By on April 29, 2012

It was thirty-eight degrees F outside, with a light misting of rain, as I pulled my newly-purchased 1975 Honda CB550 up to the stoplight, next to my ex-wife’s 2012 Edge. My son waved cheerfully from his monstrous child seat.

“We only have eighty-two miles left to go,” I shouted through my chinbar, “and I want to beat the worst of the rain. I think I’ll be okay taking the freeway.”

“It’s fine with me, either way,” she replied. This didn’t suit my opinion of the risk I was taking by chucking an unproven, thirty-seven-year-old motorcycle into high-speed tractor-trailer traffic at near-freezing temperature, so instead I pretended that she had given me the response Trinity gives Morpheus when he suggests taking the freeway: “You said it was suicide.”

“Then let us hope,” I told her, ignoring the completely confused look on her face, “I was wrong.”

I’ve been riding motorcycles off and on for more than twenty years now, but I don’t think of myself as a motorcyclist. I don’t compete on a motorcycle. I don’t read the web forums, or buy expensive gear, participate in “poker runs”, do cross-country touring, or videotape myself doing 130-mph wheelies past cop cars. In the year 2000, I put 10,700 miles on a new Yamaha YZF600R, and that was the biggest year I ever had on a bike, by far.

The bike the YZF ended up replacing my was old 1974 Honda CB550, the third motorcycle I’d owned, after a 1986 Ninja 600R and Eighties Honda CM250.. I’d bought it on a whim from Dana Marshall, the drummer from almost-made-it indie band Scrawl. He’d modified the bike in a style intended to vaguely approximate the “cafe racer” look. I paid fifteen hundred bucks for it and rode it all through the winter of 1999. I liked the fact that the bike had a kick starter, which meant it would reliably start, even if I had to blow my knee out doing so. It was slow and didn’t stop well, but it was stable and forgiving. I also thought it looked cool. I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide.

The white square on the side, if you must know, is a sticker from the GNU Foundation, with this graphic on it. I also thought that was cool. What can I say?

After a year or so of riding the old CB, however, I decided that cool wasn’t nearly as important as comfortable and fast, so I sold the CB to a local hipster-ish bike shop for a grand and bought the YZF to replace it. The day afterwards, I began a twelve-year pastime of bitterly regretting having done so.

Fast-forward to the present day. My inability to get my Neon’s new engine-control computer programmed appropriately before the 2012 season-opener race meant that I found myself with some extra cash in my pocket and a general sense of resentment against the world. A long night of free-association eBay shopping brought me to a pair of CB550s. One was $2500, located 801 miles away in Abilene, Kansas, and boasting a complete selection of restored parts. The other was $1900, just 103 miles away in southwestern Ohio, and listing new tires and carburetors to go with a one-owner history.

The romantic in me liked the idea of flying to Abilene and riding across the Midwestern plains; the realist looked at my schedule and realized that I had exactly one open day in the next month to close the transaction. Saturday found me in a makeshift garage behind a trailer home off a rural road, pulling the cover off a handsome and well-preserved example of what they used to call the Universal Japanese Motorcycle, or UJM for short.

It was a solid bike with a clean title that started easily. The owner put about a gallon’s worth of gasoline in the bike and counted the money carefully before permitting me to put me to put my name on the title. It was raining steadily when I pulled out of his gravel driveway and headed for home.

There are very few things which inspire less confidence in me than riding an unfamiliar motorcycle on rain-slick roads in near-freezing temperatures, so I struggled to keep the bumper of my ex-wife’s Edge in view on the twisting country two-lane. I gained more and more confidence in the old Honda’s friendly handling until a little bit of front-tire slippage in a downhill left-hander stole it all away and dropped my pace back to somewhere around the posted speed limit. Finally the freeway entrance came into view and I decided to try to make this a ninety-minute trip home instead of a three-hour slog on more backroads.

Ten miles in, I ran out of gas. My left hand, stiff and numb from the cold rain seeping through my gloves, didn’t readily operate the reserve switch. I was down to thirty miles per hour by the time the Honda caught and surged again. Upon filling up at the next station, I discovered that the gas tank had multiple pinholes in it through which fuel could escape. Best to get back on the road before it all evaporated.

