Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Honda Hawk CB400A Sighting!

Hey, That's My Old Bike!
Ever notice that once you buy a new car, suddenly you notice that you see the same cars everywhere? Part of this is perception of your environment. We're more attentive to familiar or significantly novel stimulus. 

That said, I've been seeing the 1978 Honda Hawk CB400 show up everywhere. The latest sighting is in HELL FOR LEATHER! That's like having Johnny call you over on the Tonight Show. (Okay, you youngsters won't get that reference.) It's like making the cover of Rolling Stone. Anyway, it's not featured, but still pretty cool. 

Actually, it's in a photo spread for a Corazzo jacket review. Cool jacket, and something I'd wear. My daughter Grace even says I look like the guy in the picture. Anyway, look at the bike he's standing on -- see that under his right foot -- yup, it is the unmisstakeable profile of the 1978 CB400. Looks just like the Goldfish I had in college.

My guess is it is probably a Hondamatic. After all, it is the only motorcycle in a sea of scoots, so it fits right in! 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mint Bikes!

When I bought my CB400, I wrote off the idea of doing a full restoration to stock -- but instead planned a low-budget customization project. I knew there were some mint bikes out there and that I could never match their quality with my dollars available. Besides, I wanted to ride. Today I came across a couple of mind-blowing mint condition CB400s. The first lived on the showroom floor for 24 years of a dealership! The second looks like my bike except it looks brand new. They are both for sale on eBay. Check 'em out!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black on White? Some Simple, Beautiful Customs

I've been looking for inspiration for the paint job on my HONDA CB400A. The folks over at Death Spray Customs have a great White on Black simple design that I'm tempted to emulate. It's a 1970 Triumph TR25 and it is rugged and clean. I've already got the black frame and will likely end up with a white or black overpaint on my exhaust system.

I also like the white pipes and clean lines on the Much Much Go as profiled at BikeEXIF. This is a cheap but beautiful custom of a similar vintage machine that won the Deus Ex Machina comptetition. What do you think?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Old Bikes Good for Old Bones?

It's a stretch but the health benefits of motorcycles comes from our friends over at the Kneeslider:
 A daily dose of whole body vibration may help reduce the usual bone density loss that occurs with age, Medical College of Georgia researchers report. Researchers found vibration improved density around the hip joint with a shift toward higher density in the femur, the long bone of the leg, as well. Hip fractures are a major cause of disability and death among the elderly. Well, the study didn't specifically cite motorcycles, but what better whole body vibration machine is there? Combined with previous studies that show lifting weights keeps bones strong among older folks, this could be a nice boost for Harley Davidson, or any big bike for that matter, giving all of us Boomers a great new reason to fire up the big V-Twins for medicinal purposes and ride forever.

The UK Hondamatics

Here's a look back at the 1970s Hondamatics from Brit magazine Visor Down. Pretty cool to see how the UK bikes were set up different than the US bikes. Also interesting to see that only about 1,000 were sold.

A monumental step forward in motorcycling history. The Honda CB400 Hondamatic was the firm’s last foray into automatic technology. With a dizzy 27bhp propelling 200kgs of lardy, badly suspended rolling stock the performance was never going to be electrifying. ( )
Visor down's look back was inspired by Honda's attempts to reintroduce motorcycles with automatic transmissions in the US and abroad with the DN-1 (nicknamed by dealers as the Do Not buy One) and the VFR 1200 (UK version )

They like the transmission better:

In operation it’s amazingly good. Smooth, fast, drama-free, predictable and slick. On the track I tried really hard to assess the two automatic modes but, to be honest, as good as it may be, on a race track it’s crucial that the rider makes the gearshift decisions.
On the road, though – the DCT system really came into its own allowing more brain capacity to be used for absorbing everything going on around and about.
Which is the whole reason I like my old hondamatic...

Read more:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Allstate TV Ad: Quarterback Mayhem

This commercial features my motorcycle getting hit by car and knocked down. Looks identical to my bike.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Putting things away for winter

Here's the CB400 without the Vetter
Well the endless parade of rain clouds stretching out into the horizon on the forecast convinced me it was time to put the bike up for winter. I'm planning to do a lot of work on it this winter so I knew I'd have to get it stored away and taken apart.

The first thing I did was removed the Vetter Windjammer fairing. It just doesn't seem to fit the bike right, and I don't think this model was ever meant for a 400cc bike. My guess is they took one off a CB750 and used the same mounts.

This rat's nest of wires makes no sense. Must Fix!
Anyway, getting Vetter off was a snap, but afterwards I had to look at the jumble of wires.

