Sheene’s XR14: Rebuilt and ready to race
After years of neglect, Barry Sheene’s 1976 title bike is back together and fires up first time
There are few bikes that draw people in from every corner of the motorcycling world but Barry Sheene’s 1976 World Championship- winning race bike is one of them. In recent weeks, Martyn Ogborne and Nigel Everett have been painstakingly restoring the bike and this is the result: a race-ready 40-year-old machine that makes grown men go weak at the knees and which Barry's son Freddie Sheene will be riding at Oliver's Mount on 22-23 July.
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It rides again
Freddie Sheene will fittingly be piloting the iconic machine at this year's Sheene Festival at Oliver's Mount next month following the successful restoration of the bike.
"I’m really looking forward to the Oliver’s Mount event, not only for the usual atmosphere but for the fact that the public will be able to see the ‘76 and ‘77 world championship-winning bikes back where they belong" Said Freddie.
He added "Those bikes laid dormant for the past 40 years and it’s a special moment for everyone to be a part of. The whole process of bringing the bikes back to life wouldn’t have been possible without the help from Suzuki GB and most importantly Martyn Ogborne and Nigel Everett; they have put over 600 hours between them to make this happen. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone over the weekend; let’s just hope the weather stays in check.”
You can find tickets to the Barry Sheene festival at the Oliver's Mount website.
There are some parts of the bike that are true genius, such as the exhausts. They look brand new but in fact they are the originals, just masterfully restored, a trick that Everett learned during his time as a Suzuki race mechanic.
“The boys used to ask for new exhausts all the time,” says Everett. “But there was no money for them, so we used to blast them and go back over the welds with a torch to put the heat marks back in. It’s the same as we’ve done here and unless you knew otherwise you’d think they were brand new.”
Despite the bike looking almost new, very little of it was replaced. Lots of rubber parts were swapped because they had hardened. A few parts, such as the fork adjusters, had to be replaced because they had been damaged over the course of the bike’s life. The real piece de resistance are the new footrest rubbers, which Everett has had made as the originals are long out of production. On the whole, however, the bike didn’t put up much of a fight.
“No big surprises really. The pistons were in good shape but the waterways had to be welded as they were corroded. We changed the crankshaft oil seals as they had gone hard and if you don’t change them they suck the gearbox oil in.
“The forks were a bit of a pain. Instead of a circlip they used this threaded insert but it was so tight to get out that I had to make a special tool.”
Seeing the bike in all its glory like this also allows you to appreciate some of the finer details, such as the unique wooden bar-end plugs because wood was both cheap and light.
The bike will be touring the UK making appearances at various festivals, so you can see it for yourself. As for listening to the steady chatter of that 500cc block, Freddie Sheene will be riding the bike during the Sheene Festival at Oliver’s Mount (July 22-23) – for more info and tickets visit oliversmountracing.com
Parts 1 and 2 below
Last week we showed you Barry Sheene’s 1976 World Championship winning XR14 being stripped in preparation for its restoration by Nigel Everett and Martyn Ogborne and this week, in true Blue Peter fashion, here’s one they made earlier. Over the course of six weeks various parts of the bike made their way around the country to be repaired and now it’s time for the reassembly.
One of the real pieces of genius was the repair to the crankcases. After being left standing with water in the system, the water had eaten its way through the cases and ended up in the gearbox, leaving a few sizeable holes behind. One of the holes was at the location of a thread that holds the crankcase halves together, so some ingenious thinking was required.
“Exactweld have done a fantastic job,” says Ogborne. “To replace the area that had corroded away, they inserted a copper tube and built up the magnesium around it. Copper and magnesium are such different metals that they won’t weld together at all, so they put quite a bit into it without any risk of the metals contaminating. Then they drilled and tapped the copper and it’s held up really well.” Once the crankcases were repaired they were blasted and rechromated, which adds an anti-corrosive layer and returns that factory-fresh dark green colour. Along with the major work to the cranks, all the rubber gaskets and seals were replaced as they had hardened with age. The brakes and forks were fully rebuilt and the tyres replaced, although they presented an interesting challenge. “Just like all the other rubber parts, the tyres had turned completely solid,” says Ogborne. “We dared not try to lever them off, as the rims would probably break and we didn’t really want to cut them off, so we had an idea. It was a scorching hot day, so we put the wheels in the greenhouse, which reached about 45°C. After a few hours in there they were soft enough to remove.”
