Tag Archives: Retrospective

Riding the Motorcycle Century

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Child of the ’60s meets Bud Ekins’ 1915 Harley-Davidson in 1978. (Photo by Robin Riggs)

Looking through a file folder named “Cars & Bikes” on my computer the other day, I noticed that in 50 years of riding, I’ve experienced nearly the entirety of motorcycle history. From 1915 Indian board-track racers to a 2022 KTM 1290 Super Duke R Evo, that’s 108 model years’ worth. And in between were tests, rides, or races on more machines from every decade. Hardly planned, this all resulted from simply loving to ride, being curious, and, most of all, saying yes at every chance. Here are some of my favorite moto memories, one apiece covering 12 decades.

1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F

In 1978, Cycle magazine gave me an assignment after I joined the staff: Write a feature about anything I wanted. Interested in the history of our sport, I replied that I’d like to ride a really old bike. “Call this guy,” the editor said, handing me the number of Bud Ekins, an ISDT gold medalist and the stuntman in the epic The Great Escape jump scene.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
More than a century after its manufacture, this modified 1915 Harley-Davidson 11-F completed the cross-country Motorcycle Cannonball. (Photo by SFO Museum)

In his enormous shop, Ekins reviewed the starting drill for his 1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F: Flood the carb, set the timing and compression release, crack the throttle, and then swing the bicycle-style pedals hard to get the V-Twin’s big crankshaft spinning. When it lit off, working the throttle, foot clutch, and tank-mounted shifter – and steering via the long tiller handlebar – were foreign to a rider used to contemporary bikes. But coordination gradually built, and after making our way to the old Grapevine north of Los Angeles, I found the 998cc engine willing and friendly, with lots of flywheel effect and ample low-rpm torque to accelerate the machine to a satisfying cruising speed of about 45 mph. And its rider to another time and place.

RELATED: Early American Motorcycles at SFO Museum

1927 Norton Model 18 TT Replica

On a lucky trip to New Zealand, McIntosh Racing founder Ken McIntosh let me race his special Norton Model 18 in the Pukekohe Classic Festival. Unlike the exotic Norton CS1 overhead-camshaft model that likewise debuted in 1927 – a big advancement at the time – the Model 18 TT Replica used a tuned version of the company’s existing 490cc pushrod Single engine. Its name was derived, fittingly, from the sterling Model 18 racebike’s multiple Isle of Man TT wins. As such, the production TT Replica had as much racing provenance as you could buy at the time.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
The author aboard New Zealander Ken McIntosh’s 1927 Norton Model 18 TT Replica, which reached 80 mph on track. (Photo by Geoff Osborne)

I found it surprisingly capable, delivering a blend of strong power (a digital bicycle speedometer showed a top track speed of80 mph) and predictable, confident handling – despite the girder-style fork and hardtail frame. However, lacking gear stops in its selector mechanism, the 3-speed gearbox required careful indexing to catch the correct gear. But once I got the process down, the bike was steady, swift, and utterly magical, like the Millennium Falcon of Singles in its time.

RELATED: Retrospective: 1974 Norton Commando 850 John Player Replica

1936 Nimbus Type C

When a friend handed me his 4-cylinder Nimbus, it had big problems. The engine was locked solid, and my buddy wanted to get it running and saleable. Built in Denmark, the Nimbus is unique for several reasons. One is its 746cc inline-Four engine. Rather than being mounted transversely like modern multis, it was positioned longitudinally in the frame, with power flowing rearward via shaft drive. Interestingly, the rocker-arm ends and valve stems were exposed and, when the engine was running, danced a jig like eight jolly leprechauns. The frame was equally curious, comprised of flat steel bars instead of tubing, and riveted together. With a hacksaw, hammer, and some steel, you could practically duplicate a Nimbus frame under the apple tree on a Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Bob Sinclair, former CEO of Saab Cars USA, loved motorcycles. He’s riding a Nimbus Type C sidecar rig with a furry friend as co-pilot. (Sinclair Family Archives)

Anyway, the seized engine refused to budge – until I attempted a fabled fix by pouring boiling olive oil through the spark-plug holes to expand the cylinder walls and free up the rings. Additionally, I judiciously added heat from a propane torch to the iron block. Eventually, the engine unstuck and, with tuning, ran well. But the infusion of olive oil created a hot mist that emanated from the exposed valvetrain, covering my gear and leaving behind an olfactory wake like baking Italian bread.

1949 Vincent Black Shadow

One blissful time, years before Black Shadows cost six figures, I was lucky enough to ride one. Seemingly all engine, the Black Shadow was long and low, with its black stove-enamel cases glistening menacingly, and its sweeping exhaust headers adding a sensual element to an otherwise purely mechanical look.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Unquestionably the superbike of its day, Vincent’s 998cc Black Shadow was simultaneously elegant and menacing, and a big 150-mph speedometer let the rider know it. This is a 1952 model. (Photo by Clement Salvadori)

Thanks to the big, heavy flywheels and twin 499cc cylinders, starting the Vincent took forethought and commitment. And once the beast was running, so did riding it. A rude surprise came as I selected 1st gear and slipped the clutch near the busy Los Angeles International Airport. Unexpectedly, the clutch grabbed hard, sending the Shadow lurching ahead. The rest of the controls seemed heavy and slow compared to the Japanese and Italian bikes I knew at the time – especially the dual front brakes. The bike was clearly fast, but glancing at the famous 150-mph speedometer, I was chagrined to find that I’d only scratched the surface of the Black Shadow’s performance at 38 mph.

1955 Matchless G80CS

Despite not being a Brit-bike fan in particular, I’ve owned five Matchlesses, including three G80CSs. Known as a “competition scrambler,” in reality the CS denotes it as a “competition” (scrambles) version of the “sprung” (rear-suspension equipped) streetbike. Power comes from a 498cc long-stroke 4-stroke pushrod Single of the approximate dimensions of a giant garden gnome. Starting a G80CS requires knowing “the drill” – retarding the ignition, pushing the big piston to top-dead-center on compression, and giving the kickstart lever a strong, smooth kick all the way through. This gets the crank turning some 540 degrees before the piston begins the compression stroke again.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
A true garage find, this 1955 Matchless G80CS hadn’t been used since 1966. Now resurrected, the long-stroke 498cc pushrod Single shoves the desert sled ahead like the rapid-fire blasts of a big tommy gun. (Photo by John L. Stein)

Once going, the engine fires the G80CS down the road with unhurried explosions. Then at 50 mph or so, the Matchless feels delightfully relaxed; vibration is low-frequency and quite tolerable, and the note emanating from the muffler is a pleasant bark –powerful but not threatening. It is here, at speeds just right for country roads, that the G80CS feels most in its element as a friendly, agreeable companion. With such a steady countenance, it’s no wonder that G80CS engines powered tons of desert sleds. I just wouldn’t want to be stuck in a sand wash on a 100-degree day with one that required more than three kicks to start.

RELATED: Retrospective: 1958-1966 Matchless G12/CS/CSR 650

1961 Ducati Diana 250

During Ducati’s infancy, the Italian firm concocted a249cc overhead-cam roadster named the Diana. Featuring a precision-built unit-construction engine like Japanese bikes, it offered an essential difference: being Italian. And that meant all sorts of wonderful learning, as I discovered when, as a teen, I bought a “basket-case” Diana. The term isn’t used much anymore, but it means something has been disassembled so thoroughly that its parts can be literally dumped into a basket. In the case of this poor ex-racer, literally everything that could be unscrewed or pried apart was. The engine was in pieces, the wheels were unspoked, the frame and fork were separated, and many parts were missing.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
The author aboard his basket-case 1961 Ducati Diana. (John L. Stein archives)

Its distress repelled my friends but inspired me. Upon acquiring it, a year of trial-and-error work included rebuilding the scattered engine, designing and welding brackets onto the frame for a centerstand and footpegs, assembling the steering, fabricating a wiring harness, and ultimately tuning and sorting. This basket-case Ducati literally taught me the fundamentals of motorcycle mechanics, by necessity. And due to the racy rear-set controls I’d crafted, the machine had no kickstarter, necessitating bump-starting everywhere, every time.

