In the past few months a nest of vintage Honda bikes and mostly new riders have surfaced in an area called South Park, just east of the downtown San Diego district. Three of the four bike owners were young women, mostly in their thirties. The bikes were their “first bike” rides and unfortunately the purchases were made without consulting Bill or other local bike shops which might have been able to give an unbiased report of their conditions.
The owners were all referred to Bill by other bike customers/friends in the area, after the fact, so the preliminary reviews of their purchases were somewhat disheartening to both parties. First up came an XL350 followed by a CL360, both of which were owned by a couple. The XL350 was a hard starter, plus had some oil leaks and other long-term storage issues. The CL360 had an ominous rattle which seemed like it was coming from a damaged camchain tensioner (a Honda recalled item, back in the 1970s). A quick check of the CL360 included a compression test, valve adjustment, camchain adjust, ignition timing reset and external carb adjustments. Nothing too far out of normal was found but the deep engine knocking sound remained. The carbs were on pod filters, so were readily removable for a quick check of the float levels, jets, carb diaphragms and general cleanliness. The bike had some surging/misfiring issues that were a combination of tuning and some bad spark plug caps. There was an issue with a leaking fork seal, which later turned into a big issue as the Allen bolt in the bottom of the fork housing stripped out. In the end the bike was rideable but best left for accompanied short trips around town.
The XL350 is kick-start only, of course and Bill’s knee replacement left questions about the ability to actually start the engine using the rebuilt knee joint. After doing general service work on the bike, it appeared that the spark was weak and random to the plug. There was a signal coming up from the stator, but it wasn’t sufficient to generate a good spark at the coil output end. A new coil was tried, then a good used stator coil. Apparently the primary coil windings were shorted and not generating a proper voltage signal to the secondary coil. Once proper spark was obtained, the rest worked out okay and the bike was successfully kick-started a couple of times before the owner came to pick it up. Next time a kick-start only bike comes along for repairs, it better be a 125cc version.
So this vintage Honda couple eventually referred another woman to me for repairs on her “first new bike,” a 1975 CB360. Again, if Bill had been consulted before the sale, a lot of work and $$ would have been saved. This bike showed up with a 2:1 exhaust, Mikuni carb conversion, turn signals removed and signs of multiple crashes. The centerstand was twisted, the brake pedal bent and then re-heated to return it to something close to original shape and the bike was unreliable in starting and running. A friend had already removed the centerstand, as it was hitting the exhaust pipes and there were concerns about the handlebar switches, one of which was not an original 360 style unit.
It was a house-call to check the bike over and then it was obvious that the next step was to just load it into my truck for serious reworking at home. The day after it was brought in, a Craigslist posting offered a “CL360-Cheap” in Spring Valley late one evening. I left messages and the bike not only turned out to be located less than 2 miles from the house, but it also had a solid set of OEM CB360 mufflers hung on it. Who knows why CB mufflers were affixed to the CL chassis, but there were no complaints from my customer. The parts bike also provided turn signals, spare carb set and straight centerstand along with the rarely seen OEM CB360 muffler set. That was $300 well spent. Subsequently the header system and other small chassis parts were sold for $100, the carb set sold on eBay for $250 and the rest of the chassis went to a newbie for $150. This all helped lessen the impact of my ten-plus hours of labor to swap out parts, rebuild the forks and front brake, wire up the turn signals, install the centerstand and mufflers, plus do some careful tuning. Sadly, the right side cylinder has some oiling issues, so if the rings don’t loosen up either a hotter spark plug (B7ES) or more serious engine work would be necessary. So far, the bike has kept hitting on both sides and the rider has been just taking local trips to build up her experience and confidence. At last report she had gotten it up to about 50 mph and was delighted to be able to do that.
After the 360 was dialed-in and returned, another message came to me from a young woman who was a long-time friend of the CB360 gal. This one had a CB175, which was here “first bike” and she wanted it to be diagnosed for hard starting, stalling and low power when climbing hills back from downtown San Diego. Again, this is a small circle of friends, who literally all live within a few miles of each other. An appointment was made for a house-call and the tools that were thrown into the spare cardboard box wound up being sufficient to affect repairs on the CB175. This time the battery voltage was checked and found to be within range (12.5-ish volts). The next check was ignition timing and that was discovered to be about 9 degrees late. The spark plugs were a little crusty, but useable and the bike fired up almost immediately. But the engine didn’t sound quite right, as if it was only hitting on one side.
The spark plug cap on the right side appeared to be some kind of lawn mower connector which required the screw-on nut used on automotive type plug wires. The left side cap was OEM Honda, but as it was removed from the wire, all you could see was a mass of gooey, black rubber inside the plug cap recess and on the end of the plug wire itself. The wire end was snipped back about ½” and the plug cap connector spike was flushed out with WD40 and a small screwdriver until the metal was shiny once again. Once the plug cap was secured back onto the refreshed wire end, the bike started sounding like the CB175s that I have had experience with in the past; quick to rev and pulling well in lower gears. I turned it back over to the owner for a test ride and she came back smiling. I asked her how often she was checking the oil and a blank stare came over her face…. “You have to check the oil? How/where do you do that?”
Her bike’s centerstand was wired up to the chassis due to a enlarged centerstand pivot bolt hole, so we had to hold the bike up vertically and then she was shown how to remove the dipstick, clean the end, dip it back into the filler hole and check the level to be sure it was between the two marks. When that step was performed, the stick came back dry on the tip! Fortunately, there was some quality oil in the garage, so we topped it off and checked it again. This time it was up to the upper mark, so all is well. Often a bike with an oil level down below the low mark will seize when ridden hard, but due to the fact that the bike had been running poorly and not ridden very far or fast, no damage was evident. We went over the other maintenance procedures including checking the drive chain and keeping sufficient air in the tires and that brought the session to a close.
Both women had taken one of the local motorcycle driver training classes, but it seems like they were not taught the basics of maintenance during that class, which is very unfortunate. Tire pressure, oil level check, drive chain maintenance and cable/brake adjustments are all critical to proper functioning of the motorcycle, not to mention the safety issues related to overlooking these important riding steps. Many of today’s modern bikes have minimal on-going safety and maintenance issues compared to those requirements of vintage machines, so it is easy to go into “appliance mode” as far as daily checks go. But if you have read recent stories about the CBR300R crankshaft failure in this column, even modern bikes can use oil which can lead to catastrophes. Tire pressures always drop down slowly each month, no matter if you have tube-type or tubeless tires. Drive chains are more hardy these days, but still need a look and some lube periodically. Vintage bikes are great rejuvenators of the soul, but they are NOT appliances. Constant vigilance is the key to trouble-free vintage bike ownership.