Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shop Stop: J&M Enterprises w/ John Melniczuk

John Melniczuk in his Cedarville, NJ Showroom.
Who knew such a huge treasure trove of pristine British motorcycles sat just an hour from my home - in South Jersey of all places? I met John Melniczuk (owner of J and M Enterprises) through our mutual friend Al Hartman (see the Turkey Pro story for more on Al and his amazing collection.) John is a master powder coater and a meticulous restorer of motorcycles -Triumph being his specialty and his passion. I've seen his work in bike shows and magazines over the years, so when I picked up a basket case '66 T120, I immediately made an appointment to see John. Not only did I get great advice and direction on my project, but I got a chance to see inside (and how things operate) at J and M Enterprises - a meticulously organized workshop, with a second-to-none show room to display Johns collection of restored machines.

Just one corner of the show room. The bikes in the center are customer machines. The rest are Johns.
John's not just a Triumph enthusiast who's hobby's turned into an occupation - he's been working in the field since the 60's, when he was just a young man at his fathers Triumph dealership: Bauer Cycles (established in 1953). Johns grandfather owned  another dealership, Cycle Sports Center, which sold Indians and Vincents among others. John's ambition and devotion for the sport of motorcycle racing eventually lead to a job turning wrenches for the late great Gary Nixon. After a while, being a behind-the-scenes guy was not enough, so John began to campaign his own custom built Triumph T110 drag racer - setting many track records throughout his career. Dragging Triumphs runs in the family as well: His father's shop raced a dual Triumph-motored monster dubbed "The Parasite" - a bike that warrants a story unto itself - stay tuned for that one.

The original location of Bauer Cycles back in the 50's.
The twin motored Parasite getting ready for takeoff.
Johns on his T110 Triumph Dragster.
My first impression of John Melniczuk: He seemed like a very down to business and serious individual. He is serious - serious about his work. Nothing peeves him more than seeing an incorrectly "restored" bike whether it's the wrong plating on the hardware,  mismatched parts from different bikes, or a motor that hasn't been sorted out to better-than-factory standards. Attention to the smallest cosmetic detail is as important to him as performance - where John has a bag of tricks to improve the action and reliability. While he can do concourse quality restorations, he prefers to build show quality riders. Needless to say, I was a little intimidated when I showed up to his workspace in Cedarville, NJ with my pile of unsorted parts. But behind his no-bullshit exterior, theres a youthful energy that comes alive when he's talking shop - you can see it in his eyes and his grin. Theres a warm glow that clicks on when John is in his zone.

John is clearly in his zone - talking about breathing the crankcase properly so it leaks little to no oil.
Upon arrival John handed me a set of whitworth spanners and a few boxes. "Everything thats steel gets cadmium plated so put it all together. Make sure you get the shafts the rockers sit on because the ends show on the sides of the rocker boxes. The star plate on the bottom end of the steering damper has been chromed - you can leave it if you like but I think it'll stick out like a sore thumb. Get anything visible including clips and washers." I wanted to learn the art of restoration and John was more than happy to take me under his wing to "educate the next generation." So began our journey, John at the helm and me there, with the proverbial bucket and mop - swabbing the deck.

My pile of parts after a cleaning.
Frame and tinware. All sandblasted - some came that way in the purchase, others I did.
There are many top British restoration companies around the world - each with their own methods and preferences on how things should be done. I'm not here to debate different approaches, just to report on how things fly at J and M. Some purists will claim that powder coating is not period correct (which it's not) and it can break apart, melt and become hazy. Johns experience with powder coating proves that, if done correctly, it can be the strongest finish out there. With the right tools and correct application (he uses two coats but can apply less powder where certain details would be lost if over applied) and as far as hazing or swirling of the finish, it can be buffed right out using rubbing compound or even polishing wheels. A long lasting finish and a motor that is assembled correctly will preserve the look and ride-ability for decades. Preservation is the ultimate goal with these bikes as we want them around for the next generation.

My frame after receiving some repair work and a deep, lustrous black finish.
Over my next several visits, I began snapping pictures of all the cool stuff John has neatly displayed or stored. His garage is the ultimate man-cave for the British motorcycle super fan. Everywhere you look there are motorcycles, photographs and artifacts from the three generations of being in the bike business. Johns roots in running a dealership, his involvement in racing and his current repair and restoration business make him a triple threat in the industry. But Johns a modest guy. He curates his collection to be self inspiring. He'll happily answer any questions about his career and collection alike, but he's not out to make a huge name for himself or brag about his credentials. It's obvious he does what he does for the love of the sport, not for fame and fortune.

The T110 drag bike sits in front tons of Gary Nixon memorabilia given to John by the man himself.

