Part 9. Swingarm debacle #2 – when buying cheap isn’t…

I probably shouldn’t ever be allowed on the internet. The comedian Dave Gorman once described it perfectly for me “ I don’t know about you, but I find being connected to everything, ever, quite distracting”

The problem with me, is I’m always looking for the next big thing, or at least to find the little things that aren’t perhaps the “usual way” of doing things. I like to research. I also like to continue my research after I’ve already adequately researched. Let’s call that re-researching. Or, alternatively, call it a pointless waste of duplicitous effort.

I re-researched my swingarm choice through the several stages already described in Swingarm Choice Part 1, and ended up looking at XJR400 swing arms as an option. Pretty vague choice huh?

Yahoo Japan Auctions - a dangerous place for trying to buy "cheap" rare parts
Yahoo Japan Auctions – a dangerous place for trying to buy “cheap” rare parts

This I blame largely on my new found ability to translate Japanese websites (thanks Google Chrome, for a whole new way to waste my life). Fitting XJR400 arms into a Katana was something I had chanced upon whilst flouncing through Japanese Katana websites.

I’d been around the world looking at Kat stuff from everywhere, but I’d only seen this mod done in Japan, and only published on Japanese language websites. To me, the appeal of this was immense!

Thanks to the previous difficulty in getting information out of Japan, and my early adoption of the Google translate service, I became certain I could be the first person in the western world to fit an XJR400 arm into a Katana! (and as long as I don’t publicise the fact in a magazine, or on a blog, it can be my secret forever)

Decision made – The next step involved buying one.

Bad news – eBay UK, US and most of the EU had none available – over here the XJR400 was an unpopular grey import from Japan. Did I just say Japan?….

My new found ability to translate Japanese was applied to their version of eBay, – interestingly, eBay exercised their plan for World domination in Japan, but it failed. Today, eBay Japan is just a holding page!

Yahoo however provide a recognisable internet auction service, and as we’re using bike letter/number combinations in the search terms we don’t need to worry about needing to know Japanese to get results (more on that elsewhere in the blog, because I have saved some Japanese text for various bike parts to make the whole experience even better!)

I was instantly offered a huge choice of XJR400 swingarms. I guess not only was the XJR400 a VERY popular model in Japan, but that when they broke them, nobody wanted the swingarms from them. Happy days!

So, now, how do you buy something in Japan, from England, without the ability to speak, type or communicate in Japanese. Well, they’ve thought of that, and it’s called “Buyee” – basically, Buyee is a proxy bidder, that provides a bidding, payment and shipping service to overseas bidders. It’s all very straightforward,  access it from the items page you’re interested in, it’s all conducted in English, and the Japanese sellers (who appear to be a very different breed to our own – check out the white backgrounds in almost every picture!) never have to send a parcel outside of Japan, which from the listings it’s quite clear they seem to have little interest in doing.

Buyee - utterly brilliant service, but watch the shipping charges!
Buyee – utterly brilliant service, but watch the shipping charges!

I picked one of the cheapest arms, but it also came with the torque arm and a caliper – I wasn’t sure I would use them, but it may help save the day should it be needed. The price of the arm was just 2500 yen – that’s £14.64!!! Reee-zult!

Buyee added their fee – 500 yen, and a payment service fee (whatever that is) at 200 yen (no biggy, so I didn’t worry) Total at this stage? £18.74!

They also have a freight estimation tool available prior to placing a bid through them, so you can have a stab at how much it will cost to get the parcel of a certain size and weight to wherever in the World, helping to form your decision of whether to have a go or not. I can’t remember the exact figure I had calculated, based on size and weight guesswork, but it wasn’t mental – £40 ish springs to mind.

