I can’t help myself. There must be some sort of genetic defect in my DNA that makes me love Honda 350′s. But, I can take solace in knowing that I am not the only one. The Honda 350 is the best selling motorcycle of all time. I think? I hope? I really don’t want to be the only one with this incurable disease.
I have 4 1/2 Honda 350′s in my barn. Two run, one doesn’t (its the parts mule), and the other one and a half is in a bunch of boxes and parts hanging from the ceiling to be put back together sometime soon?
On ebay this morning I found a small group of 350′s that all need some love but could turn into a couple, a couple, of very cool bikes.
First, the bike above is not in the collection, it’s just what you could maybe build out of what’s there…
There is a CL77 (305 Scrambler) in the batch which is really quite nice. Most of these bikes are destined to become parts bikes however, but that’s OK, those of us into this sort of thing need a good stock of parts bikes…and an understanding wife or a very separate (as in another town) industrial / storage space.
The Honda 350 is one of those things in life that does ‘everything good and nothing great’. It gets you around town, it can handle freeway speeds (kind of…??) its headlight is as good as a Boy Scout flashlight in a dust storm, The alternator is as weak as can be so you need to always ride the bike at at least 3,000 RPM just to keep the battery up to snuff (if you’re really serious about these bikes you upgrade the alternator). When it’s hard to start chances are it is the battery, buy a ‘Battery Tender’ and keep it hooked up.
Despite its little flaws, the Honda 350 is still the perfect motorcycle. It is the Labrador Retriever of the motorcycle world, always there when you need it, willing to do whatever you ask of it.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures. There are a couple of real gems in this bunch.
Ok, lets face it, this was not BSA’s finest hour in some people’s opinion. The Rocket 3 was a rather late answer to Honda’s market changing CB750-4, but still the Rocket 3 is an incredible motorcycle.
By 1971 BSA was trying everything they possibly could to sell bikes, sadly this version of a great bike went over like a fart in church. They painted the frame a dull grey, they made the gas tank smaller (you could only go about 75 miles before you started pushing) and it was kick start only…where’s the magic button? and of course, you always knew where you left your bike parked because it marked its spot with a bit of Castrol. Oh and did I mention the brakes? Think of Fred Flintstone? Ok,enough of the downsides, there is a lot of ups to the Rocket 3.
Yes, the Honda CB750 had a disc brake up front, yes it had an electric starter, it could go more than 75 miles on a tank of gas, and yeah, it was comfortable. But…the Rocket 3 was faster, handled better and had a soul that the Japanese four couldn’t match. That soul, sadly, didn’t transfer into sales however.
Over the course of its production run, the BSA went through the ugliest gas tank every put on a motorbike to the one of the coolest set of mufflers ever put on a motorbike (the”Ray Gun Muffler”) and yet still retained the power and handling that made it great.
Interestingly enough, more people are more familiar with the Triumph Trident than the Rocket 3. Same motorcycle, different badges (Triumph was part of the BSA group at the time). If you believe that, you would be wrong. Here’s what made the BSA better. The frame was fully welded versus the Triumph’s ‘lugged and brazed’ frame (Schwinn bicycles use lug and brazed construction), one reason why the BSA handled better. Number 2; The motor was tilted forward in the frame 15 degrees where the Triumph was straight up, this gave the Beezer better weight balance and more responsive handling.
In 1971 Dick Mann won the Daytona 200 roadrace on a Rocket 3. Interestingly enough, he previously won on a Honda CB750. This was the Rocket 3′s swan song.
Given the choice, I would pick a BSA Rocket 3 over a Trident every time (don’t tell my friend Ted…who loves his Trident more than well, more than just about anything?) And, think about this…a motorcycle that I would give up my entire collection for (I’d still have to finance the balance for one…) the Triumph X75 Hurricane, uses the BSA motor.
So, I found a really nice ’71 Rocket 3 on ebay today and it is one of those that has the grey frame and the small gas tank, but hey, I like it. The bike is a semi-restored model, which means it still needs a few bits and pieces, but is a good runner. 11,100 miles on the clock and has the usual oil drips but this is a really cool bike that will be great fun to ride for a long time. You would be amazed at how smooth a well sorted triple really is. I would have no problem throwing a tank bag and a set of soft saddle bags on and heading around the country on this bike.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
Every now and then you find a little cool motorcycle, that well, is just a little cool motorcycle. This little Suzuki 125cc Colleda I found on ebay is exactly that. Not a whole lot of info on this bike, it was early in Suzuki’s history but it spawned one of the great bikes in their history the Colleda TT 250 which had some success in Grand Prix Roadracing.
The Colleda is a very simple motorbike, a 125cc single cyliner 2 stroke. Doesn’t get much more simple than that really. What it got when it came out was a much improved suspension (compared to earlier models, the 90cc version to be exact), a little more power and more modern styling.
I found a nice unrestored model on ebay located in Bakersfield California. It is a runner, the seller rides it all the time he says. It definitely is showing its age but that’s just fine. It’s a little bike that would be fun to ride around town, maybe trailer to a rally somewhere and have people ask you “what the hell is that?”
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures
I have always been a fan of oddball motorcycles…actually owned a lot of them, much to the bewilderment of family and friends. While doing my daily search of ebay for stuff I need and / or want, I found a bike I have never heard of before, a Junak?
In Post War Europe there were a ton of motorbike manufacturers, in Poland alone there were Twenty Eight, 28!!, between 1928 and 1972, the Junak is Polish. There is so much history in Eastern European motorcycle building its mind boggling. If you want to learn more about the Post War Eastern Europe motorcycling industry you will spend hours upon hours and days upon days at your computer and talking to motorcycle historians and then it goes back to Britain…and then….
Back to Junak. Junak was the first and only (at the time, post war) manufacturer of four stroke motorcycles in Poland. The best and most popular was the M10, a 350cc single cylinder that very closely resembled the Ariel single (with maybe a touch of BMW thrown in for good measure). Like I have said before, most of the Eastern Euro bikes had their basis on British bikes…who didn’t? Well, maybe the Italians?
The Junak M10 is a very simple 350cc single that had many uses. It was originally designed for the military (was there an Eastern European motorcycle that wasn’t??), and for touring.The Januk M10 became a very popular civilian motorbike especially with a side car, but also had good success in cross country racing
And, circuit racing (roadracing)
I found a very beautiful example of the Junak M10 on ebay this morning. It is a 1963 with just 400 miles (610 KM) on the clock. It is a first kick starter (most of the time) and good runner. Interestingly enough spare parts aren’t all that difficult to come by, there are a number of sources that can still supply you with parts to keep this bit of Post War Eastern European motorcycling culture on the road. Cosmetically it’s really nice, going to need a few things here and there but nothing to be overly concerned about if you plan on riding it. The seller is asking nearly $10K for it…is it worth that much??? You decide.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures
In 1978 Cycle Guide magazine editor Paul Dean was asked, what is the most boring motorcycle out there? Without one bit of hesitation “The Kawasaki KZ400.” This was for an article to be written by Rich Taylor on how to take an ‘Everybike’ and make it more. Well, there was no more an ‘Everybike’ than the little Kawasaki.
A quick bit of history here, Kawasaki made their reputation on building the fastest two stroke motorcycles you could buy, I should know, I had their fastest, the “Evil, Wicked, Mean and Nasty” H2 750. Then Kawasaki went into the four stroke business with the mighty Z1 900. The Z1 was a huge success so Kawasaki jumped headlong into building four stokes. One of the first was the KZ400 twin. Now, Kawasaki was smart, they had the Hi-Performance market, what they didn’t have was the commuter market, Honda owned that one with the CB350. The day to day rider needed an economical, reliable, easy to ride, easy to maintain good piece of basic transportation.
