Restoring Your Dream

(As a 1986 Suzuki Cavalcade LXE)

by Paul Brzozowski

 

My Cavalcade journey started with a stop in a local bike shop, trying to find a small to medium sized motorcycle for my wife.  We had just paid off some bills, and didn’t want to take on a big monthly payment for a full touring bike. I thought it would be nice for her to ride beside me, not behind me, so I was looking for a good used bike I could pay cash for.  And she was getting tired of riding on the back of our 1500 Kaw Vulcan.  I had found a 750CC Shadow, but she thought it was too big for her. So here I was, looking at this brand new 250CC Hyosung, which looked just like my 1500CC Kawasaki Vulcan, but in miniature. I had my doubts about a fairly new brand from Korea , but the price was right, and it had a warranty. What the heck.

 

Lurking on the other side of the showroom, next to an old Kawasaki Voyager and a really old Goldwing 1100 stood this HUGE Suzuki.  I had heard of the Cavalcade, (just barely), but had never been next to one. Looking at this beast, I doubted that I could even ride it. The shop owner, a  very small guy who obviously had a lot a guts, told me he had been up on it a couple of times, and it ran great.  I had my doubts…but to be honest, with my restorative nature, (I restored furniture for 14 years, did two houses, a couple cars, two bikes), this was love at first site.

 

It sat there all shiny and new looking, except for the usual 20 year-old wear and tear. I knew better, but my judgment was clouded by the fact that I could actually tour with my wife for this low amount of money.  We could actually pay cash for both the Hyosung and the Cavalcade.  What could be better?  The shop owner had taken the Suzuki in on a divorce deal. He had looked it up on the internet and thought $3895 was a good price, but after a couple months of nothing, he lowered the price to $2800. I came along a couple days later.

 

The next day my wife and I went back to look at the Hyosung, which she immediately found to her liking. The Suzuki was still there, quietly singing its siren song.  So, after deciding to buy the Hyosung, we went to the Cade’, and looked, and looked, and looked some more. We walked around it three or four times.  I got down on the floor and looked under. All dry.  She asked if I could sit on it.  The shop owner said OK. I sat; it felt fine.  Actually, it felt light.  I put up the kickstand and rocked it back and forth.  No problems.  My first touch with a Suzuki Cavalcade.  My wife and I looked at each other and said, “why not?”  She knew I could restore things.  I admired her trust.  We put a deposit on the bikes and took delivery on both in the next couple weeks.

 

We picked up the Cade’ first.  The shop owner had charged up the battery, and sold me a connector to put on that would match my Battery Tender. He even had all the original manuals and papers on delivery from twenty-one years ago, and a complete wiring diagram. He kept saying that he had ridden it and it was sound mechanically. What did he know?  But by now, I really wanted the bike. I paid all my money, we signed all the papers, got the plates settled, my insurance in full force.  Then he rolled it out of the shop complaining of no reverse, into the back parking lot, and we tried to start it.

 

By the time of this first start, I had already joined the Suzuki Cavalcade Group, and had done some research on the bike. I kind of knew that I was in for a project.  I knew about the secondary cork leak, the front fork brace, the massive wiring problems, etc.  As we fought to start it, I wondered if it would be trailered to my house or ridden?? 

When we first turned the key, the air compressor came on, and then kind of vibrated off. I later found the destroyed switch box on the front fairing. Then we had trouble moving the choke, but it finally moved.  The turn signal button was floating around on the front of the turn-signal housing, completely broken.  An Alpine radio was rattling around in the original radio compartment, the Clarion long gone and the fuse pulled. Who cared?  That all could be fixed. As long as the engine ran smooth, didn’t blow smoke, I saw no leaks, how bad could it be?  HA! 

 

We kept trying to start it.  I was beginning to worry about the battery. Then, finally, after a couple false coughs, it came to life.

I had been on a Wing, lots of Kaws, other various bikes, even owned a Triumph 500 single-lunger for a while. But nothing prepared me for the smoothness of that engine. It spat back into the carbs just a little, for maybe 30 seconds, then settled down into a nice, four cylinder hum. I revved up the engine a couple times, looking back for anymore telltale smoke. Nothing. Even the back of the pipes were no dirtier than my Kaw. The shop owner looked satisfied and shook my hand.  I donned my helmet, my wife headed for the car, and we started for home.