This poor bike has seen its share of ham-handed amature electricians over the years. It has wires that go nowhere, and some that have four or five joints in just a few inches. I've found a number of wires that don't go anywhere at all -- they were just taped together and folded under a panel.

One of my major tasks this winter is trying to return things to the original wiring diagram while replacing the front headlight and turn signals. Should be fun.
Here's how I drained the tank.

Next I drained off the gas out of the tank and removed the tank and seat, then put the bike down in the basement where it will be out of any flood waters and relatively climate controlled.

This winter, the bike will be a series of little restoration projects and if all goes well, it will run better next spring. The tank has a dent and a number of rust spots on the outside (no rust inside!). I'll try my hand a bondo and see about getting it painted up for next year. I have a bunch of ideas for colors, but Amy wants to keep it blue.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Time to pack it in?

Well, the rain came down, down last week and it looks like winter is finally here. I've got the basement set up for motorcycle restoration work this winter and it's about time to get the bike out of the garage. Of course, one it goes in, it won't be coming back out for a while ... so I keep checking the weather forecast to make sure there's not one more sunny day in the week ahead.

When it goes into the basement, I'll be tearing the bike down to the frame for restoration, so it's not like I can just hop on it if we get another sunny fall day. So, I keep procrastinating. Maybe Friday ....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Took three days and went up to Olympia a few weeks ago to take a Motorcycle Safety Course. The course is attractive in that you get a reduced fee for your endorsement and don't have to take the test at the DMV if you pass the test at the end of the course. I took mine from Puget Sound Safety and was glad I did.

Twenty years ago, I taught myself to ride. With the Hondamatic it was as easy as riding a scooter. I learned about countersteer AFTER I was doing it. Basically a fellow rider pointed it out to me one day. I was cautious but I thought I was pretty skilled.

The MSF course gave me a wakeup call. Hidden under the veneer of caution was a whole bunch of bad habits and vast gaps in knowledge about the art of riding motorcycles. I had not idea that you shouldn't brake when in a turn for example. Zack, our instructor actually has a great line about this:

"There is no penalty for entering a turn too slow," Zack told us. "There is a huge penalty for entering a turn too fast - possibly the death penalty."

There were  a dozen other little things I didn't know that have changed the way I ride -- safer, and smarter.

The MSF course also had the advantage of learning in a controlled environment. We rode little Suzuki GZ250 microcruisers that had a low center of gravity. I learned to run the clutch -- something I had never done before and found it was much easier than I feared.  In all it was a great class. Passed my written with a 100 percent and my driving test with a 93.

Many states are looking to make these safety courses -- Washington's is state subsidized -- mandatory for endorsement. I think that's a great idea and could reduce motorcycle fatalities. Education is better than regulation I think, when it comes to the future of motorcycling.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hondamatic Lovers

Is my Hondamatic a real motorcycle? The automatic transmission takes something away from the motorcycle experience, but the experience of motorcycling -- of the wide open, the leaning in turns, the one-ness with the machine -- all that is still there.

I'm sure I'll move on to a larger bike once Amy and I are ready to take long trips, but I don't know if I'll ever give up my little Hawk. Did that once and regretted it, and most of the people I come across -- serious bikers -- like to keep these around.

When Larry sold me this bike, he seemed reluctant to give it up. "It's just fun to hop on and scoot around," he told me, clinging to keys.

Richard at seems to value these little bikes too. He has a special section on his website for his "fond memories" of these "wonderful motorcycles"

"I could write a book about these little machines and I won't be surprised if I end up with another one at some point; perhaps in the 750 version too. For those unfamiliar, these wonderful motorcycles had a 2 speed semi-automatic transmission that you could shift but didn't require a clutch. Also, you could just put it in high and ride the whole day like that without shifting at all. An amazing concept that honestly would do Honda good to reinstate. I suspect cost of manufacture ended up putting this wonderful machine on the shelf. "

When the Rain Falls

It's raining now, and I'm looking for a sun break to take the bike out for a zip around the valley. The weatherman says next week -- when I'm working and sleeping during the day -- will be sunny and warm, but until then, nothing but rain.

The bike is in the garage and this is what I have to look forward to all winter. So I checked a bunch of books out of the Library: Proficient Motorcycling and Riding In the Zone as well as How to Restore Your Motorcycle. More on each of these titles later.