The KZ400 was marketed by Kawasaki as a good, fuel efficient means of transportation. They were right. As a matter of fact, during it’s run, the KZ 400 outsold the Honda 350/360/400! Why? Well, it’s smooth running engine accounted for a lot of that, it was reliable, could do 75 mph all day long with no strain, got up to nearly 70 mpg. It had a modest price and modest performance (a whopping 36 HP…) and could actually do ‘The Ton’ (100 mph..my stock CB350 tops out at maybe (?) 90). What more could you ask for in a commuter bike. The other thing that made the little Kawacker so good was that for learners it was a great value. Most could buy one, ride it for a few months, get the itch for something bigger and faster and then sell it for almost what they paid for it! In 2003 the British magazine Classic Motorcycle Mechanic rated the KZ400 in the ‘TOP 40″ motorcycles of the 1970′s!!!
Kawasaki built the KZ’s from 1974 to 1984 with only a few changes. The first couple years there were oil leaks, carburetion issues, little hiccups here and there. In 1977 the little KZ got the needed redesign and a few upgrades. One of the best upgrades was the KZ400A Deluxe model. For just a few dollars more you got a fairing to keep the wind off of you, you got a nifty set of saddlebags and a nice rear rack. Absolutely perfect for the commuter…who, the bike was designed for.
I found on ebay this morning a really, I mean really nice, KZ400 Deluxe that is really ready to ride. It has been gone through top to bottom and front to back, 11K miles on the clock is nothing for this little bike. Honestly, this is a great bike for a commuter in an urban area and truthfully, it is a PERFECT solo tourer.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. This a really neat bike.
Ricky…”Lucy….I’m home!! Look what I got you!!”
Lucy…”Is it a new dishwasher? A new clothes washer?”
Ricky…”It’s Honda VT500 Ascot!…you’re going to love
Lucy…”Does it do dishes and clothes?”
Ricky…”No, it’s a motorcycle”
Lucy…”Is it a Dual Sport? Because thats what I really want”
Ricky…”Well, no…but it’s a really great motorcycle…”
You know, I feel sorry for poor Ricky, here he is getting his lovely wife something great and, well…so much for good intentions. The truth here is pretty universal, we (men) buy our wives, kids, or significant others, motorcycles we really want to have not necessarily what they want, even if they tell us ‘exactly’ what they want…it’s in our genetic code, we can’t help it!
Ok, I’m taking Ricky’s side here. The Honda VT500 Ascot is a really cool motorcycle, Lucy is missing out big time by telling Ricky to sell the bike and get her a ‘dual sport’. The Ascot would be a lot of fun for her to ride…why?? Easy, it’s got a great motor…not too fast but fast enough to be a lot of fun. Next, it’s really quite comfortable (and for a woman, the low seat height is a big advantage). The VT500 has a decent suspension(which can be modified to be really good), the shaft drive is very low maintenance, and it’s a good looking bike (if it wasn’t for that god awful square headlight, which thankfully can be replaced…). And lastly, it can be made into a very cool cafe racer which will get her away from any thought of a dual sport bike.
The truth is, the VT500 is one the most under appreciated motorcycles built. I have written before about bikes that didn’t receive the love they deserved and the V-Twin Ascot is high on that list. I had an opportunity once to spend a couple of days on one and I had an absolute blast. I didn’t want to give it back to my friend.
I had been racing a Honda FT500 Single for a few years and loved it. When I got on the ‘VT’500 I felt right at home, well, not quite, but the styling made me feel at home? The V-Twin Ascot was a really nice bike to ride, like I said before, it wasn’t all that fast and it could use a bit of a suspension upgrade but really, this is a bike that will do pretty much anything you want it to do. Make it a cafe racer, street tracker (its original design), make it a sport tourer…which I believe is its true destiny, or let it be your daily ride just as it is.
I found a very nice VT500 on ebay today. The story at the top is basically true…this guy bought a clean VT500 for his wife but she wanted a Dual Sport, ok..there is no accounting for taste (just kidding) so now he is selling it. This Ascot has only 10K miles on the odo which is not all that much, it is a runner and cosmetically pretty nice. It is stock, which I always like. The seller did a carb clean, new battery, oil and filter, air filter, etc, but I would go ahead and change out the rest of the fluids, brake pads and some new tires…then, as I start gathering all the parts to make it into a great cafe racer, I’d ride it everyday.
Click on the pictures below for more info and more pictures. Here’s a note however…this is the second time this bike has been posted at the same price. It didn’t sell before and my feeling, being involved in vintage bikes for quite a while, is that this bike is a bit overpriced. It is a nice bike, maybe around $1700-$1800 is a good selling price. Contact the guy. The VT500 is a very cool bike.
The Yamaha ‘Tuning Fork’ logo is historically important because Yamaha has been in the piano business since 1887, motorcycles didn’t come along until 1954…The YA-1 ‘Red Dragonfly’, 125cc of two stroke fun.
Post World War Two was a big time for small displacement motorcycles around the world and truthfully, other than here in America, they still are. Small displacement bikes are used by commuters, police, mail delivery, just about everyone, even your Dominoes Pizza in Mexico gets delivered on a 125!
Through the 1950′s and into the 1960′s the motorcycle business here in the U.S was dominated by the British and Harley Davidson. I know that some of you will disagree with me and that’s Ok…but the Japanese were coming and they were coming fast. It didn’t take them long to go from ‘Jap Crap’ to serious competition for the US buyers dollars. I use the term ‘Jap Crap’ only because it was a common feeling and, in some cases true, at the time.
Yamaha was the first to successfully to take on the Brits with the XS650 twin, it was also Yamaha’s first four stroke motorcycle. Following the heels of the XS650 Yamaha went after the big Brit singles. 1976 brought the TT500. Big torque,big powerband, Yamaha reliability and easy to start…by comparison to the BSA B50 and Gold Star.
The TT500 found its success in long off-road races particularly the Paris-Dakar where in 1979 (the first of the Paris Dakar Rallys) Yamaha took the top two places, the second year of the rally Yamaha took the top four! places.
The TT500 leant itself to heavy modifications the best of which was the Dick Mann chassis. I have ridden a TT500 with the DM frame and it did wonders for the bike. The TT as it is was a bit slow handling, not bad, you just had to plan ahead a bit more than on a lighter bike, but it is still a great bike. Yamaha hit a home run with the TT, it spawned the XT500 (the street legal version which also in my mind really created the Adventure Touring market that BMW then perfected) and the SR500 (Yamaha’s factory Cafe Racer…which I still love and lust after!).
I found a really nice TT500 on ebay today, yeah it’s got some flaws but hey…it’s old. It is a low hour (according to the seller…) runner. I would simply get it, give it a good through and love riding it. Or…search around for a Dick Mann frame (you can just call Dick Mann Specialties and get one…$$$$) and turn it into a really cool street bike. Or…get a Champion frame for it and go vintage flat track racing. The TT will be anything you want and be happy doing it.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures.
Not too many people are familiar with OSSA motorcycles much less Yankee. A quick history here…isn’t that part of the charm of this blog???
OSSA actually started out making movie projectors in the 1920′s, motorcycles didn’t come along until after World War Two. At that time a lot of motorcycle companies got into the business of making (or importing) smaller two stroke motorbikes…BSA, Yamaha and even Harley Davidson. It was also a time that Moto-Sport was growing. Europe was the international base for all things motorcycling…Moto-Cross, Enduro’s, Trials and Road Racing. The only Moto-Sport America can lay claim to is Desert Racing.
