Motorcycles were my real passion in my younger days. From the age of seventeen to the time I went abroad at the age of thirty or so, I continually had a bike to ride. As in my approach to cars, my philosophy was always to ride as cheaply as possible; this meant changing bikes regularly so they didn’t need a lot of maintenance to keep them running.
Anyone who thinks a motorcycle is cheap to run has never owned one over 125 cc. Fact is, bikes cost more than cars to run, especially big bikes. They go through tires at an alarming rate, they need chains and sprockets, they need those four carbs synced. It all adds up to a fair amount of coin to do so if you don’t have a shop to do it yourself. It was fairly easy on older stuff, but as the bikes started to get more complex, it became impossible. In fact, ownership costs were the main reason I didn’t keep riding after I returned from overseas. However, without further adieu, let’s start with Bikes of A Lifetime, Vol.1.
1975 Honda 550 SuperSport:
Looking back, I think my parents had a deep feeling of guilt depositing me in a small logging town on the east coast of Vancouver Island. I was a city kid and I did all kinds of things that country kids found strange, like read books. Anyway, there wasn’t a lot to do in my town of 1982 except smoke dope, drink beer and break into houses. I wasn’t too interested in any of those things, so I started working on my mom and dad to allow me to have a motorcycle to ride. It took about a year until they finally gave in, and I started looking in the paper. After a couple of weeks, saw a 1975 Honda 550 SuperSport for $700. A quick look showed 35,000 miles on it; the cosmetics were not great but the mechanical side was really good. I bought the bike and took it home in my truck.
Really, my dad should not have let me have the thing as it was way too powerful for a new rider. The first time I opened it up I nearly had a heart attack; even the 50 hp or so it had made it very fast for a new rider. With the Kerker header it had and the K&N air intake it was probably closer to 60 hp, and the bike was less than 450 lbs wet. It went like stink for a seventeen year old, and I was in nirvana!
I got my learner’s license and passed my test in no time, like six weeks. One sunny afternoon, I was screaming down a country road with a 60 km/h limit at more than double that when I came to a curve which led to a dip and a bridge. There was also a gravel road entering at the curve and there was gravel all over the road. When I saw it, I panicked and grabbed the front brake, which promptly locked. I lost control and laid down the bike, which I had learned to do in motocross. I jumped off and when I opened my eyes, I was careening through the air. I landed on my right shoulder (and I still feel it today, all those years later) and started to skid on the gravel. Then something caused my new launch in the air; I then landed on my back in the swampy bank of the creek. The bike was next to me, relatively upright. A guy in a Honda 750 came and got me up. Miraculously, I only had some road rash on my right arm, as I had been wearing full leathers. We dug the dirt out of the cooling fins and it started right up. Other than the aforementioned road rash, all I had was a bell-ringer headache. I was lucky and learned a lesson: SLOW DOWN!
I kept that bike for two years and developed a lot of respect for it. Not matter how hard I flogged it (and it was maxi-flog almost the whole time) it never failed. It ran flawlessly and was impeccably well built. It started a life long love of all things Honda for me. The bike was full good engineering. For example, I broke the oil pan when I over-tightened the drain plug (a real kid thing to do!). The entire pan could be replaced without taking the engine out. The oil filter housing was finned, negating the need for an oil cooler and external oil lines, something Honda has always avoided, quite correctly so. I kept it for two seasons and got the itch for something else, so I sold it to a friend, who proceeded to flog it even harder than I did for another two years. Last I saw, it was at a used bike shop waiting for the next youngster to wail the living tar out of it. Exceptional engineering on that bike, and I will always respect that a lot.
1979 Suzuki GS850G:
One of my major complaints about the CB550 was constantly replacing chains. The chains of those days were not of the O-ring variety and didn’t last long. Master links are downright dangerous in my opinion, so changing a chain required swing-arm removal, a major pain in the butt. At the time, 1984, the bike magazines were raving how good a bike the Suzuki GS850G was as an all around motorcycle. There were loads of leftovers around so used ones were dirt cheap. A 1979 model with 25,000 km on it was soon located, complete with new tires and a tune up. I paid all of $600 for it and rode it away.
For those not in the know, these Suzuki motors were absolutely bullet-proof. This is because the crank ran in five, get this, roller bearings. The oil pressure on these things was only like 20 PSI and even with poor maintenance these things would run for years. The two valve per cylinder heads had shims-under-buckets, and regular oil changes meant the valves practically never had to be adjusted. The shaft-drive system was strong like bull but manageable if you knew how to deal with it; i.e. never chop the throttle in a corner! The saddle was long and well padded and the bike was tall, making for excellent leg room. A low bar went on, saddle bags added and with a big tank bag, you could go anywhere on it. Looking back, if I were to find a clean example, I would snap it up, it was such a good, overall bike.
That’s just what we did. My girlfriend and went all over on that bike. It went to Banff, California and many other places I can’t recall. This was not a light weight bike; full of gas it weighed in at over 600 lbs. This meant that changing directions was a rather slow affair, especially with the 19” front wheel. With 8o hp it was actually slower than the CB550F but it made up for it in straight line stability. The bike ate up miles and was very comfortable because it had plenty of legroom and torque. The fact that there was no chain also made it easy to life with. I kept the bike for a year but I never really liked it; it was just so darned large and heavy and the controls were real he-man stuff. Besides, I was making some real money by this point so I wanted a small, light little bike to roar around with. I sold the 850 to my buddy, who learned to ride on it. We took a trip to California on it and he sold it to a friend of his, who rode it for several years. These bikes were exceptionally well built and tough bikes, but as I have said before, I cannot stand success!
My only ever new bike is the subject of next week’s BOAL, so anyone who is actually reading this at the height of summer will have to wait!