Friday, July 12, 2019

It's National Motorcycle Day!

A Honda CB750, but not quite like mine*
And just what is National Motorcycle Day, you may ask?  Apparently it's a blatant marketing push by a Wisconsin-based company that offers motorcycle insurance.  But motorcycles have been an important part of my life, and I felt like posting about them as part of writing my own story, so I searched to find if a national motorcycle day existed, and I found it.  This year it falls on July 12, ergo this post.

I've decided the first bike I'll write about is my Honda CB750K, because it was the most distinctive of the motorcycles I've owned.  Based on my recollections of all of my vehicles and the fact that I now recall that I already had it when I had my knee surgery, I think I bought it about 1985.  I was living in Los Angeles at the time and had been riding a Suzuki GS550 for a while but had decided it wasn't big enough.  I bought it used, as I have done with all of my vehicles.  I don't remember what year it was, but according to the Wikipedia page about the model, the 750K was made from 1969 to 1982, so it could have been anywhere in there, and I don't know the submodel.  I'm inclined to think it was more toward the later end, as it was in reasonably good condition.  Maybe there's a way to research that kind of thing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles?  Hmm, if so I could get copies of all of my vehicle registrations and learn more about them, like their license plates.  I'm pretty sure I had a vanity plate for the Honda, but I don't remember what it was.

My Honda was blue.  It was designed as a touring bike, to be ridden long distance over highways, so it had a large gas tank for a motorcycle, 5 1/2 gallons.  This was probably my favorite feature, because it meant stopping less often to gas up, particularly helpful when I was driving regularly between Los Angeles and Berkeley on I-5.  With the Honda I only had to stop once each way for gas, whereas all my other bikes required two or three gas stops.  Because it was my primary vehicle and I hauled around various things on it, I had saddle bags and a trunk.  I also had a full fairing for highway riding.

Some of the features described on the Wikipedia page I remember:  electric starter, kill switch, dual mirrors, flashing turn signals, and air-cooled engine.  One of the problems I discovered with the air-cooled engine was that if you weren't moving, you weren't getting air to cool the engine, so on really hot days when I was stuck on the freeway it would often stall on me.

Three things I remember about my Honda are not described on the page.  First, it was extraordinarily tall, so tall that I had trouble getting on it for the first few months after my knee surgery, which was in the fall of 1985 if I remember correctly.  I had to very carefully pick up my right leg and gently slide it over the bike, letting my foot just barely tap the ground on the other side before I could tilt the bike to an upright position and rely on my left leg.  I'm lucky that you shift with your left foot, or I probably wouldn't have been able to ride at all until I was fully recovered.  None of the images I can find online of 750K models looks like my bike; all of them look like normal-height street bikes.  Second, it was very heavy and had a very high center of gravity, more than any other motorcycle I've owned, even the 920.

The other "feature" of the bike which is not mentioned is the fact that it was necessary to take the side panels off of both sides to gain access to the battery, which I think of as a serious design flaw.  I remember the problems I had with that after one year at Band Camp (from when I was in the USC Trojan Marching Band, The Greatest Marching Band In The History Of The Universe).  Not only was I out of town for four days (I think?) with band camp in San Diego, but I broke my finger while there (which was an adventure in and of itself that I should write about sometime).  So when we returned to Los Angeles I couldn't ride for a while.  By the time I finally had a chance to check on the bike, which I had left parked on campus near the band office, the battery was dead.  So here I was, my right (dominant) hand in a cast, fumbling with this stupid layout to undo bolts to get the battery out so I could take it home and charge it.  I eventually did manage to do this, but when I brought the battery back, for some reason the charge had not taken, and I had to do it all over again!  The second time the battery did charge, and I was able to start the bike (yay!).  I vaguely recall that I rode the bike home slowly and carefully and had someone else drive my car home.

