James May puts objects back together again from a pile of their component parts. He reassembles a 1970s Honda Z50A Mini Trail Motorcycle from all its 303 parts.
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Hello, I'm James May, and I am the reassembler.
That feels very nice.
Oh, yes! Look at that.
'It is only when these much-loved and iconic objects are laid out in
'hundreds of bits...'
Oh, man in heaven!
'..and then slowly reassembled
'that you can truly understand and appreciate how they work...'
Total rubbish! '..and just how ingenious they are.'
It's good, isn't it? 'And if painstakingly putting hundreds of pieces back
'together again...' That's quite satisfying.
'..wasn't hard enough,
'I then have to hope...'
Deep joy. '..that they'll work.'
There's some moisture on my spectacles because I started weeping.
The Japanese, famously,
can make anything smaller than the rest of the world thought possible -
cameras, radios, hotel rooms and trees,
and, as it turns out, motorcycles.
This is a Honda Z50 Mini Trail monkey bike,
just about the least motorcycle you can get away with.
And it's presented here in 303 component parts and is, frankly,
taking up far too much space. So let's put it back together.
It's fair to say that the motorbike
has always had a bit of an image problem.
Its perceived status as a dangerous machine for dangerous people
ensured that it was never the vehicle that your mother wanted you to own.
But in the mid-1960s, Honda produced a bike that changed all that.
Fondly known as the monkey bike,
the Z50A became the quintessential mini motorbike
for all the family to ride.
Small, fun, and portable, it was, effectively,
a gateway motorcycle which got millions of kids hooked on two-wheeled transport.
Right, we'll begin with the frame and the front forks
because, once we've got those together, the thing will stand up on the bench.
As well as those two bits of ironmongery, I'll also be needing some tiny
ball bearings. How many, I wonder?
Now, if you were doing this like a professional, you'd look in a parts book
to see how many balls go either side of the forks.
But as it's come apart recently, and I know the number is correct,
all we have to do is divide the number of balls in this dish into two.
So let's see how many there are. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17...
..21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36,
37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44...
Did I come count those two?
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11...
..33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42.
That would mean 21 per side.
Anybody still watching? Assuming you are, I'll get on with putting
the bearings in the greased headset, and then we can crack on.
So there was a whole range of these bikes made by Honda with 50, 70,
and 90cc engines, and they were available as the Mini Trail.
There were some other versions, which didn't have a fuel tank,
those were given various names,
and they were given different names in America from the rest of the world
because certain names that Honda use, like Cub and Super Cub,
had already been taken by other people.
And it's mainly because American lawyers are quite aggressive about pursuing
that sort of thing. Really,
they should spend more time inventing some new types of cheese.
Because, as we know, the Americans only really have one type of cheese,
which is called cheese. They say, "You want cheese with that?"
I say, "Ooh, yes, what sort of cheese have you got?" "It's goddamn cheese, you Communist!"
This is my case of tools.
Look at this. Are you ready?
I'd put the sockets back in the box in the wrong order.
I'll have to be killed.
After locating the correct socket, I can tighten these bolts,
and that's the forks done.
Now I can slow the pace right down
with the front brake.
So, those are brake shoes, obviously,
with brake shoe material on them.
Some irritating little springs.
A screw, or is it a bolt?
There's a captive nut device on the other end.
And then we need the thing it runs in, which is the brake hub.
We'll put it on the wheel in a minute.
Now, the death of the British motorcycle industry, that is a very big
and complicated subject.
But a lesson, not just for manufacturing industry,
but a lesson for life -
for everybody, in all walks of it.
Up until the '60s, the British motorcycle industry dominated the world.
And when the Japanese came along,
making things like mundane bikes, really,
ride-to-work bikes, as they're often known, the British,
and to some extent the Americans and even the Germans and the Italians,
took the attitude that, well, the Japanese, you know, ha-ha-ha,
funny little foreigners, they'll make cheap bikes for people to ride to
work on, but the really important bikes, the ones that people desire,
and where the money will be made, they will be made by us
because we know what we're doing.
And the mistake they made was imagining that people like Soichiro Honda
and the people at Kawasaki and Yamaha and so on wouldn't say, well,
we'll have a go at a big bike as well.
