My Bullet Proof Honda
“Get a Honda - they are bulletproof,” was pretty much the response from anyone I talked to about my desire to cross the country on a motorcycle. The words “low maintenance" also came up a few times. Music to my ears.
Please join me in flashing back to a time, 1977, when people had to actually speak to one another about such things. There were no chat rooms, forums, or online communities in which to consult the entire cyber world about a motorcycle purchase. As a soon-to-be 19 year old with a hankering to see the USA from the vantage point of a two wheeled motorized contraption, I was serious in my research. The main motivation for said inquiries centered around the fact that I was, and remain, pretty much mechanically inept. I spoke to people who sold and rode motorcycles at every opportunity - either in person or on a telephone.
[tele-phone: noun, ancient device using a system of wires which connected homes and businesses all over the world. Were used to for the sole purpose of humans speaking to other humans. They took no pictures, stored no data, and could not play music.Can you imagine?]
Honda introduced their CB750 in 1969, so the used 1974 I bought had 5 years of working the bugs out and was a great choice according to my sources. The man I bought it from was upgrading to a new one. My bike was road ready with a big Vetter Windjammer fairing installed to make long milage travel easier by reducing both the wind load on your arms and chest as well as the number of dead insects doing their best to block your view.
The big old fairing served me in good stead on my return trip. I was crossing Oklahoma on the rail straight (read "boring") section of US40 when I happened to intersect with a half dozen fairly good sized birds. I could see them coming from the right hand side of the road, but knew better than to swerve. The last little guy or gal in the Flight Group did not do a very good job in Narrowly Missing Speeding Vehicle class. He/she bounced off the side of the fairing and managed a glancing blow off my full-face helmet. By impact I had backed off the throttle and kept things upright as I slowed and pulled off to the side. The plastic windshield had the outline of a bird we see on our picture window now and then along with some blood. My helmet also had a trail of blood, so I am thinking the bird did not live to tell his friends about me.
RIDING GEAR SOAPBOX: God bless the folks who want to ride sans a helmet. Had I not been wearing one, the ending to this little sidebar would be vastly different. I will take it one step further and say the outcome would have been really gnarly if I had been wearing an open face helmet instead of the maximum protection afforded by a full face. End of lecture.
|My bike was equipped just like this - same fairing and sissy bar.|
But it was the color of the one below. I did not have the fancy box on the back.
Some fun facts: My riding experience up to this point consisted of a couple Briggs& Stratton powered mini-bikes, a Honda 70, and a couple hundred miles on a borrowed Honda 350. My mechanical training consisted of learning that exhaust gases get mufflers really, really hot and when you touch such a muffler with the inner part of your leg, it hurts like hell and you get to wear a big old blister as proof of a lesson learned (thank you mini-bike #2). We thought it best if my brother Les rode the bike home for me. The wisdom of this was proven out when I decided to wash my bike the next day on the lawn and it fell over. (Lesson #2 - center stands do not do well in grass.) I tried twice to lift it, ran into the house to find myself the sole Yankovich on the property. I then tried a couple more times to pick it up and began to run around like a headless chicken. My adrenaline based super power kicked in right behind the panic after gas began to leak out of the cap and I muscled it upright with a mighty heave-ho.
Had I bought the bike from a dealership they might have taken the time to acquaint me with regular maintenance items to watch for, but I got mine with a handshake and a copy of the Owners Manual under the seat with the tool kit. Come on, do you really expect that I am going to read a manual? BEFORE I ride a couple thousand miles across the country by myself - who would do that? Shoot, I had seen Easy Rider a couple of times - those guys just jumped on their bikes and put their knees in the breeze.
After getting marginally familiar with the bike and learning the proper way to lift it should it tip over again, I went to the Sheriff’s office and passed my proficiency exam. This consisted of a deputy following me outside and having me ride around the parking lot, start and stop a few times, and BINGO - Cliff was all ready for the 4,000 miles or so it would take to visit my mom in Tucson and return to the Mitten.
I spent a couple of weeks getting geared up. My first priority was a visit to Highland Appliance for a music system. I bought a very slim cassette player meant to be mounted under the dashboard of a car. I installed it in one side pocket of my fairing, surrounded by foam one might use for a sofa pillow. I also bought a pair of skinny headphones and proceeded to cut them in twain and stuff them into the sides of my full faced helmet. I might not have known how to gap a spark plug or change a tire, but I was capable of making sure I had music for the trip. My priorities were top notch (said no one at any time).
