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.