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
The Honda SL350, an amazing motorcycle.
When I had reached the point of wanting to shoot my race bikes, a Bultaco Pursang and a Matador, right through the cylinder head I bought a Honda. A 1971 Honda SL350. Actually, I bought the Honda as a street bike that I could ride to and from school and work every day and know that I would get there, and home each day.
When the Pursang stranded me in the desert for the last time I decided the SL was my new racer of choice. I stripped it down to fighting weight and headed for the desert. The SL worked just great and never gave me a bit of trouble. It wasn’t the fastest or the best handling but it was good enough and I was happy as could be.
I found a really nice SL on ebay this morning at a good price. It appears to be completely stock, which is a good thing, low miles and cosmetically beautiful. Hey, if you ca find an Sl model with a good set of stock mufflers BUY IT!!!.
It’s no secret that I love the Honda 350’s and so does most of the world ( it is the best selling motorcycle of all time) and the SL is my favorite. The double downtube frame, kickstart only, slide carbs instead of CV’s..it is a truly amazing motorcycle that can become almost anything. My newest SL is going to become a Cafe Racer. However, if you would like a really wonderful do anything motorbike this particular SL is a good deal. Click on the pics below for more more info and more pictures.
I have a serious soft spot in my heart for Bultaco motorcycles, which also means I have a serious soft spot in my brain. I started my desert racing career on a Bultaco and ended it on a Bultaco. Bultaco’s were notoriously unreliable (bad electronics,crappy steel for the frames, etc, etc), but at the same time how could you not love them??
The worst motorcycle I ever raced in the desert was a Bultaco El Bandido. At the time I was being sponsored (given a motorcycle and some service help) by the local Bultaco dealer each year. I had been riding Matadors in Enduro’s and desert races along with a Pursang in Scrambles races occasionally. They both required a lot of maintenance but I loved them…most of the time.
Early in 1969 I was given a left over (but still new) 1968 El Bandido 360 to race. The break-in period was in Texas Canyon with my friend Jim Gaver on his Maico 501. If there was ever a motorcycle that truly deserved the name Beelsebub the Maico was it, but…the El Bandido came pretty damn close. It was evil.
After a couple of Hare Scrambles I figured out the Bandido’s strengths…fire roads. That bike could slide through corners like no other. Tap the rear brake just a bit, let the rear end drift into a smooth powerslide and you had the most beautiful feeling in motorcycling. Feet up, the bike almost sideways, you could almost picture yourself at the San Jose Mile. Dirt and gravel being thrown up at the rider behind you, great fun.
I hated that motorcycle. Then. Today, I have a better vision for the El Bandido. A cafe racer. The ‘Scrambles’ version had a 19″ front wheel whereas the MX version had a 21″, so the Scrambles model would be the choice. The motor had plenty of power, it was the first ‘mid-size’ bike that could easily keep up with the 500’s of the day and was lighter weight. The Scrambles version had a longer wheelbase so stability in Cafe Racer form wouldn’t be a problem A bit of frame bracing and you have a canyon carver like nobody else!!!
I found an El Bandido on ebay today, it looks a little ragged but nothing that can’t taken care of easily. The seller says it did run when he bought it but you will have go through it yourself. It is all there and is pretty much all original.
Some new shocks, upgrade the fork internals, a set of Avon race tyres (AM23’s are my choice), get a headlight and tail light, find a ‘friendly’ DMV person and you my friend have a hooligan bike that nobody else does.
For more info and pictures, click on the pic’s below.
I have written before about the relationship I had with my former father in law; you know, he didn’t like me because I rode faster than him, I liked English motorcycles and most of all because I married his daughter. Oh well. Once in a while he would try to like me, he would show that effort by letting me help him work on one of his motorcycles…how nice of him. He rode Yamaha’s and it didn’t hurt that I worked part time at the local Yamaha dealer, does the term ‘family discount’ mean anything to you??? Anyway…when he was feeling very kindly towards me, after we had just spent a morning working on his bike, I would get to ride it.
We lived on the outskirts of Albuquerque New Mexico at the time and just down the street was the great wide open, perfect for off-road riding. You could be riding in the dirt for hours just one block from your own garage. It was the perfect testing grounds…sand washes, hills, trails, power line roads and almost no one around. That last part was a little unnerving at times, remember this is pre cell phone. If your bike broke, it could be a long walk home.
My off-road ride of choice at the time was a Husqvarna WR250, Jay’s was a Yamaha TT500. The TT was a big, heavy locomotive of a motorcycle. I think it could easily pull an average travel trailer across the desert with no strain at all. However…handling was not its strong suit, it wasn’t bad, but compared to my Husky, it took a lot of effort to change directions. Jay loved his TT500 but he too knew it could handle better. Either through a magazine article or talking with someone he knew, he found that legendary racer Dick Mann was building frames for the Yamaha Thumper. A phone call and credit card number later a custom frame was on its way to Rio Rancho New Mexico.
