COAL # NONE: The Latency Period (Motorcycles Part One)

Come on, it’s a joke! I was a psych major.

After the passing of the ’66 Lincoln, I entered a latency period in regards to my automotive affections. I maintained and concentrated my interest in motorcycles. Luckily I got to use my Dad’s extra car whenever the need came up.

My first vehicular purchase while in high school had been a motorcycle, and they always remained my primary focus. I was a motorcycle guy first and foremost.

This was the first of the Scrambler series.


I had learned how to ride on a ’65 Honda C110, a 50cc scrambler-style machine. My Dad brought that home as a surprise. A real motorcycle, not that skirted “walk through” girls’ bike that was so globally popular. The C110 was not marketed as a scrambler, but it set the template for the breed with its sporty up-swept exhaust pipe. The Scramblers became extremely popular, they were a “dual purpose” road and trail style, as opposed to the “touring” low pipe version. It was Honda’s version of Triumph’s “Trophy Twin” desert sled. Though the Honda was all looks with little function, and they weren’t off-road capable without extensive modifications to the suspension and gearing. The Scramblers, which were made in every displacement from 90cc to 450cc were the sportiest looking models. Kind of like a current “Mall wheel drive'” CUV.

Initially the plan had been for my older Brother and I to buy a bike together, we could afford to buy a bigger bike with combined funds. He proposed that we could divvy up the riding by days of the week. Sure… I’d been a younger brother for a lot of years by then. I knew how THAT would turn out! I’d be left standing on the curb as I watched my brother roar off on “our machine!”

This bike provided me with the freedom that I’d been craving.


I didn’t have a lot of money but thought that I should find something just for myself that I could afford. As it turned out, I found a ’65 Honda CB160 twin. Its sixteen-and-a-half horsepower rating meant that it would be freeway legal. But that didn’t mean that I’d be chasing Ol’ Bronson down any long and lonesome highways. However, it was entirely suitable for short freeway hops to tie my back road segments together. This capability would provide me with a lot of freedom. It cost me all the money I had, 160.00.

Suzuki X6 Hustler, stock version.


not quite this extreme but close, and street legal.

Not quite this extreme, but still street legal.


The plan had been set, every time that I saved up an additional couple of hundred bucks, I’d sell my current bike and trade up to something bigger. The 160 was replaced by a 250cc. Suzuki X6 “Hustler” cafe racer. The Suzuki X6 was a very popular two stroke twin. Like all two strokes, it produced power levels substantially higher than a comparable four stroke machine. This bike had been transformed into a racing style machine, with a long low gas tank, clip-on handle bars, a short racing seat that held the oil tank, rear set pegs, and expansion chambers. Expansion chambers were a high performance replacement for mufflers. These sounded like a swarm of angry killer bees! The bike had a few problems, which led to me selling it after a short time. (At another rare profit!)

This seemed like a big bike when my Brother bought it.


I decided to buy my Brother’s current bike, a ’65 Honda 305cc Superhawk. He then made the move to a Kawasaki 500cc. Mach Three.  A  certified, three cylinder, two stroke Superbike.

The Chopper Craze was in full swing in the mid 1970’s and my Brother and I both caught the bug. Small displacement Japanese models were often the rider’s first foray into motorcycle customizing. It might seem silly today, but back then a “Chopped” little Honda was somewhat acceptable.

This is an actual picture of my bike and me, in 1972.


So the Superhawk went under the knife. I stripped it down and molded the frame junctions smooth with Bondo, A ten inch overstock set of extended fork tubes went into a chromed set of triple clamps with a custom Bates head lamp. A set of pull-back bars replaced the stock unit. The skinny rear tire was replaced by a fat 500×16 inch Good Year that would have been at home on a Police motorcycle. A high rise seat with a sissy bar was installed along with a set of “bird shooter” exhaust pipes. The most important change was to the gas tank, the big chrome-sided unit was replaced by a fiberglass Sportster-style tank. It may have been held on by a hose clamp and a prayer, but damn, if it didn’t look like a Chopper to me!

The editors of “Choppers” magazine derisively referred to bikes like these as “squatty hummingbirds.”