And, of course, Honda did, and everybody was surprised, thinking, well,
that's not allowed.
But it was allowed.
And what we should learn from that is...
..A - not to be rude about foreigners
because they can do stuff as well
..it's no good thinking that you will rule the world by making high-end,
high-added-value things for executives and playboys.
All the great car and bike manufacturers of the world are founded on small
things for the people - VW, Skoda, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki...
..Fiat. They made small, simple,
cheap things that were accessible to a lot of people,
and that gave them their money, their expertise, to then branch out
and, in the case of Fiat, eventually own Ferrari.
In the case of Honda,
to eventually become the world's biggest manufacturer of internal
combustion engines and producer of the Honda Super Cub -
the bestselling machine in history.
That's what you get by being humble.
Now, the tricky bit here is...
..something we talked about in the last series - springs.
Evil things. Very useful but very evil in the workshop
because they cause things to fly across the room, hit you in the face.
Look. Shoe goes there.
Other shoe, avoiding touching it with my slightly greasy fingers,
That spring has to go across there,
between those two holes. Now, that's not a distance much bigger than the
spring, but it is a very tough spring.
I have got a bad finger, as you can see.
I am very weak and we're to get a series of excuses in.
OK. I have to have the strength to pull that apart enough to get around
the pivot. Three, two, one.
So nearly had it then.
Is it getting very hot in here
or is it just my acute embarrassment at not being able to reassemble the
brakes of a tiny child's motorcycle?
Are you ready?
Right, so look. This is how it works.
That is the drum, that is part of the wheel,
that is going round and round, this is the brake assembly,
that is part of the frame,
in effect, cos it's anchored to the front forks.
There's the wheel going round and round.
Obviously, it'll do it a lot more smoothly.
You pull the brake, the shoes spread, the wheel stops.
It's clever, isn't it?
After two hours and 21 minutes,
an hour of which was spent trying to count to 42,
I've beaten the drum brake into submission...
So nearly had it then.
..and attached the rear swing arm.
Now I can pleasurably move into the realm of wheel attachment.
The correct torque setting - it's a medium grunt, so it's about...
There you go.
We'll go and get the front mudguard and its fixings.
So the mudguard itself...
..two nuts, and there are four washers - two spring and two plain.
I'll explain why that is in a minute. I know you can't wait.
So, washer on that side spreads the load.
Then, from underneath, we will have the spring washer
because that ensures that that nut can't come undone.
And there it is. Righty tighty, lefty loosey.
Ten millimetres there in its correct slot.
Now, there's a long-running debate,
particularly between me and one of my mates, Colin,
about whether you should put the tools on the bench or back in the box.
Now, if they're on the bench, they're to hand, as you need them.
If you put them back in the box, you know where they are when you need
them. And the fact is that surgeons put everything back on the tray
in the correct position after they've used it
so that they don't sew a patient up with a scalpel or something inside
them. That's my argument.
His argument is that, if I keep putting things back in the box,
we'll never put the bike back together.
It's sort of like a bad mechanic's marriage.
And the advantage of having all my tools in the right place is that I can
HE HAMMERS TUNE OF TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR
What do you think of that?
Right, we shall put the front wheel on.
If we're lucky, I can get that to go in there.
There you go. Now, let's be absolutely clear, what you should not do here,
because it's really bad workshop practice
and it's an offence to good tool etiquette,
is put a screwdriver through it.
That's just wrong.
That's about right for a front-wheel nut on a small bike.
Rear-wheel brake components.
Oh, God, this, of course, means I have to do the bit
with the springs again,
which I hate.
There are the two springs.
Right, this way for massive hilarity.
Right, there's no getting away from it,
it's time for that springy moment.
-What's the problem, James?
-Well, it's gone over the shirt.
Oh, dear. This is why the boiler suit should be...
There you go, it's done.
'I'll stop wearing the bike and carry on reassembling it.
'I'll need the rear mudguard.'
So, mudguard itself.
Four of those.
And four washers.
We can have a discussion about what those are over here at the bench.
Now, back to that eternal question. What is a bolt and what is a screw?
