Lieback’s Lounge | Winter Motorcycle Project: What’s Yours?

Ron lieback RC51 Winter Motorcycle Project
Author's RC51 at NYST. This is set to become a Joey Dunlop replica over this winter.

Winter Motorcycle Project

Ron Lieback Ultimate MotorcyclingStory from our digital magazine, available for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling App.

For most, Thanksgiving means one thing—the beginning of the holiday season. But, for the true moto wrenchers—especially those like me out here on the East Coast—Thanksgiving means something more significant: ’Tis the season to start winter motorcycle projects.

For the past six years, I have a ritual of planning my projects the weekend after Thanksgiving. Just as the turkey leftovers are finally diminishing, I plan the order of projects, budgets, and whatever else is needed for a flawless process. This year, I sat down with some The Jimi Hendrix Experience BBC Sessions playing, and put finger to iPhone Notes.

My list for 2016/2017 Winter Moto Project season begins with typical maintenance. First, first I have to replace my Ducati 1198’s timing belts and adjust the valves, followed by putting a new clutch in my 1998 Honda VFR800. The 1198 has become more of a track bike lately, though I’m keeping her road legal because there’s always a need to engage my higher spirits on the back roads, and nothing quite does it like the final Superbike featuring the trellis frame.

As for the VFR, I’ve had that bike since 2008, and I’d trust it to take me across the USA. The 1998-2001 VFRs had the mechanical cam gears, and are without a doubt the best VFRs ever built. Except for replacing brake bulbs, I never had a single issue with mine.

Many owners would agree, and regardless of nearly 50,000 miles, the VFR800 is still a go-to for a comfortable tour or short rip through the countryside. I have it set up for touring with Givi bags, but am thinking of putting it back to sportbike form. This decision will likely be made once I get that clutch replaced. It is still the original and would likely take me another season, but I hate the feel of a slipping clutch when the throttle’s pinned.

Then, it’s onto the fun projects, which I’ll work on together—the full restoration of a 2001 Ducati Monster 900 S i.e., and the reassembly of a Honda RC51 SP2 that I’m building as a tribute to my all-time favorite racer, the late Joey Dunlop.

After months of searching, I have yet to find a clean gas tank for my M900. A 2000-2002 M900 tank will work due to the fuel injection, and a 2002 M750 F.I.—the only year they built a fuel-injected 750. So, if you know of anything, send me a note!

The RC51 was a steal; I got it off a dude on Craigslist for a mere $1200 with a clean title. Many people thought it was a scam, and so did I, even after I set the meeting up. But, it was far from a scam.

Ron lieback RC51 Winter Motorcycle Project
Author’s RC51 at NYST. This is set to become a Joey Dunlop replica over this winter. (photo by Bryan Finch of 572Creations)

The seller had moved on to a newer Honda CBR600RR, saying the RC51 was dated. I got to ride with him once at Pocono International Raceway FUSA course, and after I passed him twice during a 20-minute session, he realized the RC51 was more than a capable bike, as did I.

It’s an accomplished track bike, and it’ll remain solely for track use. I fell for the RC51 after watching Joey Dunlop dominate the Isle of Man TT aboard the V-twin platform. Dunlop still holds the record of 26 Isle of Man TT wins, and there is no one who carried so much passion off the track as Dunlop. This is why my RC51 became a tribute to him. Everyone has a hero, and Dunlop is one of mine. It’s an honor to build something in his memory.

Here in Northeast Pennsylvania, winters usually last through March, so I’ve got plenty of time to finish some serious work. It’s always a matter of finding the additional time between travel and, of course, work. Although most of these projects will be completed around midnight during the weeks, it’s well worth the lack of a full eight-hours of sleep and some grease-stained wine glasses. My passion for wrenching is as strong as my passion for riding and writing, and thankfully so. If it weren’t, I’d likely crack up during the long winter months.

My winter motorcycle project plans are complete—how about yours?


  1. I can’t believe you got the RC51 so cheap. you lucky bastard.
    looking forward to seeing it in Joey Livery.
    hope we get a feature.

  2. My winter project — as every midwest winter — is keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, the condition of the streets and riding every chance I get when there isn’t any ice or snow on the roads. ;)

  3. Those projects all sound fairly involved and on some great high performance bikes. All pretty much beyond the scope my technical expertise. A mechanic once told me I was good at taking stuff apart but not so good
    at putting it back together. Point taken. My winter project was to maybe start cleaning up my son’s Rizzato Califfo 50cc moped that needs a lot of work—maybe put in a new spark plug. And to rotate my two Battery Tenders among my clunker bikes every couple weeks or so. Oh, and to try to keep my 1998 Sears Craftsman snowblower running till I have to try to start my lawn mower.


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