The bike was never gloriously fast, but it carried me through my first roadrace at the Ontario Motor Speedway. After selling it, I never saw it again. Rest in peace, fair Diana. And by the way, the California blue plate was 4C3670. Write if you’ve seen it!

1971 Kawasaki Mach III

Stepping from an 8-hp Honda 90 onto a friend’s Mach III, which was rated at 60 hp when new, was the biggest shock of my young motorcycling life. I knew enough to be careful, not only because of the 410-lb heft of the Kawasaki compared to the Honda’s feathery 202 lb, but because the Mach III had a reputation as a barn-burner. It was true. Turning the throttle grip induced the moaning wail from three dramatic 2-stroke cylinders, and propelled the Kawasaki ahead with a ferocity I’d never come close to feeling before.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Rated at 60 horsepower, the Kawasaki Mach III (officially known as the H1) was the quickest-accelerating production motorcycle of its time. (Photo by John L. Stein)

In those first moments of augmented g-forces, I distinctly felt that the acceleration was trying to dislocate my hips. In reality, it was probably just taxing the gluteus muscles. But regardless, I remember thinking, “I’ll never be able to ride one of these.” That clearly wasn’t true, but the memory of the Mach III’s savage acceleration and whooping sound remains indelible. Additionally, the engine vibration was incessant – there was simply no escaping it – and in those pre-hydraulic disc days for Kawasaki, the drum brakes seemed heavy and reluctant, even to a big-bike novice. Glad I found out early that the Mach III’s mad-dog reputation was real.

1985 KTM 500 MXC

If Paul Bunyan designed a motorcycle, this KTM 2-stroke would be it. For its day, the 500 MXC was extraordinary at everything, such as extraordinarily hard to start; the kickstart shaft was a mile high and the lever arm even higher. At over6 feet tall in MX boots, I still needed a curb, boulder, or log handy to effectively use the left-side kickstarter. The motor had so much compression (12.0:1) that this Austrian Ditch Witch practically needed a starter engine to fire the main one. Once, I was stuck on a desert trail with the MXC’s engine reluctant to re-fire. Not so brilliantly, I attached a tow line to my friend’s Kawasaki KX250 and he pulled me to perhaps 25 mph on a nearby two-lane road. Before I could release the line and drop the clutch, my buddy slowed for unknown reasons. Instantly the rope drooped, caught on the KTM’s front knobby, and locked the wheel, slamming the bike and its idiot rider onto the asphalt. The crash should have broken my wrist, but an afternoon spent icing it in the cooler put things right.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
A beast to start and a blast to ride, this 1985 KTM 500 MXC 2-stroke was also comically and maddeningly tall. So was the desk-high kickstart arm. But, oh my, how the Austrian Ditch Witch could fly. (Photo by John L. Stein.)

When running, though, the MXC was spectacular. Capable of interstate speeds down sand washes and across open terrain, the liquid-cooled 485cc engine was a maniacal off-road overlord. The suspension included a WP inverted fork and linked monoshock with an insane 13.5 inches of travel out back. I bought the 500 MXC used for $500, and I had to practically give it away later. But now, I wish I had kept it, because it was fully street-plated – ideal for Grom hunting in the hills today.

1998 Yamaha YZF-R1

On a deserted, bucolic section of Pacific coastal backroads, I loosened the new Yamaha R1’s reins, kicked it in the ribs, and let it gallop. And gallop it did, at a breathtaking rate up to and beyond 130 mph. That’s not all that fast in the overall world of high performance, but on a little two-lane road edged by prickly cattle fences and thick oaks, it ignited all my senses. What had been a mild-mannered tomcat moments before turned into a marlin on meth, but it wasn’t the velocity that was alarming.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Superbike tech leapt ahead with Yamaha’s YZF-R1. Its performance rang every alarm bell in the author’s head. (Photos by Yamaha)

No, the point seared into my amygdala was how hard the R1 was still accelerating at 130 mph. Rocketing past this speed with a ratio or two still remaining in the 6-speed gearbox sounded every alarm bell in my head, so I backed down. Simply, the R1 rearranged my understanding of performance. But simultaneously, it made every superbike of the 1970s, including the King Kong 1973 Kawasaki Z1 – the elite on the street in its era – seem lame by comparison.

2008 Yamaha YZ250F

After 25 years away from motocross, in 2008 I bought a new YZ250F and went to the track. Oh, my word. The dream bikes of my competitive youth – Huskys, Maicos, Ossas, and their ilk – faded to complete irrelevance after one lap at Pala Raceway on the modern 4-stroke. Naturally it was light, fast, and responsive, but the party drug was its fully tunable suspension. By comparison, everything else I’d ridden in the dirt seemed like a pogo stick. Together, the awesome suspension and aluminum perimeter frame turned motocross into an entirely different sport, and I loved it anew.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Contemporary technology turned riding motocross from torture in the sport’s early years to the best workout – like simultaneously using every machine in the gym at maximum effort. Training and racing this 2008 Yamaha YZ250F produced heartrates just shy of running a 10k race. (John L. Stein Archives)

In retrospect, the glorious old MX bikes were dodgy because real skill was required to keep them from bucking their riders into the ditch. But, surprisingly, I found motocross aboard this new machine still merited hazard pay, for two reasons: 1) Thanks to the bike’s excellent manners, I found myself going much faster; and 2) Tracks had evolved to include lots of jumps, sometimes big ones. Doubles, step-ups, table-tops – I later paced one off at Milestone MX and realized the YZ was soaring more than 70 feet through the air.

2017 Yamaha TW200

There’s something about flying low and slow that’s just innately fun. Just ask the Super Cub pilots, lowrider guys, or Honda Monkey owners. After a day in the Mojave, plowing through sand, sliding on dry lake beds, and dodging rocks and creosote bushes, Yamaha’s TW200 proved equally enamoring. Yes, it’s molasses-slow, inhaling hard through the airbox for enough oxygen to power it along. And it’s built to a price, with an old-school carburetor and middling suspension and brakes.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
For flying low and slow on a dry lake bed, the fat-tire Yamaha TW200 is righteous. Learn to dirt-track early in life, and the skills last forever. (Photo by Bill Masho)

Nonetheless, its fat, high-profile tires somehow make it way more than alright, kind of like riding a marshmallow soaked in Red Bull. Curbs? Loading docks? Roots, ruts, and bumps? Scarcely matters at 16 mph when you’re laughing your head off. Top speed noted that day was a bit over 70 mph – good enough for freeway work, but just barely. So, actually, no. But throttling the TW all over the desert and on city streets reminded me just how joyous being on two wheels is.

RELATED: Small Bikes Rule! Honda CRF250L Rally, Suzuki GSX250R and Yamaha TW200 Reviews

2020 Kawasaki Z H2

Building from its supercharged Ninja H2 hyperbike, Kawasaki launched the naked Z H2 for 2020. Lucky to attend the press launch for the bike that year, I got to experience this 197-hp missile on a road course, freeways, backroads, and even a banked NASCAR oval. The latter was, despite its daunting concrete walls, an apropos vessel to exploit the bike’s reported power. Weighing 527 lbs wet, the Z H2 has a 2.7:1 power-to-weight ratio – nearly twice as potent as the 2023 Corvette Z06.