Signed flat track tank used by Mr Nixon.
Johns grandfather in front of his dealership. How cool is that photograph?
As progress on my 66 Bonnie moved forward, I had to make some decisions on the motor. We had already cleaned the sludge trap and replaced the bearings, but what about primary chain conversions and clutch upgrades? Points ignition or go electronic? How much did I want to keep stock and how much did I plan on riding the bike? Some traditionalists say "if Triumph made it that way, then thats the way it should remain." I see that side of the argument. Sometimes I like a bike to be original, patina and all it's imperfections. This particular bike has to be a strong rider as it's going to be my main vintage-rider. I decided to drop my opposition to technology and go with a stronger, less problematic motor - so belt drive, Norton style clutch and electronic ignition it is!

John explains the advantage of the newer MAP valve guides. Better alloys allow tighter tolerances.
What shop is complete without some old rusty stuff sitting on a shelf?
"I'm not really sure how it started, but somewhere along the line Tiger Cubs became a real niche for me" mused John after I commented on all the Cub parts and bikes in his shop. "I called one of my dealers to order more con-rods and I was told they were out of stock indefinitely. So I called every other parts supplier and bought whatever stock they had remaining" say John "I'll probably have new ones machined from billet, but for now I am stocked". John has a lot of parts fabricated specially for his shop. From custom alloy pressure plates to sand cast dual carb racing manifolds for the t100r (more on that in a bit). If theres a way to improve upon something, especially if it's a point of contention to begin with, John usually has a solution.

A Rickman Framed Tiger Cub MX bike. Alloy rims, improved shocks, and a kick-starter that works!
Con Rod hoarding!
Johns Triumph Speed Twin with his Vincent Rapide in the background.
A  speed demons daydream or a plumbers worst nightmare?
One of the bikes John is proudest of is his 1955 T100R factory dirt tracker (only 50 produced and of those 2-3 exist today). It took John years to hunt down all the correct parts. The gas tank he was going to have modified to look like the original was sent off for restoration, but as luck would have it, another guy had the tank John needed and john had the tank the other guy needed. The cosmos aligned and a no brainer swap was made. The carbs, the pipes, the tracker style bars, the rigid tail and the spool front hub all had to be hunted down along with tons of other little pieces to make this period correct. The hardest part, at the time, was the dual carb manifold. Now being re-popped in billet, but unavailable several years ago, not to mention billet being unacceptable for this bike, John finally borrowed one, had a mold made by a professional sand caster, and cast about a dozen (the others being sold to pay for the expense). You literally cannot tell the difference between the original and the re-pops from J and M. After way more time and money than anticipated was put into the bike (isn't that always the case?) John finally completed the T100R and showed it off at a local rally. As luck would have it, a writer from The Classic Motorcycle was there and the bike became the cover story a few months later. 

1955 T100R. Extremely rare!
Dual carb racing manifolds - limited stock left!
The manifold and racing carbs in place. Check out the remote float!

The article has been mounted and framed above the bike in Johns shop.
Pre war 350 single with a post war parallel twin behind it.
My bike is coming together nicely. I've learned so much from my experiences working with John. My last visit was the first time we actually began putting pieces back together. Next visit we should have the rolling chassis done and the engine in a stand, mostly assembled. Theres still the tank situation we are trying to sort out. My bike, being a UK spec Bonneville had a larger capacity tank than the US market version. I have a tank thats the right size, but the badge holes won't line up with anything we've tried. What my tank originally was for remains a mystery, but John has a lead on a UK 66 tank that he thinks we might be able to trade for mine. We still have a little ways to go, but I'll have it up and running by spring rally season. Expect to see it at Oley!

My frame is together and looking great!
John takes a load off. It was 5:30pm and friday. Time to relax.
After getting the frame sorted John and I hung around his shop for a while, just shooting the breeze. He's as friendly as he is knowledgable. We chatted about family a bit.  Johns sons Steven and Michael are very competent riders, they took second and third, respectively, at last years Turkey Pro Slow Race (a trials type of event thats a battle of skill and balance,) and they almost beat 4 time champion Tom Swan by a matter of seconds. Michael Melniczuks son is just a little tyke but is already getting on a mini bike with the help of his father - "Im teaching him to ride fast" Michael boasts. Including Johns grandson there are 5 generations of motorcyclists in the family! 

Johns business has been pretty busy as of late. To the point where his own projects are on hold. There are several complete restorations coming in this winter, the constant maintenance on all the Cubs that competitors bring to John before and after races and trials, theres a Triton in the works - two actually, one's a customers and one is his. Eventually my Triton project will come to head and that'll make three! Some serious work is coming out of this shop - my Triumph Bonnevile being one of them. I can't wait to get it on the road but I'm enjoying the learning process as well. You can bet all the parts will be correct and my hardware will be cadmium plated - including that star plate on the steering damper. John would have it no other way.

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