With the engine buttoned up in the frame it’s the moment of truth. Everett fills the radiator and watches for bubbles as an indication there may be tiny holes in the system that have been missed. There are a few but not enough for concern, so the tank is filled with pre-mix and it’s time to fire it up. “It’ll either start in a few seconds or it won’t start at all,” says Everett. “That was always the case with these bikes. Also, we can’t really be sure about the electronics – it could have a duff CDI.” A few moments on the roller and the bike roars into life. The engine crackles and pops as blue smoke pumps out of the pipes before quickly settling down into that characteristic race bike rattle. As if more proof is needed of the quality of the rebuild, Everett takes a step out onto the road and bump starts it in a few feet. All that remains are some final checks, the fairings and it will be, in Ogborne’s words, “ready to race”.
Part One below
Sheene’s XR14 back on track
In a sleepy village in the south of England, a legend is being reborn. Barry Sheene’s actual 1976 World Championship-winning Suzuki XR14 is being brought back to life by Nigel Everett and Martyn Ogborne, both legends in the Suzuki racing world. The bulk of the work is being done by Everett, a former Suzuki mechanic who now restores classic race bikes, while Ogborne – who was Sheene’s Chief Mechanic – assists.
“The bike is an XR14 from 1976 but it’s been left in Australia since he [Sheene] emigrated in the late 1980s,” says Ogborne. “When he lived at Charlwood, Surrey, we would go round and work on them for him occasionally but we’ve not touched it in 25 years.
“The problem is that these bikes are worse if they’re left. They actually cost money if they’re standing still for any amount of time, and I mean even a month. The cases are magnesium and unless they’re very carefully looked after, the magnesium just deteriorates in the atmosphere.”
No time like the present
Once the bike is loaded onto the bench, Nigel and Martyn begin attacking the Suzuki like children at Christmas, removing the fairings in moments. With the bulk of the bodywork stripped away, it was the moment of truth.
“The worst thing you can do is put water back into them and unfortunately when they got back to Australia someone has refilled it,” says Ogborne. “To do that, you’d have to start them and run them on a weekly basis and that’s not happened.”
“You don’t know what you’re in for until you open them up of course,” adds Everett. “The good thing about Suzuki is that the production racing bike of 1977 would have had a lot of the bits from the factory bike in 1976. Rebuilding the cranks for instance – all that stuff I’ve got. Everything can be done basically.”
Everett cracks the crusty seal on the drain plug and out pours litres of emulsified oil, proof that the coolant has eaten its way through the delicate engine and made its way into the gearbox. Apart from the odd seized bolt, the engine comes apart quite easily and it’s not all bad news. The pistons and barrels are in good shape, as are the cranks. The gearbox hasn’t suffered badly in the water either, with no evidence of a tide mark but the same can’t be said of the crankcases. A bit of poking around soon reveals large areas that are completely rotten. Luckily, he thinks they can be saved although it will require a lot of work.
“Everything rubber has seized solid,” says Ogborne. “All the seals will need replacing as well as the engine work but that’s just what happens when bikes stand still for years. It will be a lot of work to get it back together.”
So, what’s next?
With the bike in pieces, the duo assess all the parts that need replacing or repairing, and where parts need to be cleaned heavily they will be sent off to be meticulously vapour blasted. It will then be a case of reassembling everything with new seals and gaskets.
The crankcase will need to be repaired and have the large holes filled in. Luckily, Everett knows a local machine shop that is able to weld the magnesium cases and build them back up.
Suzuki Vintage Parts
While a factory Grand Prix bike doesn’t share a huge amount of parts with a road-going period equivalent, there’s no doubting Suzuki’s Vintage Parts programme was invaluable in getting this bike back on the road. At the moment there are eight bikes in the scheme and it is steadily expanding. For more info visit bikes.suzuki.co.uk