When the frame kit arrived a few weeks later, I was just as excited as my father in law to get it built. We had already dismantled the stock TT500, laid out all the parts across the garage floor, labeled all the nuts and bolts in plastic bags, he even ordered new tires for his Dick Mann racer. We talked about how good he would do in an upcoming desert race…we were totally stoked. The frame kit was beautiful, I think we stood and admired it for a good thirty minutes before we started reading the instructions. Wait a minute, there were no instructions, Dick believed that if you were doing this project you could figure out how to put it together. To make a long story short, it did take more effort to get everything right. A few phone calls to Dick, a little grinding here and there, some swearing and two days later a totally different Yamaha TT500 was waiting to be ridden. The Yamaha locomotive engine was now in a chassis that could do it justice, it truly was a different motorcycle. I told (begged) my father in law that if he ever was going to sell it, call me first. He ended up giving it to his son (who is completely clueless when it comes to motorcycles) and I lost track of it.
Today on ebay I found a pair of TT500’s that brought back this story. Now, these two TT’s need a lot of work…perfect project bikes. One is complete and does turn over, does it run? probably not. The other is parts. I have a feeling you’re gonna need a bunch of those parts to make one good TT500. A TT500 is a great vintage four stroke motocross ride, great fun out in the desert and a perfect platform for………you know what I’m going to say next…a cafe racer.
Yamaha built their own cafe racer based on the big thumper, the SR500 and later the SRX600, both really fun motorcycles.
So these two bikes below could be turned into a great motorcycle for just about any type of riding you want to do. Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little more info. Oh, and all the stories you’ve heard about how hard it is to kick start big singles…they’re true. But the Yammie is easier than most, kinda.
Every one of us looks for happiness each day of our lives, it’s genetically wired into us. What makes us happy is what makes us different. For some it’s a loud, low slung chopper…others, it’s a screaming superbike or, maybe an adventure tourer. And then there is my friend Barry Jones, for him Hodaka equals happiness…he has a very large barn full of them. To each his own.
Now, I have to admit, I also have an affinity for Hodaka’s. I don’t have one but I want one…actually, I need one. The company story is interesting, the racing history is even better. You won’t find Hodaka listed anywhere on the world championship rosters but, I can’t begin to tell you how many Dirt Squirt’s, Wombats, Combat Wombats, and Ace 90’s I saw in the Southern California desert’s in the early ’70’s. Easy to ride, cheap…what’s not to love.
At one point Pabatco, aka Hodaka, decided that entering into the small size street bike market would be good for them. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome in…the ‘Road Toad’. 100cc’s of all out………??? A simple bike with a great fun name. Perfect for going to and from school, and hopefully impressing that girl in your English class enough to get a date with her…you couldn’t ride it on the freeways, but around town…good fun.
I found a ’75 Road Toad on ebay today that would look good riding around any town. It’s a former Idaho Forrest Service vehicle with only 1314 miles on it. I might be being a bit optimistic here but, being a government vehicle it was probably well taken care of (?) and not overly abused (?). All in all it looks to be in generally good condition. This little motorcycle is 100cc’s of nothing but fun. I have a story I have to tell one day about a nice woman on a Hodaka helping me pull cactus spikes out of my rear end and then riding off down the trail. Click on the pics for more info about this really cool motorbike.
What do you do when you wish your motorcycle handled better? Most of us throw on some new shocks, rework the front forks, different tires, maybe try some different handlebars. Some riders go a bit further and modify the frame, make it lighter or change the geometry. All these ideas work well, but if you’re a couple of brothers in England, not well enough.
I can see it now, the Rickman brothers sitting in the pub after a day of motocross racing complaining about how their BSA’s handled. Over a couple of pints they work out some new modifications, then over a couple more pints, new ideas come out. While delivering the fourth or fifth round of pints, the barmaid politely tells the brothers that she is sick and tired of every weekend listening to them bitch about their motorcycles, ” Why don’t you just shut up and build your own?” Everybody in the pub gave the young lady a round of applause, including the Rickmans.
