Michael Simonello is a young man who likes a challenge. In the summer of 2016 a 1967 Harley/Aermacchi Sprint SS 250 with 9500 miles, with right side shifting (one up, three down) presented itself to him. Completely rusted out, it was a mess. The crank case was filled to the brim with water and the aluminum was pitting and turned to flakes. The gas tank was compromised; and the tins, fenders, and everything electrical were all disintegrating. This relic had not run for a very long time.
He purchased it for $400 so initially did not care if it came out well or ever rode. The build was supposed to be a practice project for Michael and his brother before they committed to a ground up Ironhead build. His brother lost interest and Michael eventually fell in love with the bike and its history. "There was a point while working on it where my research fell upon the racing pedigree of this bike. That was the inspiration here. I wanted a road legal bike that looked and performed like the 1960s Aermacchi Racers but with the modern reliability of a new motorcycle.”
Michael had no budget to begin with as it was intended as a practice motorcycle for his more expensive project. The final budget was just shy of $3k. Michael refused to let anyone work on this bike except himself. He saved a lot of money learning to weld, paint, metal finish and fabricate on his own. Wiring comes easy to him so no troubles there.
Michael worked it’s racing credentials with modern12v solid state electrical components and a magneto which eliminates the battery and points. The tank and seat are both fiberglass, saving considerable weight, and were moulded to replicate the historical race bikes. The bike now weighs in at a lean 200lbs, give or take a few ounces.
"The entire motorcycle has had something done to it. I consider it (the project) all together as a major modification however; knowing how to tackle a problem and having the patience to learn to do it right so that you can trust your work once you sling a leg over it is as big a thing as anything."
The engine ran "lousy" at first. Michael played with jetting and made improvements but no matter what he did, when test riding it would stall under braking force. So he finally had enough, and replaced the 22mm Delorto carburetor with a 28mm Mikuni Round Slide and velocity stack inside a K&N filter. The quality of the idle/riding was almost like an EFI in comparison.
According to Michael “…the solid state ignition timing lends to the reliability of a lawnmower. If it has gas in the tank, you kick it, it runs, every time. No battery to go dead, no points to get wet or out of timing/gapping. The reliability to trust to take it for a ride and not worry to get stranded. The engine is currently out being completely restored inside and out. Other than that, stock header, and a re-packable EMGO shorty muffler…” were the only other performance mods.
Michael tried to reuse as much as he could but some things like the horn and control levers I got from Revival Cycles.. He fabricated the handlebars, the brake light bracket and plate mount.
With the exception of the motor overhaul currently being performed, and the powder coating of the outer rims, all of the work is Michaels, including the painting of the frame/tank/seat, any welding, lacing/truing/balancing the wheels.
"The low point for me was trying to gain trust in my own work and the bike. You are your biggest critic. I've never taken a bike apart to the small components before and I really underestimated the psychological stress of getting onto a bike that you held or repaired every last bolt, screw, brake shoe, cable, ball bearing, in your hand. The first test ride was nerve wracking. You check everything 2, 3, 4 times. Get on the bike then you flash back to the thing in pieces, say a prayer to Jesus and let the clutch out. You don't need to be going fast. The adrenaline is a result of realizing your safety is completely based on your own work. It was a first. It was a thrill.
Trust was built, trust was lost.
Once while testing the new carburetor I was attempting to slow down for a stop sign at a T in the road. Pulled the front brake and POP. The front brake cable broke free. The foot controls on this particular bike are reversed (brake on left, reverse patterned shifting on right) and I had to think a long moment about which control to use as I was coming 40mph to the front of someone's house. Skidded with my feet across through the intersection, their lawn and narrowly thread the needle between their cars and trees. Total loss of trust (and loss of the horn which vibrated off and rolled down the street but found it later.) Finally got it running well, braking decently, handling like it was on a rail then in my first solo ride it blew a ring, seized the crank pin and spun the bearing in the case, connecting rod seized on crank end, destroyed piston and cylinder. Metal shavings everywhere. Stranded in the woods. I knew whatever I had broken was beyond my ability to fix on my own which was frustrating. Another loss of trust.”
We will add that these kinds of mishaps happen to everyone on their custom bike journey He is not alone!
The high point Michael recalls, was loading the motorcycle on a trailer on his driveway to take out for parking lot testing, he literally caused a traffic jam with onlookers admiring his work, as cars pulled over or stopped to look and examine his unpainted, unfinished vehicle.
"It was only out of the garage for 40 seconds. I couldn't believe it. I felt satisfied that I got something right. Another came when I was done and I went for a normal ride escorted by my father to fine tune and there were probably 4 instances where people did a U-Turn to stop and ask me questions and take pictures. One man found us in the middle of nowhere and split from his group to check it out saying "I've only ever seen one of these in books". My father said he can't take me anywhere anymore. It was validation of a job well executed."
The build was about 95% complete as summer of 2019, as Michael testifies: "There is always something to be done on an old bike as this. It cannot be 100%. This was done in spare time only and could have taken significantly less time had I initially known the direction I would take eventually. I will always be a critic of my own work. I am satisfied to finally be enjoying the motorcycle but once you've invested the time, sweat, late nights, beers, bloody knuckles, swear words, and mostly 80's metal songs on infinite shuffle you build a relationship with the machine. It's like you're always seeking to please the machine. It will always tell you it needs more. The work is never truly completed because an old bike is always telling you what it wants and needs and you ALONE learned to feed, care and listen to them.”
This is a keeper. "She earned a slot with the others in the garage. There's no cash value on that experience."
Michael has a 1978 Honda CB400A Hawk on the side ready to be made into an on/off road commuter. The automatic transmission was the type of quirky feature that attracted Michael to this model. "It is unique and I think that makes it ideal for a custom build. Think Tracker or Bobber with knobby treads and ground clearance. We'll see."
He’s also planning a "from scratch” board tracker, even as far as casting his own parts. But that will depend on what tools he can add to his still very basic garage. He needs at least a milling block and drill press. Come on you tool companies, come out and support this talented young man.