Saturday, November 5, 2016

My first real motorcycle.

No, not the Honda 450 "Black Bomber". The little motorcycle on the bottom, in the middle.

I remember seeing this Honda Ad in Hot Rod Magazine in the early 1970s I think that I was a sophomore in high school. I cut the ad out, covered it with Scotch tape to preserve it and carried it around with me in my wallet. Well I actually only carried around the section of the ad that described the CB160. Honda used the designation of CB to identify their street bike models. The scrambler models were referred to as the CL version.

I actually drove the old Honda 50 on the street legally for a few months after I got my learner's permit. I could get my permit when I was fifteen and a half years old and the only restrictions were that I couldn't drive on the freeway, carry a passenger, or drive at night. Talk about the first taste of freedom. I was really motivated. In those days we didn't ask our parents to drive us around. We took matters into our own hands. In one day I rode the bus out to the DMV office on Broadway Ave. I took the written test, passed it,rode the bus back home. I had my parents sign the paperwork, took the bus back to the DMV, turned in the paperwork, and rode the bus home with the permit burning a hole in my pocket. It was the best bus ride ever!

I quickly found out that the 50 was woefully under powered. Flat out on a level street it could go about 40 mph. Max! Taking off from a stoplight was a harrowing experience. I had to use full throttle through the first two gears to get it up to 25 mph. Many times there was an impatient queue of cars behind me, sometimes they blasted the horn to encourage me. I will say that this was an excellent introduction to the art of wringing maximum performance from a minimum displacement machine. I rode the 50 around the neighborhood and once even rode it to school. The operative word is "once". It was the smallest bike in the motorcycle parking area. I think there was a 250cc Kawasaki, a new Honda CB175, and Dunn's 305 scrambler. Oh well, there actually one other slightly larger cycle, a Suzuki 90cc. The rider's nickname was "Poochie". I wasn't going to keep on riding that Honda 50 until a similarly charming nickname stuck to me.

My older brother came up with the idea that we should combine our limited financial resources and buy a bigger bike, together. We could work out a schedule to split the riding time, my brother assured me. I had been a younger brother for a long time- I wasn't about to fall for THAT line! I knew what would happen. I would find myself standing on the curb watching my brother roar off into the distance.

I only had a couple of hundred dollars to spend, so I carefully scanned the classified ads looking for something that I could afford that wouldn't be terminally fatal to my faltering self image.

That ad for the Honda 160 described a bike that would suit my needs. With 16.5 horsepower it was freeway legal and it claimed a top speed of up to 70 mph. Looking through the newspaper I found a 1965 model for 160.00! My Dad, myself and my brother drove down to see it and test drive it. I test drove it and couldn't believe how much power it had. It could actually accelerate! I could get used to this.

Hard to read, but it promises 70 mph.

I think that I bought it from a guy in Berkeley. I know that I drove it home but I can't remember the route I took. I'm sure that it must have been all surface streets, not that I would have minded!

Actually it was the perfect bike for me at the time. As I mentioned, it could actually accelerate to useful speeds in traffic. At this time we were living in Oakland at the base of the foothills. There were a lot of hills in our area. The big test was Lincoln Ave. This is a very steep, long hill that passes by the Mormon Temple and becomes Skyline Blvd. as it passes the Warren Freeway. The 50 could only make it up a few blocks at the base of the hill before it actually slowed to a stop, and stalled out. I had to bull dog the bike around and go down the hill.

The 160, when wound out in second gear could actually make it to the top. It still wasn't the ideal bike for hill climbing, but it allowed me to explore most of the surrounding area. After I got my license I tried it out on the freeway, of course. In Oakland, the Mac Arthur Freeway is a curvy, hilly, highway. The poor little bike wrung it's heart out but it could only hit the promised 70 mph. on a few level sections. I used the bike to get to school most mornings. It was about a ten mile ride but I generally avoided the freeway except for short sections, unless I was running late. I gave this machine credit for having more power than it really did. I didn't know what "lugging" an engine meant, but that didn't stop me from doing it. It means to operate the motor at a lower rpm in a higher gear under a heavy load. In other words as I approached the crest of a long hill and the bike began to lose speed the proper thing was to downshift and allow the rpms to rise back into the powerband. This would allow the bike to gain or at least maintain speed. Failure to do so would subject the motor to extremely high pressure loads. I just kept the throttle open as the bike slowed down, but it would make it over the hill. Finally this resulted in the motor eating a rod bearing. It started a horrible knocking clatter which I knew was probably fatal.

The little engine that could, but barely

I was undaunted. I dropped the motor, split the cases. and removed the crankshaft. Honda cranks were pressed together roller bearing affairs. These were well suited to high rpm running and were generally long lived. Because of the small displacement the bike just had barely enough power for the manner I rode it. A larger bike would have had a margin of extra power that might have prevented the problem. Prompt down shifting would have helped ,also. Looking back I'm surprised that I just didn't junk the bike, it certainly couldn't have been worth much. I decided to repair it and a brand new crankshaft assembly was purchased from Nelson Brothers Honda down on E14th. St. I don't recall how much I paid for it, but I must have thought it was a good deal.