What is that? Now, technically, for it to be a bolt,
it should have a doweling function, i.e. a portion that isn't threaded,
they're to hold things in the right position,
and is secured with a nut.
If it's threaded all the way up,
and it screws into a thread on another component,
it is technically a screw.
Now, these go into nuts.
But they're nuts that are captive because they've been welded onto another component,
so they're sort of going into another component,
so what does that make that, a screw or a bolt?
I think, apart from that I think it doesn't matter,
I think it's a duality problem.
It's like light.
Is it a wave? Is it a particle?
It depends on what you're trying to observe.
I hate not being able to see.
When I was young and people used to warn me about the dangers of
playing on railways, riding bicycles without lights and so on,
smoking behind the bike sheds, all that sort of thing,
they used to say you'll get killed, you'll get a terrible disease,
you think it can't happen to you, but it can.
I did think it could happen to me.
I always accepted that. I thought,
"Well, you know, in the midst of life, we are in death.
"It could be just around the corner, it could be in the next few minutes."
I was quite happy with that idea. But I never imagined I would be old.
It never even occurred to me.
It was utterly unthinkable.
And I still don't believe it.
But here I am doing this, I've got a bad back, I can't see.
The stain on my trousers, I'd like to point out though,
is actually a bit of pizza from lunchtime.
It's not because I've also become incontinent.
I'm only 53.
Right, that's all good. Back wheel. Brakes assembled.
I just need the wheel and the hub.
Quite a few bits to get here. We've got the hub,
the sprocket, back wheel.
The Daimler-Maybach of 1885 is considered by historians
to be the first motorcycle,
although it should be pointed out that it's got four wheels.
It's a sort of motorcycle with stabilisers on it.
But I suppose, on the basis that one wheel at the back was driven
and it had handlebars,
it is a motorcycle of sorts.
The motorcycle didn't really come right until well into the 1970s,
at the very earliest.
I mean, if you look at motorcycles from World War I era,
it's not a bit of automotive history I know a great deal about,
but they were terrible. Some of them didn't even have clutches,
you had to sort of push them along to get them going.
And you had to kill the engine to bring them to a stop.
That, combined with the brakes being absolutely hopeless,
was just lethal.
I think the thing that's appealing about motorcycles, for me, anyway,
is that it's the nearest thing a modern man has to the charger
of the medieval knight, to the Arthurian questor of legend.
Because it's a very similar, sort of, experience.
You put on armour and you ride off alone into the sunset,
or the sunrise, or whatever, to do some good deeds.
And I think that, maybe, that is why it appeals to us.
That and getting flies in your teeth.
It's an interesting experience, riding a bike
compared with driving a car. Because you do sit in a car.
You react to what it does, you tilt your head as you go around bends,
and you brace yourself more than you're conscious of doing,
to be honest.
But on a bike, especially a small bike,
especially one as small as this,
you are actually part of the, sort of, physics envelope of the whole thing,
and how it works. How you move relative to the seat,
where you tilt your head, whether or not you're tense or relaxed -
that makes a huge difference to the way the thing performs,
how smoothly it will go through a series of bends.
And that's part of the appeal as well, I think.
That you are, you really are at one with the machine,
because you're part of it.
Until the rider's sitting on the bike,
the masses and the mass centralisation,
and all that sort of stuff isn't fully resolved yet.
You don't get on the bike, you sort of,
without wishing to sound a bit crude about it,
you insert the bike in you.
Right, here we go.
Oh, that's so nice.
I think from this side,
it's good, isn't it?
There's no denying that that is a motorcycle.
It's not much of one, but it is one.
Right, let's put the engine in.
We need just two bolts for this, those are definitely bolts.
The nuts and spring washers, and the engine itself,
which you will notice is already assembled.
This I shall explain.
Now, if you were watching very closely at the beginning in the aerial shot
of the table you have spotted that the engine is already assembled.
"Why?", you may be asking.
Well, on The Reassembler,
we've already put a single-cylinder engine together in the last series.
Here are some highlights.
What the hell is that?
Do you want to see the piston go up and down?
Brilliant, isn't it? Look at that.
It's most of the machine.
In eight hours and 34 minutes,
or just under the time it takes to ride from Yeovil to Arbroath,
I've reassembled most of the machine.