Up until the mid to late 1960′s American Desert Racing was dominated by Triumph, BSA, and Harley Davidson…big, heavy, single and twin cylinder bikes from Britain and here at home, then came the Europeans with their light weight two strokes and literally and figuratively left everybody in a cloud of two stroke smoke and dust.Husqvarna,Bultaco,Montessa,OSSA,DKW,Penton,KTM…the list goes on. The Japanese got into the game as well.
OSSA was primarily known for its Trials and Enduro bikes but also had some relative success in both Moto-Cross and Road Racing. In the late 1960′s Eduardo Giro (grandson of the OSSA founder) developed a Monocoque framed road racer that in the hands of Santiago Herrero won four 250GP’s. Sadly Sr. Herrero was killed at the Isle of Man in 1970. After the death of their racer, OSSA withdrew from roadracing and focussed on Trials.
Here in the United States, OSSA was popular in Flat Track racing, National Champion and racing legend Dick Mann won the 1969 Santa Fe National ShortTrack aboard an OSSA he helped develop…cool huh?
Now you know enough about OSSA to get you laughed out of any motorcycle trivia game. But this post is about the Yankee Z500, which is basically two OSSA 250′s mated together. The motor was originally developed for European road courses but they were also looking for versatility both on and off road. The Yankee Motorcycle Company was the importer of OSSA Moto Cross and Enduro machines and John Taylor, the head of Yankee in New York wanted to design and build a bike that would compete with the Euro’s but be better by being more powerful,better built, more reliable and faster. OSSA was well known for being reliable, some thing I can’t say about my beloved(?) Bultaco’s. Mr. Taylor enlisted the help of Dick Mann to design the chassis which had some unique features such as a rear disc brake, the first of its kind on a dirt bike. Also, low gear in the standard 6 speed transmission, which wasn’t allowed in AMA racing, could be disabled to comply with the rules. And one more cool thing about the Yankee…the top fork crowns were manufactured by Smith and Wesson. I guess you could shoot somebody if they got ahead of you on the trail? Just kidding, this is non-violent blog.
There were 762 Yankee Z500′s built. A couple of things happened here, first production delays. The first 500′s didn’t come the assembly line until 1971 and by that time the Japanese manufacturers had really stepped up their development and Yankee was now behind the curve. Secondly, no matter how good they rode, they were a bit on the heavy side for serious Enduro riders. So production of the Z model was discontinued after a short run. But I have a question, there was a regular street going 500, has anyone seen one here in the U.S? This motorbike looked to have huge potential? Why wasn’t it brought to market? Granted the road going two strokes were starting to fade by that time. Could it have competed with the Suzuki T500? Oh yeah!!. The Kawasaki triples?,Handling yes, performance no. The Yamaha twins? Probably so.
Today I found a really nice, I mean really nice 1972 Yankee Z500 on ebay. This bike has only 1880 miles on the odo, it is all original with the exception of the front fender which is a Preston Petty unit which is period correct. It is not a runner but the seller says it has good compression, kicks through and shifts through all the gears. My guess is that getting it running should be pretty easy, it has just been sitting decades. The bike is cosmetically in great condition it appears. So, I think someone should get this bike and make a very unique and cool cafe racer out of it…what else would I think?
Click on the pics below for more pictures and some info.
Is there a motorcycle in your past that you regret ‘not’ buying? Many of us have come home with a bike that once it is in our garage we asked ourselves “what was I thinking?” Worse yet is when your significant other asks you the same question, in a much different tone of voice. And then even worse yet is when you rationalize the purchase and start tearing it all apart to ‘restore’ it or ‘customize’ it and coming to the realization that you made a mistake. You DFU’d.
Next scenario…years ago you were choosing between two new motorcycles, your significant other had given approval for either one (he or she didn’t care which one you bought they just wanted you to stop asking them which one you should get, asking all your friends which one to get, because they were getting annoyed by you at this point as well, “Just flip a coin and buy one…”).
Scenario number three…you bought one of the two but in the back of your mind you still keep thinking about the other one. Fast forward two, three, four decades and while driving home one day you see one parked in a driveway with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. It’s the exact model you looked at all those years ago, color and all. You turn around, you write down the phone number and hurry home with your heart pounding. You run in the door, the S.O is there, you tell him or her about the bike, the checkbook is looked at, you get the green light and the phone call is made…the bike was sold five minutes ago.
This is a true story, mine. The bike was a Yamaha XS650. I have loved that bike since the first day I sat on one at International Motorcycles in Canoga Park. Having spent years on Brit Bikes, I felt right at home on the Yamaha.
The Yamaha was also a successful racer, it powered ‘King’ Kenny Roberts to the AMA Grand National Championship, when it really was a Grand National Championship but that’s a whole ‘nother story. The XS is still very popular in Vintage Flat Track racing.
The XS650 is the perfect platform for any customization…cafe racer, street tracker, chopper, tourer, vintage flat tracker… it just plain ol’ works. The motor is gorgeous, reliable and easy to work on. The chassis lends itself to mods very easily and there are a lot of aftermarket suppliers that can help you make an XS the bike of your dreams. Now you just have to get one.
I found a really nice 1977 model on ebay today. It is a runner that has been gone through pretty well. It’s completely stock, which is always perfect in my book, that way you can customize it any way you want or just leave it as it is and enjoy it.
Oh, and did I mention it can be customized really well…
Click on the pics below for a lot more info and more pictures. This is a really nice bike for the price.
The last of the air cooled two stroke Sportbikes in America. “Really great performance for not much money” is how Cycle Magazine described the Yamaha RD400. The RD series from Yamaha, no matter what size, was a motorcycle that I like to say has a ‘high giggle factor’.
My first experience on a Yamaha RD was when my step-dad bought my mom an RD250. He and I rode a lot and he figured that she would like to ride as well. After a couple of in the cul-de-sac lessons mom decided that motorcycling was not for her. Now what to do with the little Yammie? Ride it!!! Being that Michael (step-dad) was a die hard Brit bike guy, I got the pleasure of flying past him on tight twisty roads on this ‘little’ two-stroke. Great fun.
In the late 70′s and into the 80′s the Yamaha two strokes were dominant in club racing. The twins were light, they handled great and were easy to make faster. Yamaha, at the pro level, had already proven its little twins could beat bigger four strokes. Young people could get into performance motorcycling and still be working at McDonalds.
What made these little bikes so great then and still popular today? It’s called ‘feel’. Off the bottom any four stroke will pull away from a two stroke but, once ‘on the pipe’, a two stroke has a responsiveness that can’t be matched. Some will say that the powerband on a high performance two stroke is much like a light switch, it’s on or off and no in between. For some two strokes that was true, but by time Yamaha brought the RD400 a lot of that was cured (kind of?) mainly because of trying to meet emission standards, particularly here in California. But nonetheless, a good two stroke has that instant response when your right wrist wants it.
The RD motor is great but what really sets the motorcycle apart is its handling. The RD’s are incredibly intuitive, they know you want to turn before you do! In 1979, Yamaha gave the RD400 a better suspension, moved the foot peg mounting bracket above the muffler, which gave the bike better cornering clearance, but it still wasn’t uncommon to drag the mufflers…that’s how good these bikes handled, and lighter wheels and brakes. Less unsprung weight makes for quicker more responsive handling. handling. The RD series was always a very confidence inspiring motorcycle, and a very fun ‘hooligan’ bike.
