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MD Moto-Musings: Wrenching in the ’70s

As a bike-crazy kid when I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1971, I wasted no time finding the best motorcycle shop in town. Mid-South Wheel and Custom was started by a Super Enthusiast as a BSA, Norton, Triumph, Penton, Puch, and Yamaha. Beyond complete bike sales and service, if you wanted a dirt race bike, his shop could build it and set it up. If you wanted a street custom with a wild paint job, the shop was ready to provide it. But when I started working there as a mechanic in 1975, the Super Enthusiast had sold the shop, and the “concept” had been trimmed back somewhat to a steady sales and service Yamaha dealer, with a little dirt racing on the side. The British makes were on the ropes anyway, although we still serviced them and sold their parts.

Although I didn’t suspect it, the first repair job given to me was a hazing as well as a genuine test. Behind the shop—in all weather—was an unruly pile of salvaged motorcycles protected from theft by a 12-foot steel cage. The Service Manager rolled one of those bikes into my bay with the simple instruction, “Get it running.” I didn’t see the smirks on the faces of the other mechanics who were laying mental bets against my success; I just jumped into the repair with youthful abandon. The red, mid-sixties YD250 twin had a seized motor. With a huge helping of chemical persuasion I pulled the cylinders and yanked the crankcase out of the frame, putting the whole thing right in the parts wash to flush the gunk out of the bottom end. I honed the cylinders, re-ringed it, and finished off with a new battery and a sharp tune-up after hanging the freshly rebuilt carbs. I shot WD-40 on a lot of stuff, but I didn’t even have to bleed the brake—they were both cable-operated drums, sonny. To everyone’s amazement except my own—I was too green—it fired on the second kick. Smiles all around, including the Service Manager, who wheeled the bike away. I’d passed my first test.

Our shop would service anything and I changed a lot of back tires. If you haven’t tried to put a stiff Swedish-made motocross knobby on an alloy rim, well, you haven’t struggled. Weeks later, a touring BMW needed a rear tire. This Beemer had a large contoured seat, the kind Corbin made famous, and a really big rectangular trunk set sideways behind the seat. It wouldn’t fit through the shop door so I decided to just remove the wheel in the parking lot and asked two other mechanics to help heave the beast onto its center stand. Very pleased with ourselves that we’d finally done it and hadn’t damaged anything, we started eyeing the trunk. It wasn’t the flimsy fiberglass we were used to on other touring trunks; it was very heavy and awfully well made. Too well made to be a typical motorcycle accessory of the 1970s. And very white…kind of angelic. After a moment’s contemplation, Andy says, “That’s a baby casket!” I guess our brains were starved of oxygen from all the recent exertion, but we just fell out laughing until tears ran down our faces. “Who puts a freakin’ baby casket on a motorcycle?” Gilbert said. “A BMW rider,” Andy said.

One Saturday, near the end of my time there as a mechanic, two guys brought in a wrecked late-model RD350 in the back of a pick up. It was for sale. Cheap. The engine started easily and ran well, so I bought it. At the time, these were the squids’ favorite for building canyon racers in California, but the style was all but unknown in big BR. The bike was the victim of a typical front-end collision, so I sourced a front wheel and gas tank from the attic. I installed new fork tubes, a sexy fiberglass front fender, and a small headlight from the Yamaha 200 twin. I cut back the rear fender and pruned the bike of everything I could: air box, reflectors, right mirror, turn signals, etc. I removed the stock foot pegs and turned the shift lever around to employ the passenger pegs as ad hoc rear-sets—just like I’d seen the Cycle magazine staffers do on their proddie racer. I performed a mild porting job on the cylinders under Andy’s tutelage and bought a set of expansion chambers.

Gilbert had his input, too. He had me trim the wiring so that there was no stop light switch on the front brake lever. “So when you pass a cop too fast, you can hit the brakes and he can’t see that you really did need to slow down.” As you can see, Gilbert was brilliant. The speedo was broken, so I threw it away. The crowning touch, all out of proportion to its simplicity, was the way I mounted the tach above the nice, low drag bars. Everyone commented favorably on this one mod. However, I have to admit to a bit of motorcycle vandalism here. I needed a bracket to mount the tach and I found, in the attic of course, a new old stock Bates skid plate for a Triumph desert sled. Yes, I carved an aluminum bracket from this virgin piece. Sure, no real Rocker rode a bike like this, but it gave the bike an unmistakable café-racer vibe. Shorn of speedo, its rev-clock set high like Tritons of yore. The bike would clear The Ton, too, and make it back before Rock Around the Clock was finished on the jukebox. Okay, considering the time and the location, maybe something by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

One day, a little late for work, I was blithely exceeding all the posted speed limits, and doubling a few. I had stopped, for what seemed like an age, to make a left across an expressway when I heard the sirens. Wow, I thought, they’ve got somebody under high-speed pursuit. Then the police car skidded to a halt in the gravel near my right foot. The cop jumped out and said, “I’ve been chasing you for miles. Didn’t you see me back there!?” Actually, no officer. Gulp. I guess you were too far back. He calmed down quickly, I think, because I was so polite and clueless. Fortunately he had never been close enough to actually clock my speed. I did get a vague ticket for “Excessive speed.” I was really lucky not to get a reckless driving charge.

No doubt, the bike was light and quick and effortless to ride fast. It was my main transport for a time, my long tangled ponytail streaming out behind my flat-black helmet. I made it to all the local hangouts. Not long after, I started seeing other stripped RD350s and 400s with drag bars around town.

I moved on to other jobs but I never forgot the lessons I learned at that crazy motorcycle shop. I’ve also come to realize it was a unique moment in time. The 1980s came and everything was different.

Rick DePuy is a reader and contributor to CityBike, Northern California’s independent motorcycling magazine.  Illustrations are by Jon Jensen.  Share your ’70s wrenching memories below!