In 1960 the first of the Rickman frames hit the market with immediate success, both on the track and in sales. Everyone saw how beautiful they were, the design features and…they worked!!! Here’s a few interesting things about the Rickman frames. The brothers knew it had to stand out so nickel plating the frames made sure everyone knew you had a Rickman. Next, function…Rickman frames put the engine oil in the frame. Why? For a couple of reasons; lighter overall weight and oil cooling. Your motorcycle handles better and runs longer…both good things in a scrambles race. The main benefit to having a Rickman framed bike was handling, the improvement over a stock framed motorcycle was amazing. I was lucky enough to, one time and one time only, hop off a stock framed Triumph desert sled in the middle of a race, and onto a Rickman framed Triumph ‘not a sled‘. Within one mile I started having delusions of granduer, I was transformed into Steve McQueen gliding across the Mojave as if I were in a movie.
There is a lot more to the Rickman story than I can put here. Companies that wouldn’t sell them motors so they could sell complete motorcycles, the addition of road bikes and the transition to roadracing, innovations like being the first builders to put disc brakes on a street bike (a Rickman framed Triumph Bonneville) in a joint project with Lockheed, their stunningly beautiful fibreglass work…what they did is truly timeless.
There is so much to write about the Rickman’s but, this is all about a 1972 Rickman Montessa I found on ebay today that needs your love. It’s a nice bike that has one big flaw…the Montessa 250 engine doesn’t turn over. Damn. Actually, that’s not a big deal, two stokes are easy to rebuild and don’t cost all that much to get you back on the track. This particular bike looks to me like a good vintage racer and not a museum piece. I’m not a fan of garage queens or museum pieces anyway. Buy this great bike, get the motor going, ride it in vintage events and you will have spent your money well. Click on the pics for more about this very cool vintage racer. I don’t know what the reserve price is on this bike, but if it’s anywhere in the real world, this is a good buy.
And, the last thing here..extra bonus points if you know what the word ‘metisse’ means…it’s Gallic for ‘mongrel’…I think that describes the brothers and their motorcycles quite well.
After a few years of racing and getting banged up pretty seriously a couple of times, I decided to hang up my knobbies and stick to the road. I’m waiting for the comments about how dangerous street riding is compared to off road, etc, etc, etc…save your typing fingers. I loved my dirt bikes but I wasn’t racing much and they were collecting more garage dust than desert dirt, so an ad in Cycle News West sent a couple of nice bikes off to a new home and my Kawasaki H2 got new tires, new handlebars and a trip to Colorado and New Mexico. A fair trade in my book…at the time.
My riding buddy Bud, rode every weekend, dirt or street, rain or shine..except in the winter when he was skiing every weekend. Bud didn’t have kids. One Saturday morning Bud called and asked if I could come help him with some house project and maybe go for an afternoon ride. Sure. When I got there, sitting in his driveway was a brand new Husky WR390. Bud was really taking this ‘oneupmanship’ game with his dirt bike friends a bit far! As I took my helmet off, the first words out of his mouth were “wanna buy my old 250?”.
We finished his house project, had a great ride up Angeles Crest and then it was home to my own house projects. Bud’s parting words to me were “I’ll give you a really good deal!” The 30 minute ride home was spent thinking about getting dirty again. When I got home my wife told me Bud called and wanted me to call him back as soon as I got home. “You still got your dirt gear? Good. Come riding up in Texas Canyon with me tomorrow, I want to ride my new bike…you can ride the 250″. This was playing dirty, no pun intended. I agreed to go knowing what would happen.
Lucky for me, my wife wasn’t home when I got back from riding so getting my ‘new to me’ Husky into the garage was easy. I didn’t have to work too hard to hide it because she never, I mean never, went into the garage or what she called ‘the black hole of motorcycling’…it wasn’t that bad? However, it would have helped if I had closed the garage door so that when she drove up, a bright red gas tank with chrome sides wasn’t staring right at her. Oops. You can imagine our dinner table conversation.
Over the next couple of years I did a lot of trail riding and camping with that Husqvarna, even rode a couple of low key enduro’s. My son’s first riding experience was on that bike, funny thing though…started him early I thought, but he didn’t get into motorcycles until he was 18?
Cruising ebay each day I see all types of dirt bikes that look fun to ride and some even get me thinking about off roading it again, but then the picture of all the bikes I already have that need love comes into my head and, well… Today though, I found a bike just like the one I had and it brought back all the memories of years ago. It’s a 1976 Husqvarna WR250. These are great motorcycles no matter how old. They are reliable, easy to ride, they won’t beat you up, parts (if you do need them) are available and there are all kinds of resources on the net for anything you might want to know. Considering how old it is , this WR250 will be a great trail bike, good for Vintage Enduro events (you’d have to put all the enduro equipment on but that’s easy) and great in vintage desert races. This one for sale is described as “seems to run and shift good”…that’s all the description you get so, that should help keep the price down. These WR’s were darn near bulletproof so if it is running decently now, a little going over should be all it needs? Click on the pics for more pictures of a really fun dirtbike.