Sep 11, 2013

My $300 Rat Bike

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

[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.]

The other "competitors" got a big jump on me. I probably should have passed on being a competitor at all, since the contest deadline conflicted with my 2nd annual "big ride," this year to Nova Scotia. My ride plan put me on the road August 1 and got me back anywhere between August 20th and the 30th. Tight schedules are not my deal. July 4th, Victor announced the competitor list and, surprise, I was one. I spent most of  July getting my V-Strom ready for the trip and the rest of the month finishing up my work at school, my day-gig, for the semester. My mind was on the trip, though.

I checked out a few bikes before I left, but the best prospects disappeared before I could get to them. Most of the under-$300 ratters couldn't have been restored for anything less than an additional $300 in parts. My great, green hope was a KLR250 Kawasaki with a "new" motor still in the box. I really wanted a small single for my budget entry and this sounded perfect. When I saw the KLR, all hope died. The motor was in a box and had been stored under a picnic table for several years. It was rusted and seized. The rest of the bike had seen better days, although maybe not in my lifetime or in its current incarnation. Wiring dangled from the frame in almost every location. The tank was full of rust. Still, the KLR was still tempting, because I really like the 250 and have wanted one since they came out. If I had all summer to fix it up, maybe. But I'd have about two weeks, max, when I got back from Nova Scotia.

I left without a rat bike on line about on my trip east. Being saddled with traditional Midwestern Guilt, I thought about the Low Buck Challenge all the way around the Great Lakes and back. Having volunteered for this event, I didn't want to completely blow my side of the bargain. It would be one thing to find a bike, get it running, and have it die on the way to the contest starting line. It's another to not even have a bike to fail on. From Minnesota to the furthest eastern point on our continent, I thought about a solution to the missing rat bike. Thinking/worrying about problems you left at home is insanely unproductive and I have to admit that it wasn't the first thing on my mind each morning as I set out to explore the east coast.

As soon as I got back, on August 20, I started looking again.

Any married guy who has taken an extended motorcycle trip knows that there is payback to be settled when you get home. I would have loved to spend all of my time on the rat bike, but the evening of my first night back my wife said, "Let's get started on the the attic, so you can get your music crap out of my office." So, now I have two major projects; the rat bike and remodeling my attic. Maybe three projects, counting the beginning of school in my headlights and two new classes to plan for. Four, I still have to clean up and reorganize the garage before winter. I left it a mess when I headed east at the beginning of August. Now, it's a catastrophe. To get to the woodworking tools I need for the attic job, I need to shovel out the garage. Not being one to allow common sense to interfere with my over-commitments, I charged into looking for a project bike as soon as I got back from my trip. The attic, of course, got first priority. I'm may be a fool, but I'm not suicidal. I simply stumbled around the crap in the garage, putting that odyssey off for later.

I had a line on an 80's 700 Nighthawk. I hung on to that, hoping that it would work out. The Nighthawk is sort of the style of bike I like to ride. The deal hung on another guy who had been promised the bike, but hadn't touched it in months. I was never clear about the ownership of the bike, but why ask until it becomes available? "[The other guy]  is dug in for the long haul with the goal that it will be on the road in April. Sorry. I would have been yours if you'd done the first cast about 2 weeks earlier." I'm out of luck and back on the hunt. The beater KLR is looking better, even if still impossible.

Next, a KZ440 that had sat on Craig's List from before I left for Nova Scotia until I came back. I wrote the owner who said it was available, but the title was still in the mail from the state. No problem. I asked to see it. The next day he wrote back, "Sorry, Tom. It's sold." Oh for crap's sake! Is there a Minnesota-wide plot to defeat my rat bike hunt? I got my wife's Yamaha scooter, last year, for $300. I went out into the garage to start it up for the first time this year. It fired up after a moment on the charger. Maybe I should enter it? Cheating, I know. Still . . .

ratbike-001My last hope was a 70's CB450 or an '83 550 Kawasaki Spectre. A friend tipped me to the CB and a Craig's List spam ad picked up the specter of a Spectre.  Both bikes need lots of work and I'm in the last week of preparation. If these don't come through, I get to toss in my raggedy towel. "The other buyer wants to buy the bike still.  If things change You will be the first to know." I didn't know there was another buyer, but there goes the Spectre.