34 Comments

  1. mechanicuss says:

    I was still playing with Pentons in N. AL in 1975 and I think I remember that guy down in Baton Rouge. Along with a Penton dealer in South Pittburgh, TN, they were part of an obscure lifeline I used to keeping my ’73 Jackpiner 175s running. Way before UPS; I could call them and they would mail me stuff. Things were still run in the “ole’ buddy” network style back then. By the way, talking about 2-strokes and how well they ran, that 175 KTM motor with the long intake manifold and the Bing carb was a real screamer – and VERY lightweight for the time. I had a CB500 at the time, and that 175 KTM motor would out-run that CB500 up to about 70mph, which then would overtake. There was a guy at the time who put that motor in a streamliner and did over 200mph at Bonneville – the details escape me; maybe other greybeards can fill in the details here. I raced Jackpiners until the KTM’s came out and were just too expensive to keep going compared to the Jap stuff. I bought one of the first Elsinore 250′s others have talked about and it had the same power characteristics as the Penton (but am I right? It did not have the 6th gear of the KTM). Both engines were peaky to the extreme, but I liked that in my youth. You could hold WOT and it would go rrrrrrrrrrrrZING! You had to keep it in that power band by shifting a lot. I used just 2 throttle settings: idle and WOT. Listen to old sound tracks and videos of the period and you can here us shifting those things in those power bands riNG-riNG-riNG RRRIIIINNNNGGGG…. dingy-dingy-ding ding ding. LOL those were the days. Miss that smell of castor Castrol.

  2. George Duncan says:

    S Calwel,

    Yes, I have been to Leroy’s beautiful store in Ft. Smith. It was one of the prettiest Honda dealerships I ever saw. It had carpeting in the service department (!?). Glad to hear that you are a CL77 enthusiast…I had one too. I actually scrambled it against Triumph and BSA 650′s back in 1967 (being a 305cc it was thrown into the open class). I also rode it in enduros (rode the “Busted Piston” enduro in Potosi, MO the fall of 1966 with it).

    Here is a funny story about Leroy that I think you will enjoy. It also ties to a story about Mr. Honda:

    Leroy and Mr. Honda

    An additional Leroy Winters story I had forgotten: In about 1965, Leroy rode a step-thru 50 (I think a C100) from his store in Ft. Smith, AR to Houston, TX. That is a distance of about 500 miles, one-way. He either did this as a publicity stunt, or it was just Leroy being Leroy.

    As I recall, he overheard some customer on his showroom floor, make a disparaging remark about Hondas not being “real motorcycles”…only Japanese toys. So he decided to pick the smallest bike in our lineup to make his point. That would have been about 40 hours in the saddle, round-trip. Like I said in previous posts, he was little, but he was tough.

    In some ways this reminds me of Mr. Honda getting furious when he heard the chairman of GM making this dismissive remark about the CVCC engine (after both Ford and Chrysler had bought the rights to it in the summer of 1973): “Well, I have looked at this design, and while it might work on some little toy motorcycle engine…I see no potential for it on one of our GM car engines.”

    When Mr. Honda heard this, he bought a 1973 V8 Impala, air-freighted it to Japan, designed and cast a set of CVCC heads for the Chevy engine, tested it in our own emission labs, then flew the car back to the EPA’s facility in Ann Arbor, and had it tested by them…where it passed the stringent 1975 emissions requirements. You didn’t mess with the old man…

  3. S Calwel says:

    George, I knew Dave Mungenast from about 1965 and Leroy Winters from the early 50′s when he ran his dad’s Harley shop in Ft Smith. Leroy was an incredibly talented rider, he was the first to win the premier Jack Pine Enduro on a small displacment bike, a much modifed Harley 165, in addition to later Int. 6 Days Trials US Team member. His little brother Robert “Bobby” won the 250 class at Daytona on Jody Nicholas’ bike after he fell in practice. There was no real money in AMA racing even if you were near or at the top. Just glory, a lot of hard work and injuries. He had the bikes, made all the big events and absolutely the neatest A-frame Honda Dealership with living quarters above it. I bought 305 Scrambler out of the first shipment from him. His friend Dave Mungnast was OK with doing the warranty work, but it never needed any. I was saddened to hear of Dave’s untimely passing. These guys were having more fun (and making money too) than anyone I knew. Leroy became a role model and someone I always admired. It was an exciting time to be into motorcycles.

  4. George Duncan says:

    The End of 2-Strokes

    Now that it is becoming more and more apparent that the 2-stroke engine will soon be extinct, and is headed for the museum (to be smiled at as some kind of oddity, and viewed similarly to a steam engine) I find myself a little saddened by this impending fate for this old engine design. This reaction on my part is a little surprising to me, as an avowed 2-stroke-hater. I have recently been thinking about the causes for this seemingly incongruous behavior on my part: not liking 2-strokes, but feeling a little sad that they are almost gone. (Although I’m sure the 4-stroke engine will be in the museum some day, too…but not in our lifetimes.)

    I didn’t always have this dislike for 2-strokes, in fact my first motorcycle was a 2-stroke Sears “Allstate” (made by the Austrian maker Puch)…and I still use a 33 year old Lawn Boy 2-stroke mower every week (I love the smell of 2-stroke smoke mixed with freshly-cut grass). I also had several friends who rode 2-strokes that I enjoyed woods riding with in the falls and winters of the mid-60’s. The smell of 2-stroke smoke mixed with burning leaves still evokes strong memories of those days. I always found their “popcorn popper” sound somewhat amusing.

    But then the 2-stroke stopped being comical and became threatening. The best I can tell, my dislike for 2-strokes goes back to the Honda-Yamaha wars of the 1960’s, with the 2-stroke / 4-stroke battle being played-out, both on American highways (the CB77 vs the YDS3) and on the GP tracks of Europe (Hon/Yam/Suz). In the summer of 1967, it became apparent that Honda was not going to be able to be competitive in the 1968 season, against the rapidly-developing 2-strokes of both Yamaha and Suzuki. This drove Honda to pull out of GP racing at the end of the ’67 season. I think that may be a large part of what embittered me against 2-strokes, since I so much enjoyed following Honda’s racing successes of that time…and those glory years of Honda 4-stroke dominance were cut short by a smelly, dirty 2-stroke that ran more on theory than apparent good design and common sense. (It’s like the old joke about a bumble-bee not being able to fly, based on the laws of physics…but the bee does not know it can’t fly, so it does fly. Well, the 2-stroke does not know it can’t run.)

