Friday, November 11, 2016

Too many bikes. Every time I saved up a few hundred bucks I would upgrade my two wheeled machinery.
These were the Japanese years.

Mine looked like this without the lower fairing
When I decided to sell my 305 I made the mistake that many first time sellers do. I had spoken to a buyer over the phone who assured me that he was serious about seeing and probably buying the bike. He wouldn't be able to come and look at the bike until that evening so I agreed to give him the first crack. While I was cleaning the bike outside, a guy driving by stopped to take a look at the bike. (I must have had some very attractive machines because it seems that people were always stopping and trying to buy my stuff!). He liked it, and when he learned that it was for sale was interested in buying it. I told him that I had promised the first offer to another party. The guy told me that he wanted to buy it for his wife, and that he would pay me a bit more than the asking price.

Now the smart thing to do was to sell it to this guy and get a few extra bucks. I could have just called the expected buyer and told him that he didn't need to waste a trip, as the bike was now sold. Well, I could have done that if I had taken down his phone number. Of course I hadn't done that. He said that he was coming out, and I believed him! The next smartest thing would have been to get this other guy's phone number so I could call him if the expected buyer fell through. Well I was young, dumb and gullible. I said that I was going to hold the bike for the guy that was going to come by that evening and buy it. So the guy drove off without any way for me to get in touch with him. The punchline to this disjointed narrative was that the expected buyer never showed up! Of course!

It was a hard lesson to learn. As you might imagine there weren't that many buyers out there for my "squatty hummingbird" I finally did sell it, but it took awhile. Now it's always first come, first served. If someone want's me to hold it after they have seen it, they have to leave a non refundable deposit.

After I sold my Superhawk I found an X6 that looked pretty much like the Cafe Racer pictured above. The guy must have been really hard up for money because I recall only that this bike was really cheap. It ran really strong, but the spring loading of the shifter lever was bad, so that shifting became a two movement affair. For instance, a downshift was preceded by first lifting up the lever with your toe, than stepping down for the actual shift. Kind of like double clutching. I managed to pick up the knack pretty quickly. This was a pretty racy looking machine, and it was quite an ego trip to ride this on the street. It caught the eye of the next buyer one day who approached me about buying it. He must have made me a pretty good offer because I was quick to seal the deal. The stock X6 was considered a pretty hot performer at the time, it set the standard for two stroke performance that led to the H1.

The Suzuki 250cc X6 was the early performance king 
I don't recall how I found my next bike, a Kawasaki W1 650cc twin. If it looks like an old non unit construction BSA, there's a good reason. It was originally built under license by Meguro, in an agreement with BSA. Meguro was a small post war Japanese motorcycle manufacturer that was bought out by Kawasaki in the early Sixties.This model debuted in the early 1960s and was by far the largest, fastest, and most prestigious motorcycle in Japan. Kind of a Japanese Sportster. It was a favorite of the post war criminal element. It could easily out run any law enforcement vehicle of the time. (This is probably the reason that the cops later went to the Fairlady Z.)  This is what caused the large displacement motorcycle to have an unfavorable reputation with law enforcement officials. 

At this time the Japanese were considered to be good at making copies of Western products. The famous Datsun OHC straight six motor is considered by many to be a copy of the Mercedes OHC six. Initially Datsun built this motor as a four, than added two more cylinders to come up with the motor for the FairLady Z. 

I found the bike to be very impressive. It was narrow and fairly lightweight but with plenty of torque from the big twin. Very flexible and easy to control. I taught a buddy of mine how to ride it in a couple of hours. I imagine that a Triumph twin would have similar virtues. Again this flashy bike caught the eye of the next buyer. It seems that I had a knack or at least the good luck to make some money on each of these sales.

My chronology is still fuzzy,  but somehow, the Superhawk, the X6, and the W1 all inhabited a narrow time frame between the middle of  Junior year and the first few months of Senior year. 

The Kawasaki 650cc twin was made under license to BSA. Mine was orange with black fogging.

Because this was the bike that I rode Senior year! Didn't need to make excuses with this machine.
My brother bought one first, but I got one too.

Of course there is a story behind this picture. I was on my way home from school. I had just entered the MacArthur Fwy. A friend of mine who was Junior, and a photographer for  the school paper, was riding shotgun in his older buddies'  late Sixties Corvette. They pulled up alongside me. Tommy pointed the camera at me and I turned to look at him. He snapped the shot, then I downshifted twice and took off in a puff of smoke and a shrieking  howl. I left that Vette behind until I hit one hundred mph. I was feeling pretty smug until a few seconds later the Corvette blew past me. I held the throttle wide open but that Vette just continued to pull away.  At about 115 mph. It was all over for me. While the Kawi and other quick bikes could run away from almost any car from a stop, the high performance sporty cars like the Corvette and especially the Porsche 911 had it all over them in top speed. You had to know when to shut it down and claim the victory!

