There are a couple of motorcycles I regret selling or trading in for something else. One was because of youthful exuberance, the other, well I still am not quite sure why. The youthful exuberance was trading in my BSA Lightning 650 for a Kawasaki H2 750. The fastest thing on two wheels. When you’re twenty years old, you chuck the old mans bike and go for pure speed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my H2 for a lot of years, but today I wish I still had them both.
The Lightning was temperamental, leaked oil and the electrics were, well…there is a reason why Lucas Electrics were called the ‘Prince of Darkness’ and the joke “why to the English drink warm beer? Because Lucas makes the refrigerators…”
Ok, there were lots of things you could do to deal with the electric issues, the marking it’s territory…oil leaks…not so much. None of that really mattered. The British Twins… BSA, Triumph Norton and others have a certain ‘Soul’. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because my formative years were spent on Brit Bikes and I know deep down what they feel like….for better and worse. The Germans, a little (?) sterile, the Italians, maybe a touch too macho and the Americans…just plain old King Kong pound your chest brash. I love them all, but my heart and soul still say “God save the Queen” And then I ride off on my Triumph.
BSA basically designed the Thunderbolt as a ‘Touring’ model. Compared to the Lightning the Thunderbolt was rather tame but in truth that was really a good thing. A little more relaxed steering, a more comfortable seating position, and a longer kick start lever (which made starting the bike easier) made the bike really quite comfortable. But, the real differences were in the engine itself.
Take some of the performance aspects of the Lightning (the cams) and then simplify it with a single carburetor. smoother acceleration, lower maintenance (dialing in one carb is a lot easier than balancing and tuning 2!). But really, the single carb made the Thunderbolt a really easy motorcycle to ride. Plenty of power for it’s time, great handling what more could you ask for?? Well, that’s where it all falls apart.
Enter the Honda CB750. Twenty more horsepower, better braking (thanks to a disc on the front vs. the single sided drum off the older BSA Gold Star 500), electric starter…the list goes on. The Japanese manufacturers were here and way ahead of everyone else.
But still…the CB750 with all it’s attributes can’t match the soul stirring feeling of a British Twin. Bikes that move with just a thought, motorbikes that feel the road underneath you, a motor that gives you just enough vibration to let you know that it is alive. A BSA 650 is a bike that demands attention. Over the years there has been a running joke that if you ride a British twin for one hour, you have to work on it for two. It’s not true…but not too far off. But the time is well worth it
For most all of us that want a classic British motorbike, a Thunderbolt is a great choice. I really like the single carb..smoother power delivery than the twin carbs, a little less vibration but still that great feeling that a classic bike gives you.
I found a really nice one on ebay today. A 1971 that is not all original but is a runner according to the seller, looks good and the price is not too out of line in the real world. The Thunderbolt is a great bike…much easier to own than the Lightning of my youth.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pics
1971 BSA Thunderbolt
For those of you that have read my posts over the years know that I love (and have a fleet of) Honda 350’s. I am a big fan of small to mid-size motorcycles and the Honda 350 is my favorite. Well, I love Yamaha RD350’s, Suzuki X6 Hustler, Kawasaki KH400’s…but, the Honda 350 has my heart. And my wallet.
In 1968 I started my desert racing life on a Bultaco Matador, then a Pursang, next was an El Bandito. The Pursang and the Bandito went away but the Matador stayed because I became addicted to Enduro’s. For Enduro’s the bike had to be street legal so the Matador fit the bill. I rode that Matador to school most days (when I wasn’t riding a Triumph or BSA…the family norm) and then the day came that the Matador was too tired to keep going. Time for a new bike. Enter the SL350.
I did keep the Matador running for off-road events but needed a good reliable bike for everyday use. I bought a new SL350 because it suited my needs, I liked the way it looked and it was only $850. Life is good.
Fast forward just a few months and the Bultaco died of a massive stroke…or lack of stroke? In the course of one day, the SL350 became my new off-road weapon. Jettison the blinkers, the stock mufflers, manufacture a decent skid plate (thank you Mike Bast of Bast Brothers Welding), change the handlebars, Curnutt shocks, proper knobbys installed and it was ready in time for an SRA Enduro. And I was back to riding a BSA on a daily basis.