    I still could not fully embrace the 2-stroke, even when Honda had their own successful version of one in the 80’s and 90’s GP bikes. I am not really enthusiastic about current 4-stroke GP bikes, since they all pretty much sound like 2-strokes. Guess I am still just a refugee from the Norton Manx, BSA Goldstar, Honda RC166 and SOHC Honda 750 days…at least as far as engine sound goes.

  5. George Duncan says:

    The Early Years: Honda’s 2 Overlooked Advantages

    I have recently been reflecting on Honda’s spectacular entry into the U. S. market in the 1960’s, and some of the reasons for their fabulous success. Of course, the most obvious reason was the wonderful quality and innovative design of its motorcycles…offering them at unbelievably attractive prices was the final capper. The ability to offer these prices was in large part driven by a Yen at 360/$. Take today’s bike prices times 0.25 and think how many bikes we could still be selling at that price.

    But I believe there were a couple of commonly overlooked advantages that Honda had when it entered this market in 1959, and on through the 60’s. The first is the Honda name…it was the least “Japanese-sounding” of all the big 4 makers from Japan. And while Japanese products are held in highest regard these days, their image was quite poor back then. The name “Honda” had a very neutral sound to it, and fell quite nicely on the American ear…as opposed to the grating sound of Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki. I can still recall derisive nicknames from that era applied by the public to all of those other makers, but I can’t recall one for Honda. Some riders even bought Hondas, not knowing that they were Japanese. When I worked the parts counter at a dealership in the late 60’s, I was completing a parts purchase with a customer, with his parts lying on the counter. He spotted a “Made in Japan” sticker on the parts box, and protested: “I don’t want to put any Japanese parts on my Honda”…it took some diplomacy to break the news to him about the origin of his entire bike. If this scenario happened once, you can bet it happened thousands of times across the country.

    A second big advantage was the old 2-stroke/4-stroke battle, with Honda (being the only 4-stroke maker of the big 4) coming out the big winner. The sound of 2-strokes had the same grating effect on most American ears that the names Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki did. I can remember being somewhat attracted to both the Suzuki X-6 and the Yamaha YDS-2 in those days (due to their high performance) but I could not get past that 2-stroke sound. As the rest of the makers began bringing out their own 4-stroke models in the early 70’s, Honda lost a big advantage.

  6. George Duncan says:

    The GL1000 Introduction

    I took special pride in being part of the original “GL1000 Road-Show” in the spring of 1975. The M/C division was looking for a way to launch this revolutionary new model in a new and dramatic way. I developed the concept of the “GL1000 Road-Show”, which I submitted to my Zone Manager, and my plan was adopted by top management. We launched the show in February 1975.

    This was the initial introduction of the Gold Wing to the general public, at the dealership level. Each Sales Rep took a full-sized van (with a new GL1000 inside it) on the road and did back-to-back, one-day Open Houses at every one of his dealers. This is where the famous “Nickel-Trick” was first used (balancing a nickel on edge on the valve-cover of a GL1000 and bringing up the RPM to 4,000 or 5,000 before the nickel falls over…illustrating the extreme smoothness of the flat-4 engine). Customers were so amazed by this demonstration of smoothness, they thought I was using a “doctored nickel”…I would dispel their suspicion by asking them for a nickel from their own pocket, and repeating the balancing act. (It did help if the nickel was fairly new, with a good sharp, square edge)

    I had 60 dealers in my district at that time, and I did one show a day for 60 days straight. (Fortunately I was single at that time) Several dealers had their highest one-day traffic count ever, during these one-day displays. I recall a very large crowd at one dealership, in the middle of a heavy February snowstorm.

    Dealers of that vintage have never forgotten this innovative introduction of that important model. That was a much more innocent time, both in our industry and in our society as a whole; I do not believe it would be possible to create that much customer interest with such a promotion in today’s market. But it was a brilliant move by Honda in that time and place. Such bold, innovative actions were common in the M/C division of that era.

  7. George Duncan says:

    Dave Mungenast

    Yes, I knew Dave Mungenast very well, and yes, I was privileged to be his rep for 6 years back in the 70′s. He was a tremendous motorcyclist, a good friend, and a very good man. I can still remember the first time I met him…it was the summer of 1969 and the CB750 had just come out. I worked for a Honda store in Columbia, Mo., and our shop had not yet received its first CB750. So one Saturday, some of the guys from the shop all decided to drive into St. Louis, because we had heard that St. Louis Honda had the first 750 in the area.

    We arrived at St. Louis Honda and walked into their shop (which was on Gravois at that time) and met Dave in the showroom. About every 15 minutes, enough of a crowd of customers would build up in the showroom, that Dave would deem it was time to let them see and hear Honda’s amazing creation. He would walk them all back into the shop and fire up the 750, which was slightly elevated on one of the mechanic’s lifts…so the crowd could see it better. I can still hear that intoxicating 4-cylinder sound that I heard for the first time that day, and see the astonished looks on the faces of the folks crowded around the bike. It was a great piece of showmanship by Dave.
    (I feel a little sad for the young guys coming-up today in our sport, because they will never have the electrifying experience that those of us had when seeing / hearing / riding our first CB750. Our sport (and society in general) has become so jaded and cynical, that no new model from any manufacturer will ever generate that kind of excitement again.)

    Dave was such a good businessman, it is hard to believe he got his start changing tires for Bob Schultz, back at Bob’s old shop on St. Charles Rock Road. I don’t know if you ever got to meet Schultz, but he was also a big part of Motorcycle history in that time. We owe him a big debt for nurturing Mungenast into this business. Yes, I think you are right, he was an equally good auto dealer.

    I was always impressed about how good he was with the Honda people from Japan. He was so thoughtful and patient with them when they would interview him about suggestions for future models. He did have a cycle ranch down south of St. Louis, and he was brought into the “inner circle” of Honda’s engineers that worked on the XL250 project. A lot of secret testing and development was done with Dave and the Japanese engineers at his private cycle ranch. It was an impressive display of his ability to earn the trust and respect of those engineers, considering Honda’s knee-jerk penchant for secrecy.