Mike Etlicher, one of the other contestants had a momentary change of heart, "Over the next day or so I'll think about whether or not the additional obligation of cash, time and storage space is worth this particular Pursuit Of Glory. So Tom, you still wanna buy a bike?" His XS400 was close enough to the kind of motorcycle I was looking for, so I wrote back to see if he was serious. Labor Day, Sev calls to be sure that I got his latest email joke and to see if I have a bike yet. I don't. He's bummed. He reminds me that Mike seemed interested in selling his rat bike. I've already replied to that offer, but haven't heard anything since. A few days later I learned that Sev applied his persuasive talents to Mike and he decided to stay in the competition. On the positive side, I managed to get all the attic sheetrock hung and finished most of the taping. The evil parts of the attic are all but finished. Is there a state-wide conspiracy forcing me to the CB450? Only my last call will decide. 

ratbike-007 I called Dana, the owner of the CB450, Wednesday night; three days before the event. Being a charter member of Minnesota Nice, Dana invited me over that night to look at the bike at his home in Bloomington; about 25 minutes south. It was truly in rat bike condition. The bike hadn't been ridden since Dana rode it from his parents' home to the shed in which it now resided, in 1987. On the upside, he said it mostly worked when he parked it. The tank had about an inch of stale fuel, but no rust. The engine had compression and turned over fairly normally. The forks obviously leaked and the boots were decomposing. The front brake demonstrated no signs of life. The tires were 20 years old and the rear was bald, while the front was just cracked and hard as bakelite. The odometer had logged 18,000 miles.

We settled on $200 for the bike, including Dana borrowing a trailer from a friend and towing the bike back to my house. After we got the bike unloaded and took care of the money changing and paperwork, he headed home and I started taking the bike apart. Figured out the seat latch, got the tank off, and took a walk around the bike looking for the problems I'd have to solve in the next two days. Dana had pulled the starter motor and the shaft had a fitting designed for another purpose. It took some torch work to get the fitting off. Once I removed the seat, I discovered (thankfully) the battery was gone and an electrical bit was missing. Late that evening, Dana called to say he'd forgotten to grab the starter solenoid. Later, I discovered the shift lever was missing.

Thursday, I set out to bring the motor to life. The first task was to pull and clean the carburetors and purge the tank of its varnish-like substance. As expected, the carbs were gummed to death. I soaked the pair in toxic carb cleaner chemicals for the morning and rinsed the tank out with kerosene followed by a few pints of fresh gas. My first expense of the project was new hoses for the fuel system, $7. Before reinstalling the tank, I pulled the petcock and discovered that it was clogged with about 2" of black fuzzy weirdness and the strainer was dissolved. So, I dumped the whole mess into the carb chemical tank for the evening. The front brake master cylinder was empty, so I filled it and tried to bleed the line. No luck. The garage will stink for weeks of carb chemicals and stale gas. I made a circle around the bike, identifying missing and loose bolts and replaced a bunch, including both front engine mount bolts. The rear mount was completely missing, so I'd have to hope the engine wouldn't shake itself free from the frame on the ride. I can't do anything about that today. I did a continuity check of the alternator and the charge selenium diode. All good, although the diode has a higher than expected forward drop. That might mean insufficient current flow to keep the battery topped when the lights are running. I'd love to do a top end check, valve clearances and such, but without a replacement gasket on hand, I'm going to chicken out.

I installed the starter, more for the necessary sealing than because I expected it to be useful as a starter. When I put juice to the starter, the big gear it drove just spun disconnected from the engine. I hit the internet and found a storehouse of useless information about the history of the undoubtedly important-to-mankind CB450. Eventually, I also found an owner's manual, which listed a collection of routines for starting the bike that all seemed odd. More searching and I found that the starter gear had a clutch, located behind the gear and the alternator. That clutch was the cause of a lot of Honda owner misery and explained my starter's lack of connection to the motor. It's nearly midnight and I'm done for the day.