The cold wasn’t just freezing me; it was choking the little bike’s ability to maintain freeway speeds. I had to drop to fourth gear to maintain seventy miles per hour. The ribs of the cylinder heads weren’t hot to the touch. It put me in mind of the long winter training rides I endured as a young road cyclist. One mile at a time, through chattering teeth, head down against the wind, conserving energy. On a motorcycle, you don’t get the roadie’s gravel-fine view of the pavement, but you see things that don’t even appear to a “cager”. The wave of the pavement. The oil-dark center line on every road: that’s deadly when it’s wet. The ragged edges of every paint stripe. You’re involved with the road

There’s also no radio and no phone. Dutch cyclist and chess grand master Tim Krabbe once wrote that, although one expects to do serious thinking on a bicycle during a long ride, that thinking never really takes place. Instead, one simply wears one’s mind smooth on trivialities until it feels like a ball bearing, round, featureless, containing nothing. As the rain made its way into every part of my helmet, I focused on nothing and the mile markers appeared one after the other. The temperature gradually climbed into the forties. The Honda woke up. I shifted into top gear and twisted the throttle until the wobbling, hopelessly optimistic speedometer passed the “85″ mark. I’d covered eighty miles with about two gallons; the pinholes weren’t that bad.

Off the freeway, up the hill, and into my garage. Half an hour later, I was still freezing from the inside out, but I had the satisfaction of righting a decade-old wrong. I was a motorcycle owner once again. Not really a motorcyclist, but a motorcycle owner. For now, that’s enough.

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59 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Two wheels good, four wheels probably better....”


  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    With a moderate amount of care and caution this UJM just may outlast you. Sounds like a pretty good buy but I learned the hard way about riding in bad winter weather.

    Luck to you. Sort of envy your vehicle.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nice Jack. You always do good work but usually when you tell the stories of your life I smile.

    • 0 avatar
      PaulVincent

      Educator (of Teachers)Dan, Punctuation is always helpful. Try it sometime.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        PaulVincent wrote:…..Educator (of Teachers)Dan, Punctuation is always helpful. Try it sometime….

        PaulVincent: So is knowing the proper use of singular and plural words… (snark)

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Lost my ability to edit for some reason so I’ll add here…

        My first experience was on a late ’70s Yamaha 750 something or another, as a passenger. My friend, always hearing me talk about cars, took me for a high speed ride on the back roads of Upstate New York. How fast? I don’t know as the speedo ended at 85. But with a rolling start, I watched the tach needle sweep across the face of the instrument like a windshield wiper. Bang, next gear…you could hear the immediacy of the gears as they engaged and pulled under full power. Again, bang, full swipe, next gear, bang, swipe, next gear…I was awestruck at the sense of acceleration. Good thing I trusted him. To this day I don’t know how fast I was going.

        My wife would like me to get a bike when we move to a much more rural area, which is our plan if the dreams of early retirement do in fact happen. She wants to get a Harley, which may be a lot of fun, but somehow I don’t think the mental image that has been burned into my brain will be replicated on a Fat Boy…

      • 0 avatar
        Mark MacInnis

        God, you people who quibble over trivialities are so very, very annoying.

        Did I spell everything correctly and punctuate to your satisfaction, mate? Too frickin’ bad, if not.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Hmmmmmmmmm I didn’t know my ex-wife (the Language Arts teacher) had taken to posting here under the pseudonym PaulVincent.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        LOL!

  • avatar
    WRohrl

    My first bike was a ’79 Suzuki GS450 that I bought in college in ’88…Three months into ownership in a purely college-town environment I decided it’d be a great idea to ride it to my parents’ house for Christmas break – 180 miles away in L.A. Halfway there crossing the pass above Santa Barbara I discovered the meaning of cold and miserable. But that little twin never gave up hauling my 185 pounds of half-frozen carcass through the night. First think I did the next day was go out and buy some cold-weather gear for the ride back up the coast. Still, a great bike and having owned some faster bikes later on, even more than with cars the adage that it is better to go fast on a slow piece of machinery than slow on a fast piece rings completely true.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Indeed, I’m perfectly happy with the 130hp I have in my ’03 Mazda Protege5 and don’t really need any more than that, really.

    Just drop down at least a gear (sport stick auto in manual mode, a 4spd at that), step on the go pedal until the motor hits roughly 5Krpm and it’ll quickly pass whatever it needs to pass and then just move it back into 4th and settle back to whatever speed I was at.

