll investigate that further when I pull the carbs off.

It idled rough because cylinder number one was cold (not firing). I removed the spark plug and found it was wet, which indicated that it was getting gas, but no spark. so I tightened up the spark plug cap and put in a new plug and miraculously got it running on all four! But it is smoking like crazy!

Now that I have confirmed 4 good compression readings and 4 cylinders with spark, Next step is to pull the carbs off and bench sync and go from there. It was an interesting challenging day, but I’m slowly making progress. Still a lot to do though!

I don’t like working on a dirty bike so today I gave the bike a quick bath and it looks so much better! Actually, other than some scratches on the tank, and missing the turn signals and a split in the seat upholstery , it doesn’t look too bad. None of that stuff matters though, since I will be replacing those parts anyhow.

Next, I pulled the carbs off and other than being way out of synch, everything else appears to be OK. Two of the butterflies were synched open significantly while the other two were fully closed. That would explain the high RPM’s and no idling. I adjusted them close for now just to make sure the adjusters were working properly. I doubt the carbs need cleaned, but while I have them off I’ll check that out as well, and then bench synch them before re-installing and tuning.

November 2021

Today could be the last riding day of the season. Not that that really matters, I haven’t ridden at all this year due to health issues. It was a beautiful sunny 65 degree November day. I viewed it as the perfect opportunity to test ride this bike before the weather turns and before I strip it down to the bones. First I bench synched the carbs and set the mixture screws to two turns out. I didn’t even bother opening them up for a cleaning and I didn’t even put the gauges on for any additional tuning after mounting the carbs. All I wanted to do is get it running well enough to ride around the block and shift through a couple of gears and feel the power. AND feel the power I did! I remember when I had this bike 3 years ago that it was the best running of all of my past and current bikes. I was thrilled to see that it probably still is! And it shifted perfectly. The brakes felt great too. The heavy white smoke coming out of the exhaust gradually diminished. Looks like I got a keeper! Now Let the projects begin!

September 2022

WELL, I’m finally getting back to it. After sitting for 10 months, the heavy white smoke is back and it’s only running on 3 cylinders again. I pulled the carbs and found the pilot jets severely clogged. I did a thorough cleaning and carb tuned and synched. Happy to report success. Now running on all four again and the heavy white smoke is gone. She runs great. I never knew that carb problems could cause a bike to smoke like a chimney!

I’ve been experimenting with a different exhaust system that I believe is a MAC 2 into 1 turnout. It looks cool but runs like crap. I’m not surprised because every aftermarket exhaust system that I have tried in the past has require re-jetting. I don’t want to get into that again, so I put the OEM exhaust back on. Now that I have it running perfect, it’s time to begin the cosmetic restoration.

November 2022

I want this new Army bike project to have the same gold accents as the Midnight Specials. Gold headlight ring, carbtops, wheels, gas cap, etc. I’ll begin from the front and work my way back.

The headlight that is on the bike now has an added aftermarket option called “Diamond Star.” I’m not sure what the purpose of that was, but I assume the pulsing headlight light was meant to make the rider more visible to other drivers. A safety feature I suppose. However, my friend Bill told me that there were cases of the other drivers thinking you were flicking your lights to give them the right of way and they were pulling out in front of the rider! Not good! I was pretty horrified to see the wiring rats nest that device created inside the headlight bucket. The assembly is now gone to eBayland.

Next, I want the front forks legs to be black rather than silver. I could just paint them, but I have a spare set of black midnight special forks that I want to use instead.

Unfortunately, I discovered that they have bent fork tubes. I have an extra set of fork tubes also, and since I want to replace the fork seals and fork oil anyway, swapping out the fork tubes should be no problem.

I wonder how they get bent or bowed like that?


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