Once the package had arrived with them and was ready for shipping, I got the final part of the bill from them – 14850 yen! – 1250 to get it shipped inside Japan from the seller, and then 13600 yen to get it to England – £86.97 – bollocks. Total now stands at – £105.71

I can’t remember what the IMPORT DUTY was when it turned up, but I got clobbered there too – plus VAT, plus Parcelforces £13.50 charge for using their money to pay the customs charge (which is the only way of paying, therefore negating your option to avoid it) – anyway I think it all came to within a whisker of £42– total now £147.71

XJR400 arm - an easy fit for a Katana. Sort of...
XJR400 arm – an easy fit for a Katana. Sort of…

Here’s some good news though – the swingarm slid into the Katana’s frame and almost fitted flush – just a couple of thick washers each side were needed to pad out the slack (we eventually had big spacers made to do the job properly). The only problem – the spacer that sits inside the XJR400 swingarm was missing, the bushes that the bearings run on had nothing to pinch up against, and it couldn’t be used without it. A trip to see the most excellent parts man I know – Wayne Kempson at Flitwick Motorcycles yielded the part I wanted within 4 days. £36 later, we had a swingarm we could use. Total now £183.71

XJR Arm wears spacer made by Steve Mann of MTS

Well, I say ready to use – actually, that’s not quite right. The spindle run on the XJR is just 16mm, whereas the Katana has a 20mm item, so I took the arm over to see Steve Mann at MTS Classics, my local go-to Mann (sic) for tricky bits and bobs. Steve also spotted that with the rubber chain cushion removed, we had an issue where the chain had damaged the top of the swingarm by rubbing. I had seen it, but not closely enough to think it any more than superficial – it wasn’t, it was nearly through the metal. Bollocks. Thankfully Steve does stuff with Aluminium welding that borders on art, and £45 later I had a swingarm with a modified spindle run and a beautiful repair. We finally had a swingarm we could use. Total now £228.71

The unseen damage as delivered from Japan.
After Steve Mann's genius
After Steve Mann’s genius

Nearly there!

The shiny new repair we’d made, whilst the perfect retort to the previous owners apathy for chain adjustment, contrasted with the rest of the dull and slightly unflattering finish the arm wore. It rankled with me. I hadn’t ever planned on painting it, I had thought scotchbrite to the whole lot would be the order of the day. Truth is, it didn’t look like an arm that would look brilliant with my attempts at merging shiny aluminium and lacquered aluminium with an abrasive pad.

Cue Xylan. I had recently had my forks coated in Xylan, which was Jon Slenzak’s suggestion to satiate my appetite for making a variety of ordinary parts look like they had the hard factory grey anodising popular in the 1970’s and 80’s. Spending so much time seeing RG engine cases, forks and swingarms with that finish whilst Motocatman was working on them had swollen the part of my brain that wants everything turned flat, dark, hard-anodised grey.

Once I saw how good the forks looked, the Swingarm’s future was always going to be Xylan coating. A £30 blast and £100 of Xylan later, we had the finished item.

Well apart from new bearings, which I thought were ok, but Motocatman consigned to the bin at some speed. Only £15 a set, which capped the spend on the arm.

Well, aside from chain adjuster blocks, which were missing and cost another £12 (thankfully off eBay UK this time). But, they needed boring out for another £10. Oh, and the adjustment bolts, which didn’t come with it either. £5 to sort that. There, done.

Aside from the brake torque arm, which doesn’t work with our SRAD rear caliper. Thankfully, the one off the GS1200SS does – that was on the shelf, and finally – was something for free….! Phew.

So, that was how the “cheap” £14.64 swingarm turned into the not so cheap £400.71 swingarm.

The result? Actually not the greatest looking arm in the world, and the simplicity of fitting it has long since been overshadowed by the other things – missing bits, the repair, the modification that was needed to the spindle run. What we do have though is an arm which I’m almost certain is stronger and lighter than the Katana arm and which looks period. I like it, probably not £400 of like, but enough that it can stay a while. Well I need something to hold my back wheel in don’t I?

It's grey and it holds the back wheel in, and it's probably not worth £400. But there you go.
It’s grey and it holds the back wheel in, and it’s probably not worth £400. But there you go.

I wonder what else would fit?….mmmm, there’s a thought.