Mine wasn't this bad1 I didn't break the top of the rod off, I just flattened out some big end bearings

I learned a lot on this bike. Besides this major repair, I remember recovering the seat with a repop seat cover. I had tried some hill climbing with the bike, there was a hill climb area some where up in the Oakland hills that I had ridden past before. I gave it a try with my street bike! Of course it stalled half way up the hill and slid down smashing the rear fender. This gave me an excuse to learn some body working skills. I trimmed the rear fender, relocated the tail lamp and bobbed the front fender for good measure. I decided to try the first of many spray bomb paint jobs. This one was "candy apple" purple. If you are close to my age you might remember all those various spray can paint finishes that were available at bike shops and hardware stores. My favorites were the "one step" (always one step,who had time for two steps?) metallic finishes. I was too smart to fall for the the promise of the "one step metalflake paint job" in a can. The metallic finishes were a good compromise, really just suspended glitter, and usually  came out pretty good, as long as you kept on shaking the can. If not, there would be a noticeable patch of heavy sparkle build up in a spot,or two. Of course there was nothing worse than running low on paint on a Sunday afternoon when you were planning to ride it to school on Monday. Just go lightly on the parts you couldn't see!

Cal Custom, A name you could trust!
Of course I had to try to extract more power. There were exotic "big bore" kits available. Bore it out to 175cc! These kits were kind of expensive, new pistons, new cylinder liners, plus the cost of all that machining. What kind of a result could you achieve? I don't know, I never tried it. I never knew anyone that did, until years later my Buddy Rick told me he had installed a Yoshimura big bore kit (811cc?) in his CB750. I didn't ask him how much it cost. Being a broke High School kid I did the easiest thing, pull off the air filters and "bolt on" a set of Rocky brand "shorty" mufflers. Shorty mufflers were the last resort for the bucks down bike enthusiast. While they were not custom made to fit any model in particular, that made them able to be fit to any model that you had. They came with the universal mount strap hangar. They were short, as the name implied, which kind of ruined the styling of your bike, making it look kind of stubby, instead of long and sleek. But they had several outstanding attributes: they were chrome, loud and cheap! Perfect!

These are still available from Revzilla, just 29.99. 
Well, I tried my hand at a lot of different things with that 160. Off Roading, Touring, mechanics, high performance tuning, upholstery, metal working, painting, and custom design.  Whether every experiment was an uplifting experience or a failure  didn't matter. What mattered is that I was riding, every day the bike was up, and every where that I could reach with that machine. I became adept at downshifting, I wasn't going to lug my engine to death again. But as always I wanted more. I managed to save up those several hundred bucks. Obviously it was time to upgrade again.

My brother had set his sights a little higher. He had a buddy who had bought a new Honda CB350. Honda's earlier  305cc twin had been around for quite a few years and were well thought of. These were considered "mid sized" bikes at the time. Many adult riders proudly rode these machines every day, in all kinds of conditions. My brother found a 1965 305cc Honda "Super Hawk", the 250cc model was just called the "Honda Hawk"  I remember the first impression I had of this machine. It was massive! Like an Electra Glide, or something. It had mismatched kick up mufflers. One side was a "Rocky" universal megaphone muffler, the other side had a custom fitted upswept muffler. Either way the bike had a thundering exhaust. I was a little scared to stand next to it as he revved it up. It shook and vibrated like a mad beast.Probably the most unique thing about the bike was the forward arching kick starter. It needed to go forward to clear the rear set pegs. (The scrambler had a proper rearward arc).  I didn't get a chance to test ride this rig, my brother thought it had too much power for me to handle. That's the downside to being the younger brother, I knew I was right when I didn't agree to share a motorcycle with him!

This is an iconic shape for us Japanese bike riders of the Seventies. Just 67.00 from Revzilla

This was Honda's first "big bike". Although it was only 305cc, it's performance was almost comparable to the Triumph 500cc twin. Top speed of a well tuned example was claimed to be the "ton", one hundred miles per hour. Fast, oil tight, and reliable, this bike was the first nail in the British bike industries coffin. But as we all know, it wasn't the last.

Recollections are a little fuzzy around this time. Somehow I ended up with this Superhawk. I think we both got caught up in the Chopper craze around this time.  It may be hard to believe but it was common for riders to" chop"  even small bikes like these.

In 1972 I was a Junior in High School.

I went all the way: ten inch extended fork tubes, 5.00 x16 Harley style rear tire, Sportster tank, Humpback seat with sissy bar, pull back bars, and bird shooter pipes! I thought it was pretty cool and it did get a lot of attention. Big Bike Magazine, a Harley oriented Chopper rag used to call these things "squatty humingbirds!"

That year an article appeared in Street Chopper magazine about Honda twins, but they didn't mention the 305 Superhawk, I decided to set them straight and sent a letter and a picture of my bike. This is the cover of the issue my letter appeared in.

And here is the page my letter appeared.

When my brother saved up his next few hundred bucks he traded up to a Kawasaki 500cc Mach Three. This was one of the first Japanese Superbikes of the early '70s. It was fast and loud and potentially lethal.

His didn't come with the girl.
Next, Senior year brings a new bike.

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