 

The first time I hit the road with that bike, I thought, “this thing is quick”.  A quick look into my mirrors showed my wife fading into the distance.  I looked down at the speedo. 60 MPH! That happened fast! I had just clicked it into third. I quickly remembered that I was in town and about 20 miles over the speed limit. I slowed down and tried to evaluate the bike as I headed home.

 

I had about thirty seconds until my first light, so I knew I would be testing my ability to handle the dead weight soon, if I caught the light red.  I did, and downshifted, a little awkwardly, until I came to a stop at the light. It pulled up nicely and I liked how it kept itself right. Not bad for 21-year-old technology.  I found neutral, despite the neutral light being on constantly, and just looked things over while the light held me up. 

 

The computer screens were mostly off or showing all kinds of strange things. Some kind of children’s sticker was covering one LCD readout.  The main screen was telling me the kickstand was down, a bunch of lights were out, had a battery icon on, and not much else.  The temp gauge was just starting to move a little. The speedo seemed to work fine. No turn signals, but low-high beams and brake lights were working. And the engine was purring smoothly with the tach at a steady 900 RPM. No strange noises came from down under. The clutch engagement was right up against the bar, but I figured that might be old fluid or weak springs. At 49,000 miles, I didn’t think the clutch plates could be too bad.  Good enough.  I looked up to see the situation with the stoplight, and found myself being looked at by two-three people in the cars around me. One guy was just staring at the bike like he had never seen a motorcycle in his life.  It was a look I would have to get used to.

 

II

 

Once home, I parked it in our carport, and got off the bike.  Or tried to. With the add-on seat back for the driver and the higher seat for the passenger, I found myself almost falling off. My wife pulled up, got out of the car and laughed as I struggled to get off. I soon learned!  We took our first good look. Lots of burned out lights, worn our switches, and just in general lots of worn items. But doggone!  It looked good!  I retrieved the owner’s manual and that night, read and re-opened my eyes to 1986 technology.  So much to grease, so many fluids!

 

The next day, I took my first real, hard appraisal. I replaced about five light bulbs, took off the silly feathers that hung off the back, got rid of the vinyl stick-on name with a hair-dryer. Rain Maker, if you are out there, I am restoring your Suzuki. Thank you for giving up on it. I love it.

 

In the ensuing weeks other projects came into my life that had to be completed first.  My wife wanted the carport for a patio, so we built an addition onto the carport, which we dubbed the “bikeport”. Since we had picked up her new Hyosung, we are now a three bike family, so we needed a place to park the steeds. Now, we can sit on our patio and admire the Tennessee Mountains in the distance, and the fine motorcycles in our bikeport.

 

I also had to finish my shop, which is our one-car garage. We don’t park our cars inside, living in Tennessee .  So I got the entire garage, which wasn’t quite enough, but ended up just fine.  Did I mention I’m also a woodworker with a complete shop?  It got a little tight, but I finally got everything stored, shelved or peg-boarded.  Once completed with new lighting, a side entrance door, and new electrical service, in would go the Cade.

 

While finishing the garage, I kept doing studies and research with my Suzuki Cavalcade group, and met some wonderful people on the Internet. People like Tracy, Allen, Spike, Jerry, Tom and many others would offer much needed advice and parts over the months.

 

I also did some preliminary work on the bike, finding more “creative wiring” than I thought was possible. I repaired or replaced almost thirty wires the first two times in. I also spent about $600 on parts, based on what I found and things recommended. I’ll probably spend another $400-500 before I’m done, but to have a fully restored touring bike to run for years and years for under $5000?  I’ll take it.

 

I did some preliminary riding alone, and kept evaluating. The heel-toe shifter is a pain, but I am told worth a lot. The floorboards are great, but I can’t get them far enough forward for my 6’ 1” frame.  Allen, a great parts dealer in Oklahoma sold me the complete original peg and shifter setup, but wanted the floorboards and heel-toe setup in trade badly. I kindly told him no and kept both for now, I’ll evaluate later.

