The Big Bear
Let’s get redneck!
All my friends are riding around on ATVs. Mudding in the summer, hunting in the fall, and flipping the bird to snowmobiles in the winter. Sure, a friend of mine lets me borrow his Foreman 500 since he got an XMR, but riding someone else’s ATV is less than ideal. Especially since I’m not an experienced rider and I’d feel bad wrecking someone else’s bike. If I had a bike of my own, I wouldn’t care as much about rolling it, smashing it on a rock, losing it in the river, etc. Besides, how much could they cost?
Well, they aren’t cheap. The XMR ended up about 16 grand. A Foreman 500 goes for about 7 grand. I mean, I could.. but.. since when do I buy things brand new? Checking the used market, ATVs tend to sell for, on average, about half the price of a brand new equivalent. I started learning about the different kinds and blah blah. I’m looking for something relatively heavy duty (more work, less go-fast) but also easy to fix. After contemplating for a few days on whether or not to buy a really nice used Foreman 500 from a local dealer for 3 grand, I decided to check Facebook Marketplace one last time. This time, something caught my eye.
1998 Yamaha Big Bear 350 4×4 for parts – $500
Five hundred bucks! Just because it doesn’t run! Sounds like a project to me! I got in touch with the seller and found out that he bought it a few years ago, beat the shit out of it, drowned it, the engine seized, then he let it sit in the yard for 2 years, and now just wants it gone. Immediately I start doing the math in my head: I was about to spend 3 grand on a decent used ATV. If I get this pile of shit for $500, and pop in a new motor for $500, and factor in another $250 for various broken bits and fluids, I should have a working ATV for half of what I was already willing to spend. So I bought it, and had it delivered to my shop.
The very next weekend a friend of mine split a case of beer with me and we tore into the motor, checking whats good and whats bad, what needs to be replaced and what we can salvage. Look, I’m not going to try to get this 20-year-old ATV back to factory spec, I just want something I can beat the shit out of and not consider it a waste of money if it gets scrapped. Lets inspect.
The battery was split open, so I ditched that and added $100 to the shopping list. The motor absolutely will not budge, but whatever, I’m ready to drop in a new one, maybe a 400. I took off the recoil starter and used a ratchet to try and turn the motor backwards. IT TURNED. WHAT. Go forwards again, hard stop. Backwards no problem, but it wont go past TDC, which means either a valve or the spark plug is stopping the piston going all the way up, or there’s some debris in the combustion chamber. I loosened the head bolts and lifted the head slightly, and the engine was now able to turn all the way over. And she turned smoooooth. I blew out the chamber and tightened the head back down, engine still turns smooth! Compression tested perfect too! Must have been some dirt or something in the chamber, maybe this bitch will run just fine?? This shit would have made a great youtube video.
Before attempting to start the engine, I have to check everything else, so I cracked open the gearbox and watched in horror as a mix of water, oil, and gasoline dumped out. I cracked open another beer and just stared at it for a while. Then I looked at the carb. Tearing it down, I found it completely clogged with varnish, and it took the better part of an hour to clean it all out. I was drunk and impatient at this point, so I put it back together, filled it with new oil, a splash of gas in the tank, and pulled the recoil starter a dozen or so times with no luck. Realizing it has a push button start, I jumped it from my car. Cranking for a few seconds it started to sputter to life and actually ran on its own for a few seconds before dying. Adjusted the idle a bit, played with the choke, and got it running constant. It only works on full choke, and if I touch the throttle it dies instantly, but it’s a start.
Since it only runs on full choke, it’s obvious the main jet in the carb is still clogged. Cleaned that a bit, and now it’s much more stable. I can even rev it up without it dying! This is fantastic news.. I don’t have to buy a new motor, bringing my cost way down. Let’s see what’s next.
The idle is a little high, and when I put it in neutral the idle climbs quite a bit. The clutch works properly, and so does the shifter, except reverse. In order to engage reverse there’s a knob that has to be twisted to allow the foot shifter to go into reverse. Well that cable is seized to shit, so I cut it out and held the reverse lockout with a zip tie. It’s a safety thing so you don’t accidentally shift to reverse while rolling forward at speed. I will just have to be careful (famous last words). Coincidentally, the way the shift mechanism works means the engine has to be at a nice low idle to go from neutral to reverse, or from neutral to 1st. With my high idle problem, this means I can’t shift properly. Big deal! I was ready to buy a new engine, a new carburetor is nothing by comparison. But, for the hell of it, let me attempt to clean a carburetor for the second time in my life.
Being much more thorough this time, and taking a break to read about how carburetors work, I learned that the main jet is a really tiny fucking hole, and used a single strand of copper wire from a bad ATX power supply to gently clean out the gunk I didn’t notice last time. Put it all back together, and it started and ran beautifully, low idle, proper shifts, and all. A working Big Bear 350 for 500 bucks plus a weekend of wrenching, a case of beer, some oil and gasoline, and a battery. Total: $700. All this happened a few months ago, and it’s been mostly sitting around not being used (because I own a business and don’t have free time), except for the occasional drunk donuts in the parking lot, or the time I used it to drag my smashed-up Volvo into the garage.
Recently, a friend of mine gave me a plow. He picked it up one day hoping to put it on his ATV, but it didn’t fit, so he gave it to me, knowing I have a history of metal fabrication he figured I could adapt it to my ATV somehow. Well two days ago everyone was preparing for a massive snowstorm and I figured, now is a good time to get this plow attached. The plow came with two brackets, which I had to attach to the ATV somehow and somewhere. Then the winch in the front lifts and drops the plow as needed. Well, I don’t have the winch installed so.. shit let’s look at the plow brackets first.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I actually questioned reality at first because I have notoriously bad luck. The ATV already has brackets installed, and the plow fits fucking perfectly. As if this plow originally came off this thing to begin with. So really all I have to do is install the winch and I’m good to go. The ATV was already wired for the winch, buttons and battery connection and all ready to go, the previous owner simply removed his winch before he sold me the ATV so it was a straight plug and play. Or so I thought. The winch I have is a small truck winch, rated 3000lbs, which doesn’t fit. None of the bolt holes will line up. Fuck it, I will remove the mounting bracket, weld the winch to the bracket, then reinstall the bracket to the ATV. Easier said than done though. Every bolt holding the bracket to the frame snapped clean off. Double fuck it. Welded the winch to the bracket, then welded the bracket to the frame. Connected the wires. Done. Winch installed. Fuck you. The buttons worked, the plow lifted and dropped on command, I plowed out my entire building after the storm the next day.
$700 ATV with plow.