Finding the bike of my dreams was 95 percent of the battle. Here’s the other 5 percent.
I bought a unicorn of a motorcycle—a 1993 Honda CBR900RR with only 988 miles on the clock. What was the catch? It had been sitting for many years and was not in the least bit a functioning bike.
What seemed like a fun venture at the start quickly became a sobering reality. It went from being a unicorn to being a dragon that needed slaying. Working on a machine that is as collectible as an original CBR900RR brings up challenges that haven’t been present in any other vehicle I’ve taken on.
It has nothing to do with the complexity of the bike. It’s actually quite straight-forward to work on. No, it has to do with its originality.
Every bolt that is removed, every part that is replaced, and every surface that is cleaned must be taken into great consideration. It would be so easy to “better” the bike, yet at the same time ruin its character. There is a fine line that must be walked.
With that in mind, I meticulously identified the components that needed repaired on the bike and set out to find original, Honda-branded replacements.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the mechanical parts are still available new. The bodywork, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. There simply aren’t many original pieces left out there. If you want an original-looking machine, you’re better off buying a bike with good bodywork that needs engine repair, rather than the other way around.
Confident that I had located the parts that would need to be replaced, I finalized my order and waited for it to arrive.
While waiting for the parts to show up, I decided to go ahead and take the bike down to its most disassembled state.
Knowing that most of the bodywork was irreplaceable, I took especially good care when removing it. I found a nice, cozy place in the basement to keep the fairings while I dug into the bike’s mechanicals.
After a week and a half, the glorious box of new parts arrived at my front door. The excitement while opening the box was almost overwhelming! I couldn’t believe some of these parts were still available new, including the bodywork items I had ordered. I could only imagine how long they had been sitting in Honda’s warehouse waiting to be sold.
It was time to get down and dirty returning this classic CBR back into its former self.
The first round of rejuvenation started with the bike’s exhaust system. Specifically, the header and mid pipe. The bike was still wearing the original unit, but the metal that system is made from isn’t of the highest quality. The pipework is mild grade steel which was painted flat black from the factory. The joining welds are a bit crude, and when left exposed to moisture, the whole thing tends to rust.
It appeared as though the bike had been ridden through rain, shut off, and left to sit for years. Needless to say, this wasn’t kind to the exhaust’s appearance. Oxidation had taken hold and surface rust had developed.
The only way to do a proper job of cleaning the exhaust was to completely remove it from the bike. The exhaust studs protruding from the cylinder head that secure the exhaust header to the engine were corroded and the nuts were difficult to break loose. Eventually, it all came apart.
Scuffing the system lightly with some Scotch Brite pads made most of the oxidation clear away. Some of the heavier surface rust was removed with a wire brush. I then finished the exhaust off with a coat of high-temperature flat black exhaust paint, just like had been done at the factory. The end result came out looking like new.
I fitted the refreshed exhaust system back to the engine with new header studs, nuts, and gaskets.
I then installed the muffler with a new gasket and new bolts. The exhaust system was now back to a fresh-from-the-factory look.
Total Repair Cost: $80.86
With only 988 miles on the engine, there wasn’t anything actually mechanically wrong with it. There was a slight cosmetic imperfection going on, however. Many years ago, the bike had a tip-over when its kickstand sunk into some hot asphalt while the bike was parked. This little mishap caused some scratches here and there, including some light scraping to the stator cover on the left side of the engine.
Instead of trying to refinish the damaged cover, I decided to just buy a new one since it was available. Popping the old cover off wasn’t too difficult, but removing the old gasket material was. To do this sort of job right, it always takes longer than you think it would.
With a new gasket applied, I offered up the new stator cover to the engine. I applied a new bead of ThreeBond sealant to the rubber grommet, which allows passage of the electrical wires running to the stator itself.
With the new cover installed, you’d never be able to tell that anything was ever amiss.
The next item to address on the bike’s engine was the oil and filter. Not knowing the last time it had been changed, it was pertinent that some fresh lubrication was put into action.
With some fresh 10w-40 semi-synthetic motorcycle oil, a new Honda oil filter and drain plug gasket at the ready, I swapped out the oil. This would ensure that the engine would have proper lubrication once it was awoken from its lengthy slumber.
