The Journey, Not the Destination

Reader Contribution by Richard Backus

The hovel I call my shop has been pretty active of late, what with editor Hall’s ongoing Norton Commando project and the recent addition of two “new” bikes to the hovel for my kids, daughter Madeline and son Charlie.

For the past few years, now 23-year-old Madeline has been riding our 1976 Suzuki GT185. Rated at a modest 21 horsepower and weighing in at less than 300 pounds, it’s been an excellent starter bike; not too powerful and easy to handle. And at $400 it was a bargain, all the better for a first-time motorcycle.

Madeline’s enjoyed the Suzuki, but a few months back she suggested she was ready to move up the motorcycle scale, at least incrementally, expressing interest in getting something she could ride farther and with more confidence on the highway. She’s not thinking about going cross country — yet — but she does have visions of day trips and weekend adventures in the country. She’s capable physically, but didn’t want anything too large or powerful. So what to get?

As luck would have it, the answer appeared in the form of a 1980 Moto Guzzi V50 II, a bike I’ve admired ever since a this-is-so-much-fun-it-can’t-be-legal RetroTours romp across the back roads of West Virginia on ’70s Italian twins in 2012. The ’79 V50 I rode during that tour was my introduction to Guzzi’s little 500cc V-twin. Light and torquey, it’s one of the great mid-sized bikes of its era, blessed with excellent road manners and more than enough oomph for passing. Critics dislike its linked braking system (the rear and front left discs operate off the foot pedal, the front right disc off the hand lever), but I love the way it works, providing confident, balanced braking, a quality especially appreciated by a dad sending his daughter out to do battle on the open road.

The bike appeared thanks to Moto Guzzi fan Ray Roske, who introduced me to reader and vintage bike nut Greg Garcia after I asked Ray if he might know anyone with a V50 for sale. Greg bought the little Guzzi, a low-mileage Pennsylvania barn find, in 2011. Showing just over 7,400 miles when he turned it over to me, it’s exactly what we wanted: a solid, lovingly maintained machine that’s not so nice you’re scared to ride it.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Charlie is diving into his next bike, a 1972 Honda CB350. Inspired by our recent Project Honda CB350, Charlie took renewed interest in the ’72, which has been languishing in the back of the hovel for some 10 years. Taken off the road by a friend when family duty called, it was a daily rider looking for a lot of love. Echoing the experience with our project Honda, after Charlie and I rebuilt the carburetors and changed the oil, it fired back to life easily, nary a rattle to be heard in its engine and not a whiff of smoke emitting from the mostly missing exhaust system.

Charlie’s launched into getting the bike street ready, opting for a bum-stop seat, low bars and other trappings from the café set. A mean-looking Mac two-into-one header from Dime City Cycles just arrived to replace what’s left of the stock exhaust, and the missing switchgear is getting updated. We’ve rebuilt the front forks and replaced the steering head bearings, putting the front end back together sans fork covers to accentuate the stripped-down café look. Like our project bike, Charlie’s 350 is another reminder of why these little Hondas were so popular. Abandoned for a decade, getting it back on the road is proving to be a fairly straightforward process, one we’ll log online as we move forward.

As it turns out, these “new” bikes carry benefits far beyond just the promise of riding, however. Because of them, Madeline and Charlie and I, already close, are spending even more time together. It’s deeply satisfying watching Madeline and Charlie gain skills and confidence as they dive deeper into their bikes, a gentle reminder of that age-old saw: It’s the journey, not the destination that matters.

Richard Backus

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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