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MC Dispatch

Reader-submitted rides, reviews and stories

Twelve Motorcycles and Counting?

Over the course of my short life, I have now owned 12 motorcycles. All but one of those bikes was obtained in a span of barely a year. In that brief time, I acquired 11 motorcycles, some with unique and humorous stories. My wife and family sometimes think I’m crazy when I show interest in a beaten up, wore out, rusted motorcycle. But to me, it’s almost the greatest feeling in the world. I love to find that unwanted, un-used, neglected old motorcycle. Motorcycles pull me in like a tractor beam... like an imaginary Death Star. You too I assume may have a similar magnetic draw. So without further dialog here’s my story…

honda Trail 70 
The first bike - a Honda Trail 70. 

My two older brothers and I got our first motorcycle in the early 1990’s. I was only a young boy. It was a 1970’s model Honda Trail 70 and it was blue, with chrome fenders and foldable handlebars. It looked cool with those wide trail tires and high pipes. We felt like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade flying down cow trails fighting off the Germans. We had the times of our lives on that bike. We always found a way to get out of farm chores while in the field by volunteering to get “tools” for dad on the bike. Those events always found us fooling around for an extra half hour on the bike because we “couldn’t find it” or some other intelligent adolescent excuse. Dad never fell for it. My father acquired the Trail 70 on a 3-way trade (for a lawn mower and weed-eater I think); he used to pull a sled in the winter for us on the Trail 70. Eventually the bike lost its Harrison Ford wonder and it was sold. That was mainly due to a 12 yr olds ability to navigate through barb-wire fencing. Great times and many scars to prove it.

honda cm400t 
The second bike - a 1981 Honda CM400T. 

Fast-forward something like 10-15 years later. I had just graduated from college and my parents and girlfriend (now wife) for some time were telling me I needed to get a hobby since my college football days were now over. So I pondered the thought, and suddenly I got the urge that I wanted to get an old motorcycle to work on. Strangely enough, every morning I used to go for jog (ok, maybe like twice a week) and I noticed an old rusted dreary red motorcycle in someone’s yard chained to a tree. “For Sale $200 Parts Bike” the sign said. It ended up being a 1981 Honda CM400T. After seeing it sit there for a couple months I decided to knock on the door and inquire. An older gentleman appeared who said it belonged to his son. A couple days later I bought it for $100. My dad went with me to get it with our beat-to-death “Farm Use” pick-up. After getting the bike home (and luckily the truck too) my dad gave loving words of encouragement, “I think you may have just bought a boat anchor son”. “Ahh, what did he know,” I thought. Day and night, week after week, for several months I worked on the motorcycle (with no clue what I was doing, I only made progress because of my dad’s advice). Finally, after midnight one evening it came alive! It scared my parents half to death (I had taken the mufflers off for some reason) and I woke every neighbor within a mile radius. A month or so later it was practically road worthy (of course after I fixed everything I broke when I tried my first wheelie in our drive-way). I had spent $400 total on the motorcycle. Mission…errrr… hobby accomplished. Or so everyone thought. Some time later a couple bought that 1981 Honda CM400T from me for $650. It ran great and I liked my customized $3 flat black spray-can paint job. That was bike number two, and with a wad of cash I went off to find bike number three.

kawasaki kz440 
Bike number three - a 1982 Kawasaki KZ440 LTD.  

I found my next bike on Craigslist, a black all original 1982 Kawasaki KZ440 LTD. It was in solid road-worthy running condition. I talked with the nice man for some time and we agreed on a price. I brought it home for slightly more than my return from the old Honda. I thought I had hit the jackpot! It ran, it had an inspection, it had non-dry rotted tires, and it had a good title! So hard to find these days. What an incredibly reliable bike it turned out to be. Amazing! I put 4,000 miles on that bike in the spring and summer that year. I did nothing to that bike ever, except change the oil. I would go on all day rides for 10-12 hours straight, never had one problem with it (while my buddy on his 1999 BMW F650 was always breaking down). One thing is for certain, it was the coldest natured son-of-a-gun; it took several minutes to warm-up, but then you were good for as long as you wanted to ride. After a while, I realized that my “awesome” KZ440 wasn’t that awesome to everyone else. Why, you may ask? Because it was slow… reliable, but slow.