Riding the Motorcycle Century
Exploiting Kawasaki’s 197-horsepower Z H2 definitely required a racetrack. (Photo by Kawasaki)

Supercharged engines are known for their low-end grunt, and the Z H2 motor was happy to pull at any rpm and in any gear. But it fully awakened above 8,000 rpm, as the aerospace-grade supercharger began delivering useful boost. From here on, the job description read: Hang on and steer. Free to pin it on the road course and oval, I did. And not for bravado’s sake – I really wanted to discover the payoff of having so much power. As it turns out, a supercharged liter bike dramatically shrinks time and space, making it a total blast on the track – and absolute overkill on the road. Watch where you aim this one.

Based in Southern California, John L. Stein is an internationally known automotive and motorcycle journalist. He was a charter editor of Automobile Magazine, Road Test Editor at Cycle, and served as the Editor of Corvette Quarterly. He has written for Autoweek, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Outside, and other publications in the U.S. and abroad.

The post Riding the Motorcycle Century first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1990-2002 Honda ST1100

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

YEAR/MODEL: 2002 Honda ST1100

OWNER: Clement Salvadori

HOMETOWN: Atascadero, California

Back in the late 1980s, the European market was as important to Honda as the American one. And motorcycles were popular, as cars and car insurance were more expensive than they were here. The demand was quite different, with Yanks liking big cruisers and narrowly focused sporting machines, while those east of the Atlantic had more of a practical approach, favoring motorcycles that could be used to commute on workdays, and then go two-up on a vacation.

Each motorcycle company is constantly looking around to see what the competition is doing. The Japanese Big Four undoubtedly have their own domestic spying networks, trying to keep track of each other’s doings, but there are also the local manufacturers. In the U.S., the only indigenous competition was from Harley-Davidson, but in Europe numerous homegrown marques were taking their share of the market.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

In the late 1980s, BMW, with its new four-cylinder K-bikes, was doing quite well in the touring market. The head of Honda Germany decided he wanted a piece of that action and got permission from Japan to design his own bike, a sport-touring model, with emphasis on touring but still agile.

Hence the ST1100, introduced in Europe in 1990 as the Pan-European, with a wind-protecting fairing, removable saddlebags, and shaft drive. Ride to work in the rain, load the bags for a trip, and never have to worry about cleaning and adjusting a chain. This was an all-new machine, with a transverse-mounted (meaning the crankshaft was at a right angle to the axles) V-4 engine, putting out close to 100 rear-wheel horses.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

This was no lightweight, as the ST weighed about 700 pounds with the huge 7.4-gallon gas tank filled. But the blessing was that the tank was beneath the seat, keeping the weight down low, which is where many sensible touring riders like to have it. That required a fuel pump pushing the gas up to the four 34.5mm Keihins – carburetors in the coming age of fuel injection. No matter, as the carbs did an excellent and trouble-free job of keeping the engine spinning. A choke lever on the handlebar was a reminder of the carburetors.

The liquid-cooled V-4, with a bore of 73mm and a stroke of 64.8mm, had a total capacity of 1,084cc. It used double overhead camshafts, with a single timing belt running all four camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Valve adjustment was by shims, not always appreciated by home mechanics, but service intervals were set at a fairly lengthy 16,000 miles. Ignition was transistorized, with electronic advance. And the oversquare engine pulled strong all the way from 2,000 to the 8,000-rpm redline.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

Down in the bowels of the wet-sump engine, everything was built to last, with almost four quarts of oil capacity and a cooler up front. It sat in a full-cradle steel frame (contributing to the bike’s hefty weight), which gave confidence to the rider when leaning hard into the curves at considerable speeds. Up front was a 41mm Showa cartridge fork, with Honda’s TRAC anti-dive mechanism and allowing nearly 6 inches of travel. No adjustments here. At the back, a single Showa shock, with adjustability for rebound damping and spring preload, offered nearly 5 inches of travel.

The longitudinal power ran back through a wet clutch and a cassette-style 5-speed transmission to the driveshaft. Aluminum three-spoke wheels used an 18-inch 110/80 tire on the front, a 160/70 17-incher on the back, with a shade over 61 inches between the axle centers.

The Europeans loved it – perhaps for no better reason than it was a good alternative to the BMWs, along with a bit more power. The American market got to see this bike a year or so after it was released east of the Atlantic. Several improvements were made after that first version, including raising the alternator output from 28 to 40 amps and offering a combined ABS and traction control system. The initial ABS, running from 1992 to ’95, had separate systems on the front and rear wheels, but an upgrade for ’96 used linked brakes. A mild upgrade of the windscreen arrived for the 1995 model year.

Most important for a motorcycle of this design is comfort. On this ’02 model, which belongs to yours truly, a Laminar Lip was added to the top of the windscreen to smooth airflow around my helmet, since I’m taller than average. A nice addition is over to the left of the instruments, where a hand-turned knob can alter the angle of the dual halogen lights; very simple, very useful. Fitting a tankbag on the plastic cover over the engine was simplified by a company called Bagster that makes Naugahyde covers for over 200 motorcycle models, to which a bag can be neatly clipped. That bag has logged a lot of miles, as I had it on my ’92 model, which was sold after 93,000 miles, and then on my then-new ’02 ST1100, which has 103,000 miles and counting.

The flattish saddle is comfortable for long two-up days, or even longer solo days, allowing the rider to move back and forth. The saddlebags are locked onto the bike, but they can be removed with only minor fuss. However, it is far more useful to have liners in the bags; just open the bags, take out the liners, and you are on your way.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

A convenient frill on the ST is the handle under the left side of the saddle, which folds against the bike until pulled out 90 degrees to be very useful when lifting the bike onto the centerstand. Another much appreciated addition is the concealed crash bars on the fairing, allowing for a slow fall without doing any damage.

Big smiles could be seen at Honda Germany after the ST1100 appeared. They had given the competition a good kick in the old wazoo, with the ST soon winning all sorts of awards. And it was pretty much left unchanged for the next dozen years until the ST1300 debuted in 2003.

Throw a leg over that saddle, turn the key, push the button, clutch in, click into first, and the sheer, silent rush of power is exhilarating. And 500 miles with one fuel stop in between is always a temptation.

The post Retrospective: 1990-2002 Honda ST1100 first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Every motorcycle company has made a couple of bikes it wishes it hadn’t, like the Wankel-engined Suzuki RE5, 1974-1976, or Ducati’s GTL 350, a SOHC parallel twin, 1975-1977. And close to the top of Honda’s list might be the CB500T. Curious that the three just mentioned all appeared in the mid-1970s. With any new model, aesthetics play a part, as do performance and price.

Lots of money goes into any development, whether it’s for a new bike or upgrading an old model, and sales have to compensate. Most times it is not the engineers who make these decisions, but the suits, the people who are supposedly experts on what people want to buy. The CB500T was definitely an upgrade, so here is a little background: The CB450 model, along with its fraternal CL and CM versions, had been around for a decade, 10 years, which is a long time in the mind of Japanese motorcycle designers who are competing with other Japanese motorcycle designers. When the 450 first appeared in 1965, it was applauded for its originality, the vertical twin having the first double overhead camshaft engine in a street bike. Plus, an electric starter. And 444cc! This meant Honda was going to do battle with the British motorcycles American dealers had in their shops.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

The Europeans had their own thoughts on the subject, but essentially they thought the Japanese would never really be able to compete with BSAs and BMWs. While the sole American company had just gone public in an effort to turn red ink into black, and would soon be bought by an outfit best known for its golf carts.

The Black Bomber, as that first CB450 was known, had problems and did not sell well. In 1968 a much revamped version showed up, with more traditional styling, plus a fifth gear. And a disc brake in 1970. Sales improved somewhat, and Honda felt this mid-sized machine was good for the brand, and had a price point for the casual rider. The more motivated rider would buy the new four-cylinder CB750.