    Use the rpms as your friend and you can achieve as much, if not more than with a larger motor on less rpm, and perhaps the car will feel MUCH livelier as a result, which is half the fun.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Our bike tastes are similar, Jack. My first one was an ’89 Ninja 600, and I desperately wanted a YZF600R after riding my friend’s. Ironically, registration tax policy in Quebec made it far more expensive to own a YZF600 than a TL1000S, so I bought The Widowmaker instead. It was characterful, it was a rush, but it wasn’t the usable, reliable everyday superbike that I consider the Thundercat to be.

  • avatar
    redseca2

    You lost me at “10 miles in”.

    Is there a website where 13 year old boys talk about sex with super models?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Our bike tastes are similar, Jack. My first one was an ’89 Ninja 600, and I desperately wanted a YZF600R after riding my friend’s. Ironically, registration tax policy in Quebec made it far more expensive to own a YZF600 than a TL1000S, so I bought The Widowmaker instead. It was characterful, it was a rush, but it wasn’t the usable, reliable everyday superbike that I consider the Thundercat to be.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    “Not really a motorcyclist, but a motorcycle owner.”

    Motobro, if you ride old iron you’re a motorcyclist. No apologies needed.

  • avatar

    Another fine story, and quoting Tim Krabbe is the cherry on top.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Yeah, a rider that hops on an unfamiliar machine on a cold wet day (on gravel, no less) is more gung ho than he lets on.

    On reason I find bikes easier to live with than cars is exemplified by the reliability and durability of this seventies model. They are still plentiful and reliable. Show me the equivalent car.

    I had a crummy ’76 Honda CB500T, and it took much longer to get that thing to register 85mph.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Riding an unfamiliar bike from the guy who sold it to you to your home is risky as hell. I made that mistake with my very first bike — I didn’t find out until after I bought it that it would stall at every intersection.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Motorcycles reliable? You’ve got to be kidding me. If you compare similar mileage examples- motorcycles always require more repairs, and obviously a whole lot more maintenance.

      A carburetted motorcycle is a bad idea. A chain driven motorcycle is also a bad idea. A carburetted, chain driven motorcycle is destined to be a leaky, oily mess sitting in a damp corner in the garage.

      • 0 avatar
        kilgoretrout

        “A carburetted motorcycle is a bad idea. A chain driven motorcycle is also a bad idea. A carburetted, chain driven motorcycle is destined to be a leaky, oily mess sitting in a damp corner in the garage.”

        My 1981 Yamaha Seca XJ550 with 4 carbs & chain drive didn’t get this memo. It leaks nothing and is a dead-reliable commuter and weekend tripper. Perhaps you were thinking of British bikes?

      • 0 avatar
        slow kills

        More frequent drivetrain maintenance, possibly. But the chances of it being something easily done at home is huge compared to automotive repair, and almost never plagued by peripheral failures of windows, leaky trunks, HVAC and all.
        Carburetors never cause me a problem. Balance them every year or so and don’t let the bike sit for long stretches. People tend to have issues from dabbling with jetting or exhaust or letting varnish collect. Drive chains are less convenient than shaft, but also lighter and cheaper up front.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      slow kills: I was supposed to have a ’75 CB500T as my first bike at age 16. It was not meant to be. The 500T had one of the most beautifully designed engines Honda has ever made, “Desmodromic” valvetrain and all, but it ate cam chain follower gears if not kept precisely in-time, apparently. My example was a very similar color to Jack’s 550/Four, a nice shade of brown with gold pinstriping. It was more European than a good many European bikes I’ve seen since.

      After my stepfather decided to make a project donor out of the 500T’s frame and shiny bits (which really were in top condition, despite the engine’s knackered state), I saved up $2,000 and bought myself a Suzuki LS650P Savage. Compared to the multi-carb, DOHC Honda, it was the very picture of simplicity: Single-cylinder, one carb, one plug, belt drive. With a fatter main jet and a K&N air filter (plus one of the old 500T’s pea-shooter mufflers hollowed-out), it went like stink all the way up to 90 mph. Once. That was scary on a sub-400 lb. bike, and I never did it again.

      Traded the LS650P for a BMW K75 that was as old as I am. Here is where I take issue with your reliability claim. It constantly required maintenance. Some little part would fail and inevitably cost a fortune to replace. The bane of my existence was ethanol-blended fuel, which ate the fuel pump damper every year, requiring replacement lest you clog your fuel pump and buy a new one of those to the tune of $450. Then I had to lube the transmission output shaft splines every year, which required separating the engine and transmission.