Bike number four came shortly after buying my KZ440. The next bike was a surprise to me. A young fellow called me and said, “Hey, I hear you buy bikes, want another?” I thought, “Hmm… I wonder if dad will mind having another bike in his garage?” So off I went. A couple hours later and $200 lighter, I had myself another “boat anchor” per say. The bike didn’t run and nothing would light up with a good battery. After some testing, and a couple days later, I found a blown fuse (I was still a novice at this point, took me a couple of days just to find a blown fuse.). How I now wish all my bike problems were this simple (life too). But at the time, I was dumfounded. Once again dad came to the rescue with his knowledgeable suggestions like, “Check the fuses, one might be bad." After the fix, I had a “fast” (or so I thought) 1984 Kawasaki KZ550 LTD shaft driven motorcycle. Cost me only $6 for fuses and the light tester. A short time later I was cruising up and down the road on my new-old KZ550, all while switching back and forth with my KZ440. The KZ550 wasn’t nearly as cold natured as the KZ440, and it could scoot with its UJM (Universal Japanese Motor) in-line 4. However, it was kind of wide. Like a chubby fourth grader, but a fast one. The 550 just wouldn’t lean nearly as far as my other bikes, although it did have a sweet 4-in-1 exhaust (and I “upgraded” it with my famous $3 flat black ambassador’s paint special). Two in the garage now… next, bike number five.

A phrase now repeated, “Hey I hear you buy bikes, interested in a 1981 Yamaha 400 XS?” Does a bear sleep in the woods? Do women like chocolate? Am I interested? “Sure, I’ll be right over.” Two weeks later or so, the man donated it to a program I used to work at. I got it running and sold it for the program; they made an easy $350. Quickly moving on to bike number six.

honda twin star 
Bike number six - a 1981 Honda CM200 Twin Star.  

“I have a bike….” Out the door I went. This time I purchased an incredibly well-kept, great running, great cosmetic condition, 1981 Honda CM200 Twin Star. All this for a whopping $200. Once added to the collection it became a weekly ride. It was a cool little bike, it went upwards of 70 mph. Tried to teach my lady how to ride, but she decided she would take the opportunity to find the equivalent $200 dress, I guess I couldn’t blame her. It was a fun ride; it carried two people surprisingly well. Three bikes in the garage at this point: the KZ440, KZ550, and the Twin Star. The Twin Star was bike number six. Tired yet? If you are, don’t stop now, you’ve past the point-of-no-return (meaning if you read the top half backwards, it will take you longer if you just went ahead and read the rest). On to bike number seven.

honda cm200 twin star 
Bike number seven - a 1981 Honda CX500 Custom. 

“My ex-husband left his motorcycle in the garage five years ago, interested?” This is truly one of my most noteworthy finds. When my best-man Dan and I arrived that weekend after a 2 hour drive we found: a 1981 Honda CX500 Custom, which had what looked like a Moto-Guzzi engine. It was maroon and had all the touring add-ons. I had no clue what I was staring at. I told the lady and her boyfriend I could only give them $50 because I had no idea what kind of bike it was. The only bikes I had really worked on up to that point were parallel twins. Plus, I had no idea what repairs the bike needed (funny thing was; the boyfriend was working on like 3 cars in his driveway telling me had to fix them so he could sell them, because he was short on cash, yet they took $50 for a Honda that got 40-50 mpg). After a 2 hour drive home we unloaded the bike. Only 60 minutes later with fresh gas, a battery, and the carburetors drained, I had an amazing sounding and mechanically functional 1981 Honda CX500 Custom, transverse V-twin with a Moto-Guzzi-ish engine for $50! I was pumped. I was also learning quickly how to assess any bike and then get it running quickly based on rapid observations. Afterward, later that day I was even more stoked when I read the Motorcycle Classics article about the Honda CX500. According to MC, I had a classic one-of-a kind Honda mid-size touring motorcycle of the great 1980’s. What a day I had! All together, I put $300 in the CX500 for a new title and other miscellaneous things. The proverbial snowball was getting bigger. Keeping track? My dad couldn’t either, at this point he has four of my motorcycles in his farm garage. And his house looks like a used motorcycle dealership. In comes a less glamorous bike number eight.

“Oh it’s a Honda I think, I found it under a pile of rubble in a collapsed barn.” Could there be anymore evidence that God loves me? An hour or two later and $25 (yes, one Andrew Jackson and one Abraham Lincoln) I had a familiar 1980 Honda CM400, but this one was a “Hondamatic.” You know the kind that only have 1st and 2nd gear, which does not have a hand clutch, but instead a parking brake (I knew you would remember). Funny how the first thing I noticed was not its corroding flesh, but the unique parking brake. It looked the same as my old CM400, except the guy before me had a different taste in $3 homemade paint jobs. He did sort of a black/green goblin effect only the villains in an old Mel Gibson movie with mohawks could like. Needless to say, I eventually had the hobbit running. But his days were numbered in the upright garage. Five bikes now fought for shelter and their right to stay in my custody. In addition, pops was starting to (probably) regret hauling that first “boat anchor” home. Neighbors at this point were curious about all the late night garage activity and strange throaty growls from atop the hill where the garage stood. The cows no less were irritated too, but I figure they deserved it for all the sleepless nights I had during my life while the heifers were in heat (meaning the bull mooed all night long, city folk). Anyway, I got the “vibe” that some of my motorcycle’s needed to go. So, I put each one on the chopping block. But before all that could happen, I found a real DEAL. I could not pass it up, you know what I’m saying? Well no one else did, but that didn’t stop me. I went on (with my best-man Dan) and got a bargain bin price on a 2002 Honda XR650L three hours from home. It was a great running street legal, dual-sport, thumper, with tons of speed and power. I had wanted one of these ever since I had seen Dust to Glory. Oh, and it was at a bargain price (did I say that already?) These XR’s are classics in a way. They have always been around it seems and they always will be, right? Mr. Honda, I have found, knows how to make great motorcycles. But hold that thought…