    Another colorful and neat Honda enthusiast and dealer (who I was also a rep for) was Leroy Winters, of Fort Smith, Ark. He and Dave were also great friends. He was a little guy, but very wiry and strong, and a great rider on smaller motorcycles. I think he had a lot of success on Harley 165′s (Pacer and Scat?) riding enduros in the late 50’s and 60’s. He took a Honda SL125 to the Six Days in 1971 (I believe) and got a silver medal. I hope you knew him, he and Dave were both a big part of Honda’s and the sport’s history.

  8. George Duncan says:

    THE CR250M Elsinore

    1) “In the beginning…”

    In the fall of 1972, there were a few whispers in the industry that Honda might be working on a new 2-stroke dirt bike. These rumors were generally dismissed as absurd by everyone, me included. “How could Honda, the most 4-stroke of all companies, even consider producing a filthy, smelly 2-stroke? Especially when Mr. Honda, himself, had said that he hated them. Plus, hadn’t we just brought out the excellent 4-stroke XL250 dirt bike to rave reviews in April of that year…how could this possibly be true?”
    Looking back, I should not have been so totally dismissive of this possibility. Yamaha had brought out their 4-stroke 650 twin, the XS-1, in 1970. If this, the most 2-stroke of all companies, brought out a 4-stroke, why couldn’t Honda do a 2-stroke? (I remember being incredulous when the XS-1 came out…it’s almost like I believed there was some kind of secret agreement among the big 4 Japanese makers that only Honda could make 4-strokes. I was certain that Yamaha’s effort would be a mechanical disaster, because I believed that they could not possibly have the know-how to make a good 4-stroke. Actually, the XS-1 was pretty good).

    In addition, earlier that fall (1972) Kawasaki had brought out their 900cc 4-stroke Z1 (so secret it was code-named the “New York Steak” during its development). So, to an objective observer, it was clear that the “tectonic plates” in our industry were starting to move, as far as to what type of bike each Japanese maker could (or would) make.

    (As an aside, I see that Kawasaki is now trying to perpetuate a story that they actually had a 750cc version of the Z1 just weeks away from release in 1969, when they were totally shocked by the surprise release of the CB750 by Honda. This supposedly forced them back to the drawing board to create a 900cc version of the Z1 that finally was released in the fall of 1972. I find this story pretty unlikely, why would it take them 3 years just to bore out their 750 to a 900, if it was really ready to release in 1969?)

    2) The January 1973 dealer convention…

    Back in those early days, it was up to the sales reps to unload from the transporter and detail all the new bikes that were shown in the displays at the dealer convention. When we opened the doors to the bike transporter and began unloading the bikes, the reps were all just stunned when they saw the CR250M for the first time. All those ridiculous rumors we had been hearing were TRUE!!

    It really took us a long time to get our heads around this reality. It was an especially hard task for the rabid 2-stroke haters, which included me. When we finally got a tech briefing on the bike (so we could be knowledgeable about it, before the bike was revealed to the dealers) we all felt a lot better about this strange new model. We could readily see what a breakthrough, industry-changing model this was going to be, and we were sure glad that it had a Honda decal on its tank.

    When the CR250M was revealed to the dealers in a film presentation during the business meeting, the dealers just sat in stunned silence. Many of them, like me (and like Mr. Honda) were also 2-stroke haters…having built their entire business on the superiority of the Honda 4-stroke. It took a lot of counseling and reassurance from the reps during the dealer cocktail party and product display, to convince them that this was a good development for both them and Honda.

    The story spread across the convention floor that Mr. Honda had said: “Yes, I have hated 2-strokes, but if I decide to build one, it will be the best one ever”. Hearing that quote went a long way towards comforting the dealers, since Mr. Honda was personally-known to many of the dealers, and held in the highest regard by all of them.

    3) Daytona Beach 1973…

    I was selected to work the Honda display at the Daytona Beach M/C show that was held in conjunction with the 200 race in early March. It was great fun seeing the public’s first reaction upon seeing the CR250M for the first time. There was great skepticism and disbelief from the folks in the Yam / Kaw / Suz camps. I heard many rude and derisive remarks, while working this show. I just smiled and thought to myself: “Just you wait, pal…just you wait”.

    These smart-alecks and naysayers were very soon silenced. As Gary Jones, our first factory motocross rider, used the CR250M to give Honda its first National MX title that year.

    I was the sales rep for St. Louis at that time. We were having market share problems with Yamaha in that market. There was a show sponsored by the St. Louis area M/C dealers coming up the very next weekend, after Daytona. I thought that the CR250M would be the perfect “sharp stick” to punch Yamaha with, if I could arrange to get this bike from the Daytona show up to St. Louis for that show. I was able to sell the right people in Gardena on this idea…the only catch was that I would have to transport the bike myself, the 1100 miles from Daytona to St. Louis, in a poorly-running Hertz rental truck. I thought that considering the good that it would do for sales in my district, that this was a good bargain.

    While I was the Missouri rep at that time, Rod Anderson was the Illinois rep. I was hopeful that Rod would see the merit to my plan, and volunteer to help out on the driving of the Hertz truck up to St. Louis, since I felt that his Illinois dealers across the river would also benefit from having the bike at the St. Louis show. He made it pretty clear to me that this was not going to happen…so, I struck out on my own.
    Other than a water pump failure in the truck at about 10 pm that night in Knoxville, TN, the trip was uneventful. I was able to add the CR250M to the other bikes that we showed in the Honda booth at the St. Louis show. It was a great hit at the show, and the dealers were very appreciative that we brought this important new model in for them.

    To me, this is a good illustration of what I call the “Open Cockpit Days” of working for Honda…and what great fun it was to work for them during that time. It was a great time for real blue sky thinking…it seemed that nothing was too outrageous to suggest, and many times your suggestion was adopted.

    The CR250M absolutely ruled the MX scene the rest of that first year. But the rest of the makers went into overdrive to develop something to combat it with. By the spring of 1974, Yamaha had responded with their excellent YZ250, and the race was really on.

  9. George Duncan says:

    Rick,

    You did not work at the best M/C dealership in Baton Rouge in the 1970′s…you worked at the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best shop. The distinction of the #1 dealership in Baton Rouge goes to G.N. Gonzales Honda, as everyone in Louisiana, and the rest of the south, who is knowledgeable about this business knows. Its owner “Mr. George” was a personal friend of Mr. S. Honda, and played a big part in getting Honda started in the U.S. He continued to manage the dealership until his passing in January, at age 91.