This last has some great ideas about the first steps. I need to get a shop manual so I can see how things come apart and how they go back together. I'm bidding on one on eBay right now and already bought a sales brochure. Still deciding on whether to keep the Vetter faring or to take it off to reduce the weight. The wiring harness is a mess and I'll redo it this winter with some heat shrink -- wiring at least is something I'm comfortable with.

Our helmets came from the internet earlier this week -- early enough that I managed to get a ride in. Both helmets are DOT and very cool. Mine felt a little large at first but I'm getting used to it -- and during a ride around the valley it felt secure and unobtrusive. I got the flip up kind so I could put it on without taking off my glasses and that works great. I picked it up - brand new -- for $30 at an eBay store. Sizing was tricky, we tried a bunch on in a cycle shop but the sizing is so different between brands that measuring our heads was a much better way to get a good fit.

As for my first zing around the valley, it was fun. I did parking lot practice at the Rosburg School and gained a lot of confidence on the bike. Looking forward to taking it down to the fire hall on Autumn evenings and giving Amy her first ride.

I've also got a line on a Motorcycle Safety Course in October which I'll register for this week. Taking a motorcycle safety course reduces your insurance (which is only going to be $65 a year) and counts as your endorsement test. Plus, I'm sure I'll learn a lot which is the most important thing. I'm determined to use all the accumulated science and knowledge to be a safe rider.

That's really the thing that weighs heavy on me. The idea of endangering myself now that I have a wife and children has really been the only barrier preventing me from getting back into motorcycles all these years. So now I've resolved to do it right and to be the safest motorcyclist on the road.

That won't eliminate all risk, but what is life without risk?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Full Circle

Twenty years ago I sold my old 1978 Honda Hawk CB400A motorcycle.

Lindsay and I with my new motorcycle
This week I bought a 1978 CB400A Honda motorcycle. It's Hondamatic!

I stumbled across it on Craigslist two weeks ago. It was for sale in a town 10 miles north of here as the crow flies. Of course, since the logging roads are closed with gates, actually driving there takes the better part of two hours.

Yet the price was right - about half what similar bikes were going for -- and it was running. I told Amy and she said yes.

It has cosmetic damage and a Vetter Windjammer faring. Not sure I'll keep the faring, but if I take it off I'll have to track down the parts to reconstruct the front light bucket and turn signals. We'll see how ambitious I get this winter. In the meantime, it sits in my garage. Sometimes, I go out and just look at it to make sure it's real. It's been a long time coming.
Lindsay has dibs on it .... someday

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's Hondamatic

Honda Hawk - Two Gears, 400 cc - FUN
It had been a hard year. I had quit college in 1988, hooked up with the Girlfriend From Hell and made bad decision after bad decision. By November I was in Tacoma, staying in a friend's apartment while I looked for work as a recording engineer. There were no jobs and no jobs that paid. Finally, I was at an interview at Ironwood Studios when the guy interviewing me set me straight.

"First," he said. "You'll never get a job as recording engineer that pays." There were tons of kids living in their basements willing to work for free just to be around the music. They'd push brooms and learn the business from the inside. My trade school knowledge was fine, but the kid who hung out night after night would eventually get the nod. "Second," he said. "Go back to college. Get a degree in anything, it doesn't matter. A four year college degree shows you can stick with something for four years. It will give you an advantage in every job interview and no one will ask you what your degree is in."

Back at my buddy John's apartment, I told him and his roommate about what the guy at Ironwood had said. His roommate Pete jumped in. "Go back to college," he said. "College is the only place where you can bee poor and still have fun."

That was it. I drove from Tacoma straight over to WSU and signed up for classes scheduled to start in January. I crashed on a friends couch for a few days and got a crappy apartment. I was back. WSU called it a "leave of absence" since I only missed only one semester.

Money was tight. I took a bunch of jobs to pay the bills and put tuition on my credit card hoping that financial aid would pay things back. Eventually, I got a check and paid my bills. I had about $500 leftover.

This bike is identical to mine - right down to the engine guard.
I had hung out at motorcycle shops for years. I would sit on bikes, ask questions.  I think I stopped into Laplante Cycle on the way to My Office bar. Inside was the new bikes -- A Transalp, Pacific Coast, GB500 -- cool stuff,  but way out of my price range. Out front stood a line of old bikes. It was orange, and as I threw a leg over, the dealer came out and said "It's an automatic."

An automatic motorcycle? I'd never heard of such a thing. He got the key and I took it for a ride. It was April, sunny and the road had a silver glare to it that I still remember. I had never ridden a real motorcycle and I was scared as hell, but this was a blast. This was a sign that 1989 was going to be a better year. That I had turned it around.