In the early 1970s Honda engineers were very busy working on its Gold Wing, and somebody pointed out the elderliness of the CB450. It probably was the newest guy in the shop who was told to do something about it. And do it without spending too much money. OK, we’ll keep the DOHC and two-valves per cylinder design, but stroke it an additional seven millimeters and bring the cubic capacity up to 498cc and call it a CB500, with big numbers on the side covers. We’ll put a T after it, so people will know it’s a Twin, and not a four like the CB400F and CB550F.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Engine mods? Those extra millimeters in the stroke might cause problems to the crankshaft, so we’ll swap the 450’s roller bearings for big ball bearings, which should extend the life of the engine. We can use the 450’s DOHC head, but better cut the compression a little, from 9:1 to 8.5:1, so the owner can run the cheapest gas — which is getting expensive right about 1975. No need to change the 32mm Keihin CV carburetors. Rear-wheel power will be the same as on the 450, some 34 horses, but there will be a few extra pounds, like 15, on the 500. Wet weight, with 4.2 gallons of gas, was 460 pounds.

Unfortunately, their cost-cutting ways caused them to miss out on what should have been their primary concern — vibration! The 450 was known as a shaker, and the 500 was even worse. Rubber-mounted seat, rubber-mounted handlebars, thick rubbers on the pegs — and it still shook. In a seven-bike middleweight shoot-out, all Japanese, one moto-mag rated the CB500T worst in a number of categories, including vibration and overall. How expensive would it have been to put in a counterbalancer?

The chassis had a standard cradle frame holding the engine, a new fork up front, standard shocks at the back, 19-inch wheel at the front, 18-inch rear. Brakes were adequate, a disc up front, drum at the back. However, anybody who liked a good bit of lean angle was in for unpleasant surprises. On the left side the sidestand would start to scrape, soon followed by the centerstand, while on the right side the rear brake lever, which looped under the exhaust pipe, could pick up the rear wheel. Not fun. To compensate, sportier riders would crank up the spring preload on the shocks to give a bit more altitude, but then the ride could be unpleasantly stiff.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

A curious addition was a rather bulky resonator/connector running between the two header pipes, in a successful effort to keep exhaust noise down. The photo bike has rather attractive aftermarket mufflers, which probably would not pass a contemporary sound test. The U.S. was becoming concerned over air pollution, so Honda added a couple of gizmos. One was the blow-by gas circulator in the cylinder head, and the other the air-cut valves in the carburetors, both of which were designed to prevent unburned gas from getting to the atmosphere. There is not enough room here to get into the specifics, just a reminder that green-suited ecology cops have been around for a long time.

With all these complaints, one nice aspect was the long and comfy seat…except for the passenger grab-strap. Easily removed, and many riders preferred to have their passengers pressed up against them with arms around their waists.

The main thing the CB500T had going for it was the classic look, which meant British. If a rider was not interested in going fast or far, for $1,545 this could be his or her ride — that’s $7,400 in 2020 dollars. And a new 2021 twin-cylinder CB500F costs only $6,100.

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin

Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin:

The post Retrospective: 1975-1976 Honda CB500T 500 Twin first appeared on Rider Magazine.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1975-1978 Harley-Davidson/Aermacchi SXT-125

1975 H-D/Aermacchi SXT-125
1975 H-D/Aermacchi SXT-125. Owner: Michael Hopkins, Rohnert Park, California. Photos by Virginia Pearlman.

Here is an attractive little trail bike, built by Harley’s former Italian subsidiary, Aermacchi. Oddly, virtually nothing has been written about this model in the American moto-press. Your scribe has looked many places, and could not find a single road test. More than a dozen Harley histories are on my shelves, some of which never even mention the Italian connection, which went from 1960 to 1978. There is reasonable reportage on the four-stroke Sprint models, less on the two-stroke Rapido 125 and Baja 100, so I am making do with what we have.

Harley should be proud of the Italian connection, because it provided the company with four international GP racing victories when Italian road-racer Walter Villa won the 250 class in 1974, ’75 and ’76, doubling up in 1976 by winning the 350 class as well — riding a parallel-twin two-stroke built by Aermacchi with Harley-Davidson writ large on the fairing.

The name Aermacchi comes from combining the two words from the previous company, Aeronautica Macchi, with which Giulio Macchi began producing airplanes in 1912. However, being on the losing side in World War II, the company had to stop making airplanes and instead moved into basic transportation — the motorcycle. Early models used a four-stroke single from 175cc to 350cc with the cylinder lying forward, almost flat.

1975 H-D/Aermacchi SXT-125

In 1960 Harley, aware of the popularity of bikes like Honda’s small OHC twins, looked at its own small bikes, a couple of rather antiquated 165cc two-strokes that had begun with the 125 Model S in 1948. Which was based on a German DKW bike, the designs for which had been given to the U.S. as part of war reparations. Now the Milwaukee suits tapped on the door of another WWII foe and cut a deal for half the company. In 1961 the first 250 models, called Wisconsins, arrived at dealers — shortly after which it was noted that this bike had nothing whatsoever to do with Wisconsin, and the name was quickly changed to Sprint.

In 1965 the first Italian-built two-stroke came into the country, a little 50cc model that the Harley dealers really objected to. Two years later that grew to 65cc, which did not help much, while the last of the DKW-based two-strokes vanished. Then the 125cc Rapido two-stroke came along in 1968, which was anything but rapid.

1969 was an interesting year for Harley, as an outfit called American Machine Foundry bought the motorcycle company. AMF was best known for selling golf carts and bowling equipment, and thought its sporting knowledge would work well with a motorcycle company. It did not. We won’t get into the Harley-Davidson snowmobile.

For 1970 the little Baja 100 two-stroke appeared, an off-road bike that appealed to quite a few riders. And it won its class in the 1971 Baja 1000 race. This was a serious effort by Harley to build a great desert racer and enduro machine, and they got a lot of help from the racers themselves. The engine was a Rapido cylinder sleeved down to 98cc. An automatic gas-oil mix was developed to simplify fueling.

1975 H-D/Aermacchi SXT-125

Obviously AMF thought that this two-stroke connection was good, and bought the entire Aermacchi Company in 1974. Aermacchi could still pursue its European market, with Walter Villa’s racing, while the profits would go to Milwaukee. The following year was the last for the lone remaining four-stroke, a 250 Sprint.

And it was the first for the SXT-125, a well-designed trail bike that was meant to appeal to the rough-and-ready folk who had liked the Baja 100. The engineers at the Aermacchi plant in Varese built a slightly oversquare engine, with a 56mm bore, 50mm stroke, using piston-port induction. The cast aluminum cylinder liner had a chrome-plated bore, which was quite useful considering the rather serious 10.8:1 compression ratio, providing some 13 rear-wheel horsepower at a little over 7,000 rpm. Kickstart only.

An oil container under the gas tank held a little more than three pints; this had no sight window and the rider had to look carefully into the opening up by the steering head to see if more needed to be added. A Mikuni pump pushed the oil into the intake to mix it with the gas flowing through a 27mm Dell’Orto carburetor. Oil metering was controlled by the throttle, with one cable running to the pump, another to the carburetor.

Electrics were simple enough, with a flywheel-alternator charging a 12-volt battery, and easily adjusted points. Turn signals were mandatory. Up on the dash were two round instrument cases, one being the speedometer. The other, which did not hold a tachometer, served to house the ignition key and lights for high beam and ignition.

1975 H-D/Aermacchi SXT-125

Gears took the power from the crankshaft to the wet clutch, then through a five-speed transmission with its own oil supply. The transmission sprocket had 14 teeth, the rear sprocket, 61. A useful primary starter allowed the bike to be kickstarted in gear after pulling in the clutch.