I found a really nice ’79 RD400 Daytona Special on ebay today that is selling for a very reasonable price (so far). It is not running, has the normal ‘patina’ for a bike it’s age, that means some rust here and there and faded paint. I’m thinking that all it needs to be a good rider is a a new battery, clean the carbs, air filter, you probably would want to put a new set of tires on it and just go through it with a fine tooth comb. Don’t bother doing a full ‘restoration’, just make it rideable and have a blast. This is probably one of the easiest winter projects I can find.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info. This really is a cool bike to have…too bad I have too many other projects in the works and not quite enough room. One last thing, for those that like traveling on a smaller bike, the RD400 was probably one of the best you get. I would not think twice about traveling cross country on an RD400.
I truly do have this love / hate relationship with Bultaco. I raced Pursang’s in the desert, Matador’s in Enduro’s and an Astro in a TT race. I rode my Matador to and from school and all over the local mountains. What do they all have in common? They all left me stranded somewhere near ‘BFE’ which is close to the ‘middle of nowhere’, well the Astro is the one exception, it didn’t strand me during my one 10 lap TT race. Nonetheless, my life with Bultaco was, well, interesting.
The one category of Bultaco motorcycles I haven’t had the ‘pleasure’(?) of spending any time on is the street bikes. Since the very beginning of my relationship with Bultaco, I have lusted after the Metralla. The Metralla had only what you needed. It was light, fast, quick handling and beautiful. The Mercurio was another version of the same bike that didn’t have much of an impact here in the US. Why? Well, it started as a small bike and worked its way up to 175cc. Today, 175cc isn’t even freeway legal here in California, but in the rest of the world, it was a pretty big bike.
The Bultaco singles worked. Because of Senior Bulto’s involvement with Montessa’s racing success, Bultaco’s were race bred machines from day one. Here is a quick (Readers Digest version) of Bultaco history. Francisco ‘Paco’ Bulto started Bultaco following a split with his former employer, Montessa. Management at Montessa decided it was time to get out of racing, Paco disagreed and along with a few others left Montessa and started the new company based on racing technology and design. 1954 brought the first Bultaco, the 125cc Tralla, a road going machine bred from the successful road racers they had built for Montessa. Two months later, in the Spanish Grand Prix, Bultaco took seven out of the top ten finishers!!! And as they say, the rest is history. A short side note, former 500GP and MotoGP rider Sete Gibernau is Senor Bulto’s grandson.
I found a very unique Mercurio on ebay this morning. This Mercurio is a really well done ‘custom’. It features a BMW gas tank, a unique fibreglass tail section and different wheels and hubs. I dig the dual headlight set up. It is a really cool motorbike. It is a runner according to the seller. Priced seems reasonable compared to some other bikes I have seen lately. The Bultaco is a very simple motorbike and with minimum maintenance should be a fun Sunday ride for a long time. Plus, this bike, in my opinion has a very high cool factor and would be a blast to ride. Click on the pics below for more pictures and a bit more information.
I really love different (some may call ‘weird’) motorcycles. If there is something unique about it, I find it really interesting. Granted, riding friends I have had over the years have always questioned my taste in motorcycles but occasionally I have converted a few from ‘mainstream’ to a little left of center. Lucky for them?
A bike that has always interested me is the Harley Sprint. I love small displacement motorcycles, I believe they offer the highest giggle factor your money can buy. I have traveled a good portion of the Western United States on a Honda 350 and still have four of them. I’ve had singles, twins; four strokes and two strokes…I love ‘em all. But why I want a Sprint is beyond me…maybe it’s because it’s just weird enough.
I have written plenty of times about the ‘Italian’ Harley’s so I won’t do it again and besides there is so much info on the net that you can learn more than you ever wanted to, and waste a whole day that you are supposed to be working, just going from website to website and still not really care all that much. Unless, you dig those ‘un-Harleys’…like me.
The Sprint is definitely one of those cult bikes, you either love it or hate it. Compared to its competition at the time; the Honda CB350, Yamaha R5, Suzuki X6 and Kawasaki Samurai, it was slow, heavy, only had a 4 speed transmission, the kickstart lever on the wrong side, and until 1973 was kickstart only, and on top of all that it would vibrate the fillings right out of your teeth. But at that time, what Harley wouldn’t?
But, here’s the thing, these bikes have become really popular in Vintage Flat Track and Roadracing. Why, because there are still plenty of parts available (because they are popular), and in their classes, quite competitive. Most everybody that raced the Sprint 250 and 350 back in the day, got their racing parts from Europe, not here. The Motor Company was working on building their mid-size bike business, not racing mid-size bikes. Sadly, in the late sixties and early seventies it was all about horsepower baby! Mid-size bike sales were declining and Harley just didn’t fit into that market no matter how hard they tried.
However, I still think the weird looking, good handling, slow, horizontal cylinder Italian Harley is a very cool bike.
I found a really nice Sprint 350SS on ebay today that would take (it appears) so little to be rideable. Bought at an Estate sale, a complete bike…looks to me that all you have to do is the basics…Clean it up,(and by that I mean you need to pull the bike apart…not ‘restoration’ apart, just clean all the electrical connections and oil lines…) change all the fluids, a pair of new tires, a new battery and really, you’re good to go. Well, there are some mods you can make that will really make this ‘Un-Harley’ really fly and embarrass many bigger more modern bikes. The Sprint’s are a lot of fun to ride and wherever you go, people will gather around.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. This is a pretty neat bike at a pretty good price.
I love looking at antique motorcycles. I have ridden one or two over the years and loved the adventure but would I want to own one? I don’t think so. They take too much work. I like to appreciate the work that someone else did to keep a wonderful piece of history running. The love and dedication that goes into restoring and then maintaining an antique motorcycle, not to mention the money ($$$$$) is truly admirable.
A couple of years ago I toured the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh New York and was enthralled by motorcycle makes that have been long gone, makes that lasted just one or two years, makes I had never heard of. They were all there. Some beautifully restored, others rusty and dirty as the day they came out of a barn in Iowa. It was beautiful.
At the turn of the century (the 20th century) when fortunes were being made in the bicycle business a few started stuffing an engine into the bicycle frame and a new world was born. The world we love so much.
One of the company’s that was short lived also had an important part in one of motorcycling’s greatest legendary brands. Aurora Manufacturing in Aurora Illinois started making parts and tools for bicycles back in 1886, one of the companies buying these tools and parts was Hendee Manufacturing the makers of Silver King and Silver Queen bicycles…ringing a bell yet? it will.
In 1901 George Hendee sent Aurora an engine to be studied and parts and tools made for. Aurora went and produced the engine of Hendee’s design which was the basis for the beginning of the Indian Moto Cycle company. Is that cool or what? The deal was that Aurora would build the motors and sell motors to others (with a royalty paid of course) but they couldn’t build motorcycles to compete with Indian. No problem.
By 1903 Indian had its own manufacturing set up and Aurora was once again on their own. That same year Aurora founded the Aurora Moto Cycle and Bicycle Co. Thor Motorcycles was born.
At that point, Aurora/Thor was basically just a catalog company…here’s all the parts, build it yourself. Not much different from what we can do today…I build cafe racers that way.
By 1908 the Indian apron strings had been cut and Thor was complete motorcycles. Aurora/Thor built singles and then big twins under the Thor name. They had some success in racing, but nothing really of note.