I've made good progress with the frame and wheels,
as well as the engine, chain and carburettor.
Now we're going to get everything to do with your feet,
so that's the foot pegs, the kick-starter, the gear selector,
and the rear-brake pedal. We'll do all that in one go.
That is the kick-starter.
All of the rear-brake components which is quite a lot of stuff,
there's a spring, a clevis pin, brake pedal itself.
And then we have the foot pegs.
I think we will put on the foot pegs first.
It's not widely known that the monkey bike,
which we think of as a bit of comedy transport for hipsters, hippies,
and other cool adults,
actually started life as a piece of entertainment for children.
The idea was that visitors to Soichiro Honda's theme park
could have a go at riding the bikes, because they were small, so kids could do it.
It was actually a very cunning marketing ploy.
What it meant was the first bike that kids fell in love with was a Honda.
The trouble is that the monkey bike proved so popular as an idea that
Honda realised they'd have to put it into, sort of, serious production,
and sell it to adults as well.
Especially adults in the States who loved the idea of a miniature
motorcycle that they could ride off-road, around their yards,
their massive farms. Whatever.
Once I've finished tightening up the bolts... Or are they screws?
They're definitely bolts, I think.
..of the foot pedals, I can get the handlebars on which is very exciting,
because that's when it starts to look really motorbikey.
One of the all-time consuming schisms amongst people
who spend a lot of time doing things in sheds...
I'm not talking about people who work in industry,
so much as people who do this sort of thing out of sheer perversion.
Should you drink tea or coffee?
I find tea is more of an industrious drink.
I think it's one of the reasons why Britain industrialised so quickly and effectively.
Because we drank tea.
But, also, there's the simple fact that coffee can make you a bit
jittery if you have too much of it...
..which is why I suppose the French weren't going to invent the first steam engine because...
Or the Italians because they'd have a coffee
and they just sat down and shook...
whereas Thomas Newcomen had a cup of tea and thought,
"Right, steam engine."
A number of spring washers and things to go on here, because,
obviously, these have to be very tightly secured.
Otherwise, you'd be riding along,
and you'd find yourself still holding the handlebars
but the rest of the motorcycle would have disappeared.
And just for one terrifying moment, you'd be going along
like someone on a motorcycle,
in the attitude of somebody on a motorcycle,
but without the motorcycle.
Imagine the terror.
It wouldn't last long, I suppose, there is that.
That's about 60 pound feet.
That should do it.
This is quite exciting.
It's one of those moments where it
becomes more motorcycley than it was just a couple of seconds ago.
There's a bar.
You know some sports cars have removable steering wheels?
Whenever I've driven a car like that I've been going along something like
an A road, and I've often wondered,
can I take the steering wheel off and put it back on again before I have a crash.
I think one of the dangers with these is I'd be riding along,
hand on the throttle, and I'd think,
I wonder if I could collapse that handlebar and get back on again
before I get to the next bend.
And eventually, I'd try it.
But why wouldn't you? It's like being in a dark room with a tea cosy,
you will put it on your head, won't you? Why wouldn't you?
I think we'll put the front brake on,
because as Ferdinand Porsche once said,
nothing should be able to go faster than it can stop.
So we need a lever.
Nut, spring for the other end and the cable.
Here we go.
See, in some ways, I prefer it if I went more blind,
then I'd just wear glasses all the time
and I wouldn't spend half my life looking for them.
So, the lever, there's only one lever on this because it doesn't have a clutch.
It is centrifugal.
The lever goes on there and it's retained with,
this is technically a bolt because it has a doweling function.
It's not threaded up its entire length,
and it is secured with a nut.
However, it also threads into the bar, which would make it a screw.
So, you see, it's a pointless debate.
There's no point, really, getting bogged down in it.
In the spirit of not getting bogged down in things,
I'll attach the other end of the brake cable.
OK, there you go, there's a front brake.
The motorcycle can stop.
I, however, am not going to stop.
I've got a monkey bike, and I'm going to reassemble it,
whether you like it or not.
I've been here for 12 hours and 19 minutes,
and the night's starting to draw in.
So let's do the lights.
That's an interesting dilemma.
That screw went under the side panel...