Before you could kick-start a Suzuki (or straighten the handlebars on your 2002 Honda XR650L you wrecked in a three-inch mud puddle), I got a great job offer. So my responsible (and more adult side…my wife) kicked in. We needed to move, therefore lending a “great” time to sell my “classic” treasures. One…two…three…four…five…six motorcycles departed from The Bike Barn of Bargains (I think my mother had tears of joy in her eyes that day). If fact I will disclose what each one sold for in good running condition (since I love to hear what others in their stories say they paid or sold their bikes for): the 1980 Green Goblin went for $200, the Twin Star went to a beginning rider for $750, the KZ550 (or Chubs) and KZ440 went off the block at $1,100 each, the XR650 went for some nice pocket change at $2,500. And lastly, the one I wanted to keep, the 1981 Honda CX500 with the Moto-Guzzi-ish engine was pried from my fingers from a man who drove 12 hours to buy it at $2,000! His offer was over the top and I wasn’t going to stop him. Whew! But that’s not quite all, if you were paying attention, you noticed the title of the article has a 12 in it… and if you were keeping count…that was only 9.

suzuki gs450 
Bike number 10 - a 1981 Suzuki GS450T.  

So, after moving (and in less than 3 weeks) I couldn’t stand NOT having a motorcycle to ride or wrench on, I was losing my mind! In came motorcycle number 10, a 1981 Suzuki GS450T. I still have it and it’s green and very quick. When it gets above 6,000 rpms, it keeps hustling down the road faster and faster until about 104-105 mph. Yet, be careful those out their looking to get any older model GS, be prepared to buy a heavy duty rectifier and stator. These bikes have common electrical weaknesses, but fixable (between $200-$300 total). However, this cat hums; a smooth, quick ride with a perfect (yet mild) café look.

Once again, my phone rings. After all the great runners I had come across, my luck wasn’t so good on this next one. “Yeah, it don’t need much, jus’ some small stuff, you know?” Didn’t sound too bad, so what was I too do? You guessed it; I bought it at a retail price of $120. This time it was a 1985 Yamaha Virago 700. Looked good, but I gave up hope on caring about it because I became too busy at work and I had no desire for this poor soul. He was doomed before I got him. But, as luck (or some other motorcycle deity, like Nicolas Cage in The Ghost Rider) would have it, I traded it straight up for another motorcycle much to my wife’s regret.

A quick three hour story if I may: The last time my wife road with me she said that she would never ride again unless I got a real touring motorcycle with a back rest, hard bags, grandpa seats etc… See, she knew I had no desire for the more geriatric touring rig (which too me wasn’t “cool,” but I have since changed my mind). So she thought she was safe to live a life indoors strolling through Macy’s trying on “motorcycle malice” apparel. But wouldn’t you know it, the bike I traded for was a great running red/black 1985 Kawasaki Voyager with the required wife’s bargaining terms (radio, backrest, luggage, cassette player, etc…). She couldn’t be more thrilled! It’s a fuel injected “inline 6” with 1300cc. So here I am, I have only two old motorcycles, the Suzuki and the Voyager. But still yet, an unending desire and passion to wrench and ride every motorcycle made before crotch-rockets took over. I LOVE OLD MOTORCYCLES! I hope you catch my desire and find the one classic that you have always wanted!

And finally, to get a classic, old, running or non-running motorcycle it isn’t very hard. Nor are they usually very difficult to get back to running like they did in their prime. But here are some of my tips: Make sure it has a title, check to see if any pistons or gears are locked up, see if all the parts are still intact, ask what the person has done to the bike, look for bikes in original condition not ones that have been “goobered up” by a back-woods mechanic, always ask when and why it stopped running, and lastly, be sure you can buy your significant other a gift of the equal amount you just spent on that classic neglected, rusted, and abused motorcycle.