 

One weekend day I did some slow riding in a local elementary school parking lot to see how well it would handle in tight turns and figure eights.  Not bad. I was learning how to handle the 800-plus pound beast. While riding that day, an unmarked police car stopped at the curb and the policeman just watched me do my turns and 8s.  I thought he would run me off the lot, but instead I saw him staring at the bike.  Another one.  Finally, I stopped the bike, waved, and he smiled and waved back.  He shook his head in disbelief and pulled away.

 

Then I finally took the bike to work one day, and it showed me what was wrong. It shifted hard at speed. The clutch was not right.  The shocks were soft. At 65 MPH it sounded like it just didn’t want to be there.  The front tire was slightly cupped and showed it, maybe a victim of lousy brakes and poor shocks.  It did what I wanted, but as I performed my travels for work during the day, (I move from plant to plant within my city), it protested more and more. On the way home that afternoon it started to refuse to shift unless I really stomped on the shifter, showing the wear on the shifter linkage. A floorboard bolt came loose on the shifter side, found later to be a poor replacement with no locking mechanism.  At the end of the day I was back on the net, asking my group about secondary drives, bad shifting, and other anomalies that crept in that day.  They answered back, calming me but warning me. The bike was still somewhat sound, but a number of areas had to be repaired and investigated.  The decision was in.  Not another mile.  Take the bike off the road and repair everything before something big gave out. Consider it done.

 

So the garage was finally ready, the bike was rolled in, and I’m ready to really tackle this bad boy.

 

III

Three Months Later…

 

I am down to LOTS of wiring, one or two remaining large items such as a new front tire, and a slightly pesky front brake system. There is faring all over the garage, sitting in plastic tubs. The seat now sits against my once precious wood lathe. Around various places in the garage lie rolls of wire, different greases, a couple of boxes of items I saved but removed, and the ever-present trash box full of old wire, tape, broken parts, stripped and sheared off bolts, rusty nuts, and all the other things I have removed and replaced. Against my bookshelf stands the windshield. Other areas hold extra bolts, piles of tools, all kinds of electrical connection devices. The money spent continues to mount.

 

I have a new whitewall rear tire on the bike, along with all new seals and o-rings from the engine back through the final drive. A new driveshaft was installed. It is silky smooth. The old oil was not too bad when it came out, but the oil filter was original Suzuki. It has been years since you could buy that filter, and it weighed about three-four pounds when I took it off. There was also a nice layer of small gravel and tar on the top of the filter, a sure sign it had not been changed in many moons.

 

The coolant system is completely flushed and filled with new coolant, and the required Bar’s Leak, now pressure tested and ready to go. Sometimes, you catch a break. I found a brand new water pump inside when I replaced the clutch springs. Who would know? The rear brakes are all rebuilt, including new pads and a rebuilt master cylinder. The new Barnett clutch springs are now giving me much better engagement, and the clutch discs were almost like new, as I suspected. The clutch master cylinder is rebuilt, complete with a new pressure switch for startup.

 

The famous “Cade Cork”, a very simple, weak seal that allowed oil to vacate the secondary has been replaced with a domestic made product from Tracy our group mechanic, that is much better. The weak stock fork brace had already been replaced, and I caught an $82 break there. Front running light lenses that were missing are now purchased and mounted, the turn signal controls have been replaced  The front end wiring and controls, however, is another story…

 

I am now working myself forward with wiring, checking all items as I go along. Both saddlebags had to be completely rewired, the victim of three different attempts to put trailer wiring on the bike. I finished rewiring and put on the saddlebags, changed out the rear speakers, and remounted all the rear fenders with lights completely rewired. Trunk wiring is now complete, including the upper fender lights, and a new vanity mirror is now mounted inside the trunk, as well as the correct light lens. The trunk is again felt lined. From the rear, things are looking up!

 

Wiring is the killer on this project.  I finally got the computer to react properly and go into “run” mode, allowing me after three months to see the gear location monitor and the clock. That is the only monitor out of three that work, the radio readouts are next.

 

I have a new original radio, but I cannot get power to it yet. Later I will find that the ignition switch is the culprit.  One taillight refuses to work, I suspect the “OK monitor”, a simple check system for the driver but buried up inside the front fairing system.  Only two pieces of fairing remain on the bike, the left and right front.  They must come off next if I am to repair the really heavy duty wiring that I know is bad. The ignition switch threatens to fail completely any day, it will be replaced soon.