      It was *mostly* reliable. If I were the kind of rider who usually buys BMW K-series bikes to put on a lot of weekend leisure miles, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But most of my riding is commuting during the summer months, with the occasional weekend 150-200-mile jaunt. I didn’t like having to spend $300-$500 every season to get it ready to ride, then another $300-500 to fix things that went wrong during the riding season plus regular maintenance+insurance.

      Now that I’ve been without that BMW for a year, I find myself (perhaps foolishly) lusting after a Triumph Bonneville. Sat on a new one recently and fell in love. They are what motorcycles should feel like.

      • 0 avatar
        xargs

        CB500Ts were horrible outgrowths of the CB450. The only ‘tech’ was the torsion bar valve springs, (nothing desmo) which tend to break after the engine has been sitting for years… They vibrate a lot, were heavy for the day, and were put in the shade performance-wise by the CB400/450T Hawk. They did look cool, but not so good bikes. Modern stuff is amazing, get a ride on an SV650 or EX650- still cheap suspension, but 65/70hp and decent brakes.

        Oh yeah, another thing to watch out for on the K75 is the cooling fan/motor, they fail bearings and the fan eats the radiator…

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        RE- xargs:

        I was constantly aware of the cooling fan issue, waiting for the bearings to seize and cause massive amounts of repair expense. Thankfully, it never happened to me. My K75 was running on what I’m pretty sure was its original coolant, too, which was in bad need of a complete flush-job. What a smooth-running bike though. Never seen another that was that smooth at every speed. Even the big brother K100s were rougher, since the extra cylinder necessitated deleting the balance shaft.

      • 0 avatar
        slow kills

        BMW bikes are pretty exotic compared to a UJM, but there are still a bunch of K bikes out there running and selling at decent prices.

        xargs, the SV650 was my next bike, and what a difference a quarter century of technology makes. Very much like a mass market car in its ability to rack up trouble free miles with only the occasional oil change. Currently on an old and abused EX500, and even it is pretty stalwart.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    “The white square on the side, if you must know, is a sticker from the GNU Foundation, with this graphic on it. I also thought that was cool. What can I say?”

    The FSF sticker is extremely cool, and a great addition to the bike!

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      I’d call out Jack for being a nerd, but that would betray that I also knew what the FSF/GNU sticker meant. So I’ll just have to settle for a “FreeBSD is better.”

  • avatar
    dude500

    My first bike was a 1981 KZ440 that was 23 years old when I bought it. While the tach wasn’t working and I had to wobble the choke to get it to start, it ran like a champ. I remember often looking back at that bike after a long ride, always impressed that the KZ got me to my destination. I got many favorable comments of “I had that bike when I was younger – those were great”. Your cold weather experience reminded me of the time I could only maintain 40mph on an inclined 55mph road in the winter as the parallel twin buzzed north of 7K RPM. While my current Vulcan is many levels more comfortable and capable, that KZ440 had character and I wish I had kept it.

    P.S. Fresh tires will dramatically improve the character of your bike. I recommend Pirelli Diablos.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Over the past 35 years, having owned everything from a 1930 Indian 101 Scout thru a 2000 Triumph Tiger; covered every base from standard to cruiser (still got the Harley), to cafe racer (ditto the ’69 Bonneville), to streetfighter, to bagged sport tourer (the Trident has 108k and another twenty years in front of it), to dual sport, to fully faired race rep 600 . . . . I long ago learned that nothing touches a well set up bike from the late 60′s thru the 70′s. The days before motorcycles got subdivided down into all the little sub-groups, when you went out and bought a ‘motorcycle’ and then built it up to the specific idea you had in mind for personal riding.

    The lack of radio and phone are two of the three reasons why I prefer to commute to work via motorcycle. As they’re useless, you don’t succumb to the temptation to turn them on. And, as to being one with the road . . . . . . 35 years of riding have given me skills that transfer behind the wheel of a car well beyond what 99% of the traffic could ever consider having. Like that inherent ability to notice a change in color of the pavement and the automatic reflex of getting immediately suspicious and cautious. Or being able to notice that mouse crossing the road 50 meters ahead.

    I really believe that anyone who wants a driver’s licence should be forced to live on a motorcycle for two year, first.

