Jan 13, 2009

Cheap Bike and Me Part VI

This is the last installment of this six-part tale of victory, depression, frustration, boredom, temperature and weather exposure, and wasted resources. To read the whole story, work your way back into Geezer Blog history to the beginning of this miserable experience. If you learn to avoid such nonsense, then I have accomplished my mission in life: to make every mistake possible so that others may live in peace.

From the first trial, we headed back into Appleton toward Granite Falls. Just outside of Granite Falls, shifting became really complicated and doing the balancing act between gears got harder and harder. About the time we passed Highway 23, the bike locked into 3rd and wouldn't shift. We turned onto Petes Point Road and for the next 40-some miles to Morton I was stuck in 3rd. I guess if you have to be stuck in a gear on a 1971 Honda CB450, 3rd is the one to be in. When I came to the stop sign in Morton, the bike sputtered and died. Sev and Gus were there, taking pictures of school girls or something, and they helped me push the bike on the sidewalk and out of traffic.

I was pretty shot from 220 miles of the Challenge plus my mornings' 40 miles of wandering between my house and MMM headquarters. The constant wobble, handlebar buzz, and engine/transmission worries had about worn down my ancient stamina. It took me a few moments to get into troubleshooting mode. Eventually, I pulled out the DMM and discovered the battery had 7V of charge. Sev and my wife raced to get out their jumper cables and Elvy won. Sev appeared to be insulted and humiliated at the same time. Beaten by a girl, he was officially a cable wuss. We charged the bike from the car for a while. I checked the oil level and added another quart. Sev fiddled with the shifter, trying to see if the mechanism could be coaxed back to life. When I thought the battery was either charged or fried, I gave it a try and it started up on the first kick.

Thinking I might be able to ride some more of the route, I pushed off of the centerstand and rolled down the hill to make a U-turn and get back on the road. Turned out, Sev must have found a way to put the bike into neutral, permanently. We loaded the CB on the follow truck and Gus took a picture of me mounted and on the back of the truck. I pulled off my gear and tossed it into the back of our car. For the rest of the event, my wife and I enjoyed some wonderful Minnesota scenery from the comfort of our cage.

The the 2nd Challenge leg ended at the Harkin Store. The event was a battery removal and reinstallation. About the time the guys started removing and installing their batteries, I discovered there was more sandwich stuff in the truck and cookies. While I was making a snack, it started raining.

For the next 100-some miles, it rained non-stop between really hard to a steady drizzle. The 3rd Challenge was about 80 miles later and everyone was wet and cold for the 1/4 mile drag race on a gravel road. I loaned Lee my Stitch's liner, since his sweatshirt was drenched. I tried to loan Gus my helmet, but he seemed so zoned and frozen that he looked though me like I was speaking French. When the race was done, everyone wrapped themselves up in gear and watched me crawl into the dry, warm car with looks that were less than friendly. Of course, Vic and Tammy were in a cage, too, but they are the bosses and can get away with stuff easier than a wimpy old fart. However, I quickly forgot about their bitter attitudes when my wife reached over the rub my sore neck as she drove and I cranked up the heater. I could have taken a nap, but I behaved responsibly and followed the route sheet to keep her on course.

The last bit of the Challenge was miserable as the sun and the temperature went down as the remaining 3 competitors rode through Young America. Now, it was dark, cold, wet, and dangerous. Mike and Lee blasted ahead at their usual blistering pace and my wife and I tailed Kevin on his KLR250 and Sev and Gus on the Suzuki sidecar rig. They got to MMM's office about 9PM and everyone was wet, chilled, and worn out. I was in pretty good shape, although my hands and arms were still buzzing from the CB's fine ride. MMM fed us pizza and cookies and the winner, Lee, followed by runner-up Mike and 3rd place Kevin received paper versions of their trophies. I got a "should have spent more" award for my DNF.

When I got back home, I discovered a neat little pool of oil and a long oily skid mark where my boot had slipped in the leak from the CB's shifter that morning. Sev delivered the dead CB the next morning and, now, I'm looking for someone to take it away and give it a better home. If I'd have had a couple more days to work on the 450, I could have mounted better tires. I might have found a better way to seal up the transmission leak, which might have saved the transmission. I definitely could have revived the charging circuit. In the end, though, I'd have DNF'd. I don't ride at night, especially in the rain and cold with miserable lights.

I'd have quit about Young America, if nothing had failed on the CB. Call me gutless. Call me a wimp. Call me a quitter. Call me alive. My eyes suck. My depth perception vanishes when the sun goes down. Add rain on the face shield and I might as well ride blindfolded. The CB probably died at exactly the right moment.

As for my experience with a street bike from my own era, I learned a thing or two about "vintage." In 1971, I was as interested in street bikes as I am in seeing the "Sex in the City" movie. I rode a Kawi KZ500 triple about six blocks about that time and it scared the crap out of me. I didn't get on a street bike again until I bought my CX500 in 1981. The CB450 kind of grew on me in the 275-or-so miles I rode and worked on it. The difference between the CB450 and the 650 Hyosung is that I liked the Honda more at the end of the ride while I hated everything about the Hyosung after 140 miles. Honda was on the way to getting it right in 1971. Hyosung's long-term status is still questionable. Other than the problems previous owners had provided for me to locate and fix, the CB was rideable, had decent power, and could be made comfortable with a few modifications to the seat. If I were inclined toward messing with "vintage" machines (a distasteful term, since "vintage" means a product from my youth), the Honda CB450 would be a worthy project.

