Every now and then I come into contact with a classic enthusiast who is a lover of a particular make or model. Not long ago I had the pleasure of meeting Randall Washington who had built a supercharged Gold Wing, and before that Justin James best known as the "Tiger 90 man."
Doing some research recently on the Honda 305s, I came across the William Silver's name on a forum dedicated to the Honda parallel-twins. William has been around Hondas since he bought one in 1967: a CL90.
Besides two books on Honda motorcycles (History of the Honda Scrambler and Classic Honda Motorcycles), William has a vintage Honda repair guide (available on a CD) that can be found on many Honda classic forums.
Here's the dilemma: you want the public to have the chance to see and hear (especially hear) the iconic Honda RC161 on a race track. You have one, and you have a spare engine. But the complete bike is too rare to risk on a race track. What do you do?
Solution: Build a replica.
That may sound easy, but in the real world (not "real TV" shows where cars and bikes get built in less than a week), building a replica is no easy task. This is particularly true when the bike in question is a rare classic racer.
The Barber Vintage museum staff had this dilemma when they acquired a RC161 Honda complete with a spare engine. It was a long and challenging project that the entire museum staff, in particular Chuck Huneycutt, can be very proud of and, if you are lucky, can be seen and heard occasionally lapping the Barber Motorsport track.
Looking at the various displays at a classic show recently I was intrigued to see how many variations there were of the XS 650 Yamaha. This model seems to have been used for most forms of motorcycle sport, including road racing and sidecar MX!
But the XS story isn't just about competition. The XS Yamaha has been used as a basis for a café racer, a bobber and, unbelievably, the engine was used as a power unit for a helicopter in Australia!
It seems that there are certain Yamaha classics that the enthusiasts just love, and they will do anything to keep them going. The XS is a good example, and the good news is that parts are readily available, which is a big part of classic motorcycling. In addition, with a production run of seventeen years, there are plenty of Yamaha XS650s to choose from.
Motorcycle manufacturers know all about brand loyalty. Get a rider to buy into your brand with his or her first bike and the chances are they will stick with you.
This basic marketing tool can be seen many times in the world of classic motorcycles. Take two Japanese bikes in particular: the Yamaha DT1 and the Kawasaki Bushwaker. Both of these bikes were intended to have a dual purpose--off-road riding and street use. The performance and price of these machines were similar and many American buyers, new to motorcycles, bought one or the other as their first bikes.
Today, both the DT and the Bushwaker are collectable little classics in their own right, but many times riders looking to buy their first classic will buy a particular brand because their first motorcycle was one of these. Brand loyalty obviously works.
As a dealer I got to ride most of the models brought in by the importers, Suzuki in my case. But if I had worked for the importers, I would probably have been able to ride all of the available models over time. And so it is with Peter Van Blarcom, who works for Honda Canada. Regular readers will remember Pete is part of the Associate Riders Club of Honda Canada who recently restored a CB750F (featured on this site).
In conversation with Pete recently, I asked him which three bikes from the Honda range he remembers most. His responses can be found here:
During the recent Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival, I got the chance to ride my Triumph Tiger 90 around the famous race track during a parade lap, after the main on-track events of Friday. It had been a long time since I had ridden on a race track (1989 during the Anglo Irish match races at Cadwell Park in the UK). However, I had driven around the Barber track in a race car more recently, but that's another story.
First impressions of the track from a rider's point of view are that it has great corners and much elevation change (ironically similar to Cadwell Park!). Some of the sections are flowing and others are "stand it on the nose" under braking, and throw it on its side (OK, don't do this with an old bike, but you get the picture).
Bottom line here is this, if you get the chance to do a few laps on a proper race track, do it. It's great fun and will give you an appreciation for the riders who travel at much higher speeds during the races.
It was raining. I began to brake as I pulled the clutch in to change down. The bike got faster! If you have ever ridden one of the early Japanese superbikes with their original brakes (pads in particular) you may well have come across the phenomenon of putting the brakes on and experiencing the bike's speed increase.
The reason for the apparent increase in speed was down to the engine braking being removed from the braking equation. Once the brakes had removed the water from the rotors, the brakes worked much better (not as good as the fully developed twin-leading-shoe brakes of the time, however!).
Today the world of motorcycle braking systems has changed dramatically. Not only are modern bikes equipped with brakes that would not have been out of place on a Grand Prix racer not long ago, but new materials are now available for most classic and vintage bikes.
Note: If you ride an original Japanese superbike in the wet, and it still has the original braking components fitted, make sure you 1) lightly apply the brakes now and then to keep them relatively dry and 2) leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front. Ride carefully!
According to a press release by the Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling Press Office, this year's classic TT saw visitor numbers increase some 50%. This number was based on a study done this year comparing visitor numbers to the 2009 Manx Grand Prix when a similar study was done by the Isle of Man Government's Treasury Economic Affairs Division (EAD).
The research showed that visitors to the Island spent a total of £8.4M compared with £4.9M in 2009.
Interestingly, one of the biggest increases was the amount of people coming to the island by air. Ronaldsway airport officially reported an increase of some 11.6% of passengers for this year's event compared to the 2009 Manx GP.
The success of the event bodes well for the future. So, if you would like to see some the most famous racing motorcycles ever made, being ridden on one of the world's most famous race tracks, make a date to visit the Classic TT in 2014. (16th to the 31st of August).
When I first came to the US (in 1989) I was shocked to find so many motorcycles needed their carburetors cleaning to get the gum out. The dealership I was based at (Honda and Kawasaki agencies) typically did this job on someone's bike every day. In some cases (Japanese 4s in particular) the labor charge could be four hours and, to do the job properly, it took the mechanics every minute of those four hours!
After some research I found that the formulation for gasoline in the US (as governed by law) was considerably different from that of the UK or Europe. Regardless of the pros and cons of the formulation, and its effect on the environment, the bottom line was that owners had to be careful not to leave fuel in a bike without running it for no longer than a few weeks or the primary (idle) jets in particular could become gummed up (the telltale sign of this is when the bike will only run on the choke).
Today the modern fuels have different formulations and typically have Ethanol added (E10 for example). This "new fuel" has side effects that can be a major problem for classic and vintage bike owners, in particular the damage to 'O' rings and seals.
You have to give it to the Brits; there are some very skilled metal workers among them. This is especially true of the many small companies producing anything from fairings to complete rolling frames.
One company that was very successful started as what could be described a typical British cottage industry type: the Rickman Motorcycle Company.
The two Rickman brothers, Derek and Don, took their business from a small garage/repair shop to international recognition on every continent.
Today the Rickman frames are highly sought after by classic buyers. The good news is that there are plenty of Rickman frames still around and new ones can still be purchased from the UK.