Thor shut down motorcycle production somewhere between 1916 and 1918. The reason I say somewhere is that on paper, production ended in 1916 but bikes were assembled with existing parts into 1918 and rumor has it that a few bikes were sold up until 1920.
I found a really nice 1912 single on ebay today that would make a great restoration project. The reason I think this is great is because the bike is just about complete as it is! It’s not a basket case, it isn’t a rust bucket it just needs a few parts. Some you’re going to have to make yourself, some you might find on the internet. It is a 5hp single…not what you would call fast and not a bike that you could ride in the Cannonball Coast to Coast (even though it qualifies by age). The seller is not asking an unreasonable price for what you are getting. So if you have a desire to restore a very unique motorcycle with a pretty cool story behind it. Give this one a look.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
“A vintage motorbike that only an engineer should own”, is how one British magazine described the Velocette Venom. I don’t why he said that because the Velocette isn’t all that complicated, yeah its your typical British single…finnicky, requires very regular service (the old addage of ‘ride it for one day, work on it for two’ comes into play here) and parts aren’t all that easy to come by. Owning a motorcycle like the Velocette is truly love…or insanity, perhaps both.
In 1905 Veloce Ltd built its first motorbike then in 1913 built its first 250cc two stroke and called it the Velocette (‘Little Velo’) and the name stuck.
In the late 1950′s while other British bike builders were concentrating on twin cylinder bikes, Velocette continued developing the single, and why not? They could build a single that was as fast as many twins, handled better, lighter weight, cheaper to build and sell and for the owner, easier to maintain.
The Venom put out around 34 horsepower which was quite respectable at the time and just squeek over ‘the ton’, as a matter of fact, in 1961 a Venom set a world record of averaging over 100mph (just over) for a full twenty four hours. That record has yet to be broken for a motorcycle of its size.
Capitalizing on the Venom’s success in club racing, Velocette developed a higher performance version, the Thruxton. They also built an off-road model the ‘Scrambler’ which was mainly aimed at the U.S market. The Thruxton featured a full race designed head, a different carb and valve arrangement. The Thruxton is probably the motorbike people think of when they hear the name Velocette, but it was the Venom that was actually the backbone of the Velocette company.
The Venom was built from 1955 until 1970 and Velocette closed it’s doors in 1971. The days of the single cylinder bike were over. Velocette hung in there and built their singles long after every other manufacturer had moved on. Today a Velocette is one of the most treasured motorcycles to have. I found a really nice 1961 model on ebay this morning that would take so little to get it roadworthy.
The Venom I found is in really nice condition, it shows it’s age but in a very graceful way. This is a bike that is not a museum or ‘collection’ piece, it is a rider. The motor was rebuilt a few years ago but has hardly been ridden since then, it needs new tyres and it’s got a typical oil drip under the primary cover (what do you expect…it’s English?!). There are a couple of really cool things I love about the Velocette, first is the ‘fishtail’ muffler…how can you not dig that!!?? and the other thing is how to adjust the rear suspension, you loosen the top bolt and then slide the shock up or down along the curved mounting bracket, so simple and so effective. Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. It ain’t cheap but it’s also not out of the ballpark of reality.
“Just as much at home threading its way through slow traffic with two up or ‘Thunderbolting’ up a steep grade”. That is how Motorcyclist magazine described the 1968 BSA A65 Thunderbolt. Some may disagree but I think the A65T was probably BSA’s best twin ever.
The A65 twin was built from 1962 to ’72 in various versions, the high performance Lightning and Spitfire models and the ‘touring’ model Thunderbolt. I rode a ’67 Lightning for years and loved it, but I also rode a Triumph Trophy, which I tended to ride more often (much to my step fathers dismay…it was his bike).
The thing about the Trophy was that it was actually easier to ride than the Lightning. The Lightning was faster no doubt, but the Trophy had better low end power that came on earlier in the powerband, which for me, made it easier to ride fast on the canyon roads near home. The BSA Thunderbolt feels the same way.
When comparing the BSA Thunderbolt to the Lightning, it’s ‘the same girl just wearing a different dress’. Same motor (pretty much), same chassis, same brakes but it’s the small details that made the difference, mainly the change to the single carburetor. The bike was tuned to cruise comfortably at 70+mph all day and when your testosterone level is up so is the Thunderbolt…topping ‘the ton’ was easy. With the slight changes to the motor, the Thunderbolt didn’t vibrate as badly as the other BSA twins, nice for touring.
In 1968 BSA made some really good changes to the Thunderbolt. A new, longer kickstart lever took some effort out of the starting ritual but the big deal was switching from the Amal Monobloc carb to the Concentric carb. The Concentric was much less prone to flooding and combined with the longer kickstarter, the Thunderbolt became much easier to start…hot or cold.
BSA made some really good improvements to the motorcycles but had one glaring problem…poor workmanship. And truthfully, at this period in time, this is what killed the British motorcycle industry. That aside, the Thunderbolt is a wonderful motorbike. It is smooth, comfortable, fast enough for fun, excellent handling (of course, it’s a BSA!) and absolutely beautiful. As Cycle Magazine said, “One of the best designed motorcycles we have had the pleasure of testing”.
I found a beautiful 1968 Thunderbolt on ebay this morning that with some new tyres (english spelling) is ready to go. The motorbike has just 1763 miles on the clock, it is a bike that has aged quite gracefully and honestly is one of the better values I have found lately.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. And as BSA once said, “Move up to a mans motorcycle, move up to BSA”
In 1982 I was the Sales Manager at a Kawasaki dealership here in Southern California, I loved my job. The family I worked for was great, they helped me in my roadracing effort, and thanks to them I was doing pretty well. Here is the better part…I was racing a Kawasaki but my daily ride was a Honda. It didn’t look good for the Sales Manager to be riding a bike we didn’t sell, so…I was given a ‘demo bike’ to ride. Life doesn’t get any better, especially when your first ‘demo bike’ is a Kawasaki GPZ750.
I spent ten really good years on a Kawasaki H2 750 Mach 4, Kawasaki’s flagship three cylinder two stroke rocket. At times it scared the crap out of me…the H2 was called “evil, wicked, mean and nasty” by every motorcycle magazine and most people who owned them, but after some really good (serious) modifications the monster was tamed and we had great times together. Sadly,the H2 was stolen from me (if I ever find that guy…”hell hath no fury than an H2 rider without his triple!) and that is how I ended up on a Honda CB750F.
Back to the GPZ. When I was told I was getting the GPZ I wanted to cry, cry tears of joy. I had already sold a few of them and everyone loved it so I couldn’t wait to ride it.
Closing time on Saturday afternoon I was given the key, and a stern lecture from my boss as to how I was to ride the bike responsibly (the look on his face didn’t match his words…if you get my drift here…). I spent the next two days flogging that GPZ up and down every canyon road I knew here in Southern Cal. The smile never once left my face.
Here’s the deal with the GPZ…Kawasaki was already successful with the KZ series and had brought out the GPZ models in 550 and 1100cc in 1981 but they had to compete with the Honda CB750F model and Suzuki’s very capable GS750. Kawasaki was known for building motorcycles with ‘King Kong’ horsepower but didn’t have the chassis to control it. The GPZ750 changed that.
The GPZ was not just a ‘tarted up’ KZ750, there were chassis mods (courtesy of the Z1 and models soon to come…like a shorter wheelbase for quicker turning, beefier headstock and more), engine changes like new cylinder heads,new cam profiles, different carburation and a different riding position. What Kawasaki was going for here was a pure unadulterated sportbike and that is what they got. What they didn’t expect that it would also be a really good sport tourer. The GPZ1100 was Kawasaki’s ‘heavyweight’ sport tourer, but now they had a 750 that was at home on a canyon road as it was on the interstate. The first GPZ 750 is one of Kawasaki’s finest bikes of the era. The GPZ underwent some changes over the next couple of years (some good and some… ‘not so much’) but it was and still is a fabulous motorcycle.