The frame used double downtubes, with a cradle running beneath the engine and serving as a sort of skid plate. A Ceriani fork did a good job up front, with Betor shocks at the back, adjustable for spring preload. Wheels were a 3.00 x 19 at the front, 3.50 x 18 at the back, both with five-inch, full-hub drum brakes. Wet weight was a respectable 240 pounds.

Seat height was almost 30 inches, with a saddle long enough to move about comfortably. No passenger footpegs. Good-looking machine, with an upswept muffler and 2.7-gallon gas tank. But dealers were not pushing them, and sales did not meet expectations. So what did AMF do? Sell the whole shebang in 1978 to an Italian company called Cagiva. And the “Cagiva HD SXT 125” became a bestseller in Europe.

P.S. Should any readers have information about this bike, please contact us at [email protected] 

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1977-1981 Yamaha DT125 MX

1977 Yamaha DT125 MX
1977 Yamaha DT125 MX. Owner: Don Carver, Creston, California.

The Japanese were selling a lot of “street-scramblers” in the late 1960s, but these were merely street bikes with upswept pipes. Yamaha, in particular, was advertising three twin-cylinder “scramblers” in 1968, the same year it brought out the DT-1 Enduro  250 single, soon followed by the AT-1 Enduro 125. That enduro nomenclature made a bike a little more serious about bad roads, but still, it was a compromise, doing neither street nor dirt extremely well.

Despite its imperfections, the 125 changed the world for a lot of Americans. With a gallon of gas in the small 1.8-gallon tank this little charmer weighed in at about 220 pounds, light enough that just about anybody could pick it up. When buyers scooped up all the AT units that first year Yamaha understood it was on to something profitable.

Move along to 1974, minor improvements were made, and model codes were changed. The bike was redesignated the DT125 — the DT now denoting all of the enduros, from 125 to 400. The 125 chassis was quite conventional, with a cradle-style tubular-steel frame, dual shocks at the rear and a pair of 18-inch wheels.

For 1977 a new version of the DT125 appeared known as the DT125 MX, instantly recognizable as it came with a single shock rear end, just like the Yamaha’s YZ Monocross racers. As they liked to say those many years ago, “That looks really cool!” Image has always been important in the motorcycle world, and this had great image. Like the racers it used a cantilever-style swingarm, with a long DeCarbon hydraulic shock running all the way to the steering head, under the gas tank. The lengthy damper proved to be excellent for shock absorption, allowing the rear wheel to follow the bumps and dips rather than bounce over them. A dose of nitrogen gas made sure the shock would not bottom out.

1977 Yamaha DT125 MX

Wheels were a 21-incher on the front with a 2.75 Yokohama trials tire, and an 18-incher at the back, with a 3.50 tire. The Takasago wheels each had a rim lock, a hint as to the expectation of a goodly amount of abuse. The five-inch drum brakes on both wheels were adequate in the dirt but rather weak when used on the pavement. The tubular frame cradled the engine/transmission, with a large backbone concealing the shock absorber. The subframe elevated the saddle to some 32 inches above the ground, the suspension allowing for 10 inches of ground clearance. The center-axle 31mm fork had 30 degrees of rake, five inches of trail, providing some seven inches of travel. Almost 53 inches ran between the axles.

The engine was semi-new, still with an oversquare 56 x 50mm bore and stroke totaling 123cc, but now with radial fins on the cylinder head for better cooling. A 24mm Mikuni slide carburetor using reed-valve technology fed gas and air into the crankcase, while Yamaha’s Autolube sent oil to where it should go. An aluminum sleeve fit into the cylinder, utilizing a five-port induction system, with a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. Power was on the discreet side, with some 10 horses at 7,000 rpm, but that might have enhanced sales, as it was not enough to get into serious trouble.

1977 Yamaha DT125 MX

The Autolube oil container, holding a little more than a quart, was discreetly concealed behind the left-side panel, and once the panel was removed the reservoir could be swung out and refilled. A little light went on in the instrument cluster when the oil got low. The oil-injection system did vary the amount going into the engine depending on throttle load, which served to reduce oil usage as well as prevent fouling the plug.

To get rid of that troublesome need to occasionally set timing, as well as check points, the DT125 was blessed with a magnetically triggered capacitor-discharge ignition system, better known by its abbreviation, CDI. This benefited the engine by offering a quicker spark, reducing the possibility that any of that oil and gas mixture in the combustion chamber would foul the plug. The magneto also served to keep the small six-volt battery charged.

The exhaust system was well designed. Enduro bikes tend to fall over on occasion, and the idea is that the rider disentangles him- or herself, gets up, lifts the bike, pulls in the clutch, gives a kick and away they go. Presuming no damage to the header pipe or muffler. The DT125 header went up and back under the right side of the tank, and then crossed over to the muffler and spark arrestor on the left side, tucked away behind frame members. Very protected, very efficient.

1977 Yamaha DT125 MX

Getting power to the rear wheel was done via helical gears running the ponies back to a five-plate wet clutch and a very good six-speed transmission, where the top two gears were actually overdrive. A minimalist chain guard covered the chain, with sprockets having 15 and 49 teeth allowing for a solo rider to exceed the 55 mph national speed limit. The relatively comfy saddle was capable of seating two friendly riders. High fenders kept mud-collection problems away, and turn signals kept the feds happy, along with a speedo and tach, indicator lights and a horn.

And to ride? Fun! Within reason. Turn the petcock, pull the choke knob if cold, turn the key and kick to start. The little engine did best, of course, when a rider weighed less than 200 pounds, but it was happy scrabbling in the dirt. With a few minor changes this model lasted through 1981, after which two-stroke street bikes became illegal in the U.S. 

1977 Yamaha DT125 MX

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo

1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo
1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo. Owner: Elwell Perry, Acushnet, Massachusetts.

Nobody seems to remember the company hired by Suzuki to advertise the Laredo model, but it certainly pulled out all the stops. The town of Laredo had a deserved reputation as a tough border crossing in Texas back in the late 1800s, and is rich in history. As well as a song called “The Streets of Laredo,” which is all about a dying cowboy; not sure that would be the proper way to tell people how much fun riding a motorcycle is, as motorcyclists were being called modern-day cowboys.

Suzuki had done a good deal of serious work in approaching the American market. At the start of the company’s business in the U.S., 1962, it offered a relatively ponderous 250 designed in the late 1950s, which had an electric starter, turn signals and a hydraulically actuated rear brake. All quite useful on a practical commuter bike.

1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo

However, the next version, the 1966 X-6 Hustler, was quite different, with performance being the issue. The X-6 touted its six-speed transmission, the six gears focused on being able to stay in the narrow powerband that the two-stroke twin enjoyed. The all-new, perfectly square (54 x 54mm) parallel twin engine was rated at 29 horses at 7,500 rpm, which was quite astounding for a street-going 250. The heavy electric starter was dispensed with, and weight was an extremely modest 300 pounds wet, resulting in a top speed of 100 mph. Good bike, albeit a tad fragile, with busted gearboxes, slippy clutches and holed pistons high on the list.

As some riders may remember, this was when the AMA was trying to impose four-speed gearboxes on all models in national racing competitions.

Change is good, especially the kind that might attract customers. For 1968 the company upsized the engine to 305cc by boring the cylinders out to 60mm, adding 58 cubic centimeters to the cylinder capacity. The resulting 305cc bike came out in two versions, the low-piped T305 Raider and the street-scrambler styled TC305, with high pipes, knobbyish tires and a skid-plate. Not that such mods made much difference when on seriously dirty dirt, but the rugged look sold — rather like today’s adventure bikes.