Total Repair Cost: $134.93
Of all the systems on the motorcycle, the hardest hit from the prolonged storage was the fuel system. This was mainly due to the previous owner leaving fuel in the bike while it sat for years.
Gasoline does nasty things to metal and rubber if it is left to ferment over time. Deposits develop inside of small passages in the carburetors, sediment collects in the gas tank, the fuel filter becomes clogged, and the fuel pump runs the risk of getting gummed up. If you plan to store a vehicle for a long period of time, especially a carbureted one, do everyone a favor and drain the gas beforehand.
The first step was to drain out the old fuel from the gas tank. The fluid that came out - I won’t even call it gasoline because it was so far removed from its original chemical construction - was rank, vomit-inducing stuff. Good times for all.
I then removed the rack of carburetors from the motorcycle. There are four independent carburetors on the CBR900RR. This means that when old fuel is left to do its detriment, not just one carburetor needs to be rebuilt, but four do.
Removing the float bowls was the first step to uncovering how screwed up the carbs were. The green tint inside the float chamber told me what I needed to know. Everything - and I mean everything - inside each carburetor would need to be removed, cleaned, and potentially replaced. Just take a look at the jets, which meter the fuel going into the engine. That green build-up is caused by prolonged exposure to expired gasoline. Yuck.
I went through two cans of carburetor cleaner and spent hours scrubbing and blowing in compressed air. Finally, every trace of the green stuff was gone from the carbs. I went ahead and installed new carburetor jets and float bowl gaskets for peace of mind.
With the carburetors reassembled, it was time to move on to the periphery fuel system components. The fuel filter looked long past its use-by date, so in went a new part. Easy-peasy.
I tested the fuel pump and thankfully all seemed well. However, its rubber mounting grommet looked worse for wear. It was cracked up from age and probably wouldn’t support the fuel pump much longer. With a new mount installed, the pump is good to go for a long time to come.
Fitting the carburetors back up to the engine should be a simple task. But, the carburetor boots, which seal the carburetors to the engine’s intake, were dry-rotted and hardened. This wasn’t going to be such an easy task after all.
As with any rubber part that is more than two decades old, the best course of action is to replace with new. Thanks to the pliability of the newly-sourced boots, the carburetors slipped easily back into their rightful place atop the engine.
Total Repair Cost: $147.71
While I was in the neighborhood, I decided it would be a good idea to “reset” all the consumable parts that are critical to engine running. The first order of business was to swap in new spark plugs.
With new plugs installed, I could rest assured that a fresh flicker of fuel-igniting spark would be present at the press of the starter button.
The air filters on the bike had been exposed to many years of ambient air, moisture, and dust. The main air filter could have been cleaned and reinstalled, but I felt that installing a new part would be one step better.
While I had the airbox removed, I noticed that there was an additional small air filter external of the airbox. Honda calls it a “sub-air cleaner,” and I believe it is there for emissions purposes. The original filter was all but disintegrated. Upon cleaning up the filter housing, the new replacement foam element could be installed.
The bike more than likely still had the original coolant residing within it. Now was the perfect time to drain out the old stuff and replace it with new.
This exchange of coolant would guarantee that the engine’s internal coolant passages would remain corrosion free, while at the same time keeping the engine running at proper temperature.
Total Repair Cost: $65.22
Having now completed all the repairs and maintenance work that affect the running of the motorcycle, I felt it was a good time to try and actually start it up. Unless the bike could run, there really was no point in going any further in the overhaul.
So, how did it all shake out? Well, why don’t you see for yourself:
That’s right, it freakin’ started right up! Alright, maybe not “right up,” but it fired up quickly enough for something that hasn’t seen fresh gas in likely a decade. As Mr. Edd China would say, “Job done!”
Confident now that all the work up to this point hadn’t been done in vain, I proceeded on to the bike’s handling department. The first order of business was sorting out the front end. Specifically, the forks.
The forks on a motorcycle are the equivalent of the springs, dampers, and control arms on a car. These two telescopic tubes that connect the front wheel to the rest of the bike have a huge task to perform. Over time, the oil and seals in the fork tubes degrade, compromising the whole system. Braking, steering, and shock absorption get thrown out of whack, leading to unpredictable handling. Not a good thing on a powerful machine such as this CBR.
With the fork tubes removed from the bike and set on the work bench, I began taking them apart. I removed the fork seals, separated the stanchions from the fork legs, and proceeded to drain out the old fork oil.