    Oh yeah, run a Kreem kit thru the gas tank. It’ll take care of whatever rust and seal up the pinholes wonderfully.

  • avatar
    TR4

    The cold wasn’t just freezing me; it was choking the little bike’s ability to maintain freeway speeds.

    Carburetor icing?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t think so… I think it was more a case of the engine not being able to maintain heat. It’s an air-cooled mill so it is designed to shed heat well. In those conditions, maybe *too* well. :)

      • 0 avatar
        nvdw

        I took my lessons on a Honda CBF 500 on which the temp gauge wouldn’t even *creep* out of its ‘cold’ corner while travelling at 75 mph on the motorway during -5C temperatures. And that bike was water cooled, come to think of it!

      • 0 avatar
        don1967

        I dunno, Jack. Neither of my air-cooled bikes – Yamaha SR250/XJ100 – had any problem reaching operating temps in cold weather, including some freezing rain escapades that left my shins encrusted in ice. Then again I was probably too terrified to notice.

        Very cool bike, by the way. My retro choice would have to be an SR500 single; sadly I will probably never find a survivor up here in the great white north.

  • avatar
    Caraholica

    This was one of Honda’s best motorcycles ever and I loved mine in my Air Force years. It looks like a nicely kept example, original pipes and all are hard to come by. These were often overlooked because of the wide path cut by the 750′s, but they are beautifully balanced and almost 40 years later you can fire it up and ride it home. My hat is off to you for picking a day to bring it home that only a hard core two wheeler would continue on. Good story.

  • avatar
    jgustafson21

    Congrats on the buy Jack. Any plans to mod it?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Absolutely not… I view myself as the bike’s custodian. Any changes I made will probably just be under the guise of extremely mild restoration.

      • 0 avatar
        jgustafson21

        Good on ya. Lots of well done cafe racers out there, but it’s becoming harder to find UJMs that haven’t been hacked to bits by over eager hipsters, at least here in Chicago.

        Took me 3 months to find a CB750 that wasn’t a victim of the trend.

      • 0 avatar
        xargs

        Those ‘K’ model 4-into-4 pipes tend to rot from the inside-out and are impossible to find for reasonable money, so make sure you get it nice and hot when you ride it, and make sure the little weep holes at the bottom of the baffles are clear so water can escape…

        Cool bike. I’m tempted to go find another, but they are pretty hard to find here in California just because they’ve mostly been used up or co-opted by the urban hipster crowd, who do all the tragic things that guys used to do in the 70s to these bikes ‘Gotta have a loud pipe, man-’ and post-ironic band stickers and PBR license plate frames.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    Rode my 350 SL to high school every day my senior year. 30 miles roundtrip in snow, hail, rain, freeze ass brain freeze cold. Learned to tape the face shield cracks shut, got good boots, gloves, water proof gear. I’d walk in just before the bell dripping wet on the outside, dry on the inside. Ran out of gas once, never again. Then there was that bumble bee trapped in my suit just below the open collar (okay, it was a nice day). THAT was spooky.

  • avatar
    MrFixit1599

    While I was in High School, my dad had a 1981 Suzuki GS850GL. Mint condition, the guy he bought it from had put in a performance clutch, 4-1 headers, etc. Right before I went off to Navy boot campin 1990, he bought a Yamaha Venture, and I told Dad to not sell the Suzuki until I got out, as I wanted to buy it from him for his asking price of $1000. One of his buddies offered him $900 for it shortly after I left for boot camp and I never saw it again. One of these days I will own one.

  • avatar
    Furhead

    I only got my first bike a few years ago when I turned 30: an 02 SV650. One of my favorite things is feeling the changes in temperature when riding through sun and shade, hills and valleys, day and night. Those mornings when it is cold enough to make your core body temperature drop and always worth the payoff at the end of the day when it is the perfect temperature to ride.

    If you haven’t, check out the book “Riding With Rilke”, about an English professor’s 3700 mile trip from Calgary to Austin, TX on a Monster.

  • avatar
    xargs

    I’ve had a couple CB550s and I think they were among the best balances of power/handling of their day. Stuff like the 550 Seca and GpZ 550 took up the crown a short few years later, finally leading up to the 110hp 600cc rockets of today… That looks like a pretty nice example, worth the effort to fix the tank properly.

    Jack, before you do anything else, (and it doesn’t already have one) get yourself a Dyna ‘S’ electronic ignition. Cheap (~$150) and makes any sohc 70′s Honda much better-behaved. Check the advancer weights and springs also, the springs tend to go soggy after 30 years.