1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo

More essential changes involved making the tranny tougher by almost doubling the size of the gears. And slightly decreasing the compression ratio from the 250’s 7.3:1 to the 305’s 6.7:1. As well as enlarging the clutch plates and using thicker cork (when is the last time we saw a clutch with cork inserts?) to give the much-abused plates added longevity. These improvements added some 20 pounds to the heft of the engine/tranny unit. Overall wet weight, with 3.7 gallons of gas in the tank and almost half a gallon of oil in the Posi-Force reservoir, was almost 340 pounds.

This had all the essential Suzuki modernizations, with that Posi-Force oil injection system making sure that the oil got to the important lubrication points, rather than just mixing with the gas and hoping for the best. More importantly, the buyer that Suzuki was looking for had no interest in the messy business of personally adding oil to the gas tank. A vacuum petcock did away with the need to turn off the gas when stopped, a ritual the older generation was quite familiar with.

The 305 used the Vol-U-Matic induction system, a porting technique that allowed for a reasonable amount of grunt, or torque, to be generated by this middling-small engine. That was helped along by heavier flywheels, which served to make the engine less touchy when plunking along a dirt road. Tractable was a word often used by reviewers. Rotary valving was becoming much the rage in the late 1960s, but Suzuki liked the traditional piston-port design.

1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo

The 305 was produced with a pair of rather large 32mm Mikuni carbs, compared to the 24mm ones on the 250. The engineers had realized that if they left the intake port the same size as on the 250, with the same stroke, the bigger carbs would allow for rapid filling of the crankcase. And the big gulps of air assisted in quickly jamming the fuel mixture through the ports and into the hemispherical combustion chambers. An amusing side effect was that this system, useful when dawdling along, created a major intake boom when the rider chose to twist the throttle all the way open. As one magazine put it, “…the roar is enough to rattle your very bones.” But 37 horsepower was claimed by the manufacturer.

The engine/tranny unit sat in a full-cradle frame, the tubular members making a full U as they came down from the steering head to go under the engine and loop up to the saddle, to meet with the three tubes running back under the gas tank. The 51 inches between axles provided for good control at slow speeds, and still reasonably capable when pushing the century mark on the speedometer. Though the rider might need a bit of downhill to attain 100 mph, as road tests of the era showed 95 to be about top. The fork was said to be a bit on the stiff side, while the rear shocks seemed soft. Probably much depended on whether one lightweight was on board, or two heavyweights. Good ground clearance was provided, with even the centerstand neatly tucked away.

1968 Suzuki TC305 Laredo

Good bike, well received, but Suzuki obviously felt the need for something new. The Laredo was only on the market for one year, with a few leftover Raiders sold in 1969. Replacing it was the Rebel 350…nice number, but the 305 engine had only been bored out another 2 mm, adding just 10cc, for a grand total of 315cc, not 350cc. Truth in advertising?

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1965-1968 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250

1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250
1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250. Owner: Glenn Mueller, Tehachapi, California.

Few motorcyclists today are familiar with the Greeves name, but it was an interesting company, and had quite a bit of clout in this country back in the late 1950s and ’60s. Bert Greeves was an English fellow who got his start following World War II by bolting motorcycle engines into wheelchairs, and started a company called Invacar (Invalid’s Car). And to help construct these three-wheelers he added a light-alloy foundry to his factory, which was located in the appropriately named (for a motorcyclist) town of Thundersley, in Essex County northeast of London.

As an avid motorcyclist, he then got the notion of building a motorcycle, using someone else’s engine but his own chassis. At the Earls Court Show in London in late 1953, the initial Greeves line had several roadsters and a scrambler powered by two-stroke engines from the Villiers Engineering Co., Ltd. If one wonders where the Villiers name came from, the factory was on Villiers Street in Wolverhampton, and sold engines to a dozen small British motorcycle manufacturers.

1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250
1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250. Owner: Glenn Mueller, Tehachapi, California.

What made the Greeves stand out was the design of the frame and suspension. Instead of tubes, the frame, built in his own foundry, was essentially an aluminum-alloy I-beam that went down from the steering head and bolted on to I-beam cradles for the engine/transmission unit. A tubular steel backbone, made of Reynolds 531, went back to a tubular subframe. This I-beam frame was both lighter and stronger than conventional tubular constructions. The front fork was a Greeves design, and instead of springs had, “at the base of the stanchions, short leading links pivoting in rubber-in-torsion bushes….” Not sure what a rubber-in-torsion bush is, but apparently it worked well.

Being an observed trials riding enthusiast, Greeves developed a 250 trials model called the Scottish, after a noted trials event in — you guessed it — Scotland. This won gold in the 1958 International Six Days Trial, and gold again in the 1959 ISDT. Soon competition models ruled the company roost, with scrambler, trials, motocross and road-racing models. In 1963 the British ISDT team asked Greeves to supply motorcycles, and he happily complied. Gold again, and the lone woman contestant won a bronze on a Greeves.

1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250
1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250. Owner: Glenn Mueller, Tehachapi, California.

Back in 1958 a forward-thinking Californian by the name of Nick Nicholson began importing Greeves bikes, and soon the desert racing four-strokes were smelling two-stroke exhaust. Nick was selling a lot of racers, but the roadsters were not very popular in this country, riders preferring bigger bikes. In 1964 Nick saw an opening for a new model, a trail version of the 250 trials. With a few mods like lights, a speedometer and a more comfortable seat, this could be sold to people who just wanted to have fun going along some back roads and cow trails. Done!

This motorcycle was powered by the Villiers 34A 250 single-cylinder engine used in several models, including the trials, and was 246cc, with a 66mm bore, 72mm stroke. To improve the power Greeves made his own aluminum-alloy cylinder and head. The 1965 Trail/Enduro model was an “export-only” bike, and it beat the Yamaha DT-1 to the market by two years. It had an 11:1 compression ratio with a Villiers S25 carburetor feeding the petroil (petrol and oil) mixture into the combustion chamber. A large air cleaner worked hard to keep the dirt and dust out. A small but efficient muffling system was tucked close to the cylinder, staying out of the way of the rider’s right leg. Sixteen horses turned the crankshaft and a primary chain used a multi-plate clutch in an oil bath to spin the four gears in the oil-filled transmission. A 15-tooth sprocket at the tranny was connected to a 54-tooth sprocket at the rear wheel, with a box-section swingarm and Girling shock absorbers.

The aesthetics of the Trail were pleasing, with that I-beam frame easily catching attention. That curiously shaped leading-link front end also attracted the eye of the onlooker. An 18-inch wheel was at the back, a 19-incher at the front, and these were shod with Dunlop Trials Universal tires. Tire technology being what it was half a century ago, they were OK in the dirt, but not recommended for high-speed cornering on wet pavement. Shiny alloy mudguards stood far enough off from the tires that even the stickiest of mud could not jam the wheels. Cable-operated drum brakes were adequate for the purpose.

1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250
1965 Greeves 24TFS Trail 250. Owner: Glenn Mueller, Tehachapi, California.

No battery here, with a mag/dyno providing the electricity. No ignition switch was necessary, just a tickle on the carb and a kick on the right-side starter got things moving. Since there was no switch, nor kill button on the handlebar, stopping the engine meant stalling it by letting out the clutch while in gear. Headlight and taillight brightened with more revs, but would certainly not be legal today; the switch was on the headlight. A Smiths speedometer indicated the speed, which would top out at 60 mph or so. A 2.5-gallon (imperial sized, which is a spoonful more than three U.S. gallons) tank held the petroil, which was good for more than 100 miles. A modest seat served the purpose for one rider, but a longer one was available.