  10. Steve says:

    I grew up with a kid who’s parents bought him a 1968 CT 70 Honda Mini Trail. They also had a Honda 50 Step Thru his older sister rode on the street. I rode the 50 & we raced each other. He made a little oval trail in the power line field behind his house similar to another kid in the neighborhood, John Baurlein who went Pro & flat tracked Triumphs & an XR-750 & was the mechanic @ Bucks County Triumph & then D&A Kawasaki.
    Back to the CT-70… of course, the little oval grew boring quickly so Chuck branched out to the street. Back then, the cops rarely were seen & I guess no one called them either. There were some older guys with 305 Super Hawks, Triumphs & Sportsters so Chuck enlisted me to help “modify” the CT-70. We cut the muffler off using a hacksaw right were it meets the headpipe. Now flames shot out on decel but damn, was it loud. Since Chuck usually had me on the back, we installed a full size sissy bar using hose clamps to attach it to the seat rail. You could not lean back on it much because it wasn’t really secure…. but it looked cool to a 13 year old! Chuck’s cousin is Joey Amato, top fuel NHRA champ…. Chuck built a 57 Chevy that rivaled the mods to the CT-70 & was much louder but just as illegal on the street.
    At the time, some kids began buying Yamaha DT 125′s & 250′s. I rode my 1st “real” motorcycle around then… a DT 125. I thought the bike with me riding it was the absolute coolest experience I had ever had. I already had the bug & knew it was just a matter of time. I then rode a CL 175 Honda.. all before I was 16. I got my driver’s license (car only) @ 16. I was sitting on the corner when a kid rode up on a Mach III Kawasaki 500. He let me ride it… I knew “this was the fastest production street bike made” at the time & wanted to check it out so I immediately cracked it WFO! & …. nothing! The revs slowly built until about 5000 & then….. the front tire was pointing to the moon…same thing in the next 3 gears! I couldn’t believe the accleration…. thought I was in a Saturn 5 rocket!
    I finally bought my 1st bike, a 1974 Kawasaki F-11 250 Enduro (street/dirt). All my friends rode street/dirt bikes & we raced them at the end of the power lines at the electric company power station. It was there I learned to wheelie & I practiced for hours going over backwards a lot. I never could learn to wheelie & shift but I could ride a 2nd or 3rd gear stand up wheelie for a long way. Of course, I eventually brought my craft to the street & by then, the F-11 had a Hooker expansion chamber so it sounded like a full blown MX racer. Remember those cops I mentioned…. well… times had changed & unbeknownst to me, me & the F-11 had developed quite the following among certain neighbors & the police. One day, I was riding the 250 on the street & was strangely NOT riding a wheelie when the cops pulled me over. They informed me that they had been aware of me & my wheelies for quite sometime but had not had the opportunity to meet me until then. They were pretty laidback & just told me to keep it on 2 wheels on the street…. yeah… sure. I was all of 19 & the part of the brain that normally would have heeded their suggestion was easily overided by the freakin rush I got standing that little 250 up in 3rd gear & then riding that for 50 yards or so. Around that time, the older guys on 750 Honda’s began to wheelie back at me! All I saw was the bottom of the engine & 4 pipes coming at me in the other lane!
    I loved that F-11 & have looked on ebay for one. There still out there. That thing probably had about 25-26 hp with the pipe… It redlined @ 7400 so topspeed was 74mph which I regularly did. Unfortunately, I crashed in the dirt & got hurt & my parents still had enough leverage to make me sell it in about 1978. I returned to riding in 1995 on a newly reborn Triumph Thunderbird triple! no more wheelies either. I have never stopped riding since then but did endure 2 short interruptions being bike-less which I consider the low points of my life. Never again! Since 95, I’ve owned quite a number of bikes.. 2 Triumphs, 2 Honda’s, 2 BMW’s, 1 Gilroy Indian Chief, & 3 Harleys. I ride with lifelong, dedicated motorcyclist’s whose passion for all things “BIKE” matches or exceeds mine. We go to Antique Motorcycle Club meets, AMA Superbike races, one or two 3 day trips every year & of course, the Sunday ride to lunch somewhere nice. I am currently planning 2 Summer rides… 1 to Asheville NC & the other back up to Mt Washington NH. As I told my 82 year old father when he asked me why I don’t give up riding… I said…” did you fail to notice that since the age of 12 (I’m now 54), ALL I ever wanted was a bike & to ride. Some kids want to play sports or do other things but all I wanted was to ride”. Motorcycles & riding is my passion & while I could sell the bike, I am incapable of doing anything to stop the desire to ride. It’s there & always will be… & I’m thankful for it!

  11. Tim says:

    A lot of great stories here. I grew up in a very small town, about 650 people. We didn’t have a motorcycle shop (maybe that’s why I like to frequent them so much now.) I was lucky though. My Dad bought me a 4 hp mini bike when I was 8, and the town marshall let me and my buddies ride them in town, as long as we stayed off of 2 main streets (with the warning that the highway patrol came through town about once a week, and that he would write us up if he caught us.) At age 12 I got a new Kawasaki 90 street bike, a 1972 model. A Harley dealer about 40 miles away was introducing Kawasaki’s to their dealership, and that was the special they were offering to introduce the area to Kawasaki.

    I always planned to restore the bike, as it sat in my Dad’s shed many years. I finally decided to do it abour 4 years ago. When I pulled it out of the shed, I couldn’t believe how bad the condition was. Not surprising, since I had put a knobbie back tire on it so I could hill climb and ride motocross tracks with my buddies. At that point I decided it was going to be too much work and cost too much, but my 87 yo Dad wouldn’t take no for an answer. He encouraged me, and I couldn’t let him down. About 2 years, and a couple of thousand dollars later, the bike was essentially completed. I have 2 larger bikes, but the one that I never stop smiling on, when I ride it, is the little 72 Kawasaki 90. The thing that brings back the most memories is the smell of the two stroke engine. I can’t get enough of it.

