While I’ve yet to miss one of my Monday or Thursday YouTube uploads yet, I have felt a significant time crunch lately. Since Kristen and I returned from our nearly 2,400 mile 4th of July weekend ride (still haven’t even watched the footage, let alone began editing it) I’ve had to perform routine maintenance on my car, replace all the belts on my lawn mower as well as some other maintenance (not to mention actually mow) and I have Kristen’s CRF100 engine half-disassembled on my work bench at the moment due to a lock nut that backed off the screw tappet. All of that stuff aside, there’s been one project taking up most of my time that I FINALLY completed last night (with some help).
As many of you know, my son Noah began racing hare scrambles this year on his Honda CRF50. I don’t want to get into race results as I do have an update video coming soon but I do want to talk about what’s been taking up all my time lately…a front end swap.
The CRF50 does not come with a great suspension. The front forks are basically just a couple of tubes with some springs and grease inside. Over two months ago I acquired an old XR70 for free. It was missing the engine but aside from that it was pretty much complete. The plan was to take the front suspension from the XR70 and swap it onto Noah’s CRF50. Supposedly it would be a pretty simple swap…supposedly.
Why go to the trouble to begin with? Well the XR70 (same as just CRF70 he rides but doesn’t race) has a true set of forks with main springs, rebound springs, damper rods and oil. They aren’t as high tech or high quality as a true motocross bike but still a vast improvement over the stock CRF50 forks.
The project started out simple enough. I bought a set of new fork seals and proceeded to rebuild the forks. That part was pretty easy. Because the CRF50 comes with small handlebars and the CRF70 front end is set up for 7/8” full size bars that meant a new handlebar, grips, throttle tube, brake perch etc. It also meant longer brake and throttle cables.
Because Noah had a race pretty much every other weekend, it meant I was constantly up against the clock to make sure the bike was ready to race on Saturdays.
With all the additional parts now gathered, I quickly realized the stock CRF70 top clamp wasn’t going to work. Sure it technically would work but without stretching the swing arm it was going to raise the front end too much giving it a “chopper effect.” After some research, I found out an XR80 Triple Clamp would work with some modifications. The XR80 triple clamp would allow us to slide the forks up further into the clamp allowing us to adjust the ride height.
I found an XR80 triple clamp on eBay, offered the guy $30 and then waited until it arrived. Because the steering stem on the XR80 triple is too long, I tried to use the XR70 lower (with stem) with the XR80 top clamp. Unfortunately, they are at slightly different angles so the forks would not go into place.
The next option was to replace the steering stem from the XR80 lower with the stem from the XR70. I had John Ross from Ride on Moto take a look at both lowers and he concluded the welds would need to be grinded off both and then we should be able to press them out.
Let me pause a second and say big THANKS to John Ross, Lance Collins, Matt Adams and the rest of the staff at Ride on Moto to allowing me to work in the shop and for all the help they provided along the way.
After spending 30-40 minutes grinding on both of the lowers (with a grind wheel…not grinding like a stripper), Lance and Matt got the steering stems pressed out of both lowers. Lance did a nice job of welding the 70 stem onto the 80 lower.
When I got home I started to get everything mounted the forks were not lining up properly. My guess was the XR70 lower had been bent every-so-slightly when the stem was pressed out. My guess turned out to be true.
The next day I was back at Ride on Moto where Lance heated the lower clamp with a torch and we got it bent back into shape.
Back at my house, I attempted to get the forks installed once again but again they were just a little too tight. I called Lance and he told me to come back up to the shop with the bike and all the parts and we’d get it working. I spent about 20-30 minutes before bed, filing down the brake tab on the fork. The tab on the 70 fork is just a little too big to fit into the 50 brake drum. I tested fitted the tab/drum and it slid into place.
Yesterday after work I loaded the CRF50 and parts into the back of my truck and drove back to Ride on Moto. (I also stopped along the way to pick up a bottle of Mountain Dew to butter up Lance) With the help of Lance, Matt and some of the other guys at the shop we were able to get the fork tubes slid into place. Next up was getting the front wheel mounted. After greasing the front axle we realized the wheel spacer was just a little too large to work. Lance spent about 10 minutes grinding it down to size. Once down to the proper size, the front wheel went on pretty easily. We then torqued down all the clamp, handlebar and axle nuts and bolts.
The last thing left to do was fabricate a mounting bracket for the brake cable. The CRF50 and CRF70 have different brake drum and brake mounting set ups so something would need to be made. The week before I had picked up a piece of ¾” wide 12 gauge steel from Lowes for about $4 so we took some measurements, cut the metal and then bent the tabs. Unfortunately, the drill press at the shop was set up to do some milling. Not wanting to alter their setup I decided to take the newly made bracket to my dad’s shop to drill the necessary holes and test fit everything.
Before leaving the shop Lance and I both took a quick test ride in the parking lot on the 50 (with no functioning front brake) to test out its new handling characteristics. Everything seemed to work fine and the ride was a bit smoother but the CRF50 is made for the dirt so more testing would be needed later.
Once over to my dad’s it didn’t take long to drill out the holes, get the brake mounted and then get the cable properly adjusted. Lance’s and my fabrication worked great!
I took the bike for a quick ride through the woods…HOLY CRAP! What a difference that front end made. It handles the rough stuff SO MUCH better than the stock forks.
By the time I got back to my house last night it was almost dark so I only had a couple of minutes to test the bike out on some familiar terrain. I rode it fast of a particular section of trail which normally feels like a washboard…not anymore. The new front forks really smoothed it out allowing me to stay on the throttle longer and harder without getting beat to death. I also managed to scare the hell out of the cat but that’s a story for another day.
Noah has only had an opportunity to sit on the bike so far. Later this afternoon will be his first opportunity to test it out and then the next race is Saturday. Look for a full update on his racing progress on both this website and my YouTube channel soon. He’s getting ready to go into “Summer Break” as this is the last Hare Scramble round until the middle of September.
There were many times during this process I wanted to quit but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m really happy with how the project turned out and I think he will be too.
With his CRF50 almost complete (we may still have a few small updated before the September race) I can now get back to putting Kristen’s CRF100 back together, some small upgrades to my KTM, working on my sister’s Ducati Monster, editing videos, working on my upcoming book, planning the big trip out west, and 99 other things I don’t have time or space to list.
I hope everyone is having a great summer riding!