I sent a letter to the editor to Street Chopper magazine with a photo of my bike.

There was only one other Chopper at my school, during my Junior year,  and that one wasn’t as completely modified, so I had all the bragging rights.

A modified Honda is still a Honda, so I put a fair amount of miles on the bike. What was remarkable was that I took my first long distance ride on that bike. I rode up California Highway One, the pacific Coast Highway. I only went as far as the town of Marshall, then cut over to Petaluma and back down US101 to Oakland.

I was out front of our house cleaning the bike one day when a guy stopped and asked about it. I ended up selling it and looking for something bigger.

I had plans of turning this into a chopper.


Honorable mention goes to a Kawasaki WTT 650 twin. It resembles a non-unit construction BSA twin, which was manufactured under license by Meguro, before it was bought by Kawasaki. This motorcycle was sold after only a few months.

I’d been working at a car wash in Castro Valley and this provided me with a bit more savings, so I was finally able to buy a really great bike, a ’70 Kawasaki H1. The same model that my Brother had bought the year before. A bonafide Superbike.

This was the birth of the modern Superbike.


Magazine tests confirmed that the bike was a sub 13 second quarter mile ride, the manufacturer claimed a 12.77 ET. That was nice enough, but this was a powerful bike with 60 h.p., that was up to long distance freeway road trips. I rode this bike up and down Central California. I rode up to Sacramento, down to Paso Robles and points in between. I took my first trip up to Mendocino and even to Lake Tahoe.

This photo was snapped on the freeway by a buddy riding as a passenger in his older brother’s Corvette. I was senior in high school.


I participated in the second running of the California 1,000 Road Rally with my Kawasaki. This was during my Senior year. The Mach Three was my final high school motorcycle.

My first cars followed after high school, but I always kept a motorcycle. After my experience with the ’66 Lincoln I swore off cars for a time.

After high school I picked up a Honda 750. Well I picked up a disassembled engine that my Brother thought that he would build a custom chopper around. The engine had been “microsealed”. This was a blasting process where graphite powder was shot at the parts leaving a thin layer of impregnated graphite as a surface lubricant that would reduce friction and increase horsepower. Sure… The engine came with a front fork as well as a rear wheel. The idea was that the assembled engine would go into a new custom rigid frame.

I bought the whole mess from my brother and reassembled it. Unfortunately, the seller had lost the oil pump shaft seal that isolated the two functions of the pump, scavenging and pumping. Without it, the pump was suffering from the equivalent of a human heart murmur, where one chamber of the heart is leaking to the adjacent chamber. Not a good prospect for long term health!

The seal was not available from the dealer. At this time I didn’t know that there were bearing and seal dealers who could probably find an appropriate seal for my needs. I should have just bought a new oil pump, but I just didn’t want to spend the money! What was I thinking? I was already buying all kinds of parts.

The oil pressure light stayed lit at lower rpm, indicating inadequate oil pressure, but I foolishly ignored it. After ruining the bottom end due to low oil pressure, I ended up replacing the crankshaft, all the lower end bearings, and of course the oil pump! The rest of the engine had to make do with the worn internal components.

Foolishly, I rode the bike anyway!


I had decided not to pursue the rigid frame plan. Instead I decided to put the frame into a new stock frame ordered from the Honda dealer.  Along with every part, and I mean every single part, needed to complete the installation and get the bike finished. Eventually it was a complete running bike with a ticking time bomb of a motor.  I should have just called it quits at some point! Lot’s of good money after bad! But I found a buyer for it… eventually.

Thinking about it with a perspective of fifty years, I still can’t come up with a reason for that poor decision. I should have known better, and I actually did. I  was really resistant to pulling the motor when the problem made itself known. Something got stuck in my psychological craw, I guess, causing me to overlook reasonable alternatives and options. I suppose that it’s not just old guys that can get stubborn, but live and learn, and move on.

My motorcycling journey could only get better after that point, and it did. A few years later I bought an immaculate two year old Honda 750 , and put 20,000 miles on it. In one year.

But I could always hear the siren song of an old  Cadillac calling to me in the distance, and I didn’t ignore it.