    • Kagato says:

      ha ha Tim that is the ancestor of my kh100, or I guess so, did yours have the rotary valve setup? nuttin cooler than 2 strokers, I can’t understand why we don’t have some ficht 2 stroke bikes now, if evinrude can do it why can’t kawi or suzuki?

      • Mickey says:

        Brand new 1965 Harley Davidson M 50 (Aermacchi..Italian made, Harley badged) 50cc 2 stroke, 3 speed with a cascade shift in the clutch lever. I put 1000 miles on it the first week and 10,000 the first year. Top speed was around 50 mph. I only turned it off long enough to eat and sleep LOL

        • Kagato says:

          that is WICKED dude, I totally understand, I coudn’t sleep the first night I had my kh400, pushed her out the driveway, kicked her over and rode all night long :-) thanks for the reply!

      • Tim says:

        Yes, mine has the rotary valve engine, with oil injection so I don’t have to mix the fuel. It was a fast little sucker for the displacement. I distinctly remember getting up to 78 mph on a very slight downhill grade once. Of course I only weighed 125 or so pounds at the time. I had a friend with a 125 Yamaha enduro, and my Dad told him once, “Eddie, that thing looks really fast.” Eddie’s response was, “Not as fast as Tim’s.” I could have killed him. What 12 year old wants his Dad knowing how fast his bike is?

  12. Kiwi Morgan says:

    I remember before I was old enough to get a license, seeing a Kawasaki A7 350 start up from cold and marvelling how the cloud of blue smoke was still hanging there 5 minutes after he’d screamed off! I also remember losing my licence on my Suzuki T250, then losing it again on my RD350. I also remember riding my RD 125 miles from Dunedin to Invercargill (Does that town sound familiar??) taking the lights off and bolting on number boards, racing it at Teretonga, then riding it home again. I had no plan for if I crashed it! Another memory was riding at a standing quarter mile sprint (think drag racing by yourself against the clock) and seeing a really old guy playing with a disgusting old British single, and thinking “What a waste of time”. Someone told me that he also has an old Indian that he’d taken to Bonneville and gone something like 190mph on it. In my teenage ignorance I wasn’t impressed at all. It could well have been the last event Burt rode at.

    • Kagato says:

      Wow, that memory is a keeper for sure!

    • mechanicuss says:

      Talking about Kaw 350′s, remember the S2A 350 triple? There was this insane kid in our neighborhood, last name was Nix, had one of those, and rode it like a freakin’ madman. I still vividly remember him ripping that sucker up to wide open throttle, dropping the clutch, lighting up the rear tire, pivoting around on his foot in a 3-turn doughnut and FLYING off into the distance with the front wheel in the air in a cloud of blue rubber smoke and 2-stroke exhaust. We were DEFINITLEY impressed.

  13. Mickey says:

    I consider the mid 60′s to late 70′s the pinnacle of motorcycle development. In 68 Yamaha came out with the DT series of bikes turning the world onto dirt. Suz, Kaw and Yamaha produced exciting two stoke street motorcycles like the GT’s and H/KH’s and RD’s and Honda had the ever increasing in size and development reliable CB/CL series. In 69 Honda brought out the CB750 turning the world onto 4 cylinders, electric starting, a disc front brake and sophisicated street riding. In 1972 Suzuki came out with the GT 750 turning the world onto water cooling and in 74 to dual front disc brakes. In 1975 Honda brought out the Gold Wing with elect start, water cooling, shaft drive and triple disc brakes and the touring world would never be the same.In 79 Honda produced the CBX introducing the world to reliable Grand Prix type cylinder multiplication. No longer could the greasy little shops survive. To sell these products to an ever increasingly sophisticated market the stores had to be be clean, well lit and welcoming. Do I miss the greasy little shops of the late 50′s/early 60′s. Yes and no. They were fun to hang around in and absorb info from, but they were not prepared for what the the big 4 Japanese motorcycles manufacturers were about to unleash on us. I bought my first street bike in 1966 and worked in motorcycle shops from 1972-1989. Never made a lot of money and worked some stupid hours during the summer and got laid off most winters. Was I glad to be of age/and participate in the golden age of motorcycle development? Hell yes.

  14. MGNorge says:

    The motorcycle shop I remember most was a Honda shop in town, this was about 1966, that was inhabiting what was once a corner gas station. You had a small sales floor, service bays and even a pump or two from which to fuel the bikes. The two owners, well one in particular, could see the sparkle in our eyes looking over all his shiny bikes and marveling at their sophistication compared to the mini-bikes we toyed with. We spent hours just taking it all in, the bikes, the smells and the stories.

    If anyone wonders how young kids get hooked on bikes it was right there. Like the bikes and the shops, those were simpler times and fun to think back upon.

  15. Kagato says:

    Great stories folks, keep ‘em coming! My dad would occasionally take me with him to Smith Brothers motorcycles by Eastwood Mall close to Birmingham (AL) and I would wander around drooling at the SL 70′s and 100′s. Vivid memories of GT 185′s with the Ram Air heads, Titan 500′s, Kawie KH 250′s, TS 250′s and 185′s. Eventually ended up with a KH 100 street bike, then the beloved KH 400–great fun to cover the road with smoke! Dad’s first bike was a Samurai 250 yellow and white with the scrambler pipes on it. I really miss the classic styling of these scoots–a bit weary of the “Transformers” coming out these days.

  16. S Calwel says:

    Hamp’s Harley shop in Lawton, Ok. was forbidden territory in 1951 at my tender age of 12. The characters that hung out there were some of the most colorful in town. Hamp spent as little time there as possible, preferring to play dominos at the pool hall. It was a greasy floor and countertop operation that smelled of Gunk (remember Gunk?) The Harleys were REALLY crude compared to the occasional Triumph or BSA that a soldier might bring to town. The small shop had 6′ tall wire and a latched gate to keep the customers out (they stole tools). But for a small town it was about the most exciting place you could find and it was only 1/2 block from my folks store. I got my first new motorcycle, a bright red Harley 165, that quickly became my scrambles-enduro-trials-daily transportation. It was traded for a NSU Super Max that was light years ahead of the 165. Gentry Boggs who ran the skating rink as his day job sold Jawa, NSU and Zundapp out of his back yard.