The center stand on the Honda was extremely difficult to maneuver.  I was never able to get it up by myself.  I never learned if that was normal for the model or if mine was just stiff.  This became a big problem once when I was riding south on the 405 during rush hour and the rear tire blew out.  I was in the fast lane, so I pulled over onto the shoulder and tried to get the bike to stand up on the side stand.  Nope, that didn't work; the bike kept trying to fall over.  This was well before ubiquitous mobile phones, so I didn't see a lot of choice of what to do (although I suspect if I had stayed there, someone would have alerted the police).  I got back on the bike and started it, got up to speed, and moved over two lanes.  I could see the Warner Avenue exit coming up, but I had to move two more lanes to the right to get to it.  Some absolute angel in a station wagon in the third lane saved me.  Somehow that person figured out I really needed to move over and waved me over to the third lane.  Then he (she?) moved to the right lane and covered me for that move.  I was able then to exit the freeway!  The first place I found to try to park the bike was some fast food place.  I still couldn't put the bike on the center stand, however.  I don't remember how at this point, but I was able to call AAA.  At that time AAA had pretty much no assistance for motorcycles except gas and water.  When the dispatcher asked for details about the vehicle, I said it was a Honda CB750K motorcycle with a flat tire.  He told me they couldn't really do anything for the bike because they couldn't repair or replace the tire, and I explained I just needed someone to help me put it on the center stand.  He sounded doubtful but said he would send someone.  The AAA driver who arrived was a big, beefy guy.  I explained the problem.  That center stand was so stiff he couldn't do it by himself, and I had to help him!  But we did manage to put it on the stand.  My landlord very grumpily came to retrieve me from Orange County (I lived just on the edge of East L.A. near the USC campus), and then I called the one local motorcycle towing company to retrieve the bike.

After my knee surgery, I no longer had the leg strength to pick the Honda up when it fell over.  One time this became a problem was when I somehow managed to get the shoelace of my left shoe tangled with the foot peg.  I tried but could not fix it while I was on the bike, so rather than risk some kind of horrible accident because I couldn't control the bike, I pulled up to a median, laid the bike down, and untangled my shoe.  Then I looked around at people and asked if someone could please help me pick it up!  Happily, someone walking by did just that, and I was able to go merrily on my way again.

Another time I laid the Honda down was not quite so . . . planned.  I was turning left at an intersection when the engine suddenly cut out.  I was in the middle of the turn and leaning left, and the bike just dropped.  I tried to catch it with my left hand, but because of the weight it slipped off my fingers (and caused a hairline fracture in my pinky).  So there I am, standing in the middle of the intersection, with a downed bike.  I shouted for help!  Someone came and helped me pick the bike up, and I made it out of the intersection safely.

The last time I had to get help picking up the Honda was after I had moved to Berkeley from Los Angeles.  It was the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989.  I was in the house when the quake hit.  At the time I was a nanny/cook/housekeeper.  After the shaking stopped, I left to pick up the 2-1/2-year-old daughter of the household, who was in daycare.  When I walked outside, the Honda had fallen over, and onto the wrong side, no less.  Motorcycles are designed to lean to the left on their side stands; it was on its right side.  That makes it even more difficult to pick up.  I didn't want to just leave it there, because gasoline from the tank would have leaked out.  I was fortunate in that someone was walking past the house at that moment, and she helped me get the bike up.

By that point I wasn't actually riding the Honda anymore.  While I was still in Los Angeles, it was stolen from outside the USC Hillel, where I was working as a kosher cook.  This was between the fall of 1988 and the spring of 1989.  I walked out after finishing work one evening and poof!, no motorcycle was there.  Beyond the annoyance factor, this was suspicious because this particular model was not popular and therefore not worth much money.  I reported it but didn't end up waiting for it be found.  I got fidgety without a bike and only lasted about a week before I bought my Virago.  About two months later, the police recovered the Honda on the side of a freeway (I think the 10), where it had been abandoned by a man who was trying to get away from the police.  I was told that the engine was still running when they found it.  It had been in some kind of accident.  I don't remember how I transported the Honda to Berkeley.  I tried to sell it, but no one wanted it.  Not long after the earthquake, I gave it to my landlady's lover just to get rid of it.

And so ends the tale of my Honda CB750K.

*Credit:  yoppy.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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