Business boomed in the mid-1960s, and then four things happened. First, with a change in British laws governing powered wheelchairs, Invacar had to shut down…and this business had always been more profitable than the motorcycle side. Second, in 1968 Villiers, now partnered with Norton, decided not to sell engines to outside companies. Third, by the early 1970s the Japanese pretty much had the dual-purpose market in hand. Fourth, Bert decided to retire. Following which the company finances floundered, not helped by a fire at the factory, and in 1977 the company went into receivership.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1983-1986 Honda VF1100C V65 Magna

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna. Owner: Van Krebs, Fresno, Ohio. Photos by Jason Keller.

The motorcycling world looked upon this machine in absolute amazement — a cruiser putting out more than 100 horsepower. Unheard of! Sure, sportbikes like Honda’s CB1100R were knocking out that many ponies, but those were for riders who liked leaning into corners at insane speeds. But a cruiser with feet-forward pegs and wide handlebars — and a shaft drive no less? This was nutso!

If this bike could be put in a category, it would be Power Cruiser. Harleys were the standard cruisers of the day, and they were lucky to get 55 horses to the rear wheel, using a pushrod V-twin that had been around for the better part of half a century. Whereas this bruiser was a V-4 with two overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. And liquid cooling to boot, so no worries about overheating when cruising down Main Street on a crowded Saturday evening. Except for that mildly unaesthetic radiator up front.

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

What was Honda thinking? The company had a whole bunch of bikes in the showrooms that year, 40 different models covering all the bases, from shopping-friendly Passports to huge Gold Wing touring platforms. Even a V-twin cruiser, the 750 Shadow. And a second V-4, the 750 V45 Magna, introduced the year before.

This all began with Soichiro Honda’s wanting to again be celebrated for putting an entirely new machine on the market. The world remembers (although this may be news to some of the younger generation) when he introduced the overhead camshaft, in-line four back in 1969, beginning the evolution of the UJM — Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Now the V-4 would do it again…he hoped.

But the backroom boys wanted to create a jaw-dropper, knock the American public back on its heels, as they used to say. The 750cc V45 was just a starting point for creating a machine the likes of which the motorcycle crowd had never seen. The V65’s majorly oversquare engine, with a 79.5mm bore and 55.3mm stroke, would cheerfully rev to 10 grand, with maximum rear-wheel power of 105 horses coming on at 9,500, redline at 10,000. A lot could go wrong with 16 valves popping up and down 10,000 times a minute, but Honda’s engineers made sure nothing untoward would happen.

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

These horses came from using some appropriate fiddling inside the head, with the four valves having a rather narrow 38-degree included angle. This and the shape of the combustion chamber effectively put the fuel as close to the spark plug as possible, compressed 10.5 times. Bang, bang, bang, bang — and the crankshaft spins.

Four constant-vacuum 36mm carbs, by Keihin, were accessible by lifting the gas tank. These had an easily changeable paper air cleaner. Fuel consumption was less than 40 mpg, but range was no problem as most riders wanted to get off after an hour or so. And at the time the U.S. was blessed (cursed?) with the 55-mph speed limit, so highway riders on the V65 had an excuse for not going very fast. With the V65 ergonomics city traffic was preferable to the interstates.

Power ran via straight-cut gears back to a hydraulically operated clutch. This had a diaphragm spring as an essential part of the device, which the engineers knew would be much abused, with the single diaphragm offering more consistent control than a multi-spring unit.

The gearbox had five speeds plus an overdrive sixth. If the bike could have pulled 10 grand in sixth gear, its top speed would be better than 170 mph. A more practical (!!) top speed was 140 in fifth. If the rider could hang on!

1985 Honda V65 Magna
1985 Honda V65 Magna.

A full-cradle frame, with double downtubes, held this unit-construction herd semi-firmly in place, as rubber mounts were used to keep any vibrations hidden away. Which were few as the 90 degrees between the two pairs of cylinders presumed good balance, enhanced by that short 55mm stroke. A shaft final drive went out the left side, so those Levi’s would be nice and clean on cruise night, not having to put up with an oily chain. An air-adjustable 41mm fork suspended the front end, with an anti-dive unit. Rake was a pretty lazy 30.5 degrees with more than four inches of trail, and while this was OK in town, it was best not to get too optimistic out on the twisties. At the back a pair of shock absorbers had all the adjustments: spring preload, rebound and compression damping. The fork had almost six inches of travel, the swingarm a little more than four inches. Axle to axle measurement was just shy of 63 inches.

Cast wheels were 18 inches at the front and 16 at the back, with two discs at the front and a single at the back, all three squeezed by twin-piston calipers.

This power cruiser was designed by the Los Angeles boys for the American market, because the rest of the motorcycling world was not much interested in cruiser styling, preferring standard or sport. Honda hoped that the numbers would blow the Harley riders into the weeds.

Which they did. Quarter-mile times? Don’t even think about them. The 1,338cc Harley was in the 14-second category, and couldn’t break 100 mph. While the 1,098cc V65? In the 10s!! At 125 mph! More numbers? At $4,000 this V65 was at least three grand less expensive than a Harley.

What Honda had failed to realize was that in the cruising world of the 1980s, style was far more important than performance. Power cruisers would be a passing fancy, whereas Honda’s Fury model of today is a V-twin.

One final note: apparently somebody in the 1980s was selling a supercharger kit for the V65 Magna. Boggles the mind!

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1958-1966 Matchless G12/CS/CSR 650

1961 Matchless G12CS
1961 Matchless G12CS. Owner: Steve Eorio, Paso Robles, California.

The 1950s and ’60s were the era of the UBM — Universal British Motorcycle — a parallel OHV twin sitting upright in the frame, in the 500cc to 750cc range. The original UBM was the Triumph 5T Speed Twin of 1938, soon to be copied by half a dozen of the major British motorcycle companies. Matchless, which built its first motorcycle at the Plumstead works in southeast London around 1901, came up with its own version in 1948, the 498cc G9, with a 66 x 72.8mm bore and stroke. And a fully sprung frame, with a swingarm rear suspension.

It should be noted that in the 1930s Matchless bought the AJS marque and the company became Associated Motor Cycles, Ltd., or AMC, the major difference between the two brands being the lettering on the gas tank.

The G9 engine differed from other UBMs in that it had a third bearing on the crankshaft, between the two connecting rods, to give added strength. The engine’s dry sump lubrication system used the camshaft to run two oil pumps, one on each side of the crank, aiding in efficient lubrication; apparently these engines could go 75,000 miles before any major work was needed. Quite remarkable for a UBM of the era, when top-end jobs were often done at 20,000 miles, bottom-end at 40,000.

1961 Matchless G12CS

The two cylinders were separate, as were the heads, and while this seemed to work well with the 500, as the engine grew larger the lack of rigidity appeared to enhance vibration. During the 1950s most factories increased the size of the engine, with 650cc being considered the maximum reasonable size for a UBM, due to those vibratory concerns. In 1955 Matchless elected to bore out the engine to 72mm for an increase to 593cc — called a 600, designated as a G11. This was followed by the G11CS, or Competition Sprung, a street-legal scrambler with easily removable lights, and the G11CSR, a more roadworthy version, often called the Coffee Shop Racer. The CS models came with higher compression ratios and other performance enhancements…and often more problems. The frame used a single downtube to meet up with the full cradle holding the engine.

In 1958 Matchless offered 17 different models, including the first G12 650. The very important American market had been demanding that 650, the dealers needing it to compete with the Triumph and BSA 650s. Small problem: the engine could not be bored out any more. Solution: increase the stroke to 79.3mm, or 646cc. That was the G12, with the basic road-going model having valanced fenders and a reliable 7.5:1 compression ratio, and two sportier CS models with an 8.5:1 compression ratio and light alloy fenders.

