Thursday, June 8, 2017

The  1970s get a little hazy for me, motorcycle-wise.

photo source: Eric Cardin World

Not for any of the reasons you might see on those cable TV shows. It was a busy time for me. School and work. This went on until the end of the decade. A lot of things occurred, but they kind of blended together and many weren't documented by any Instamatic photographs taken at the time. I recall a period of a lot of motorcycle riding and trips taken with my buddy Rick, but neither of us was fond of stopping to take many photos. In fact we weren't too fond of stopping at all. This was a time when my riding consisted of "marathoning".

This just meant that we would ride and ride all day long, passing by interesting spots without looking at or investigating them. We certainly wouldn't stop for a photo op. We would just glance at them as we passed by in a blur. A lot of our trips were "day trips' in the sense that we would infrequently spend the night anywhere. A long ride up to Lake Tahoe returning home late at night. A trip up the Coast to Mendocino.

This period was comprised by my graduation from high school in 1973 and my graduation from college in 1980. This was a busy time for me. I was attending community college and university while working part and full time during most of this time. It was also the time that I worked at General Motors on the evening swing shift. Perhaps I can clarify my recollections by thinking about the bikes that I had in this time.

As I left high school I still owned my Kawasaki Mach III.

I sold that to buy the Honda 750 Chopper project my brother lost interest in.

That was followed by a Honda Motosport 350, bought in anticipation of a trip to Baja with my brother.

A surprisingly comfortable and capable bike.  Why did I remove the front fender on mine?
photo source: pinterest

I got to use my brother's 1970 Honda 450 twin while it sat around in my parent's garage.
I had sold my bikes to buy my first car, a '66 Mustang coupe.

Kind of an underwhelming bike, even with the disc brake. But a reliable one.
photo source:pinterest
My brother bought had bought a Honda 450 as his bike for the Baja trip. Since that didn't work out he let the bike sit as he was also pretty busy. Working at GM on the swing shift, getting married, and then attending U.C. Berkeley. I took some memorable rides on this bike; Yosemite, San Luis Obispo, and Red Bluff. There's another story attached to this 450 I'll share another time.

Employment at GM meant a lot more money to play with. I purchased an almost new 1976 Honda 750. I filled my time riding. I put 20,000 miles on it in a years time.

This was followed by my first Harley.

Then I bought my first new bike, that 1977 HD XLCR. This bike was ridden and reconfigured over the next twenty years!

The summer before college graduation I took that bike on my epic four week trip around the country.

Until I bought my Mach III I had only ridden as far as the town of Marshall, in Marin county. I remember pulling over to the side of legendary Highway One, than turning my bike, the Honda 305 chopper around, and calling it quits, for now. I had read an especially compelling article in Cycle magazine entitled "Scenes of desolate beauty, riding the Coastal Highway." I became somewhat obsessed about riding the Coast highway.

With the Mach III I had a bike that opened up the entire state to my wanderings. I finally rode up to Mendocino in my Senior year, 1973. A day trip to Lake Tahoe, and the '73 California 1000 followed later that year. It became something of a tradition for me to ride up to Mendocino whenever I got a new bike.

I decided that I still wanted to build a chopper or something, so I decided to buy my brother's dissassembled Honda 750. It was only the motor and forks. The motor components were "microsealed" which was supposed to reduce friction. Therefore the motor was competently in parts. Of course I had no doubts that it would go together again.

This was in the summer of 1973.
My Dad's '63 Lincoln is right behind me. What a great car that was.

I finished up my brother's Honda 750 project, but it was built up as more of a mild cafe racer than the rigid chopper we had intended. I owned this bike during my very brief tenure at the Kawasaki dealership. I made a serious mistake when re assembling the oil pump for this motor, which resulted in low oil pressure at idle when warm. For some reason, probably that I was just sick of working on it, I convinced myself that this really wasn't a problem. This resulted in a worn crankshaft and lower end, plus damage to the rocker arm assemblies. I replaced the crank and rod bearings then sold the bike. for 800.00. I should have known better, but I learned a lesson that I would (occasionally) forget in the future: No mechanical problem ever "works itself out!"

The Motorsport 350 was never used for a trip to Baja, but I did ride it on a a very rainy trip up to Redding. Despite my misgivings about this being a much smaller bike, the upright seating, high bars and comfy seat made for enjoyable cruising. It would top out a little over 90 mph. but cruise steadily at 70 mph. It's kind of like my current V6 F-150, not really fast, but it performs well enough for most all of my needs. For the record my F-150 will top out at 100 mph, cruise effortlessly at 70 mph, (85 mph. if I put the boots to it) and return 20-21 mpg. at a steady 65 mph.