Tomorrow, Friday, I'd have to take the master cylinder apart and see why it appears to be pressure-less. Dana said it was working when he parked the bike. Maybe I'll luck out. So far, my luck has been mediocre.

Friday, most things went well for me. I pulled the petcock from the stinking chemicals and found it to be good; and clean. Back on the tank it went. The tank went back on the bike. The new supply hoses were all strung and I checked the tank for flow and the carburetors for the rare instance of float jet and needle similarity. Both carbs held fuel and there were no signs of flow in the clear fuel lines once the bowls were full. Amazing, probably the first occurrence of this miracle in the history of Klein carbs.

I tried kicking it over, without a battery, and had no luck. I decided either the charging system was toast or the bike needed some assistance from the battery for spark juice. I'm due in Bloomington to pick up the shift lever and the starter solenoid and a receipt for the bike during Dana's short lunch break. I thing, from exposure to the garage chemicals, I'm slightly stoned because I have never felt so unfocused on the motorcycle. Traffic is heavy and that adds to the terror. How do people ride drunk? This trip has scared the crap out of me. Two hours later, I'm back to work. Installing the solenoid gets the bike almost ready to try to fire up. Before that, I have to flush the engine, install fresh oil, and clean the centripetal filter. That's done in another hour and it's time to try the motor.

I hooked up a car battery to the system and test the starter motor. It spins, but doesn't spin the motor. I tried kick starting the bike, about two dozen kicks worth, and only get an occasional burping for my money. However, I sort of discovered the routine for the starter. If I bump the starter button while slowly turning the engine with the kick-lever, the starter clutch will catch and spin the engine. Usually, it would catch for a second and let go, but once it caught and spun the engine several revolutions and the engine fired up. Now, I know I have spark and fuel. Not enough fuel, apparently, so I applied a little starter fluid to the carbs while doing my starter button and kick-lever balancing act. After a few tries, the bike fires and stays running. I let it run for a several minutes, to let the engine get to operating temperature, before shutting it down and checking for fluid leaks. The bottom of the motor is dry, the carb floats still seal, and seriously noxious fumes are coming from the exhaust. I'm not leaking oil, but I suspect I'm burning quite a bit.

No time for analysis, I'm off to Fleet Farm for a battery (after hitting up the usual suspects on the local MC web for a used battery for a day or two). An hour burned getting and filling the battery and the charging routine burns a couple of hours while I work on other problems.

My two biggest remaining problems are title and license documentation and the lack of a front brake. The title crap is the hardest of the two, so I'm off to the DMV. Two hours later, at 5PM on the dot, I have paperwork and am out $40-some bucks for my bucket of bolts. It's really hard to remember why I wanted to do this after spending time with government employees. They were specially jacked about the fact that this bike hadn't seen a license plate or taxman since 1985. I didn't know there were so many supervisors in Roseville, until my DMV'er started asking for advice.

Back at the garage, I attach my new plates and tear off the front brake and master cylinder. All are filled with a brown goop that resembles mud soaked in fish snot. I pulled the brake mechanism apart and cleaned and greased the bits. A can of brake cleaner and the fish snot is gone, replaced by DOT3 brake fluid and sixty-zillion hand pumps later I have front brakes.

The battery is charged and installed. The bike fires on the first kick, a half-dozen times in a row. I rode it to the local gas station at 11PM, filled it up and returned it to the garage. After an hour loading the converted Sears-saw-to-faux-GIVI tailbox with tools, gear, maps, and stuff, I went inside and loaded some data into my Garmin 2620 for the next morning's trip to MMM's headquarters. Totally stoned by chemical fumes, I fell into something a little like sleep and more like a neural-hemorrhaged coma.

4:30AM came no more than an hour after I actually experienced sleep. I think I was shutting off the alarm before I realized I was standing. All my gear was prepared and I suited up before eating breakfast. My wife was coming along to hang with Tammy and Victor, at least for the morning, so she was up and a lot more perky than me. Parts of my brain were just getting used to living beside the dead cells I'd destroyed in the previous two days. Maybe the live cells were digesting the chemically destroyed dead ones and later events would be explained by that poorly considered biological activity. I got the GPS installed in my wife's car, gave her a short demo on how to follow it, and headed for the garage.