I wrote him a check and picked up a Nolan helmet and rode the thing home. It was Awesome!

I had buddies at the newspaper who were motorcycle riders. They made fun of my "scooter" but I had a blast on that thing. It had a crack in the front fender that rattled at speed and it leaked oil from some unknown place. Other than that it started and ran like a dream.

At the end of the school year, I borrowed my Step Father's truck and took it home. That summer I worked for Community Action Program in The Dalles. Rode it to work just about every day. The Gorge roads were perfect for motorcycles, but the winds buffeted the light bike around. I had a rubber goldfish keychain. I wore cowboy boots. I gave girls rides around town and through the hills above Lyle.


This orange bike looks exactly like my Honda Hawk
The next year at WSU I rode my bike until the now came, then stored it out back. At the end of the school year my big plan was to go up to Alaska and work in the Cannery. Make a bunch of money for school and for a new motorcycle. I had my sights set on a Harley 883 Hugger.

To get to Alaska, I had to pay my own airfare. That meant coming up with cash at the end of the school year. So I sold my Honda -- I still cringe just writing it -- sold it to a roommate who was graduating.

Alaska turned out to be a bust. I barely made enough to return to school. None was leftover for motorcycle payments. My first motorcycle, turned out to be my last.

That was 1990 - twenty years ago.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

First Times

My first time with a motorcycle and I got my finger's burned.
It was back in Turnersville, NJ and I was about eight years old. Jimmy Davys was a friend of my dads who came by on his motorcycle. If I remember right, it was a White AMF Harley. It was cool. He was cool in a 1970s kind of way. He was back from Viet Nam, wearing a white wifebeater and no helmet. I was told to stay away from the bike, but touched the tailpipe and burned my fingers. Got blisters and everything.

I was a big Evel Knievel fan back then, and my man rode a Harley scrambler. (check out this cool inforgraphic about EK) I had the wind up stunt cycle of my own that I jumped over the dirt Grand Canyons in the back yard.

My dad stoked my motorcycle dreams by getting me a Roadmaster bike with shocks and motorcycle seat.
 I was cool. The bike weighed a ton and looked and rode like hell when the BMX bikes came out a few years later, but for awhile, I was the king of the neighborhood. We jumped the heck out of that thing on the mounds of dirt between the houses.

Bikes have been substitutes for motorcycles for generations. I know I wasn't the first to pretend that there was a motor powering my lead weight bike instead of my little legs.

My brother and sister's friends all had dirt bikes when we moved to Washington State. It was the late 70s and  the motocross dudes were the demigods of Klickitat county.

My first time on a motorized two-wheeler was on a scooter. A Honda Cub to be exact. The Cub and Supercub (and later the Passport) was the vehicle that made the Honda corperation. They are still making them and at 60 million and counting, it is the most mass-produced motorized vehicle in the world.

My stepfather - Lester - bought the Honda Passport in 1982 for my mom. We were living in The Dalles and Lester was a impulse buyer. He had just bought a CB900 for himself and he wanted to teach her to ride. She hated motorcycles.

On her first lesson, we took the Honda up to the parking lot of the nearby church. She went round and round on the scooter and was doing pretty good until he told her to shift into second. It's an auto transmission, so shifting is easy, but it gave her a little jolt. She tensed up and thereby squeezed the throttle. She started going round and round like a 78 record on 45, unable to stop until she finally went flying off and into the bushes.

That was the last time she ever rode it. My brother Chuck and I loved the thing and rode it all over town. It was a blast and I wish I still had it. Would love to get a used one, or even by a new Symba -- which is a brand new Cub built by a company in Taiwan that used to make them. (See TeamSymba for more. )

I'm still a sucker for Hondas and Harleys and all this lead to the foundation of the my motorcycle dreams.


Okay, so I already have a couple of blogs that I've created, but this one is new. It is to document my return to motorcycling after 20 years out of the saddle. I'm trying not to become another statistic of an Over 40 motorcycling novice that wrecks his bike within the first year. In fact, I'm trying to avoid all the mistake most new motorcyclists make. I don't want to assume I know how to ride -- even if I did ride a lot 20 years ago. I don't want to buy a bike that looks cool but is hard to ride or impractical. I don't want to buy too much bike for my needs.

So this blog will detail not only my dreams of motorcycles, but the process of safely turning them into reality. Safety will be key. I'm an Emergency Room Nurse, so I know the damage a spill can do to the human body. I love my family and my life. This isn't a mid-life crisis thing, I just miss riding.