I found a beauty today on ebay. This GPZ is a stocker, which in my book is pretty much the best way to find a used bike…that way you get to do whatever you want to do to the bike instead of undoing what someone else did…unless you would have the same things done to the bike. A bit of a convoluted thought but hopefully you get my meaning. This GPZ has been garaged for twenty years with 24K on the clock, not bad but it is going to some love. Standard stuff will be required here…carb service (full clean and rebuild), change all fluids, new tires (they’re old. I don’t care how ‘new’ they look or how much tread they have left, they are not worth keeping on the bike), brake pads, etc, etc. There is the standard corrosion on the bike that can with a little time and effort can be dealt with. This bike is a rider not a collector piece. Do the basics and ride it.
The GPZ 750 is a really wonderful motorcycle that will do anything you ask of it…blast through your local Sunday morning canyon ride, commute to work everyday, or throw on a set of soft saddlebags, a tank bag and head off to Telluride. Click on the pics below for more (not really) info and more pictures. Having ridden one for a while I can say this a perfect example of the ‘UJM’ being taken a level higher.
It’s that time of year that I start searching for, working on and writing about ‘winter projects’. Here in Southern California winter is all about having to switch from shorts to long pants and maybe a long sleeve t-shirt. OK…I said that just to make all of you that live in colder climates a bit jealous but the truth is, it does get cold here for us motorcyclists and though we may not have heated basements to build bikes in, my journalistic hero Peter Egan has the best, but we do have to warm up the garage at night to work on bikes.
It’s no secret that I love the Harley Davidson XLCR, it really is one of the few Harley’s that I really do lust after…note here…Santa (wife) are you listening??? The XLCR was not one of ‘The Motor Company’s’ shining moments, at the time, but it has become quite a cult classic. XLCR models in beautiful condition are selling for upwards of five times their original selling price!!! Honestly, Harley dealers were selling them at ‘fire sale’ prices two years after they quit making them. A little less than 2000 of the CR models were made and as I have said before they went over like a fart in church. It’s too bad to because a number of the features that went into XLCR ended up helping make the standard Sportster a much better motorcycle.
Willie G. Davidson penned this bike from the ground up. He went after the BMW R90S and the Ducati SS. The XLCR was the quickest and fastest of the Sportsters. THe CR was 5hp up on the basic Sporty, it was under 500LB’s (which the BMW was not) and had a top speed over somewhere a bit north 110mph (which in itself was really not that big a deal at that time). Willie G. pulled some of the chassis design straight off Harley’s own flat track dominating XR750. But, to the faithful, it was not a real Harley. Yes, there were the AMF quality issues with the bike but all told, the XLCR was a good bike. Harley tried the Sportbike market again decades later with Buell but again pulled the plug. Harley knows their market.
Back to winter projects, I found an XLCR on ebay this morning, that if you’re brave enough, will be a great winter project. It’s pretty rough, it’s not a basket case but, it is rough. This is a bike that is going to need a lot of love and elbow grease. The seller is very honest about what has and hasn’t been done to/for the bike, what parts he has, the condition of said parts and what he wants to keep off the bike for his collection and what goes with it. Some of the stuff is good, some is questionable but all in all if you want a good winter project, this is pretty good choice. The bike is a runner so that in itself gives you a good starting point. With this XLCR you have a really have an easy choice to make…clean it all up (but leave it a little ratty), piece it back together and ride it. Or…go the full restoration route and invest a whole lot of money, that you will never get back if you want to sell it, and it will be a really cool motorcycle for a collection. And with a little work, it could end looking like this one…
Click on the pics below for a lot more info and more pictures.
1976 was a really tough time for ‘The Motor Company’, they had been bought up by AMF and quality control was pretty low on the priority list…bowling balls and pool tables were more important than motorcycles. I’m guessing that American Manufacturing and Foundry Company needed a tax write off? Everybody has heard this story many times so we won’t beat a dead horse here.
To be fair here though, many think that it was AMF that actually saved Harley Davidson from fading away as Indian did. Well, Indian didn’t ‘fade’, it limped. AMF Harley’s did have reliability problems but I think part of that was that AMF was trying to modernize the production process and as we all know, major changes don’t always come that easy.
In my humble opinion, the Sportster motor has always been Harley’s best. The BIG twins have the allure but the Sporty has Spunk! The Sportster was built to compete with the British twins and it did an ‘admirable’ job. It didn’t have the handling prowess of the brits but in a straight line…The Sportster was king. Americans loved drag racing and the Harley fit perfectly.
I found a really nice ’76 today on ebay that I think would be great just as it is or build it out. It is stock condition, even still has the gas tank sticker!? It has been completely serviced by the dealer and is ready to ride…push the button and ride off into the sunset…or the sunrise, whichever way you want to go. This is a really nice Ironhead Sportster that will give you a lot of miles of smiles. Just take good care of it.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
One last parting comment about the AMF years. As I said earlier, AMF was a bowling alley company, here’s proof. And thank goodness Willie G and a few friends bought the company back.
I have been riding, fixing, and building Vintage Motorcycles since before they were ‘Vintage’. I love the soul sounds old bikes make… I love the shakes that come up through the seat, foot pegs and handlebars that let you know the motorcycle is alive. And so are you. An old motorcycle may/will, require more attention on your part, but if your willing to put in that time, the payback is well worth it.
Recently I sold off my last ‘really classic’ motorcycle, a 1976 BMW R90S. I still have a small fleet of ‘classic’ Honda 350′s, a Honda Hawk and parts that fit something or another, but unique classics…well, the barn is looking a bit empty.
One of the bikes I sold a while back was my Ducati SD900 Darmah. This was a bike I had lusted after for more than 30 years. A Readers Digest version of the story is I saw one , a new one, in 1981 on a dealership floor in New Mexico. It was the most beautiful motorcycle I had ever seen.
Fast forward to 1995…while picking up a suspension part at a racing friends shop I spotted a Darmah, a black and gold Darmah, (the one I have dreamed about for all those years) sitting off in a corner covered in dust and shop grime. Two days later I was riding it home. The sound and the feel of that Italian twin was better than any drug you can imagine. I rode that beautiful Darmah almost every day. It was featured in a Ducati Museum show at Laguna Seca during the MotoGP race. The Darmah is a really great sport touring type motorcycle of the era.
I sold the Darmah because garage space was getting smaller (too many bikes…wait, you can’t have too many bikes…can you??) and I found another classic I really wanted. Anyway, I really do miss my Ducati.
I found a beauty on ebay today. This 1978 Duck has only 15,000 miles and has been well taken care of. The seller put on a 2 into 1 Conti exhaust and pod filters…the bike has to be breathing a lot better now. This is a sweet bike. The beauty of the SD900 is that it is comfortable, reliable, stable at speed and handles like it is on rails. The Darmah is a wonderful, confidence inspiring motorcycle. For someone looking for a bike that you won’t see coming around every corner, this Darmah would be a great choice. Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info.
Oh and one more thing, if you buy this bike or any other classic Ducati Bevel Head, you’re going to need, want parts…contact my friend Steve Allen @ http://www.bevelheaven.com Steve is the best guy you will find for classic Ducati parts..and his knowledge in invaluable.