With the car battery still hooked to the charger and jumpered to the bike battery, I gave the CB a kick and got . . . nothing. Not a burp. I tried my kick-lever-starter-button routine and the starter motor spun freely without making the slightest effort to turn the motor. I went back to futilely kicking the bike's lever for a few moments until the bike began to slip off of the centerstand. I moved it off of the centerstand to the sidestand and remembered that this bike had something that I haven't had to mess with on my own bikes for 15 years; an OFF position to the fuel petcock. I turned on the fuel, pumped the throttle, full-choked the carbs, and gave it a kick. The bike roared to life, then began to stall. I turned the choke off and the bike went back to a 4,000 rpm blast. I'd set the idle to about 2k out of concern for the rough sound of the lower idle action, but 4k was a lot more than I wanted to wrestle with on the road. Thinking about getting into my tool box and resetting the idle, I started to get off of the bike.

While this crap was going on, my wife was waiting in the car, watching her husband fool with a 37-year-old pile of junk, wondering why she had hauled herself out of bed at 4:30 for this "experience." I couldn't have explained it to her, if I had tried. Mostly, I'd promised Vic and Sev that I'd have a bike for this damned event and I was going to have one if it killed me or made me more stupid. Later, 290 miles later, I'd learn why the morning started off the way it did. At 5AM, in the headlight lit garage, I was only confused.

When I put my weight on my left foot, it slid out from under me and the whole mess -- bike, battery cables, and all -- came down on me. Mad as hell, I picked up the bike, rewired the battery connections, kicked it back to life, knocked off the jumper cables, slammed the seat down, and roared out into my neighborhood on my pre-EPA, pre-DOT noise-regulated little red Honda, fumbling with the light switch in the morning dark.

I'd told my wife that I wanted to start out heading east on County Road C, avoiding the freeway until I had the feel of the bike. So she took that route, ignoring the British-accented GPS voice chanting "off route, recalculating" every block or two.

The CB's headlight was pathetic. At best, it lit about 30' of road, dimly, in a pattern about as wide as the back of my wife's Taurus. If this event involved night riding, I'd be leaving the bike on the side of the road and hitchhiking back home. I avoid riding at night, with real headlights. With 1971 bike lights, there would be no question of my giving up the competition in exchange for another day of life.

After a few miles of slow speed travel, I had the feel of the CB450: slightly heavy steering with a constant right pull, a vicious headshake with any deceleration or steady throttle which slackened a bit with acceleration, reasonably predictable brakes, a motor that felt deceptively strong but ran out of steam long before redline and at about 62mph, a clunky transmission, and a seriously uncomfortable seat. While riding the CB, I was constantly reminded of the Hyosung cruiser I'd test-ridden a few months back. The same unfinished, almost-right feel of the Korean bike was there in that old Honda. I almost felt at tinge of sympathy for Hyosung engineers, knowing that in 2008 they were starting at almost exactly the same point where Honda was 37 years ago.

cheap_bike_challenge_1When I thought I knew the CB's handling problems, I told my wife "follow the GPS" to MMM's office.  Following driving instructions has never been  one of my wife's skills. We have shared 41 years of her being completely unable to follow simple driving direction, no matter how they are delivered. So, I immediately recognized the flaw in my plan. I hadn't been to the MMM office often or recently and it was too dark for me to be able to read the map on my tankbag. I was stuck following her, but she was making random turns, constantly looping back on herself, and turning the opposite from the direction that I knew the GPS was directing her. As I helplessly rode behind this random motion vehicle, all those years of "turn right in two blocks" followed by an instant lane-change to the left and the associated immediate left turn, began to deteriorate my sleep-deprived, chemically-damaged patience.

After an hour of thermal-noise motion, we were close to our destination but my wife kept hopping over the freeway and diving into deadend frontage roads. Finally, freaked-out, late, and driven almost nuts in frustration, I pulled in front of her and asked what the hell she was doing. "You said you didn't want to be on the freeway" was the response.