Once the CB was back in my garage, the "challenge" stuck with me. Immediately, I called the kid at Kath Brothers to see if he really wanted a project bike. He hasn't returned my call, as of mid-October. I put the bike on Craig's List: Getting rid of the Honda was as traumatic as buying it. At first, I came up with a snappy Craig's list ad, thanks to some cool pictures from Gus taken during the Challenge.

1971 Honda CB450

This old girl is in need of serious TLC. I bought it for an event, which you
will be able to read about in the Winter issue of Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly
Magazine. Suffice to say, she did not survive the trip. The bike, initially
nicknamed "The Bitch," had been in storage since 1985. It was in sad shape when I pushed it into my garage, but -- working under a limited budget and with even
more limited skills -- I managed to coax the bike back to life. After scrubbing the twin carbs, flushing and replacing all of the fluids, repairing the front brake, and ignoring the terrible condition of the tires, the bike came to life and seemed to be ready to ride a reasonable distance.

In fact, I managed to squeeze almost 250 miles out of the old, abused bike before the transmission decided to stick in 3rd. I have to admit, JB Stop Leak was tried and failed. After stopping to recharge the battery (the electric system appears to be short on the energy necessary to charge the battery when the lights are on) and to try to convince the transmission to give me more gears to play with, we managed to stick the bike in neutral and that was all she wrote. The transmission leaked oil at the shifter lever and, due to the demands of the event, I wasn't able to constantly replenish the oil level. I think that is what caused the transmission to die. The motor was running strong, even after the transmission quit working.

The brakes are surprisingly strong, for the period. The CB450 was one of the first production bikes to receive a disk front brake. The paint is what you'd expect from a 37-year old bike that hasn't always been garage stored (although it was in a garage for 23 years). There is rust on the chrome, but the exhaust pipes are in pretty decent shape. The frame is also in good condition and I didn't have any unusual complaints about the suspension. In fact, I had more fun riding the old Honda than I did when I test rode a Hyosung 650 a few months back. For sure, it needs work but if you are a vintage Japanese bike fan it would probably be worth the effort.

Don't bother to ask about a test ride, it will start but it won't go anywhere. If you want it, you'll have to have a way to transport it. I'm asking $250 for the CB, but that's negotiable. There are some serious fans of the Honda CB450 and there are lots of resources for restoring the bike. I could probably part it out on eBay for a lot more cash, but I'm old and lazy. I just want the space in my garage back.

The ad got me a lot of email replies, but practically no one actually came to look at the bike. I suspect that pictures of me jumping the old girl off of a motocross cliff didn't do much for my case. Mostly, I gave half-hearted replies to inquires because the State of Minnesota had failed to expedite my title I paid for the service, they just didn't provide any service for the payment. In fact, selling my rat bike turned out to be as big a hassle as buying it was. When Victor and the other judges gave me and the old Honda the "most likely to rot in the garage" award, I thought they were nuts. After a month, I was re-evaluating who was nuts in that transaction.

Finally, I found a buyer who was not overly concerned with the title and just wanted the bike for parts for two other CB450s he was rebuilding. He hauled it away and I cleaned up the oil spill in my garage. After he got it home, he wrote to tell me how surprised he was that the old girl would actually start. I wasn't surprised at all.

I can't say I suffered much seller's remorse. I'm back to riding my modern bikes and appreciate them all the more because of the Challenge experience. If I can avoid it, the bikes I own from here out will be the oldest bikes I will ever own. I didn't like 1970's street bikes in 1970, why would I like them now? Two months after I sold the rust bucket, MMM ran another ad "for me" along with the publishing of the Challenge results in the winter issue. This time, I got a few more emails and several calls about the bike. It, of course, was long gone. Thanks Sev.
There is still an oil stain where the Honda was parked for a month. It will probably wash out with the salt and winter muck this spring. Other than that stain, I have only this article and the money I was paid for being part of the Challenge to remind me of the Honda experience. The money and the bike are gone. Good riddance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tom, this is Mike. When I started working at the Honda shop in 1981 the CB450 was a despised and avoided at every turn. The mechanics therorized that the vibration had somehow short-circuted some neuron connections in the reptilian brain of it's owners. They would reluctantly work on one if it was really mint but all others were turned away. I think Dana exhibited some of that brain damage when he had second thoughts about getting rid of the bike.

With that thought in mind, a friend of a guy whose bike I worked on this summer called to ask if I would work on a CB350 Honda he was thinking about buying. It had been sitting in a barn for the last 15 years and he was going to offer the guy $100 for it. I told him that even if it was in good shape and could be gotten to run for a reasonable amount of money it was still a CB350; a bike with zero cool factor. There are alot of bikes out there for cheap that would be a way better investment and have a smidgen of WOW to them. They are on Craig's List all the time especially this time of year. I saw a CB550F that the guy was asking $300 last week, a way better bike and they're kinda cool too.