 

Surprisingly, the air compressor works, but the control buttons are pesky, some working, some still sticking, some just dead. The seat seems to inflate in some spots, but not others, I may have some bad bladders.

 

The manual cable driven vent system has been disconnected and dissembled. It will work again, the victim of dirt, dust and insects.  The cornering lights have been rewired into running lights.  That may be the one modification that I leave.  I kind of like the idea of a backup lighting system should the headlight ever burn out. Just a flick of a switch and I can have two low mounted but effective headlights. So much remains. The radio antenna wiring was ripped out of the delicate connectors in the bottom of the radio box and replaced with a standard automotive cable, it has to be rewired. Thank you, Allen, for that radio wiring harness. The centerstand  switch is stuck in the closed position, for now I plan to leave it that way.

 

And finally, the air cleaner system is a mess, loosely attached to the tops of the four carburetors, with the associated breather tubes hopelessly kinked. I need all new clamps and new hoses to get it back to any pretense of normalcy.

 

But I have come a long way in three months.  The bike starts almost always on the first try, and purrs like a kitten.  The one time I moved it to put it in a better position in the garage, I managed to half drop it against the work bench while taking it off the center stand.  That cost me a new mirror, but no other damage. Using the Boyd Lift to get it back on the kickstand, I then moved it out of the garage, and riding it back in, it felt just smoother, like I am definitely making progress.

 

I keep working on it, and bless my wife; she is very cooperative about the time I spend on this massive, beautiful motorcycle.  My e-mail group, the Cavalcade Blue Room Group, continues without a doubt to be worth more in knowledge and time than they will ever know, and have been instrumental in guiding me to reputable parts dealers like Allen and Tracy, our resident Cavalcade mechanic, whom I have talked to twice on the phone.

 

Still so much to do.  The front tire still sits in its box, as well as new front brake pads. The shocks all need attention, and probably the front forks need to be rebuilt. But the main culprit is still the wiring. I could not imagine a set of owners messing up a wiring system worse than this one has been, but they have, and it is up to me to put it all back.  I will, with the help of time, my friends, my own knowledge, and much, much patience. I have almost worn out my paper schematics.

 

So I march on, and hopefully, by the end of June, 2007, I hope to have this bike back on the road.  My wife and I are planning to attend the annual Cade Rally in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee , next August in 2008.

 

IV

So where am I, really?  I can almost see the end of the tunnel, but the wiring is still overwhelming.  Other things I have done in the past three months that looked difficult going in now look simple compared to the delicate electronic and air items I have remaining.  I have studied the schematics, and understand what is going on, but when you actually enter this tightly wired world, where you are likely to have huge wire and air line harnesses snaking around everywhere, you see how slowly it can go.

To make matters worse, one loose ground can send you into intermittent diagnostic hell, leaving you out to dry for days. It’s tough, but everytime something is fixed, and another system comes to life, it is a victory.  After all, it is only a machine, albeit a very complex one.  It is one that I will conquer.  And then the day will come when I reassemble all the outer fairings, vent systems, seat and other add-ons. It will be a grand day when I take the final picture of the finished product.  Of course a bike like this, 21 years old and very rare is never really finished.  It just lives on and I am assigned to keep it up and running for a while until the next dreamer comes along.

By the second week of June, the radio is in and working fine.  Both of the LCD readouts for the radio work like the day they were built, even the one that came covered up with a children’s sticker.  I have decided to replace the front speakers also, and put in much better sounding ones. I finally got the ignition switch replaced, and what a difference that made. One of the few things still available original from Suzuki.  Little things that didn’t work, like the air compressor, suddenly came to life. Fuses stopped blowing. And my charging system is a solid 14.49 Volts. Life is good.  All running lights front and rear are finished, and I have installed an additional fuse block at the recommendation of Tracy, my e-mail resident mechanic. The old cornering lights are now officially running lights with new switches and fuses. My OK monitor was fried, but I found a replacement in Oklahoma from Allen at CadeKing.com, and the original is being rebuilt by Tracy in Kansas . Having a spare is good, since these are no longer available, and are surprisingly complex. 

 

But setbacks still come up now and then.

