COAL Cycle Of A Lifetime: Two Honda Twins and a Knucklehead

Not my bike, but it’s twin. All photos from web.


Motorcycles had always been important to me, and I used them as basic transportation. I rode them to work, on various errands, as well as pleasure riding. My Father had always decried motorcycles as primarily being toys. To him, a car always made more sense. I was determined to prove him wrong. So I rode almost all the time. Of course, if it was raining really hard, I’d borrow one of his extra cars. I would have both a car and motorcycle for most of my life. I was dedicated, but not a fanatic! But, maybe I was!

During my Senior year in high school, I participated in the first running of the California 1000 Road Rally. This was an event in which we had to travel 1000 miles on Southern California back roads and mountain highways. It was a multiple day event that was quite a challenge to a 17 year old motorcycle enthusiast. The entire weekend experience totaled over 2,000 miles over several days. This bolstered my confidence and whet my appetite for further long tours.

My older brother and I hatched a plan to take a motorcycle trip down to the Baja peninsula. We decided that a smaller dual purpose or street bike would be best for the trip. After selling off my Franken Honda I used some of the money to buy a 1970 Honda SL 350 MotoSport twin. The balance of my funds would be dedicated to the trip.

This was Honda’s first attempt at a true dual purpose bike after the Scrambler series. It certainly looked the part. It had a double loop frame with long forks that held a high-mounted front fender, with wide cross-braced handlebars. The tank was compact, and the very plush solo seat was almost level with the top of the tank. The rear fender was also high-mounted. These bikes were very slender and it was easy to balance the bike as long as your legs were long enough for you to place your feet on the ground!

The seating position, wide bars and slightly longer wheelbase made the SL seem like a bigger bike. The black dual pipes swept down under the motor and curved up to position the kicked up mufflers out of harm’s way. The engine was identical to the familiar 350 twin used in the CB and CL models. It hadn’t been re-tuned for low rpm response, but had the final drive ratio lowered by the use of a larger rear sprocket. It was equipped with a kick starter, but also retained the electric starter and large battery, so it wasn’t appreciably lighter than earlier models.

This type of tire was called a trials dual purpose tread. It was pretty effective on the street. I see that this guy removed his chain guard.


The 350 (actual 325cc) engine produced 33 horsepower, top speed was an indicated 90 mph. It would easily sustain a cruising speed of 70 mph. The lower gearing was perfect for this engine, as it allowed it to pull maximum rpm in top gear. The street models were generally over geared.

To modern readers, this probably seems like a tiny motorcycle. At the time, the Honda 350 engine was a proven, well respected unit. It was tough, reliable, and long lived. You could ride any 350 hard all day long, and as long as you kept it in its powerband, it could take you anywhere you wanted. You would see 350s laden down with gear and often carrying a rider and a passenger! There were five gears in the transmission that would allow the rider to keep the rpm up. You would see them everywhere. They were the entry level touring machine for thousands of new riders. Compared to British and American machines they were amazingly trouble-free.

This seat was very comfy.


I found the SL to be a lot of fun to ride. The previous owner had added a little accessory passenger seat that functioned as a luggage rack. The bike fulfilled all my daily requirements.

Our plans for the Baja trip fell through, but I still had the desire to take a long trip.

Why did I remove this in the first place?


For some reason, I decided that I wanted to take a trip during a holiday from school. This was around the President’s birthday holidays, near the end of February. I can’t recall the exact details, but I wanted to ride up to the Oregon border. It seemed like a worthy goal. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind. Unfortunately, we were having a pretty rainy year. I held out hope that I would escape most of it. Making things worse, I had removed the front fender from the motorcycle. I guess I thought that it looked cooler that way. Don’t ask me why I didn’t put it back on before I left. All of those darn Chopper magazines that I was reading must have had a strong influence on my thinking!

I left for the trip anyway!

What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all?

Rain, rain, and more rain! Did I bring a rain suit? No, of course not. Did I stop at a motorcycle shop or hardware store to buy one? Of course not.

Don’t need a stinkin’ rain suit!


Instead, I bought a box of large garbage bags. I wrapped one around each leg. Then I cut a hole in the top of another one for my head, along with a couple more for my arms to stick through, so I could wear the bag like a poncho.

Bleach, don’t leave home without it!


My cleverest idea was to poke around a laundromat until I found an empty gallon bleach bottle. I cut it in half, then attached the halves as a shield over the hand grips. This worked quite well. I still didn’t have a front fender, and I couldn’t figure out how to attach a bottle half as a substitute! Instead, I tied a rag around the fork tubes hoping it would break some of the water that was propelled smack between my eyes. This was an idea that I had read about in another Chopper mag. It didn’t work that well. Luckily I was wearing a face shield. I would look to either the right, or to the left side of the stream by craning my neck. It was not a very comfortable trip.

I ducked out into a motel in Willits to get warmed and cleaned up. I ran all my wet clothes through the dryer at a nearby laundromat. I still had great expectations that the weather would improve for the next day. I found a diner, had a nice dinner and enjoyed a good night’s rest.