Now, let’s fast forward again. I have been riding Honda 350’s consistently since those days. Both my kids learned to ride on a CB350, my dad got back into riding (after 35 years or so) on a CB350 and I have built a couple of Cafe Racers based on the 350…one on the CB platform and the best one on an SL. Why the SL is the best?
We’ll start with the chassis. The double down tube frame is stiffer and offers greater handling accuracy. The motor is slightly different from the CB/CL (different carbs being a big difference) but also, the electric starter was removed…lighter weight! The SL series from Honda from 75cc to 350cc, there isn’t a motorcycle more fun. Heck, even the ‘Duke’ rode one.
This particular SL350 I found on ebay today is so perfect (but not too perfect…) and the price is reasonable, that really somebody needs to snap this one up now !!! Heck, the mufflers themselves are worth the price of admission. The SL350 is a bike that can do everything every time. Low maintenance, easy parts availability and it is a perfect platform for anything you would want to do with a mid-size motorcycle!
Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info
So here I am again going on about my love hate relationship with Bultaco motorcycles. I love Bultaco’s despite the fact that I was left stranded in the desert a few times, I had to rebuild the top end more often than I changed my underwear…wait a minute…my El Bandido caused quite a few underwear changes!But I digress.
My motorcycling street life started on a Bultaco Matador. A 250cc street legal dirt bike. I also started my racing life on that same bike. A Bultaco of the time was not what you would consider overly reliable in the deserts of California, in the mountains of Spain in Trials competions…oh yeah. In Roadracing…again, very successful. My only thought that was Bultaco’s didn’t like sand…me neither.
A bit of Bultaco’s road history, top five finishes in the Spanish Grand Prix, the Dutch TT, the Isle of Mann and in 1960 set the Speed record in France for 12hrs in both the 175 and 250cc class and then the 24 hour record in 175, 250 and 350 classes!!!
In 1973 Jim Pomeroy won AMA National races on a Bultaco Pursang (which is the bike I raced in the Barstow to Vegas race…well, not Jim’s bike just my own Pursang). The great Angel Nieto, who won 13 Roadracing World Championships in just about every class rode a Bultaco. And, MotoGP racer Sete Gibernau is the Grandson of Señor Bulto!
One of my dream bikes is the Bultaco Metralla. The dealer that helped support me during my dirt bike racing years always had a Metralla in the showroom (sold a number of them too), every now and then there would be a Mercurio. The Metralla was a bit racier but the Mercurio (being 50cc smaller) was just about as fast! In the tight canyons where I live, that 175 could easily embarrass much bigger bikes. And the “Giggle Factor” compared to “Pucker Factor”…the Bultaco wins every time!!
I found a perfect Bultaco Mercurio on ebay this morning seems to need nothing except a new owner that will ride it. Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. And more than anything…have fun riding this great little motorbike!!!
I have owned so many motorcycles over the years that I have probably forgotten some of them, but one I have not and never will, is my 1972 Kawasaki H2 750. I have written before about how I came to owning this bike before so I won’t bore you with the story again. That Kawasaki Triple was the motorcycle that first really touched my soul. The H2 was the first motorcycle I took a long (to Canada) trip on, the bike I street raced cars on (for rent money…I almost always won), the bike I had so much fun modifying and spending money on and the motorcycle that could scare the sh*t out of me. Evil,Wicked,Mean and Nasty is how most everyone described the Mach 4. A reputation well earned. The H2 was, if nothing else, a pure adrenaline rush and when you’re in your twenties, what more could you ask for?!
I love the Kawasaki triples. I have ridden every size. From the 250 to the 350, 400, 500 and 750 and loved them all. As the line of Triples evolved they also became more civilized, still exciting but not the hooligan bikes they once were. It was also the end of an era for two stroke motorcycles. The Mighty Z1 and later the KZ500 and 650 put the nails in the coffins of the Triples. Well, the EPA had a lot to do with it as well.