1961 Matchless G12CS

The restroked engine required a new crankshaft, made of “nodular” iron, which flexed enough to reduce vibrations. It was also designed to incorporate a Lucas alternator, though still with six-volt electrics. A new frame with twin downtubes now welded to the full cradle was developed, which did help in reducing the vibration inherent in a 650 vertical twin using a 360-degree crankshaft, although the single-tube frame was also used. The motorcycle seen here, which was built from bits and pieces, has a 1961 G12 engine in a 1959 single downtube frame. An AMC Teledraulic fork is up front, a pair of Girling shock absorbers at the back.

Gas tanks varied in size according to the model and year, but this ’61 G12CS carried only two gallons, all you would need in a race, and was said to weigh 425 pounds with a full tank. And with 5.3 pints of oil in the reservoir.

Other changes occurred over the G12’s years, including 12-volt electrics, sending out decent visibility from the seven-inch headlight. The basic G12 had 18-inch wheels, while this CS was running 19-inchers. Distance between the axles was a little more than 55 inches. Brakes were single-leading-shoe drums, an eight-incher on the front, seven on the back.

1961 Matchless G12CS

One interesting bit of history is that the Matchless marque was originally sold in the U.S. by Californian Frank Cooper, who became the AMC importer around 1946. He did quite well selling singles to win desert races, though the twins were not as popular.

In 1953, AMC acquired financially troubled Norton, although Norton production and sales remained quite separate, the U.S. importer being Joe Berliner, or J.B. Then, in 1960, AMC bought the Indian Sales Corp., which had been selling rebadged Royal Enfields — this was to get the Indian dealers, such as they were, to sell Matchboxes rather than Royal Oilfields. And AMC summarily fired Cooper, after 14 years of good work.

However, AMC filed for bankruptcy in 1962 (Cooper must have laughed), resulting in Matchless being merged more closely with Norton, and Berliner having to deal with Matchless as well. In early 1963, J.B. Matchless Corp. put a full-page ad in Cycle magazine promoting the G12CS and G12CSR…along with the 750cc G15 Matchless, which looked surprisingly like the Norton Atlas model that had appeared in 1962. In 1963 that old 1952 Matchless/Norton arrangement, keeping them separate, changed drastically as bill collectors were pounding on both doors, and Norton production moved from its old Birmingham factory 100 miles southeast to Plumstead.

Not surprisingly, interest in the G12 waned considerably. The last Matchless ad I could find in a U.S. moto-mag was in Cycle’s July 1966 issue, featuring the Atlas-based G15, and mentioning one G12CSR and two G80 singles. At the time British bureaucrats, knowing nothing about motorcycles, thought they could save the industry by merging Matchless, AJS and Norton into the company of an affluent entrepreneur and racecar driver, Dennis Poore. Poore was already looking after the Villiers engineering firm, which made most of the British two-stroke motorcycle engines. The Matchless and AJS names dropped from sight, and the new company was called Norton-Villiers.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Retrospective: 1967-1969 Kawasaki C2TR 120 Road Runner

1967 Kawasaki C2TR 120 Road Runner. Owner: Cliff Schoening, Bremerton, Washington.

This was a little cutie, and inexpensive, too. Just $430 ($3,200 today) would get you this minimalist high-piped single in 1967. Not that the bike was set up for quarter-mile times, but a real lightweight rider with a strong wind at his back might break 20 seconds. What do you expect from a 120?

Kawasaki was the last of the Japanese Big Four to get into the American market, when an American-owned subsidiary appeared in Chicago in 1963 offering a few two-stroke singles. Early ads promoted its connection with the Kawasaki Aircraft Co. Ltd., which was shut down following WWII but started building planes again in 1954. The big K soon saw the error of its ways and set up a Kawasaki-owned operation in Los Angeles in 1965, sensibly giving the Americans involved a good deal of say in what should be built for the U.S. market. 

Two-stroke singles were the rage, cheap and simple, the essential engine having just three moving parts. In the home market Kawasaki knew that winning on Sunday meant selling on Monday, so it worked hard to score points in the racing world of Japan, using rotary valves instead of the old-fashioned piston-port design and applying the same sophistication to its street bikes.

In 1964 Kawasaki showed the C2SS (Street Scrambler) to the home market, an attractive little single intended for the pavement, with a stylish upswept exhaust pipe. It also offered the “trail kit,” an optional bundle of pieces that would turn this into a proper trail bike…of sorts. The kit had an adapter for raising the front fender, a luggage rack and a second rear sprocket mounted next to the stock one. The stock sprocket had 37 teeth and a first-gear ratio of 25:1. In a few minutes time the rider could loosen a few bolts and slide the new 59-tooth sprocket over the old one, giving a ratio of 40:1. Good for going up Mount Fuji!

In 1967 two very similar C2 120 models came to the U.S., the TR (Trail Rider) and the SS, both with street-scrambler styling. Obviously the word was that Americans thought that an upswept exhaust system was cool, and that occasionally leaving the pavement was great fun. The bikes were also given the Road Runner name. Most of us can remember the Road Runner cartoon character, a bird that was always being chased across the desert by Wile E. Coyote. The owner’s manual had an illustration of the bird. Obviously the California fellows thought this would be a great name for the bike, but there is no mention of whether the KMC execs ever asked “Looney Tunes” for permission.

The TR was slightly more off-road oriented, having knobbier tires, a smaller front fender mounted well above the wheel, slightly shortened saddle, bash plate and a big luggage rack — for carrying all that camping gear for the trip into the wilderness. Although the engine was a bit on the small side for anyone wanting to tackle rough, steep terrain.

The cylinder was aluminum with a cast iron liner and was almost square, with a 53mm bore, 52.5mm stroke for an actual 115cc and a compression ratio of 6.7:1. The factory was claiming 11.5 horses at 7,000 rpm, which was a small herd from a small paddock, with one pony for every 10cc; very neat. The advertised torque curve — what there was of it — was pleasantly flat, with 6.5 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm, maxing out at 9.1 lb-ft at 5,000 and dropping off to 7 lb-ft at an over-revved 8,000.

An 18mm Mikuni carburetor was coupled with an automatic lubrication system, called Superlube. The oil tank, easily accessible under the seat, delivered the lubricant (the amount being dependent on the throttle opening) to the front of the rotary valve, where it would mix with the gas. Fouling plugs was a thing pretty much of the past.
Oil-level viewing was on the left side panel.

The engine cases, made of aluminum alloy, held the cylinder up front, gearbox behind. Power ran back to a four-speed transmission of the rotary style, which meant the rider could go all the way around from fourth directly to neutral to first gear, or shift backwards through third and second. The shift lever was heel and toe so downshifting could be done without besmirching the rider’s white bucks. Remember those? 

The chassis did have some off-road pretensions, the photo model having a curious optional brace bolted to the lower legs of the fork and looping over the wheel in front of the fender. It may also have fended off the brush that an enthusiastic rider might get into. The full double-cradle frame was made of mild steel and very strong by the swingarm pivot. The double-cradle aspect extended to a pair of tubes forming the backbone under the tank and then going farther back from the main cradle to support the saddle and the tops of the two shock absorbers. Even with the aforementioned bash plate, there was more than six inches of ground clearance. Suspension was, well, not competitive, but quite adequate for the college-aged fellow who liked having a coed pressed against his back as they cruised the city streets.

Wheels were 18 inches at both ends, with small drum brakes that worked OK considering the speeds the Road Runner went. Forty-five inches between the axles made for a short machine. With 1.7 gallons of gas in the tank, weight was a modest 186 pounds.

The C2 Road Runners went away late in 1969; did “Looney Tunes” have anything to do with that?

Source: RiderMagazine.com