I started it up for the first time in a couple weeks, and after about three minutes, smoke started pouring up from below. Oil smoke. I immediately stopped the engine, and found oil coating the bottom of the engine. Further investigation showed that I had improperly installed the stator cover gasket. Oh well, order another one and do it again. It is a big gasket, but still, any mistake is time-consuming. I also get to replace four quarts of new oil. Not a big leak, but it had no leaks when I bought it, so I want that again.  And maybe flushing out the oil after only a few starts is a good thing. All the old gunk I’ve probably disturbed will be loose and ready to flow out.

 

Suddenly, one night standing in my garage, between beers, it hits me…

I realize that I am trying to create a brand new bike from mostly twenty-one year old parts. Not easy.  Still, I march on and the money keeps flowing.

 

I am ready to put on the pedal and floorboards, to try and establish a smooth shifting system and rear brake. The old heel-toe shifting system is shot, and they are hard to find. I am going to try to adapt the original toe-only shifting system to my floorboards. For now, I’ll put on the original foot-peg and toe shifter unit. After that, I have to remount the OK monitor electronics, and my cruise control module is out being bench checked. When all that is back on, the only main system remaining to be diagnosed will be the air compressor and rear shocks. Then, finally the front tire, slap in the new front brake shoes on the already rebuilt calipers, and I am ready for the final reassembly.

The end is actually near. I think.

 

V

The toe shifter works much better than the original heel-toe with all its loose ball joints.  The LCD main display proudly shows all five gears, so I know that system is well and good.  With the bike on the centerstand and the engine running, I gingerly take it through all the gears, rear wheel spinning, with my rear end sitting on the top of the gas tank and right hand securely on the front brake.  It all works well.  I miss the heel-toe shifter, and I know there is a replacement out there, but the money will be spent on the air compressor system.  I discovered that although the air compressor works relatively well, most of the switches for the driver do not. A whole new block of pushbutton switches are needed, as well as a complete check of all air hoses for holes, kinks, cracks and so on. Another check to my new friend in Oklahoma . He told me he is trying to gain money for his child to attend college. I think I have paid for the first semester.

 

But I can now write the list of things to do on one sheet of paper.  I’m about to start again on cosmetic parts. Some of the black inner fairing covers were not the best, with cracks and breaks. Instead of replacing them, I am fashioning small, aluminum covers in critical places.  I have located button covers for all the bolts, and I think a little brushed aluminum will look good with the black plastic and black bolt covers. The aluminum will also support the extra switches I have installed for all the running lights.  Under the map compartment I am installing a waterproof 12 volt power outlet. It will come in handy and replaces the crazy automotive cigarette lighter someone drilled into the right inner fairing. When I first bought the bike, I had no less than eleven wires hanging off my battery.  I am now down to five, two on the negative and three on the positive. I actually had to find a shorter bolt to lock down the negative terminal. A thorough cleaning of the negative frame strap helped my charging voltage go up and all my lights are brighter.  The engine now turns over crisply, engaging quickly, and runs fairly smooth.  I can almost feel myself putting on the last bolt, whatever that will be.

 

The replacement OK monitor has arrived, and behold, all lights are now working correctly. Once I have my cruise control box returned to me, I can complete that.  I still have to remove the front wheel and get the tire replaced, and the control panel for the compressor still has to arrive.  It’s almost never ending.  I know the bike will run well now, it’s hard to keep from just slapping on all the remaining fairing and go for a ride.  But I must wait...

 

Deciding on how to lift up the front end of the bike for front wheel removal, since it is currently on the center stand. I believe I will use my ATV lift under the highway guard first, and block the frame around the engine once up in the air.  But if the guard shows any thoughts of flexing, I will have to go straight to the frame and lift from there. Next week’s project.

 

Put on the right upper fairing on Father’s Day.  Here we are in mid-June, and I am still looking at a dissembled bike.  It was tough to get back on.  Just a few extra wires that were added and some wire covering became enough to keep the fairing from fitting properly.  After three tries, I finally got all wires routed safely and the new fuse box is tucked in forward of the battery. The waterproof switches and 12 VDC power outlet I added look fine, so finally, the fairing is going back on. I finished the project by sliding on the map holder and called it a day.

 

The days that the bike are up on the lift, using the engine stand are nervous, to say the least.  I asked my group, and most felt that I was on safe ground, but still, to see the 870 pound beast up in the air with only the centerstand and jack stands on the engine guard is iffy, to say the least.