This was one of my first long trips north of the greater Bay Area. I had chosen US101 as the scenic route. The next morning I continued North, as the weather had improved. There were only brief periods of rain.  As I passed through Laytonville, I noticed something white along the sides of the road. Snow? We never get snow in the Bay Area.

I wondered what I should do. Rain was uncomfortable, but I could deal with that. It wouldn’t stop me. But snow? You can’t ride a motorcycle in the snow. What I failed to realize (among other things!) was that the road was climbing in elevation and the possibility of a substantial amount of snow would make riding too dangerous.

It was still pretty early in the day, so I decided to press on and see what would happen. The elevation got higher and higher. I reached the town of Leggett. Things did not look too good. I wanted to at least make it to Garberville. I had read a story in another Chopper magazine about a run to Garberville from the Bay Area. I really wanted to make that my turnaround point. But finally, good sense prevailed and I turned around to head home, I retraced my route back to Willits and even stayed at the same motel and had dinner in the same diner!

Overall the entire trip was a pretty dumb idea, that was even more poorly executed. But at least I got to experience a sense of independence and adventure. I also experienced a sense of self-reliance in how I dealt with the weather and improvised foul weather gear. I had met the challenge entirely on my own. But that still didn’t mean that I wasn’t a knucklehead! Maybe reading all those Chopper magazines had engendered some type of rebel mindset, or more likely, I was just a dumb, stubborn kid!

My trusty Honda however, had been a reliable partner that never missed a beat.

I still wanted a big bike so I sold the Honda and started saving up money.

Another twin.Not my brother’s bike. Photo from web.


My Brother had bought a 1971 Honda CB450 in anticipation of the Baja trip. After that was scuttled, the 450 was left sitting in my parent’s garage. The 450 was a perfectly good bike, going to waste, so I asked my brother if I could use it. He was busy with other things, so he had no problem with that. The CB 450 twin was Honda’s first big bike that was introduced in 1964. At the time 500cc motorcycles were considered to be the gateway to full size motorcycling.

British makers had both 500cc and 650cc bikes in their lineups. Typical of Honda, it was a technological wonder. Besides all aluminum construction and electric starting, it also boasted dual overhead cams; DOHC. It also had torsion bar valve springs, and constant velocity carbs. These were similar to the familiar SU carb used on British sports cars. Initially, it had a drum front brake and a four speed transmission. Styling was extremely dull, even though it was nicknamed “the Black Bomber.”

Not too good looking. Typical early ’60’s Honda.


Styling was a real weak point with this bike until the 450 Scrambler arrived to perk up the looks. Over time it adopted the new styling that was used on the new CB350 and its big brother the CB750 four, as well as a five speed transmission and a front disc brake. By 1971 it was a decent looking, but still dull bike. While it was bigger and more powerful than the 350, it wasn’t that much of an improvement. It was rated at 45 hp. That had been impressive compared against the earlier 305cc models.

The 350 was a new design, the 450 began to be seen as being rather old-fashioned. My brother’s bike was in excellent shape, It was green with a gold stripe and chrome down-swept mufflers. Dull or not, it had more power and a wider powerband, and it was as reliable nails. In other words a typical Honda. The only downside was that it vibrated a bit more than a 350.

After my soggy debacle, I decided to concentrate on single day rides. I’d leave very early in the morning and ride all day long, returning home in the evening of the same day. This was much cheaper as it eliminated any motel expenses, and I didn’t need an extended time off from work or school. There were lots of places that were an easy day’s ride and lots of places that I’d never seen. This was really just an extension of what I’d been doing in high school. If my buddy Rick joined me, we would knock out the first 100 miles, and then stop for a good breakfast. We didn’t need to spend the night anywhere. We just rode and rode, usually not stopping except for gas. We’d glance at roadside sights and scenery as we passed by. We would later refer to this type of touring as “marathoning.”

The 450 was fine for this, it just hummed along at 70-75 mph.

After I was hired at General Motors, I had more money, but much less time since I was still attending Community College. I decided to buy a year-old, low mileage Honda 750. I found a ’74 model with 4,000 miles on the clock.

The poor 450 was once again banished to my folk’s garage. There it waited for several years. One day the newspaper boy looked into the open garage and noticed the bike. He asked my mom about it. My mom told him what she knew, and he asked if it was for sale. My brother had never paid back all the money that my parents had lent him to buy the bike. The kid took a good look at the 450 and decided that he wanted to buy it. He asked if he could put a deposit down on it and pay a little every week. My mom said no, just save up the money and come back when you’re ready. She wouldn’t sell it to anyone else.

Honda finally got the styling right with the ’68 Scrambler. This is a handsome bike.


Six months or so later the kid showed up with the 300 bucks and the bike was his. I hope the kid enjoyed the bike. The 450 may not have been very exciting, but it sure was reliable. That’s just what a beginning rider needs.

My “new” 750 would provide me with one of the most enjoyable periods of my life as a motorcycle rider.