    The characters were the most memorable, Hatch, short for Hatchet Nose, The Reverend, a mechanic at the Dodge dealer rode a BMW and fit the name. Douglas Suggs, early Jr. High dropout, always in trouble and his mom bought him a new Flathead Sportster. There were many more including a short skinny kid who was always trying to mooch a ride. He was Freddy Nix who was on his way to AMA National Champion when he died. We did not realize how much fun we were having. It led to a lifetime of riding for me.

  17. Roadrash1 says:

    My first motorcycle shop in the 70′s was a stall in my parent’s dairy barn in Central Wisconsin. I would sweep it out the best I could. One flaw to my “shop design” was if a stray nut would drop onto the floor, it would usually find the gutter. Anyone who has spent a moment in an old dairy barn knows what you have to dig thru to find that missing piece of hardware if it goes there!

    I used to spend time hanging out at “Bob’s Yamaha City’ in Wisconsin Rapids. The place is still there, but you kinda have to guess where the old place was, since it was rebuilt long ago with a modern facility.

  18. Espresso says:

    Great read.
    Some things never change – from the moment I saw an RD smoke (literally) off down the road I wanted one, of course being sensible in my teens (yeah right) I had a CB250N. The lust for one is still there, even though the 1700cc Yamaha MT01 is my current road ride, there’s something about those little strokers. Yep still want one!

  19. jimbo says:

    Some 70s memories…we are talking about 1970s, right?

    Kawasaki ’73 DOHC KZ900 shattered the four-year old performance benchmark of Soichiro Honda’s ’69 SOHC CB750. We’re talking straight-line performance, because, as anyone with riding time aboard a KZ900 knows, handling prowess it did not possess. The OEM frames flexed like crazy.

    Skip forward three years to ’76 and Suzuki’s first foray into four-strokes, the DOHC GS750. Cycle Magazine’s road test heaped praise upon praise. Power band mimicked the KZ only a bit softer throughout. The OEM speedo showed 133mph on a straight, with handling the Italians would love, and decent brakes for the time, too (spoked chrome steel rims, single front/rear disc). Power slotted between the CB and the KZ, with a stiff steel frame and OEM handling better than any Pops Yoshimura-prepped KZ. Affordable big bikes with big power and handling finally arrived from Asia.
    In ’77 Suzuki followed with the GS1000, a bored/stroked 750 (IIRC identical crankcase O.D.) with cam taken from the 850 shaft sport-touring bike (softer than the 750 for better midrange). This was the bomb, beating all comers including the CBX1000-six, the KZ1000, and the XS1100 shaft drive for best-overall balanced big bike. (Kawasaki never fully fixed the KZ’s handling woes till the ’81 “J” upgrade.) The frame of Wes Cooley’s Yoshimura-built Championship Winning Suzuki 1000 Superbike was basically stock.

    My friend Mike was a professional wrench at Alex McClean’s Motorcycles Unlimited in Corte Madera California (Marin County just north of the Golden Gate “Transit Monarchy,” AKA Bridge). A guy died when he crashed his “Mr. Turbo”-brand GS1000 while having too much fun circling Nicasio Reservior in West Marin. Mike took possession of the bike in the shop and promptly installed the turbo kit on his GS1000 (’77 OEM candy-purple, the fuel tank had a black horizontal inset side-stripe bordered by gold and pink pinstripes IIRC…very sharp and sexy). (Sidebar: Mike also owned several CBX, including a black ’80 with OEM “Sport Kit,” 6-1 Denco header, carb jet kit, and the cam from his ’79 model. ‘80 is the only OEM black; rare and sharp. For emissions and possible fear of legislation caused by a HP war, the ’80 model had a softer cam than and low-flow carb jets vs. ’79. To this day that black ’80 CBX is the bike I’d first pick to own of any bike I’ve ever ridden. Blipping its throttle was ecstasy, a high point of my motorcycle experience.)
    Back to Mike’s Mr. Turbo GS1000: Eventually Mike brought the bike to Sandy Kosman’s then-San Francisco shop for every imaginable upgrade. Mike eventually spent over $10k on it, actual money in the late ‘70s. Its dual Lockheed 4-piston floating calipers were like a science fiction in that era, dwarfing the rear rotor. Drilled front rotors were so large they mostly hid the 12-gauge spokes (or whatever they were, they looked like welding irons). Gold anodized aluminum racing rims were a sweet touch, about 3” front, 6.5” rear. You have no idea how wide that was in the late 70s. Non-DOT rear racing slicks (watch out for water runoff on Mt. Tam). Water injection may have been one if not the last major upgrade. The cam was so tall and so sharp-edged (ultra-short duration, get the fuel in and out ASAP) you could almost cut your finger on it. The pilot’s seating area had a 4” vertical cutout at the rear to keep him (no woman ever rode it) in place under acceleration. Funny thing is, IIRC the sum total frame mod was only one short diagonal tube reinforcement welded on each side of the tail section. Somewhere along the line Mike installed a forged 1100cc piston kit. Electric fuel pump was mandatory.

    Mike often rode with a passenger, Chris, another employee at MU. Chris and Mike’s girlfriends were the only people nuts enough to dare ride as passengers. The GS1100-turbo pulled this hard: I was on a stock ’80 GS1100-4-valve, Mike on the turbo-1100, heading uphill, southbound on US-101 from Corte Madera toward the Mill Valley Strawberry Shopping Center. Mike was piloting with Chris on the back. We punched off from normal freeway speed, about 65 mph, me shifting at redline and Mike just trying to keep his bike from tossing him and Chris. Mike’s bike instantly went front wheel up, I was behind and actually saw the frame bend, a huge cloud of burnt rubber appears blocking my site, black rubber stripe appeared on the freeway slab, and Mike disappeared from my view in seconds. I was WFO on the hardest accelerating OEM vehicle available for sale and it was as if I dropped anchor.
    Mike loved to catch up to losers on KZ900’s and KZ1000’s, especially those with headers and big bore kits. Mike kept the turbo hidden from their view on the far side of his GS. About three seconds after the hammer dropped, the race was of course…over. Some riders loved to ridicule the turbo lag and lack of low-end torque. Mike cheerily laughed out load and replied, “What do you think a gearbox is for?” This bike never lost any race at anytime that I know of.