    Also worth while to get fork springs and real shocks, as those bikes had terrible suspension. The head gasket will start weeping oil any minute, don’t bother to do anything about it until it gets worse than ‘dirty fins’, as ALL the sohc fours 350/400/500/550/650/750 eventually start drooling from the now-hard o rings in the oil feed passages in the head gasket.

    Cool bike.

    -Anton

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Loved the “freezing from the inside out” line.

    I used to always end up bringing my GS850G back from University to my parents’ place for winter storage a bit too late in the fall, and inevitably there was snow on the ground and it was pitch black, snowing or raining and maybe one degree above freezing. After the 2-h ride I would be so cold that I am pretty sure it qualified as hypothermia – Mom had to undo the helmet strap because there was no way to do it with my numb fingers, then 45 min in a hot shower and I would *still* be freezing. The cold just kind of keeps coming out from your core and making you shiver again.

    I did that between the ages of 18 and 23. I’m 43 now and wouldn’t dream of putting my body through that. Jack, don’t you know *anyone” with a trailer?

  • avatar

    My ex and I were in the middle of our divorce. The lease on our Explorer was up, the dealer was in Ypsilanti and I think it was the day before Shavuot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks, so my ex was busy with food prep and didn’t feel like helping me out. No biggie, it was May, the weather was nice and there was plenty of room in the back of the Explorer for my Litespeed road bike. Things worked out well at the dealer, I had dented the back bumper in a parking lot accident and because the residual was so good I was able to work out a deal not involving cash with the dealer so I didn’t have to go through an insurance claim. It was a decent distance home, 35-40 miles, but that’s nothing difficult when I’m in riding shape. Unfortunately while I was at the dealer, a cold front moved in. Temp wasn’t too bad, about 60, but it started to rain, and then it started to get colder. I had no weather gear on, just my Lycra shorts and a jersey. By the time I made it to about 10 miles from home, the air temp had dropped to about 50, I was soaking wet, trying to slog through at about 14 or 15 mph. Normally on a bicycle you can stay pretty warm just from the calories you’re burning. On a chilly morning you can feel the heat coming off your thighs. On this day the cold rain was draining so much heat that though I probably wasn’t hypothermic, I could feel my core body temp dropping. Finally I gave up and called my brother for a ride.

    Come to think of it, riding my Honda 90 home after my freshman year of college, pretty much along the same route, was also pretty cold. I was glad it couldn’t go much faster than 45-50 because the air temp was close to freezing. It can get cold in the springtime in Michigan. It’ll be a nice sunny spring day and then a front moves in or night falls and it’ll get damn cold.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Had one of these, a ’78. Malaise brown. Got that on trade for a beat-to-hell ’93 Taurus. Traded the bike for a super clean Olds Delta 88 with no engine/trans. Never did do anything with it, the old man got rid of it for scrap. Should have kept the bike, really. It only had 8k miles on it.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Great read. I quit riding almost 20 years ago, but now that we’re a one-car family I’m thinking maybe it’s time to start again. Love that ’74 550, aside from the rusty pipes it was a great looking bike. Hope the new ride works out.

  • avatar
    sco

    Wow, this story and the view of that speedo and tach sure takes me back. I had a blue ’75 550 Four Supersport, 4 into 1 exhaust that was the cousin (or maybe brother) of this bike. Bought it for I think $2500 with 2000 miles on it in 1979 and it got me around Madison,WI and the upper midwest for almost 3 years, or more accurately for 8 months of each of three years. Like Jack I damn near froze to death riding it 150 miles to its winter storage at my folks place on a late fall day where the temperature dropped from a balmy 60 to a drizzly windy 32 in about 30 minutes, never been so cold in my life. In terms of holding their value, these four cylinder hondas must be at the top of their class – I bought mine for $2500 with 2000 miles, sold it to a buddy for $1800 with 12,000 miles, he sold it to a guy for $1500 with 24,000 miles, and it looks like its still worth about the same 30 years later, unbelievable. loved that bike

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    My first and only bike (if you don’t count the 80cc Suzuki I owned in lawschool, which I don’t) was a 1967 or 68 Honda 305 Scrambler, a fun bike if there ever was one. I bought it in 1969 from my girlfriend’s brother who was going to Viet Nam. He had cut the mufflers off and it would go 75 if the tappets and points had been recently set and the right plug cleaned. His father was apoplectic when he found that the relief he felt with the bike gone was replaced by worry about his daughter on the back of the same bike driven by a hippie dropout bass player. Plus, it was still waking him up late at night.