We Bad! I customized it by removing the turn signals, fork boots, replacing the huge stock tail light with a Lucas unit. I bent the bars into the "Castro Valley" pullback style ( I used the exposed framing in my folk's garage) I drilled the baffles out a bit and added that sissy bar. Perfect. Visible in the driveway was my Brother's '73 Camaro. Bought new, he put over 80,000 miles on that car in three years. That old car is a '52 Lincoln.

Real long distance riding finally returned with the purchase of my '76 Honda 750. It cost me all of 1,425.00 and had all of 5,000 miles on it. Even though I was working full time at GM and attending J.C. I still found a lot of time to ride with Rick. I put 20,000 miles on it during the year I owned it. I lived on that bike. Reno, Mendocino, Tahoe, San Luis Obispo, El Cajon. Everywhere. This bike was the beginning of a lot of good times. I still owned it and was riding it while I was building up my first Sportster. Unfortunately Rick was still riding his Yamaha 350, which at the time was considered a pretty hot little bike. Soon though, Rick made the jump to a Honda 750 of his own. The sight and sound of two CB  750 s tearing down the open highway is one of my favorite memories of this time.

My adventure on the first California 1000 was so satisfying that I managed to talk Rick into going to the second running the next year. The date had been set and publicized in the magazines but when we arrived in LA we found that it had been cancelled at the last minute due to the Arab Oil Embargo! Undeterred we decided to run our own version of a 1,000 mile event. We left LA and headed out to the road that traverses the spine of California, SR395. Big Pine, Lone Pine, Bishop,  up to Mt Lassen. Rick and I rode our 750s on this trip.

My first HD came some time after this trip, in May of 1976, and it was a peach? Like an old piece of fruit it was rotten to the core. Well, not really rotten, just thrashed and totally worn out. I should have suspected something could be questionable about the maintenance it had been receiving, when the seller demonstrated how he shut down the motor. Since the key was located under the battery and difficult to access, he just placed his palm over the unfiltered velocity stack (this should have been a clue in itself!) and choked the motor to death. Of course this would result in raw fuel flooding the cylinders and leaking into the crankcase diluting the oil in the lower end. For some reason, probably youthful naivete and optimism I convinced myself that this wreck would be the perfect choice for my first Harley Davidson. I was going to rebuild it anyway, right? And it was already chopped! Woody Ahern lives again!

More, lots more, GM money was spent on my own this chopper project, a 1970 Harley Davidson XLCH which I did succeeded in rebuilding.

First time around girder front end, no front brake, looking good.

Looks kind of like a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving, don't it?
photo source: Ebay
 There is a crankcase projection visible above the kick starter shaft that was cracked in half, and was replaced with a new cast aluminum piece, that was heli-arched while the crankshaft was being rebuilt.

So many components just bolted together, with awfully big nuts and bolts.
photo source: Ebay

I stripped the motor down completely. What I found was not surprising, but in my youthful zeal I wasn't concerned. I expected the valves and the pistons would need to be renewed. That big tapered roller bearing on the bolt together crankshaft, that needed to go.

This aluminum cage held those steel rollers and rotated on the pinion shaft pictured below. Most of these rollers were found found flattened out like a bunch of hot dogs packed in a cello package. Not good!
photo source: Ebay

This is a pristine example, mine wasn't.
photo source: Ebay

As can be seen the entire crankshaft/ flywheel assembly is just a bunch of parts bolted together. One good thing about these early Harley Davidson motors is that they are infinitely rebuildable. All shafts run in ball or tapered bearings, needle bearings or phosphor bronze bushings. None of this steel running directly on aluminum, cost and labor saving, nonsense that was employed on contemporary Japanese designs. Every part could be independently replaced, and on my thrashed example they were.

That caged roller bearing pictured above rotated on that stub shaft. I found flattened rollers and almost a third of the hard surfacing missing from the pinion shaft on tear down. My poor Sportster motor had endured a lifetime of abuse. This post wasn't meant to be a primer on HD motor building so suffice it to say that whatever needed to be replaced or rebuilt was, and the completed motor was returned to service in my newly restyled and reconfigured frame

The bike was repainted black, with a new Arlen Ness fiberglass fender and sissy bar, A new set of one piece drag pipes, throttle cable bracket, air cleaner, (no more velocity stack) were purchased from the same source, The same handlebars, ten over girder and twenty one inch spool wheel was used on the front. I rode this bike in this configuration for a while, I don't recall for how long. Plans were being devised for a trip up the Northwest coast and possibly all the way to Alaska. Some modifications were going to be needed.

Coming up soon, preparing my bike for the long trip ahead.

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