I cleaned up the components from both fork legs, filled them up with new oil, and pressed in the new fork seals and wipers. The end result looked showroom-fresh.
Next in line were the tires. These hunks of rubber were so far past their expiration date that they were basically disintegrating. I’m all about preserving originality, but these tires presented such a safety hazard that they had to go.
The CBR900RR utilizes a unique front wheel size with a diameter of 16 inches. Most sportbikes nowadays use a 17 inch front wheel. This makes finding a matching front and rear set of new rubber quite a task indeed. After some research, I found that Bridgestone still makes modern street supersport tires that fit the CBR’s oddball 16 inch front wheel.
With the new tires installed, the CBR was now ready to take on some curvy roads once again.
Total Repair Cost: $351.22
The brake system was in good shape for the most part, but the front and rear brake fluid reservoirs looked absolutely terrible. The brake fluid had to have been the original stuff from 1993. Ugh.
The fluid reservoirs themselves had become stained and small hairline cracks had started forming in the plastic. While nothing was leaking as of yet, I didn’t feel like taking a risk down the road. I decided to cough up the money and get new parts for the front and rear.
With the new reservoirs in place, I could start exchanging the nasty old brake fluid with new.
With the blackened fluid flushed out of the system, the front brake lever and rear brake pedal regained a firmness that would provide confidence when braking.
Total Repair Cost: $45.66
Taking on the bodywork-related issues was the icing on the cake for this bike project. Those messy and time-consuming mechanical repairs were finally out of the way. Time to get on with making the bike look outwardly-pretty.
The left portion of the tail section had been roughed-up in the side-stand tip-over. It had a small crack present and the scratches were deeper than the paint. It would require a complete professional repaint to make right again. Unbelievably, I was able to buy the part brand new from Honda for just $187. No way could I get the old part repaired for anywhere near that.
I carefully installed the new tail fairing, being ultra-gentle with all of the little plastic interlocking tabs that had become brittle with age. The new part fit up beautifully. Once the tail fairing was installed, I placed a new “Helmet Holder” decal in the original location. The devil is in the details, as they say.
The gas tank was in perfect condition, but the little rubber grommets that isolate it from the frame were completely perished. With new rubber pieces installed on the tank, it sat comfortably atop the frame of the bike once again.
The decals on the fork rebound adjusters had gone missing over the years. These little stickers are hardly noticeable, but it would drive me insane if I didn’t replace them. With a new set of decals in hand, I put them back in their rightful spots to tidy up the look of the cockpit.
The heel guards had been replaced with some...ehem...spirited-looking aftermarket alternatives. After searching for what seemed like forever, I finally sourced some second-hand original replacements. The original heel guards, which lack the speed holes that were featured on later model CBR900RRs, are surprisingly difficult to locate. You can’t simply buy them new anymore.
The final piece of the puzzle was the clutch lever. The original had been bent in the side-stand tip-over. A new Honda-branded replacement was acquired at $12 which was quickly bolted into place.
Total Repair Cost: $351.61
Repair Costs: $1,224.01
Shop Supplies: $46.80
Insurance & Registration: $143.11
Purchase Price: $4,000.00
Labor Hours: 35
The labor hours may seem high for the amount of work that was done, but I must inform you that a tremendous amount time was allocated to cleaning the bike and its assorted components. There’s no better time to detail a machine than when it is completely stripped apart.
The end result is not just a perfectly running machine; it is a time capsule. The bike looks like it came straight from an early ’90s Honda showroom floor.
The white-painted bodywork and wheels stand out like only something from the ’90s could. It’s not trying to impress you with sharp angles, LED lighting or a daringly-sparse tail section. It doesn’t show off mechanical bits as part of its aesthetic, nor does it have a fancy, colorful instrument panel.
The bike proudly displays its full-bodied fairings, its exhaust can hanging off the side, and its aggressive yet elegant “speed holes.” It’s a clean, simple, and honest design language - traits of which we could use some more of today.
As of this writing, the bike has 991 miles. That’s right, I’ve put 3 whole miles on this beautiful machine. It rides like something much more modern than its age suggests. Quite frankly, it’s incredible. The controls are crisp, the throttle is smooth, and gears click right into place.
With the originality retained and the mechanical systems revived, it’s official - this classic CBR900RR is back in business.