In 1960 Kawasaki took over Meguro motorcycles, in 1961 came out with a 125, in ’62 brought out the 250cc Avenger, this was the bike that got the attention of the American public. I have ridden the Avenger and WOW!!! Granted a later version, but still a high WOW factor. The 350 Samurai was even more impressive. Now think about this, Kawasaki’s first four stoke was the 650W1, pretty much a copy of a BSA A10. The Samurai 350 was as fast as the bike nearly twice it’s size! Since that time Kawasaki has tried to bring back the W650 a couple of times with very little success. Too bad, because it was and is a great machine.
So anyway, back to the Triples…Wheelie prone? Yes. Ill handling? Yes. Poor gas mileage ? Yes. Too much fun? OH YEAH!!! Kawasaki did civilize the triples over the years but they were and still are a lot of fun to ride. On the 500, if you romp on the throttle, at 3500 RPM you’re looking at the sky. Can that be cured? Do you want it to be?
There are all kinds of things you can do make these great bikes handle better. Some are easy and cheap and some take a bit of engineering, but it’s worth it.
I found a really nice KH500 on ebay and the price is reasonable, has lots of new parts and is ready to ride. Yes I would make a few changes, only because of my experience with these bikes…but thats just me. Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures.
There is a raw excitement that comes along with riding a Kawasaki Two Stroke Triple no matter what size that can’t be matched by any other series of motorcycles.
The first motorcycle I ever crashed was a 1952 Triumph Thunderbird. Well, wait…I did ride my fathers CB160 into the back bumper of his new Impala but all that was was an ‘OOPS’…no real damage except to my 14 year old pride.
The Thunderbird was my step dads pride and joy and I did a pretty good job of causing he and me quite a bit of work…and money. There went my next two months paychecks. Besides learning how to fix old British motorbikes (including how to cut your own cork clutch plates) I learned to love British bikes. I still have one.
After the crash my stepdad actually let me ride it again and again until I could afford my own Triumph. Over the next few years we went through a couple of Bonnevilles, a BSA or two and a T100R Daytona that I kept for years. He kept the Thunderbird until he passed away just a few years ago.
The Thunderbird was a grown up version of the very popular 500cc Speed Twin. At this point in time Triumph was working hard at a gaining a marketing foothold in America. They had to compete with Harley Davidson and Indian. The 500 didn’t have the same ‘stuff’ the big V-Twins had. The down low grunt, the sound and the look.
When the 5T was pumped up to 650cc it gained enough horsepower to be quicker than the big twins and that was very appealing to the American market. Triumph was also using the ‘Sprung Hub’ rear suspension which was a huge improvement over the regular rigid frame that was common on most motorcycles of the time. Nowadays we are so spoiled with the suspensions we have available to us!
Most of us of a “certain age” have seen the 1953 movie “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando. This movie was about a motorcycle gang that rides into town and wrecks havoc. All in good fun??? Well, in this movie Marlon Brando is riding a Triumph Thunderbird and it was the first time a motorcycle logo / brand name was shown in a film…pretty cool huh. Though it may not have been the image Triumph wanted to portray or maybe it was good marketing. Oh, here’s another cool thing. In the movie, Marlon was riding a Black Thunderbird, Triumph didn’t make a black T-Bird. After the success of the movie, for a very short run, Triumph made a black bike and called it the Blackbird. Always have throw in a bit of useless trivia.
I found a 1952 T-Bird on ebay this morning that is going to require more love than God gave the Isrealites. I have shown you basket cases that I thought would fun to put back together and I’ve shown you bikes that just needed some simple love. But…to get this one rideable could take as Led Zepplin would say, “A Whole Lotta Love….” Now you can keep this bike as a ‘Bobber’ style, you can turn it into a very cool Cafe Racer or if you’re incredibly ambitious return it to stock. Good luck. I would imagine that finding an original headlight nacelle with the instruments in it would be , well difficult to say the least. Maybe not though?
I wrote about this today because of my personal connection to a ’52 Thunderbird. Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little info.
There are motorcycles that have a smile factor, a giggle factor and then there those that have a HIGH giggle factor. The Moto Morini 3 1/2 is in the latter class.
