With motorcycles, you don’t celebrate birthdays but rather milestones. Actual birthdays on stock bikes are hard to measure past month/year, and birthdays for customized bikes are arbitrary – when I started the project? When I finished it? It’s a process usually with no clear starting and frequently no clear ending point; a customizer’s job is never done.
Yesterday, the bike I’ve had for the second longest period of time turned over 30,000 miles on the odometer. It’s a 1973 Honda CB350F that I bought in 1997 for $500. It looked sharp and was pretty clean other than a small seep in the head gasket and shitty four-into-two aftermarket exhaust. It ran great. This bike is also what I learned a lot on: complete tune ups, electrical, carb work, rebuilt the master cylinder.
First thing I did was change the bars to drag bars. Then I wanted to redo the exhaust – the shitty exhaust it came with had holes, and was dumpy looking. I went to the junkyard in Rye with Chris Farrell just after buying the bike, and got a great deal on a 1975 CB400F exhaust system in great shape: $125. He also had a set of stock four-into-four CB350F exhaust for the same price. If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought both. On a subsequent trip up there a couple of years later, he had lost his mind (I’m claiming it’s a meth front), and was asking $500 for the CB350F exhaust (which, to be fair, isn’t that bad of a price). He also wanted $80 for a dented up CB500T tank, which is ridiculous.
I got the exhaust down to Phoenix. It fit my engine just fine, but it didn’t fit the peg set up. I went to Bob’s junkyard in Phoenix for the first time, and found a set of 400F pegs, shifter linkage and rear brake lever. Yep – they were set back about 6” but mounted in the same way. They bolted right up and everything fit nicely. I also decided to switch to clubmans. I went back and forth for a few months, but I’ve been rocking clubmans on it pretty much since then.
I also decided to get some of the chrome redone: exhaust, fenders, headlight ring. They all cleaned up nicely, got it done at Papago plating for around $150. Great first-time experience, but I have since had two bad ones and now go only to Metro Plating in Mesa.
The only other major cosmetic work was switching out the gas tank after the clear coat on the original tank failed so it looked like shit (and the new tank was stock and the same color), and replacing the stock seat. No need to rejet the carbs – it’s got a stock airbox and the 400F exhaust works just fine.
I got into the only motorcycle accident I have ever been in on this bike. An underage drunk driver made an illegal left into a liquor store parking lot right in front of me. I clipped his rear end, the bike went down, I jumped off, and landed on my feet 10-15 feet away (I wasn’t going that fast). As I pushed my bike off the street and into the liquor store parking lot, the Indian owner was yelling at me: “You can’t put that there! You’re drunk! (I wasn’t) I’m going to call the cops!” “Yes,” I answered, “Call the cops.” The teenager barely realized he had pulled in front of me, but when I told him what happened he and his friends turned from going into the liquor store to going to a nearby gas station to buy gum. When the cop showed up, he wasn’t there; bad sign. Cops took him to jail, I walked my bike the ½ mile home. I settled with their insurance for $1200, double the cost of the bike, which allowed me to replace the scratched up turn signals and points cover, bent bars, and broken brake lever. I pocketed over a grand. In the days after the accident, I had a relapse of malaria and spent three days in the hospital. I got out the next weekend, and promptly got rear ended in my 1970 Dodge Dart (with a 318, I miss that thing). The Dart also cost me $500, and I collected $13oo on that, sold the car for $500, and then bought my ’64 Valiant convertible.
Texas Dan rebuilt the engine for me when I burned a valve. It developed a bit of a timing chain rattle after that, but it’s not that bad and it hasn’t jumped a tooth or anything.
The bike runs like a champ. When I got it, it had around 8,000 miles. So in the past 15 years, I’ve averaged only about 1500 miles a year (although I’ve lived out of the country/Phoenix for the equivalent of about 3 or 4 years in that time period. It’s reliable, starts right up, and passes emissions with a quick tune up (or sometimes without). People are always stoked on it; it’s a great looking bike the way it is, mostly stock. I had a $2,200 offer on it a couple months back, but declined. I think it’s not that bad of an offer, actually, but I don’t want to sell it (and, truth be told, the CB350Fs are being recognized as collectible and rarer than there slightly bigger but younger brother the CB400F, which also has a 6th gear).
I never go very far on this one, mostly zipping around town. But you can lean way into corners and throw it around, it holds 75 pretty easily, and it stops reliably. This thing is a champ, and it’s going to be fun riding it in the suburban twisties when I make the move to Boston this summer.
And the bike as a painting, thanks to Meg and painter and friend Virginia Earle. Link to blodge post with all three of Virginia's paintings (including '64 Plymouth convertible and '69 CB160) here.