"I said, 'Follow the GPS,' didn't I?"

"Oh, yeah."

We, finally, hit the freeway for a few miles, turned off one exit past the one where I knew we should have exited, and turned . . .  the wrong way. More random motion and wrong direction turns followed. I could imagine the GPS constantly repeating "off route, recalculating" and, before the recalculation was done, more random motion would set the routine off again. I managed to direct her into a mall parking lot, got into the car, pointed out the pink line telling her where the GPS wanted her to go, reminded her that she has to listen to the whole instruction before turning randomly, etc. I was still wearing my earplugs. I was frustrated and worn out. And pretty loud. My wife just blows me off,. Somebody didn't and called the police. We didn't get out of the parking lot before getting pulled over. After explaining our situation, separately, the cops gave us really bad directions to our destination. I called Victor and got more directions, which I forgot almost instantly.

And we took off, sort of following the GPS again. After correcting her from several false turns, we ended up on the right road going in the right direction. I chose that moment to stop following her and, in the dawning light, I attempted to sort out where we were. She chose that moment to focus on the GPS instructions and headed straight to our destination. We'd been going in circles for so long that I was lost, even when I sort of knew where we were. In the meantime, she'd found the house, spotted the other bikers, and come back for me while I was still blindly wrestling with the squiggly lines of the map. Clearly, I wasn't operating at full capacity. I might have been there for another hour, staring at the meaningless squiggly lines on the map.

ratbike-012 We got to the start about 20 minutes late and frazzled. Lucky for me, Victor and Tammy are terrific hosts and were very patient with the bunch of us. Others were also late. After sign-in, photos, official voting on a variety of topics like "least likely to be resold" and "best accessorized," and a lot of BS'ing, we hit the road toward Appleton.

The CB450's steering was really unstable at any speed under 25mph and over 55mph. Sort of like a vicious radar monitor, the headshake kept me in a tight range of speeds and my hands are buzzing and numb. It takes a constant right hand pressure to keep the bike from making a long, slow right turn. Letting go of the bars with either hand will start up a tank-slapper that will end badly. This leg of the challenge was about 150 miles long. At the first gas stop, in Litchfield, my little Honda had lost about a quart of oil and the engine was too hot to touch. I pulled the oil filler cap with pliers. Just before that stop, the transmission began to stiffen up, making shifting unpredictable and I had trouble hitting 1st gear at several stops. I had a quart of oil in my box and added all of it to the engine to get it back to full.

cheap_bike_challenge_3 We headed out again, toward Murdock via US 12. At Murdock, I spotted a filling station and stopped to buy more oil, but Kevin, the following truck, and my wife blew by me and turned on a country road and headed south. I gave up on the oil and set out to catch them. My transmission was really stiff now and took careful positioning between gears to be able to shift up or down. We kept going, full tilt to Appleton. The bike was hotter than the first stop and both carbs were leaking, just like normal Kleins. In fact, before I got to the petcock, the right carb was pouring gas on the glowing hot engine. I bought two quarts of oil and a can of JB Oil Leak Stopper. Like the good American I am, I dumped the entire can of JB into the oil filler and 2/3 quarts of oil. For the first two gas stops, the Honda got 32 and 34mpg. From Appleton, we headed to the first Challenge event and a lunch break.

Lunch was fine, with occasional attempts at sabotage from various competitors. That effort was a waste of time, since we would find ways to sabotage ourselves. On the way to the first challenge, only a few yards away, Mike demonstrated his dirt bike skills, crashed on a little hillside loop and gave us a demo of how not to climb a hill with a KZ440. After disentangling himself from the hill, his bike, and such, we all proceeded to the Challenge start.

