“I’m pregnant, and I need a sport bike. We’d better hurry up before my tummy gets in the way of the gas tank.”
Some pregnant ladies request pickles and ice cream, my wife requested a sport bike in the spring of 2000. She’d been riding a 1982 CM450E which was definately not sporty so it seemed like a reasonable request. A friend of a friend was selling a 1986 Honda VF500 Interceptor which sounded promising.
We went to see it, the bike had been ridden hard and put away wet. There were several “racing” modifications, including a bobbed rear fender and heavy duty clutch springs. It also needed tires, swing arm bearings and numerous other minor items.
However the price was right, so we brought it home for $1,400. Repairs were made, the original clutch springs were reinstalled and we were on the road.
The VF500 was made from 1984-1986, the tail end of the 80’s motorcycle boom. During this period Honda had seemingly limitless resources to design and build innovative motorcycle designs. The VF500 shared its V-4 engine with the V30 Magna cruiser, and the Interceptor version made 68 horsepower and had a 11,500 rpm redline. Pretty impressive even today but it wasn’t a high strung motor. Power delivery was smooth and linear. Handling was nimble and sharp, the VF500 had a reputation as the best handling bike you could buy at the time, and it was pure joy to flick the little VF through twisty roads.
Needless to say it was perfect for our application. The 500cc Interceptor is widely known as the “Baby-ceptor” and that was certainly an apt description for us. The summer before our baby was born we rode together quite a bit, including a 700km road trip to visit a friends’ cottage. My strongest memory of that trip was that Mrs DougD forgot her rainsuit so I gave her mine to wear during the downpour on the trip home. After we arrived she found her rainsuit in the saddlebag.
After the first couple of years I probably put more kilometers on it than my wife did. It was perfect for my commute, or a quick blast around my favourite local roads. We loaned it out to a friend who needed a small motorcycle to use for his license road test, and when he brought it back he informed us that the engine could overpower the clutch at 9,000rpm full throttle. So that was the real reason for the racing clutch springs, but we never rode it so hard that it bothered us. But the VF developed an odd backfire on deceleration, and eventually a three cylinder idle. Consulting a few friends we concluded it was probably a burned exhaust valve, so out came the little V-4.
One of my co-workers was into Kawasaki drag bikes, and asked his engine builder to take on the redo of the heads. I bought 16 valves from the Honda dealer, which looked impossibly tiny next to the oversized KZ1000 valves he usually handled.
With the heads repaired the engine ran great and I never had to mess with it again. What I did have to mess with was the periodic valve lash adjustment and carburetor balancing.
I did not enjoy these tasks, there was a considerable amount of excavation required to get at either cylinder head, and the adjustment screws were buried deep in the head casting which made setting the valves a slow process, even with my long skinny fingers. To balance the carbs I had to borrow the required vacuum gauge set, and the adjustment screws were so impossible to reach I wound up making a parallel linkage out of meccano and a 7mm socket to do the task. The valve cover gaskets always weeped a bit of oil, so eventually I got tired of it and installed some new ones which leaked even more. Great…
Life got busy with two kids, and the Interceptor settled into a routine of seeing less than a thousand kilometers per year. There was the annual discussion when the insurance bill came in, but we always decided to pay it because the bike wasn’t costing us much and it was still good fun. Somehow eighteen years went by…
As some of you know, in the past year I kind of got fed up with being surrounded by tired machinery. We replaced our 2001 Focus last fall, the 2007 Caravan has a new owner and now we took a long hard look at the Interceptor. It was thirty two years old, and even with maintenance and gentle use it was getting a bit cantankerous. My wife hadn’t ridden much at all in the past five years, and was uneasy about riding an antique. Worst of all, I now had a permanently damaged knee which could not take the tight riding position anymore. I couldn’t ride the Interceptor for ten minutes without feeling it for a couple of days afterward. So if she didn’t want to ride it, and I couldn’t ride it, what were we keeping it for?
Pricing the Kijiji ad was difficult. There were a couple of very low mileage examples for $2,500 that had been for sale all summer, and a couple of beat ones for $1,000 that had been for sale all summer. I really didn’t feel like the machine owed us anything, $1,400 for eighteen years is pretty good value so I decided on $600 just to move it quickly.
That was a mistake. My inbox immediately exploded with inquiries, obviously a high mileage VF500 in good condition was worth a lot more than $600. I considered pulling the ad and waiting a while before upping the price, but reminded myself that the bike didn’t owe me anything and started sorting the flakey responses from the serious ones. Despite the low price I was still getting questions like:
- Will you take $500? – No
- Will you deliver it to Mississauga? – No
- Will you hold the bike for me until I can come from Ottawa? – No
- What does it need to safety? – I don’t know, for $600 you get to take that risk
One guy sent me about 30 emails, and finished up with “I’ll take your word that it’s 100% and will etransfer you the money” – No, I didn’t say it’s 100% and I want you to come see the bike in person, and give me cash.
Finally I got to a response from Josh, who wrote politely in complete sentances, and asked when he could come see the bike. He arrived on time, nice young guy with his parents, paid cash, and left with his stepdad riding the VF. The entire process took about 24 hours.
And so a long and enjoyable experience is over. I don’t know what the next step is for us. Maybe nothing, maybe a used Honda CBR250R with ABS to build some confidence, or a CB500F. My Harley riding friend recommended a Softail Deluxe, but I’m quite sure that whatever our solution is, it won’t weigh 700 pounds.
At any rate that’s the end of the Baby-ceptor saga, both for us and for Honda. They’ll never build another bike like that. Our own baby, who was a mere bump when we got the bike is now a strapping lad of 17. Life changes and moves forward, but what a fun ride!