In the 60’s and 70’s Italian motorcycles were generally described as quirky, temperamental, unreliable and too expensive. Having owned Italian motorcycles of that vintage I have to say…yep. But, along with those less desirable attributes came personality, soul and performance that made you put up with what you didn’t like about the motorcycle. The sound and the feel when you started up an Italian Single or Twin (when it started…) woke you up from the inside out. Looking at Sophia Loren couldn’t give you the same feeling. Well, maybe.
A few years back my Ducati Darmah was part of a Vintage Ducati exhibit at The Moto GP race at Laguna Seca. I met Chris Hammond who was there with a beautiful Ducati 750 SS. While we were talking he was telling how much he liked his SS but his favorite bike and the one he rode the most was his Moto Morini 3 1/2. His enthusiasm was just overflowing. I have loved many of my motorcycles but, compared to Chris I had nothing. He had more pictures of his 3 1/2 in his wallet than he did of his wife and kids!
The 3 1/2 was designed by Franco Lambertini who came to Morini from Ferrari. The engine design was unique for it’s time. Not that it was a V-Twin but how the internals worked. There is more information online that if you’re interested you research it yourself. It is very interesting. The 3 1/2 came out in 1973 but didn’t reach America until 1977 it was immediately compared to the very popular Yamaha RD350. An easy comparison to make. The RD was quicker but the Moto Morini had the handling. When I finally got the chance to ride one I fell in love. I understood my friends enthusiasm. Handling is precise, intuitive and easy. The motor has enough power to keep you entertained and was easy on your wallet when came to fuel up. I see it as a very good around town bike but come Sunday, find the tightest twistiest canyon road you can and put bigger bikes to shame and giggle your way by them. This motorbike is one of the highest giggle factor rides I have ever had.
I found a nice one on ebay this morning. It needs some love, but bikes this vintage generally do. It has not been restored, it is a runner. The seller says it starts on the first kick. It will start on the first kick once you get the hang of it. A big thing there, make sure the battery is always fully charged…makes life a lot easier.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. If you’re looking for a really fun and very unique motorbike, this could be your next ride.
A while back I applied for a job at a Harley dealer. The general manager, the owners wife and I were having a good interview until I said the only Harley I really wanted to own was an XLCR. If you put your money on me not getting the job, you win.
I remember when the XLCR showed up in 1977. It was Wille G Davidson’s first design job and I, being a Brit bike guy, was stoked! We all know that the AMF years were not Harley’s finest (mechanically) but we did get the XLCR and the original ‘Superglide’. Not too bad. But really, the bikes were junk. “Hardley Abelson”, “Hardley Driveable” and other names were applied that I can’t print here, but it was a good design time.
The XLCR was a modified Sportster…same lump of a motor, some slight chassis changes and some cool styling. But…according to the purists it wasn’t a Harley. It was the Redheaded stepchild. Thats why it only lasted a couple of years. But, I still want one. I got the next best thing…a Buell.
I found a really cool 1979 XLH Sportster on ebay this morning that a guy, who just like me wanted an XLR, built a better one. This is one sweet Harley Davidson. Good upgrades, a beautiful tank and tail section…all of it. Yeah, you’re going to have pay attention to it…there is an old adage about vintage British bike, “Ride it for one hour…Work on it for two”, well this bike is probably right in there as well. But I think it will be worth it.
Click on the pics below for more info and pictures
Sometimes I just can’t help myself. I love Cafe Racers. Simple. A purpose built/modified machine that can get from here to there quite fast in high style. A cafe racer is a function before fashion machine but…the fashion is definitely there too.
A good friend of mine has recently discovered Cafe Racers. He started his life on a Harley Davidson Sportster, all blacked out, then moved on to a Street Bob (a big twin Harley), again all blacked out and loves it. He is a part time member of the “Harley Culture” but he is expanding his views. My subtle hints and sending pictures of cool bikes seem to be working!