The ORV park had what Victor called "an enduro track." We were all supposed to make one practice and one timed lap around the track for Challenge 1. I watched a kid on a modern dirt bike do the track and got an idea of the track's difficult sections. My Honda wouldn't kickstart and I had to put the fuel petcock in reserve and bump start it rolling it down the hill toward the track. After Lee snapped off his custom footpegs on a jump and Mike crashed on the first jump, I took the first full lap around the track. My bike stalled on the first corner and took a dozen or so kicks to bring it back to life. It stalled, again, before a big jump near the end. Again, I kicked the snot out of the bike before it fired up. When I got to the end/start, I decided to go before anything else happened. So, I took the first timed trial.

cheap_bike_challenge_4 To keep the motor from stalling again, I stayed on the gas a lot harder than I'd planned. My plan was to avoid getting any air because I figured the frame would break in half, but the stall-avoidance plan overrode the frame conservation plan and I booked a little quicker on the first two jumps than my plan, but the bike stayed together. Plowing my way through the first turn, I was embarrassed that I didn't have the balls to do any damage to the berm. Pulling out of the curve, I lined up the the first whoop and hit it squarely. I heard a crunch when the back tire hit ground and expected to come to a crashing halt on the upside of the 2nd whoop. When that didn't happen, I realized that my Sears tailbox had popped open and dumped my gear on the track. The crunch was my gear and the box lid hitting the ground. So, I kept going the way I'd been going. I suspect nobody ever hopped the track's whoops any lamer, but I managed to clear each whoop and land as lightly as a CB450 lands on the upside of the next upslope.

Through the whoops, the track took me through a trio of nicely bermed curves, which I took sitting down and at a comfortable speed, steering with the rear wheel. The exit of the curves led to a long uphill and a bigger dropoff. Again, I tried to minimize my air time, but drifted all the way down the hill before both wheels touched ground, more or less together. Not much impact, but enough to bottom the suspension and shake up the bike pretty soundly. All I had left was a bumpy straight back to Sev.

When I finished the lap, I parked my bike and walked back to pick up my stuff. On the way to the whoops, I watched some of the local guys on real (modern) dirt bikes. They got a lot of air on the jumps, but practically stopped on the banked curve before the whoops. Two of the four avoided the whoops altogether and one of the two who did take my route didn't do the whoops much quicker than me. I felt better about my performance.

cheap_bike_challenge_6 As I was picking up my gear, I found three 10-12" 1/8" pieces of all-thread that had been stuck into the track. They were bent over in the track's direction of travel, so they had once, obviously, been placed like spikes to catch a tire or rider. A little pissed, I pulled them out of the track and tossed them into the grass outside of the riding area. Real dirt bikers walk the track before they ride it and this is a reminder of another reason why. I found my gear, piled it all in the box lid and hiked back to the Honda.

The other guys took their laps and we gathered at the top of the hill to hear our scores. I won. Lee came in second, Kevin was third, and Mike played it safe and came in last. Pretty cool, huh?

cheap_bike_challenge_2 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.

ratbike-010Thinking 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.

ratbike-013For 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 through 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 to rub my sore neck as she drove. I leaned into her massage and cranked up the heater. I could have taken a nap, but I behaved responsibly and followed the route sheet to keep her on course. In the spirit of the event, I always smiled at the guys when we stopped for fuel or just out of misery.

ratbike-015 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.

ratbike-011 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.

ratbike-014 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.

In early November, 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.


Remember the category my Honda won at the MMM inspection, "least likely to be resold"? Yeah, thanks for the curse guys.

The first buyer of the CB450 was willing to take the bike away before the official title arrived. A couple of weeks later, the title showed up and I mailed it to the address he had provided. A month later, I got a call from the buyer claiming he'd never received the title. I don't know about you, but I don't have much trouble with the USPO and always doubt folks who claim "the check is in the mail" or "it must have gotten lost." However, he was trying to sell the bike and wanted me to help with getting a new title. Since we're talking about a $250, 38 year old dead bike, I wasn't particularly motivated to put much time into that project. I offered to meet him at the Roseville DMV if he ever managed to make it to our area.

In February, another guy called claiming to be the current owner of the CB and hot on the rebuild project. I made him the same offer. In April, yet another new owner of the POS called with the same story.

You know the "6-degrees of separation" theory of how we are all connected? I figure by the end of 2009, I will be connected to every person on this planet through that POS Honda.


  1. Great story and write up! just wanted to let you know the eastern most point in north america is technically in Alaska. No worries though loved the story about the old honda!

  2. Now that fact is thoroughly confusing.


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