1978 Ducati Darmah
This is really one of the coolest motorcycles up for sale now. It’s not so much about the bike, which is very cool indeed, but it’s more about the owner and why it’s being sold.
Customized Bonneville’s are probably more common than stock versions on the road these days. Vintage Bonnie’s and new generation Bonneville’s are perfect platforms for a builders creativity. Cafe’ Racers, Bobbers, Choppers, Street Trackers and genuine racers…the Bonneville is perfect.
The particular Bonneville I found today on ebay belongs to skateboard industry mogul Tony Hawk. I met Tony back in the early 1980′s. I was running a major surf and skate shop in Southern California when skateboarding was huge and Powell Peralta was the hugest of the huge. We had planned a skateboard demo, ‘The Bones Brigade’ in the parking lot of the shopping center one our stores was in. The shopping center, nor we, had any idea how big this was going to be. Hours before the demo was scheduled to start the parking lot was filling up skateboarders, and truth be told, creating all kinds of havoc. You couldn’t get into the supermarket without having to dodge a crazed fifteen year old on a skateboard…or three of them or twenty of them, it was nuts.
When the team showed up…in a pretty stylin’ limo I might add, we had to hustle them into the shop, lock the door and order pizza, like I said this way beyond anything we had planned…it was nuts. Two hours later and a parking lot full of skateboarders surrounded by police, helicopters from local TV stations above and a shopping center manager none too happy with us, the demo became a none event. But it did make the 6 o’clock news! We had to get the guys out one way or another, so it was out the back door, over a wall and into an old, beat up VW van…mine. We all laughed but there was hell to pay later on from all sides.
So what has this got to do with motorcycles you ask, nothing really except for who is selling the bike and why. Tony Hawk is a legendary character in one world, skateboarding, and not really known in our world, motorcycles. But Tony is also known as a philanthropist. Tony has spent a lot of years working with ‘at risk’ kids through the Tony Hawk Foundation. He gets them involved in activities, like skateboarding, to keep them headed in a positive path. This particular Triumph Custom is being sold to continue the work of the foundation.
About the bike, I look at it as somewhere between ‘bobber’ and cafe, it’s minimalistic for sure and everything has been done right. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mr. Hawk. On ebay, there isn’t a lot of information about the bike so you might want to ask a few questions. I don’t know if it’s a rider or just something you park in your living room, but if it were me…ride it…but, park it in the living room. Of course you would need your significant other’s approval and an oil drip pan…it is English.
Click on the pics below for more info and beautiful pictures of this stunning motorbike. This Triumph is beautifully built, the pictures show more than just art on two wheels, a true craftsman built this Bonneville. Take your time and truly appreciate all the details.
As a side note here, all too often skateboarders have gotten a bad rap and sometimes it is deserved, but I have spent the vast majority of my working life with surfers,skateboarders and motorcycle riders and 99.9% are really good people, Tony Hawk and all the work he does for disadvantaged kids is a great example of what good there is in sub cultures. And…to see great skateboarding, get the movie “the Search For Animal Chin” The Bones Brigade at their best.
The Bonneville was, and actually is again, Triumph’s flagship motorcycle. In the Meriden days was it the best? That is a matter of opinion. The Bonneville was fast, it handled great but, it was a bit finnicky…tuning wise. Some liked the Trophy better because of its single carburetor (easier tuning), better low end torque (friendlier rideability), and it was a bit less expensive. But, The Bonnie was King. As high performance British twins went, the Bonneville sprinted past all others, particularly in sales.
Then ‘The Rising Sun’ stepped into the picture and the British Motorcycle Kingdom was in jeopardy. Other makes just rolled over and went away but Triumph stood firm. However, everything Triumph did was in the classic ‘too little, too late’ syndrome. It’s really sad because the T140 was/is a great motorcycle, but trying to keep up with Honda’s CB750 was a losing battle.
Triumph, over the next ten years, did everything they could to keep going with the Bonneville. They survived a workers strike that shut down the factory for a year or more, then modified the bikes to satisfy American regulations (the left side shift and blinkers) and upped quality control…no more oil puddles under the bike. All kinds of limited edition models showed up on dealer floors including the Queens Silver Jubilee Edition.
Even though Triumph kept working hard at appealing to the American rider, they just kept falling behind and by 1983 they threw in the towel.
I have owned two T140 Bonneville’s over the years and have loved them both. The Bonneville is light, it has a low center of gravity, it handles as though it knows you want to turn before you do. The T140 Bonnevile in all it’s iterations (well except for the TSX model)
was well worthy of more than being a second class citizen in the motorcycling world. Horsepower trumped handling…oh, and so did reliability. English motorcycles could not escape their reputation for leaving you stranded as from home as you could be, not to say that a good number of Japanese bikes were really all that much better.
So, today I found a very nice 1973 T140V (the V stands for 5 speed transmission) on ebay. It is a runner according to the seller and cosmetically it looks good…not great. That’s OK. It has been repainted, looks good in the photo’s. The owner has also upgraded the ignition to a Boyer Branson electronic ignition which makes a world of difference on these bikes and a few other few improvements that help the bike. And, a set of lower handlebars make it just that much more rideable…and cooler looking.
This is a good motorcycle and seems to be selling at a fair price. Click on the pic’s below for more pictures and a bit more info.
1967…The Summer of Love. Haight Ashbury, Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, my second year racing in the deserts of Southern California, and one year away from being able to ride a street bike ‘legally’. What a time in life. My step dad also decided that it was time to get my mom riding a motorcycle. He had already set me down the path of moral and social degradation, did he really have to sacrifice my mother as well??? Apparently so.
Now, Michael (step-dad) was a devout follower of Edward Turner and his Triumph Twin but every now and then he would drift into the occult…he was racing a Bultaco as well as his Triumph, but when he came home with a little Yamaha 250 street bike I thought he had really gone over the edge. Until I rode it. The ‘giggle factor’ of that little motorcycle was unbelievable. Family and friends loved that little bike…everyone except mom. Oh well, her loss, our fun.
When mom decided she didn’t want to ride the 250 it was sold to a friend who then traded it (along with some cash) for a Kawasaki 350 Avenger to another friend. If the 250 was fun, the 350 had to be a LOT MORE fun and it was. The bike was very typical of Japanese bikes of the time which means it handled like crap… Wobbly doesn’t even begin to describe the general handling of the A7 but what a motor. That 350 would easily outrun bikes twice its size, well unless you were racing on a twisty road but back in those times more of us were thinking of simple speed more than corner prowess.
The A7 Avenger was a very good motorcycle for the time. The motor was strong (somewhere around 40HP and a top speed of around 100mph) and reliable, fit and finish was…well, better than acceptable and handling could be made better with a few modifications. The A7 sold well but not as good as it should have. Sadly it had to compete with Yamaha and Suzuki, Honda was entirely focused on four strokes. The Yamaha was fast and handled good, the Suzuki was faster, but didn’t handle well at all. So the Kawasaki fell right in the middle.
The Kawasaki A7 350 was an outgrowth of the very popular A1 250 but got some good improvements along the way. Basically what Kawasaki did was slide a bigger better motor in an existing chassis (that was based on a Kawasaki Grand Prix bike) and call it good. Ok, wait a minute here. I know that I said the bike was wobbly handling and then I say it’s based on a grand prix chassis, which by all counts should handle pretty damn well, they did by mid 1960′s Japanese manufacturer standards. And, they were far away from production bikes.