 

I quickly harass the dealer mounting the front tire, but he is covered up, and days roll by.  Finally, I get the tire back and schedule an evening to put on the front tire. It takes about three hours of time, most of which is spent lining up rotor covers, and making the speedometer cable connection correct.  But after it is all said and done, I step back, allow the bike to settle back on it’s front tire and admire the new whitewall on the front of my Cavalcade.  I can almost see the end.

 

Took the time to try and remove the film from the windshield. These bikes came with a very thin protective film over the plastic.  But over time, the film chips, clouds, and overall, doesn’t polish well.  A lot of owners remove it, now me. It doesn’t come off easy, but it does come off with constant wetness.  I have one side almost completely removed.

 

VI

 

All electronic parts have arrived, as has the new pushbutton driver control for the air compressor system.  My wife knows I will have the 4th of July off, she tentatively asks me if I will be riding it on the 4th?  I quietly make it a goal to finish, somehow, on the 4th of July, and put it on the road that day.

 

As the morning of the 4th arrives, I eagerly go to the garage.  It seems simple. All I have left is the left and right lower outer and inner fairings, and a few controls on the left hand side.  All electronics are installed.  Basically the mechanical and electrical systems are complete.  How difficult can this be?  The front brake still is very spongy, but could I actually ride the bike on the 4th of July?  Yes!

 

As the 4th wears on, I fight every bolt, every piece of plastic, chrome, button, knob, until I am almost ready to give up.  At about three in the afternoon, my wife comes to the garage and asks if it will run today.  I am determined.  I say “Yes.”

 

After eight hours of grueling work, the last screw goes in, on the left-hand outer fairing.  My knees ache. My hands ache.  I only want to go into the air-conditioned house and have something cold to drink.  But there is one more thing to do...

 

I clean up enough tools and trash to get the bike out of the garage.  The front brake has to be repeatedly pumped to keep it strong.  Later I would find a leak on the rebuilt right caliper.  But for now, at this moment, I want to only do one thing.

 

It fires up, the engine purring as usual.  I ease it forward a little, in first, trying out the new systems.  Everything seems well.  Tentatively, with my helmet on, and my wife standing near watching, I roll the bike onto the street.  After five months of hard work, my new Cavalcade is finally on the road!

 

 

 

 

VII

 

My wife has suggested that I take it for a short spin, around a few blocks, and one run up our main drag, the same street I did 60 MPH on the day I bought it.  But today, all is different.  The shifter is smooth, the gauges are all working, the Auto Level system is fine.  But danger still lurks...

 

On the main street, I begin to notice a knocking towards the rear, when I accelerate. At first I wonder, but then it dawns on me.  I was warned about the new driveshaft and it’s larger universal.  As predicted, it is banging inside the shaft housing.  Rear support arm bearings have to be adjusted to center it.  And the front brakes.  Oh, goodness, they seemed not too bad when stopping the wheel in the garage, or on the driveway, but trying to pull it down from 35 MPH, no way!

 

I limp home, somewhat deflated, but mildly re-energized.  I have a short list, one that will take only a few hours and a little luck.  I ride home with a smile on my face....I know these items will be fixed within a very few days.

 

 

Epilogue:

 

 

It is now August 12th, and I am riding my Cavalcade to Townsend , Tennessee , a full two hour plus run one way.  The temperature is above 90’, but I know I will make it up and back. The engine temp is cool, the wind is around me. I hope to meet up with a few other Cavalcade owners, but even though I might not, the five hour run will prove to me that I have finally reached a point where I know I can ride this machine anytime, anywhere. Half-way through I fill up: 39 miles per gallon.  Outstanding.

 

The front forks still need to be rebuilt, and the carbs are still dirty, but I will attack those projects over the winter, when the temperatures are reasonable in my garage.  For now, I have a cup holder with soda strapped to my right side handlebar, the cruise control is set at a firm 58 MPH, and there is a GPS I’ve added running on the other side of the bars.  There is a map of my destination riding in the original map holder.  The radio is playing medium rock music, and I am having a really, really good time. 

I am the proud owner of a rare, 1986 Suzuki Cavalcade full dresser touring bike, one of less than 2000 running on this planet.  Life is good.