Next I got a sleeping bag and a small, lightweight two person tent; each of which fit into it’s own nylon bag. I had no intention of preparing food on the trip, so I acquired a couple of bags big enough for the sleeping gear and some clothes. My packed bike was pretty loaded when compared to the chopper Peter Fonda crossed the country on in “Easy Rider”, but compared to some folks I have seen on the road, mine was a rolling example of minimalism.
Blast Off Day found me awake well before sunrise. On went my boots, gloves, helmet, and spiffy new leather jacket. My goal was to get to the other side of St. Louis before calling it a day. The plan for overnight accommodations was a compromise between flat out roughing it in the woods and the e-z life of hotels; I decided to hit as many KOA Campgrounds as possible. This would allow me the feel of camping out with the benefits of indoor plumbing.
The first night went according to plan. I pitched my tent and slept with the music of crickets. I got up with the roosters, took a shower and headed west. How excited can one be without actually exploding? I was right there at the red line.
The Ozarks were coming into view when another bike pulled alongside. We nodded at each other and he started to pull away.......wait, he let off the throttle and drifted back next to me. He was pointing at the side of the road and clearly wanted me to pull over, which I did.
We both dismounted and took off our helmets. He walked back to me and asked, “When was the last time you tightened up your chain?”
The blank look on my face told him what he needed to know.
My internal dialogue was something akin to this. “What is he talking about? Adjust the chain? The chain is right there where it is supposed to be - why would I mess with that? Should I let him listen to my stereo?”
Remember my earlier proclamation about ineptitude? I was not joking.
He reached down a gloved hand to move my chain vertically - to say there was a lot a play in it would be an understatement. I had been riding my bike regularly since I bought it, to say nothing of the 500 mile day I started my trip with. He told me it was so loose that I should consider myself lucky that I had not “thrown” the chain.
“Good Lord,” I thought to myself. “The chain can actually come off?”
He got down and squinted at the chain, stood up and advised, “You might want to oil this thing before it breaks.”
“Holy shit,” thought I. “You mean to tell me I have to oil AND adjust the chain? What kind of crap is that? Did Peter and Dennis ever, ever mess with their chains in “Easy Rider? Hell no."
To my roadside rescuer, I was all smiles and politeness, “Hey, thanks a lot for the heads up, man.”
He wished me luck and climbed back on his bike. A bike that, no doubt, had a well-oiled, properly tensioned chain. I have often thought of how many times this guy got to tell the story of the dumb ass kid from Michigan on a 750 zooming along with a chain that had more play in it than a box full of puppies. A clueless newbie rider that was lucky to be alive. (Yeah, but I had TUNES!)
So there I was on the shoulder of an Interstate with my bike up on the center stand as traffic zoomed by at 70 plus. Perfect classroom for one to learn the fine art of chain tightening. In addition to the fact that my neglect had not caused me to crash and burn, the other piece of good news is that yours truly remembered there was a tool kit AND an owner’s manual under the seat.
In my time on the planet, I have had many encounters with Owner’s Manuals for various pieces of equipment that were, shall we say, slightly less than clear. I have to hand it to Honda, because when I dug out the manual and took the time to actually read it, the instructions on how to check and properly adjust the chain tension were easy to find and follow.
I shook the tools out of the kit and carefully followed the step-by-step directions. Quicker than you can say, “Cliff knows nothing about keeping a motorcycle road worthy.” I had the chain adjusted to the proper specs. I then rode slowly to the next exit, searched for and found a shop where I declared my ignorance to another helpful resident of Missouri regarding chain lubrication.
Twenty minutes later found me back on the road to Arizona with a chain that was probably breathing a sigh of relief now that it was comfortably lubed and not flapping in the wind. I had wisely asked the guy from the shop to double check my adjustments and received a passing grade. While he was outside looking at my bike, he also showed me how to oil the chain.
Yup, that 1974 Honda 750 Four was bulletproof as promised. However, no bike is idiot proof.
Cliff and his wife Julie Claire DeVoe own and operate a small, creative jewelry store in Lowell, MI. Chimera Design opened in 2002 and prides itself on custom work and repairs.