The motor though got a good number of upgrades, a major one being the ‘Inject-O-Lube system. Not only did the oil pump squirt life saving oil into the petrol mix, it also sent it directly to the main bearings, hence, longer engine life.
For performance Kawasaki decided to go with the Rotary Disk Valve intake system versus the Piston Port design used by other manufacturers. Why? well it is a more efficient design as it doesn’t waste any fuel (it’s all burned which means more power!), the rotary valve gives more torque from lower RPM’s and has better throttle response throughout the RPM range. However, the Rotary Valve system is more complicated and expensive to build and therefore Kawasaki decided to scrap it (after testing it on the 3 cylinder H1 500cc Triple). The interesting thing about the Rotary Valve design is that the carburetors are not behind the cylinders where you normally find them but inside the engine cases inline with the crankshaft. Now, you would think that would make the engine way too wide for a high performance twin cylinder motorcycle…you would be right except for the fact the Kawasaki engineers moved other parts around to make the bike acceptably narrow. It is really a fascinating system.
So, with all that being said and now that you know everything Kawasaki A7 Avengers…I found a really nice one on ebay today that should fit well into anybody’s mid to late 60′s Japanese two-stroke collection.
This A7 is not showroom perfect…thank God. I much prefer bikes that wear their age with grace and dignity. The engine has been overhauled with new bearings and seals, some parts have been replated or repainted. The exhaust is not stock but for a bike with chambers, it’s not obnoxious. The bike looks and sounds really nice check out the You Tube video on the sellers page.
Click on the pic’s below for more pictures and more information. This is a nice fun bike that with a bit of suspension work and nothing else should be an absolute blast to ride.
Every motorcycle and every motorcyclist has a story to tell. Some stories are far more interesting than others but I find most all very interesting if you dig just a bit.
What makes a motorcycle great? What makes it legendary? How does a rider become great and what makes him or her a legend? Simple questions with sometimes just as simple answers. For a rider it can be as simple as being born with good genes, being in the right place at the right time and having the right person to give the guidance and help to move you to greatness. In truth it is all the above and a smidgen of good luck. For a motorcycle to become legend it takes a bit more.
Some motorcycles are considered great just because they win races, lots of races, but in that scenario credit also goes to the rider. Motorcycles that change motorcycling become legends. The list is long of legendary motorcycles and the debates that go along with those choices is even longer.
Take the 1969 Honda CB750 SOHC, this was a motorcycle that set the world on its ear. Was it the fastest?…no. Was it the best handling?…no. But as an all around package was it the best?…ABSOLUTELY. The CB750 was declared the first ‘Superbike’. Triumph could have claimed that title if they had brought out the Trident sooner and with a disc brake in front instead of the drum (which actually worked really well), better electronics and more modern styling. Hindsight is always 20/20.
The Honda 750 became the perfect platform for modification to truly become a Superbike. Honda themselves put a lot of time, money and effort into the racing development of the 750. In 1970 Honda built Dick Mann the most exotic, expensive race bike ever built to race…and win…the Daytona 200. They actually built four of them but Mr. Mann was piloting the only one to finish, and win. That win was hugely important to Honda because were the days that the saying “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” was so so true. That motorcycle and that win propelled Honda to world leadership.
What I find fascinating though is what engineers, fabricators and designers do with motorcycles, legendary or not, to make them more. When the CB750 came out everyone from backyard builders to college degreed engineers started building a better CB750. The engine was, and still is, fantastic but the chassis was typically Japanese of the era which was described in the media as a ‘Flexy Flyer’. Rickman, Seeley, Harris and others built frames that transformed the mighty CB into the Superbike Honda envisioned. The most innovative of those was Tony Foale.
Tony Foale is an engineer’s engineer. Tony not only created the most unique chassis for the CB750 but also the suspension system that gave the Honda such superb handling characteristics. Tony wrote the book on chassis design both literally and figuratively. When I first decided to make a bike handle better I did all the basics a backyard guy could do in the garage my next project however I was given Tonys Foales’ book and my eyes became wide open to the possibilities. Most of what Tony did was way beyond my skill set…and budget, but the lessons learned were easily put to more simple applications as well.
I found on ebay this morning THE Honda CB750 to buy. Like I said at the beginning of this post, every motorcycle has a story and boy does this one have a story. Instead of me rewriting it just click on the pictures below for the story, many more pictures and few minutes of great motorcycle history and a couple of interesting characters. If you are looking for a bike to fit into a collection or better yet, to go vintage racing with this Honda is a dream come true. A creative sort could probably make it street legal and WOW would that be a sight to behold at your local Sunday morning hangout!
Oh, while looking at the pictures and reading the story, try not to drool on your keyboard.
There is something about a single cylinder motorcycle that just brings the true essence of motorcycling out. It is a simple machine, especially if it is a kickstart only model. Singles are a motorcycle that you actually ‘feel’, they haven’t been built to sewing machine smoothness that separate you from its soul. A single doesn’t have a high RPM whine, it has a bark!
Pushing a button on the handlebar while you finish your latte’ doesn’t come close to finishing your basic black coffee in a heavy, white diner style mug then throwing a leg over your motorbike, swing the kickstart lever out, slowly rotate the lever until the piston comes up to TDC, then…one strong swift kick on the lever and the bike wakes up with a bark…and so do your neighbors.
British singles generally define what a single is. It is a bit cobby, it is powerful and it is a pain in the ass to start…until you learn the secret handshake. Over the years more races have won on British singles than any other motorcycle (that is a statement that I cannot verify, but I think is probably quite true). British singles ruled off-road racing up into the 1970′s when the Japanese and European two strokes took over. British singles ruled road racing as well from the beginning of the century until the 1960′s.
The BSA singles are actually a development of the original Edward Turner designed 150cc Triumph Terrier, which soon later became the 200cc Triumph Cub, a great selling, solid reliable little motorcycle. I imagine that more than one great British racer cut his teeth on a Cub. In 1958 BSA brought the C15 250cc then bumped it up to 343cc. The C15 Scrambler was the basis for the bike that Jeff Smith eventually won two 500cc World Championships on in 1964 and 1965 (at that time it been bumped up again to 441cc).
The BSA single did have its flaws as it grew but by 1969 BSA had sorted out most of them. Early problems with lower end bearings and the transmission/clutch and electronics (even though they were still Lucas..aka the ‘Price of Darkness) were somewhat solved. The ignition went to a battery and coil system, which was blasphemy to purists but much better for everyday riders, and the compression ratio was lowered to take the strain off the bearings and make the bike easier to start. again, all to make the bike a better bike for the general public.
I have owned a BSA single (a C15), ridden quite a few Gold Stars (my absolute favorite) and my good friend Tad still rides his B50 (quasi) Cafe Racer on a regular basis. BSA singles, to me, are the epitome of the British motorcycle industry through the ‘Golden Age’.
I found a ‘diamond in the rough’ BSA single on ebay today that with a bit of love could be a true treasure. This 1969 B44 Victor has been sitting for decades and it shows. But…that is not necessarily a bad thing. The seat is way wrong and the gas tank seems to be from maybe a Triumph Trident? Wherever it came from, I think it’s wrong, but it may work if you get the right seat. The seller says it kicks through with good compression and most all the parts are there. This would be a great winter project that will provide huge riding rewards come spring time.
Singles are without a doubt the most fun motorcycles to ride. A single is light, narrow and they almost know where to go before you do. A single has a soul that was born before your great, great grand daddy. This one I found on ebay may not be perfect today, but it can be without too much investment of time or money. Just make sure you paint it properly (it’s pretty damn ugly right now).
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.