I was living in Las Cruces New Mexico when the original Gold Wing was introduced. The GL1000 was at first thought of as a big bore Sportbike, but as we all know, it became the Supreme Leader in touring bikes. Why the change in thought? The original was a touring bike to go up against the Harley Davidson Electra Glide, but the molds for all the touring accessories were accidentally destroyed so the bike was brought out naked and American Honda tried to market it as a Sportbike. Well, the aftermarket (in particular Craig Vetter) had a field day with accessories. In no time at all you could make a Gold Wing as comfortable as a Winnebago. It is the motorcycle that changed touring motorcycles forever.
I rode it back in 1975 and thought it was rather Ho-Hum (I was riding a Kawasaki H2 750 at the time). Fast forward a few decades when I bought my father his Gold Wing, I came to realize just how good this motorcycle is. I started looking at Gold Wings as more than just an ‘old man motorcycle’ but as a platform for some serious fun. Granted, you can’t convert a modern Gold Wing to anything other than what it is but get an old GL1000 or 1100 and the fun begins.
I found a very nicely done Cafe Racer ‘Wing’ on ebay this morning and it looks very appealing. A little too blingy for my taste but very well done. Pretty low miles for a bike it’s age…my wife says the same thing about me. NOT. Some really nice upgrades and like I said, a little on the ‘Blingy” side for me but nicely done.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and info. This is a very cool bike.
My motorcycling life started with riding my dad’s Honda CB160 into the back end of his new Chevy Impala…I hate when that happens.
After that he decided it was probably safer to head back to Vietnam than teach me how to ride a motorcycle. He was a helicopter jockey in the Marine Corps.
Fast forward a couple of decades and Dad decides he wants to ride a motorcycle again. No matter how hard I tried to talk him out of it he wanted to ride. So, I found a Honda CB350 in somebody’s back yard for a hundred bucks that needed some love and gave it to Dad for his birthday. And from there everything went downhill….he loved riding.
After about a year and 5000 miles later he wanted something bigger so he could travel with me. I found a really nice Honda GL500 Silver Wing and again another birthday present. He and I did the Three Flags Classic (Mexico to Canada in 3 1/2 days) three or four times and he put about 50,000 miles on that Silver Wing. I rode it as well ( a tour of the Four Corner States) and absolutely loved it. Had to replace the rear air shock in Gallup New Mexico, deal with electrical issues in Glennwood Springs Colorado…but other than that, change the oil, put gas in it and go. Anywhere.
The GL500/CX500 is a really great motorcycle. I have written before that it takes the MotoGuzzi V-twin twists it around a bit to make it work Honda style, and then Honda put a Turbo charger on it, pumped it up to 650cc and then twisted it a bit and again made it bigger for flat track racing. It really is an incredible motorcycle. And in my opinion, an excellent platform for a Cafe Racer! Does that surprise anyone who knows me? No.
The Silver Wing Interstate is a wonderful middleweight tourer. The luggage is easy to use and big enough for one person to travel across the country with no problem.
The one I found on ebay today is in good shape, is aging nicely and has pretty low miles. The asking price is a little up there but not unreasonable. This is fly there fill the luggage and ride home.
Click on the pic below for more info
I really dig Gold Wings with Sidecars. My favorite by far is a ’75 GL1000 with a Vetter Terraplane that I saw at the Griffith Park rally a few years back. Picture a Cafe Racer sidecar rig…it was perfect!
So today I found a more sedate (classic) rig on ebay. A nice ’75 Wing with a Watsonian Sidecar. Now, it is really pretty cool. It’s got a couple of different covers, to handle different weather conditions ands a very comfy seat. The bike has been given some good love but needs a bit more, not much but a little.
If you have never driven a sidecar rig (and the proper term is driving, not riding), what a blast! Your whole view of the motorcycling world changes instantly. Flying the car first time, makes you pull over and check your underwear. The first time you fly the car with some one in the car…well, you’re both checking your undies and your passenger is calling a cab. By the way, ‘flying the car’ means the sidecar is off the ground as you go around a right hand turn. Great fun seeing the look on your passengers face when all of a sudden they feel like they are on a carnival ride!
It’s funny, but when you are driving a Sidecar rig, everybody looks at you differently. You’re not a biker anymore and your cool factor just went up 100%
This is a nice rig, a little pricey but cool factor doesn’t always come cheap. Click on the pics below for more pictures and info