    I rode it once and never desired to again. Sandy swore it made 150hp if it made any power at all. We parked our bikes at a parking lot just east of the US-101 northbound on-ramp at the south end of the Strawberry Shopping Center in Mill Valley. I got on the bike. It was difficult to keep it idling. The fuel pump made a raucous noise. I considered getting off, but Mike wanted me to try it. It died at least once till I figured out how to keep it idling. Finally, I’m traveling north on US-101, wondering why am I doing this? But I had to ride it to at least the first off-ramp, so indeed, I let it rip. The noise was so loud and it was so violent I felt the bike was riding me. Thank God I’m heavy enough that with minimal forward weight shift the front wheel only lifted a little. If you’ve seen the Star Wars ships enter hyper-drive, or the Enterprise hit Warp Drive, you know the drill. Cars going freeway speed came up and disappeared from my side view so fast they were only a blur. My helmet hurt, distorted, and smashed against my face. The 4-5 lane freeway looked like it was only one-lane wide. I have no idea how fast I went, only that I took the first exit and returned on the frontage road, not desiring to return to the freeway with its temptation to open it up again.

    The point about the article that struck a chord was his mention that the 80s changed everything. In 81 the CBX morphed into a sport-touring pig, a nice bike, but nothing like the first incarnation. By ’83 Honda introduced the VF750 sport bike, and this marked the era that still stands, where every two years the Japanese (even the Germans now) up the ante and whatever you were riding from two years earlier is old-fashioned compared to new state of the art technology.
    Mike had no concern of this happening back in the late 70s. For several years, for the lucky souls familiar with Mike’s turbo-GS1100, we never saw anything on wheels that could touch it. Believe it or not, even on the Sunday Morning Ride, favoring small, light, quick bikes with good torque, Mike was among the first group into Stinson.
    Footnote about Alex McClean: Alex owned and managed a goodly chunk of prime Corte Madera commercial real estate surrounding MU. He was a tireless worker and supreme motorcycle fanatic, with a lovely Scottish accent. He had an incredible choice collection of European racing motorcycles, including AJS, Norton, etc. I don’t know his current disposition. Needless to say, he knew little of financial pain when I knew him. I purchased a few bikes from Alex. When Alex finally sold the shop, he gave unannounced severance rewards to the employees who served him well. I heard this story from one of the employees who received such reward, who was quite grateful for it.
    I miss the shop and those days.

    Last I heard circa ’00 Mike operates a Corvette tuning shop in Hawaii.

    • Goose says:

      “The frame of Wes Cooley’s Yoshimura-built Championship Winning Suzuki 1000 Superbike was basically stock.”

      Great stories but if you think ANYTHING on the Yoshimura superbikes was “basically stock” you were smoking too much dope back in he day. The chassis of Cooley’s bike was stock except for the shocks (racing shocks, moved forward, mounts stiffened), the swing arm (external bracing), main frame (extra gussets), triple clamps (hand made) and fork (one off racing type). Yeah, other then that it was stock as a stove. Take a look at Brian O’Shays web site for pictures. http://vintagesuperbike.com/photos/own/1980SuzukiGS1000.html

      Goose

      • jimbo says:

        Well, actually, um…well, yes, as a matter of fact, everything you wrote sounds spot on and I was very wrong! In my defense, how’d you compare the quantity/quality of Pops’ frame mods: GS vs. KZ of that era?

        Also, yes, thanks for reminding me of all those many mods. But really, just the actual tubes of the frame itself, not anything attached to it, am I not correct that there were not that many major mods? Just some reinforcement around the steering head, one cross tube on the rear triangle, one diagonal tube (like Mike’s) on the rear triangle?

        Mike’s early mod on the swing arm was the typical Superbike recipe: huge underside U-shape member with vertical tube connecting it to the OEM swing arm (pivot through-bolt area). Later IIRC he switched to the OEM GS1100-4V square section aluminum piece, which was pretty darn sexy back in the day!

        Actually, the stuff to be smoked came later, not so much around that era, after a guy became my roommate who had a predilection for illegal drugs. Sadly, he later died of an overdose.

        Back in the late 70s a particular Latin fellow with long straight black hair on a KZ900 would fly by me on the Sunday Morning Ride like I was in reverse hyper-drive. It’s amazing that anyone could go so fast on those 550+ lb Superbikes with handling so far below the motor’s capability.

        Oh, Mike eventually gave up bikes in favor of cars because if he was on a bike he had to ride WFO all the time. His modded Corvette had something like a 572ci V8, with nitrous just for super emergencies. Back then, the Richmond Bridge was a ghost town except for commute times (even then quite light). Mike would sometimes patrol E-W on the bridge searching for yuppies or rock stars driving turbo-Porsche’s on the Richmond Bridge, the sexier and more anorexic the girlfriend the better. He’d creep on the Porsche, not flaunting the motor, wait for the sucker in the Porsche to drop the hammer (who wouldn’t driving a Turbo Porsche vs. a Corvette?), then without touching the nitrous, about five seconds later the Porsche can not be found in the rear view.

        So immature. So stupid. So much fun.

      • jimbo says:

        Not to disagree with all the useful info about Wes Cooley’s wonderful Pops Yoshimura-built GS1000…But I did write, “frame”, not chassis. I knew most parts other than the frame, fuel tank, and crankcases were tossed. (There were many useful OEM parts in Sandy Kosman’s dumpster around that era.) Wes’ K&N brand “Superbike” handlebars were way cool back then.

        I estimate Mike’s street GS1100 turbo 2-v (single carb, estimate 95 octane leaded street fuel) made more or similar power vs. Wes’ normally aspirated 1000 with racing fuel, 33mm Keihin smooth bore racing carbs, and of course Pops’ head and valve work. Yoshimura 4-1 pipes were the racer’s Gold Standard.

        For unknown reasons beyond the fact that I rode a GS1000S, it was supremely gratifying seeing Wes beat all comers in the Superbike Championship.

    • Gabe says:

      Awesome stuff Jimbo! Thanks! You can write for CityBike any time: info@citybike.com.

  20. brinskee says:

    There’s really something about these illustrations that make me smile. Reminds me of my youth somehow. Great story, I could read these all day.