I used this Honda XR250R to teach a friend about engine assembly

Growing up, my mechanical fascination started with disassembling Briggs and Stratton single-cylinder lawn mower engines that Dad brought home from various scrap piles and recycling yards. I might not have known what all the parts did (and I almost never put them back together) but my destructive phase was nonetheless formative. It created a foundation that helped things click when I started reading books and manuals. Images of piston-engine internals were rendered sharp and detailed in my mind’s eye.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone I encounter, even those with an interest in engines, grew up with the same education. A co-worker here at Hagerty, for instance, has been wading deeper and deeper into the pool of motorcycles and really wanted to tackle a project bike, including an engine rebuild. He only possessed a handful of generic tools, so I recommended he start small with tune-ups and cosmetic bits, working his way up. Then, totally by accident, I ended up with the perfect project for him to jump straight into the deep end. To ensure he didn’t get too in over his head, I’d be there to guide him.

Honda XR250
Kyle Smith

I’d picked up a 1989 Honda XR250R during one of my typically dangerous perusals of Facebook Marketplace. The bike, with its price set at a dollar per CC, caught my eye right away. My truck was already warming up when I got the message with the seller’s address.

The oil-and-air-cooled 250-cc single-cylinder dual sport motorcycle was for sure a work in progress, and the seller openly admitted he wasn’t very handy with tools. He had cleaned the carb and put in a new air filter but the bike still wouldn’t run. At that point he declared defeat and wanted it out of his shop. To save the project from a slow and tragic part-out death, I loaded it into my pickup and paid the man.

Things went from bad to worse for the poor Honda. The engine was not locked up and had decent (but not great) compression. I figured with some fiddling I could have the thing running and have a cheap machine to loan out to friends for trail rides. Oh, how wrong I was. On the second try to start it, one of the intake valves broke free from the metallurgical constraints which bound it together and punched a hole in the piston, locking up the engine solid.

Honda XR250
Kyle Smith

There was, however, a silver lining to me shelling out a financial offering to the Wiseco piston gods for this lost cause of a motorcycle. That friend of mine who wanted to learn about engines came over and helped me rebuild the top end of the bike. With each part and piece we removed, cleaned, or replaced, we had a discussion about what each piece did, why we are or are not replacing specific parts, and how components interact with the rest of the system. He even learned how to make a tap out of a Grade 8 bolt by cutting small serrations in the starter threads, for when there is no bottoming tap available locally in the size you need.

Honda XR250
Kyle Smith

I’m not a professional teacher, and I am not a top-tier expert. I don’t pretend to be either of those things. When he asked questions I couldn’t answer, we both learned by researching together. The engine came apart quickly, but unlike those Briggs and Stratton beasts I spent so much time on all those years ago, he got to enjoy kicking this project over and hearing it run. Even took it for a ride.

I could have done this project in a weekend alone in my garage. Instead, it took almost three weeks because I was coordinating our schedules and taking the time to talk through every little step as we did it. And the experience was worth every minute; we both got to rescue this unloved Honda and set the hook of motorcycle repair that much deeper in his mind. He is now shopping for a few new tools and a less ambitious project bike than he was before, which is perfect. I look forward to helping him with whatever he buys.

You don’t really have to go far out of your way to share how rewarding this hobby can be. Invite someone new to come work on something you were going to do anyway. Even basic maintenance can be a fantastic learning opportunity for someone who is currently only watching YouTube videos or reading books. Help them get grease on their hands. Sharing knowledge and stoking the fire of gearhead enthusiasm is what’ll keep our beloved hobby around for generations to come.

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