    I traded the bike to my cousin for an ex-Chicago police dog wagon when my girlfriend and I were married two years later. From my best motoring experience to my worst.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Sweet bike, it is too bad so many from this era are being cut and modified. (And poorly at that.) Had it’s fatter, bigger sister, a CB650. I miss Bertha every day.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    I know people will call it an “apples to oranges” comparison, but it’s been 40 years since LKJ Setright compared a Lotus Elan to a Norton. I could write it if anyone is interested; I’m an ex-kart racer who now rides about 10,000 miles per year.

  • avatar
    thesal

    Bought my first bike last weekend. Had never ridden one in my life. Rode it home about 90kms. Amazing experience.

    When I got the bike bug, something like a classic CB or an old RD was on my mind, but practicality, insurance company and abundance won out. Proud owner of a Ninja 500…

    I’m definitely a motorcycle owner, as my primary love has 4 wheels, RWD, a V8 and a toploader trans. However, the last two rides make me wonder if I’m about to embark on a new journey in obsession!

  • avatar
    Campisi

    My first motorcycle was a 1978 Honda CB125S that I saw poking out from behind a trash can while driving to high school one day. It was all-original, unmolested (apart from a gutted muffler), only had 400 miles on it, and since the owner’s Harley-riding father kept telling him to “get rid of that Nip shit” (charming fellow, I’m sure) I got it for a mere $100. It now has about 2,000 miles on it, and sits in our garage back in the States in pristine condition. Fifth gear tops out at exactly seventy miles per hour, and since it’s an old Honda it can both reach and sustain that speed all day long. Like all CBs, though, the engine has an engineering quirk: if you don’t change the oil every 400 miles the camshaft bearings prematurely wear out. I bought a 2011 CBR250 to take the commuting load off of the ’78, and sold the car I found myself never using anymore.

    Here in Korea, I’m getting around on a Daelim Daystar 150, a crappy Harley ripoff that won’t run right and cost me about $580 USD to buy off of a British fellow pulling a midnight run. It’s ugly, uncomfortable, and slow, but at its heart is a CG150 engine, an engineering revision of the old CB125S’s mill. It’ll do.

  • avatar
    afuller

    About this time last year I went for the old fly-n-ride.

    Bought a ’99 KTM 640 Adventure in Seattle and rode it home to SE Arizona.

    Perhaps not the wisest idea to ride a 12 year old dual sport 2000 miles with no knowledge of its history.

    Sure I broke down, ignition switch crapped out but I figure out how to hotwire the bike. I got snowed on and the seat was akin to a 2×4 with a bit of vinyl stapled to it.

    But I had a good time getting back home.

    Since then I’ve done the necessary maintenance and realize that I may have been lucky that I got home so easily.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    On the your ability to fan the embers of nostalgia that reside in the reptilian core of my brain:

    Well done! I once rode a 87 Hurricane(back when bikes had names) in similar conditions. I had forgotten me gloves and had one hand down by the engine when a lump appeared on the road. This was at night, but thankfully someone had taught me counter steering and I was able to run over the deer’s legs at about the knee. Slight tankslapper and ripped off kickstand spring was the result. All with one hand. Scares me just typing it 25 years later. I also recall having the ‘switch to reserve move’ well rehearsed to avoid getting rear ended. Today I mainly trail ride.

    On the CB550:

    Appears to be the Robert Pirsig Gestalt Edition.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’ve been here with cars. Its almost never better the second time.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    The Honda 550 4 is an iconic classic having less weight than the CB750 4 with better handling . Maintain it well and it will always he worth at least what you paid for it . Myself I am feeling a bit of seller’s remorse for unloading a 84 Honda Nighthawk 700S that only had around 6K on the clock when I sold it back in 99 for $900 more than I paid for it at a town wide yard sale of all places . Sure it had bad rake and trail head shake at 35 mph , a flat midrange ,weird shaft effect cornering ,lockup rear drum brake when applied too hard , but that last 3K rpm when the bike just took off and screamed toward redline made it all worthwhile ! Someday maybe I’ll get one again if I run across the right example at the right price .


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