Some of us are motorcycle philanderers—we have multiple bikes, buying, trading, crashing and selling them off like debauched sultans. But some of us, like Oaklander Shelli Bohrer, get attached to the bike they love and find it hard to part with them.
Seven years ago,Shelli was riding her much-loved ’75 Honda CB400F to the gym after work when a teenaged driver, “seemingly on a whim” turned into her path, hitting her bike. The teenage driver took off. As Shelli (who was uninjured—she’s in the motorcycle apparel business, not one to ride around unprotected) and witnesses scrambled to remember the car’s license plate number, incredibly, amongst the twisted wreckage of Shelli’s fire-engine red baby, someone noticed the front plate of the car lying amidst the shards. The driver turned himself in a few days later.
Justice was served, but Shelli’s bike was a wreck. But even though the frame was twisted, there were still a lot of salvageable parts: the rare sidepanels with original stickers, the shocks that resembled the stockers but worked far better, and the miraculously rust-free four-into-one headers and NOS muffler. And then, as Shelli was planning to put the disembodied bits of her bike into deep storage, her friend Nancy offered to sell her daily-driver ’76 CB400F.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy Nancy’s bike because I was so distraught about my own,” recalls Shelli. “I didn’t think that I wanted to care about a bike that much again.” But to paraphrase Tom Petty, the heart has a mind of its own, and a deal was struck. Once again Shelli was riding a Supersport.
If you don’t remember the ’70s—either because you were too young, didn’t yet exist or were too stoned—the Supersport was one of the iconic bikes of that decade. It was also important; it was Japan’s first stab at a cafe racer, with clean, minimalist European styling that was a departure from the 1940s-styled Brit bikes and 1930s-styled Harleys that dominated the moto-landscape. And it offered performance to match its low bars, rearset pegs and race-style tank—the six-speed motor revved to 10,000 rpm, the four-into-one exhaust sounded as good as it looked, and the 390-pound wet weight meant it was much more flickable and fun to ride than the bigger (and admittedly, way faster) multi-cylinder machines. It was only in production three years (1975-1977) and has since become one of the more collectible bikes of the ’70s, with clean examples fetching $5000 or more.
“That CB was the first bike that was really mine. I poured a lot of love and some money into it,” Shelli reminisces. “It was clean, reliable and fun…it was my baby.” Definitely worth saving, so she took her faithful-yet-tired ’76 and her boxes of parts to see Charlie O’Hanlon at Charlie’s Place in San Francisco. O’Hanlon is one of the luminaries of San Francisco’s vibrant vintage Honda scene (www.charliesplace.com; 415/255-0316), an undisputed master of getting vintage metal to run, go, stop—and look like new.
You can’t get your youth back—but you can get the bike from your youth. And make it better than ever.