..which, technically, I'm not allowed to touch.
I can't touch it because I'll spoil that lovely top shot which shows the
bike gradually diminishing on this table and
flourishing on the bench,
and I can't blow it out that way because it's...
I don't know what the rating of that bulb is,
but I can tell you without even being able to read it that it's feeble
in the extreme.
So, your tyres didn't grip the road, you couldn't stop,
and you couldn't see what you were going to hit anyway,
because the lights were so pathetic.
I mean, I'm amazed we stuck with it, really, the motorcycle, as an idea.
If you proposed it now...
People would say, "Don't be such an idiot."
But stick with it they did, so I will.
I'll attach the lights,
then I can go back to the table and get the fuel tank.
I love the yellow as a colour for cars and bikes.
I think it's absolutely fantastic. I've got a yellow bike.
I've had yellow cars. My first car was yellow,
maybe that's got something to do with it.
Observe the transformation.
It doesn't need to be tight, it's mounted on rubber,
just enough to stop it wobbling about.
There you go. Fantastic.
It's a toy motorcycle, but it is a motorcycle.
It's the real thing. Let's put the seat on.
The much repaired seat.
Look at that. It's half vinyl, half insulating tape.
Gaffer tape. Seat, in position.
That's good. I love the bits of tape.
That means it's been... It's been loved, actually, that means,
because somebody rode it so much that it started to split
cos they always do eventually,
but, bothered to mend it.
I like that. That's part of its history.
It's part of what makes this one this one and not one of the other ones
since they're all, essentially, copies of a master monkey bike.
That's the nature of mass production.
But this one, over time and use, has become specifically this one.
Fuel pipe. I'm going to reduce the remaining-part count by 50%.
Done it. Part number 302 of 303.
This piece is laden with meaning if you're into finding meanings in
things, because it links the tank, the home to the fuel of our dreams,
petrol, which is useless by itself, of course,
it's just an annoying smelly liquid.
But it joins it up with the carburettor
which is the entry point for it doing something useful,
i.e. going into the cylinder and being burned
so that you can...ride along.
The union is made.
Fuel meets the engine.
We're ready to go, apart from that side panel.
And you'll be amazed how tricky this is to fit.
If you talk to people about reassembling things
they will always try and be funny and say,
"I put together a bicycle", or whatever, and had a part left over.
And so do I, look, there it is. But not for long.
Are you ready? The final piece of the 303.
And one of the trickiest to put on.
Here it is, the side panel.
It's like a kung-fu move.
Brilliant. Meaningless, though, if it doesn't work.
If there's a better way to spend 13 hours and 51 minutes, well,
I'd like to hear about it.
I feel as though, together, we've come on a journey.
It may have been me assembling the forks on the brakes
and the electrics and all that other stuff, but I couldn't have done it without you, viewers.
We may have had some bumpy times along the way,
but if this monkey bike works, I feel our relationship
will be all the stronger for it.
It is quite small. It's also very humble.
But it does represent complete liberty, two wheels, one piston,
that's all you need. Well, that's all you need if it actually works.
So let's find out.
Throttle stop just engaging, fuel on, tiny bit of choke.
Carburettor settings, I've done.
Here we go.
Now, does it idle?
I believe it does.
I think this calls for some sunglasses, some dry ice,
and some Steppenwolf.
MUSIC: Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf
# Get your motor runnin'
# Head out on the highway
# Lookin' for adventure
# And whatever comes our way
# Yeah, darling go and make it happen
# Take the world in a love embrace
# Fire all of your guns at once
# And explode into space
# Like a true nature's child
# We were born, born to be wild
# We can climb so high
# I never want to die
# Born to be wild... #
As James May spends most of his spare time in his workshop tinkering around with old motorbikes, we thought we'd film it.
James is faced with reassembling a 1970s Honda Z50A Mini Trail Motorcycle from all its 303 component parts. This exciting and portable mini motorcycle was fun for all the family and got a whole generation of kids hooked on motorcycles for the rest of their lives.
This is an object James can't wait to reassemble, but along the way he faces a very real and very hostile battle with some springs, ponders over correct workshop etiquette and contemplates the lifelong debate - what's the difference between a bolt and a screw?