It's hard to believe that such a racy high strung motorcycle could be a reliable touring bike, but it was. This was the bike that allowed to roam far and wide, riding all over Northern California. I took my first long ride up the coastline on Highway 1. All the way to Mendocino. I rode up to, and around Lake Tahoe. I remember one Friday after school I took a ride up to Sacramento, then turned around and came back. It didn't even seem like a waste of time. The most Epic ride of my Senior year was my participation in the 1973 California 1000. 

The California 1000 was a loosely timed rally which started at Los Angeles Harley Davidson on Friday at Midnight and would end at some undisclosed location 1,000 miles way. There were numerous checkpoints that would log your arrival time and provide you with directions for the next segment. As long as you finished within the allotted 24 hrs. you would receive your finisher's pin. This was quite a challenge, however I completed it successfully and unscathed. The interesting thing was that I had to miss school on Friday to get to LA in time. I told my Mother my plans, and bless her soul, she was okay with that. My Mom knew that this was the kind of adventure, that I not only craved, but needed. Growing up in a time that severely limited a woman's options for her life, she saw no reason that her son should be deprived of his opportunity for glory! When the Dean of Boy's called, asking why I was not in school that day, she told him the truth. Her Son was on an adventure. When I showed up in school on Monday I was summoned to the Dean's office. He asked for my explanation. I told him the truth, that I wanted to go on this rally.  I was not going to pass up this opportunity. I asked him if he would have excused me from school that day, just to make this trip. He of course said no. I then asked him if he would have preferred for me to lie and say that I was sick, how would he know? I told him that I was prepared to accept the consequences of my action. I guess that caught him in a dilemma, my willingness to be truthful outweighing the value of a day at school. Looking back on it Today, it probably wasn't really a big deal, but of course standards had to be maintained. Old Mr. Dold probably got a big kick out of the whole thing, I was always a challenge to the authority of the management.

I think that I'll have to chronicle all my Epic Ride's at  a future date.

My brother Ralph rode one of these Honda 450s the year before, during his Senior year. He suffered a financial set back when his Mach III was stolen by a prospective buyer during a"test ride". It goes to show how naive we were in those days. The buyer shows up by himself, and we ask him where his car is. He tells us that his buddy dropped him off and would return in a bit to give him a ride back home, if he didn't buy the bike.  Talk about a huge red flag! It was my brother and I who were showing the bike, if my Dad had been there I know that he wouldn't have fallen for that story. Well, we didn't ask to hold his driver's license, or the money, while he took a test drive. He must have thought that it ran pretty good because he accelerated up the hill and never came back!  We sat around waiting for him to return, hoping he just needed a longer test ride but eventually accepted the fact that we had been ripped off. The funny thing is, that I've recently gone to see cars where the guy just hands me the keys and tells me to take it around the block. It's nice to know that there are still folks that still believe that most  people are basically  honest. Now I will at least ask to hold onto their driver's license.
The disc brake made it a good stopper but still kind of a dull bike.

I rode the bike a few times but I wasn't impressed. My brother managed to run into a car that turned left in front of him and wrecked the bike. The ca'rs driver's insurance company paid for the loss, and after several months of saving up a little more  money my Brother made the jump into the Big leagues. 
Probably the most influential motorcycle of the modern era.
It's kind of like with the Beatles, unless you were there you wouldn't have believed it. The impact that the introduction of Honda CB750 four had upon the motorcycle world. The first modern four cylinder motor, OHC, four carburetors, four exhaust pipes, five speeds, and that big disc brake up front. And it was fast! It was so smooth that you could ride it at high speeds for hours at a time. This was machine that could warp the time/ distance continuum. And the motorcycling public ate it up! 

My Brother found a really nice clean 750 that was only a couple of years old. He actually let me ride it a few times. It seemed so heavy, powerful and smooth. In top gear you could creep along at walking speeds then twist the throttle and blast away. The terms used to describe the experience of riding this machine soon became cliche. "Turbine like smoothness, unlimited flow of power, phenomenal acceleration and unlimited cruising speeds."  These really did apply to this bike, especially the first generation. This was a machine that could exceed the performance of a Norton Commando or Harley Davidson Sportster while providing luxuries like an electric starter, a disc brake and a smooth ride. And don't forget the reliability, always a Honda trademark. These bikes became so popular that they changed the expectations of the motorcycling public. These bikes were the ultimate chameleons; Super bike, commuter, cafe racer, full dress touring bike, custom chopper and even Police bike! The success of this design led to similar transverse air cooled four cylinder models being developed by the Japanese competition. Kawasaki brought out the 900cc Z-1, Suzuki countered with a 750cc and later 1,000cc model. Yamaha was late to the game, sticking to three cylinder machines until they debuted the game changing four cyclider XS-11.

This proliferation of four cylinder designs led to displacements up and down the scale. From 1,100 cc super performance models at the top of the line, to even a 350 cc mini tourer from Honda. The success of the concept gave rise to the derisive term "UJM" Universal Japanese Motorcycle. This was the era that made the motorcycles produced by the European and American manufacturers seem almost irrelevant.

I made the move to a 1976 CB750 myself. It was a great bike. I managed to put 20,000 miles on mine the first year I owned it.

Not too far from the truth.

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