Ten hours, four states, and one foolproof plan: How I learned stop worrying and love the motorcycle

Dear God, what have I gotten myself into.

[Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here!]

My parents could not be called for comment.

I obviously wouldn’t be riding the Honda almost halfway across the country, as I was too much of a wuss to even take it around the block. “Want to take it for a ride?” Don had suggested in a hopeful tone. I took a look at the rutted dirt path leading out of his driveway, remembered the culmination of my two-wheeled motorized experience up to that point (taking a friend’s 1977 Puch moped up to 40mph), and turned him down. After the drive I was simply eager to load the bike up and get the hell back home.
During the drive back to Massachusetts that I had bummed off my friend Dave and a 1996 Mercury Villager that he dubbed “The Pillager,” I had hatched a daring plan. I would hitch a ride back home with my buddy back home for the weekend, then borrow my friend PJ’s 1998 Jeep Cherokee, buy a class III trailer hitch from Autozone before it closed at 9pm, drive to my friend Jay’s house and hook up his 12’ wooden box trailer, drive 10 hours across Pennsylvania in one sitting, pick up the bike, carefully sneak it back into Massachusetts, and surprise my parents by 1.) coming home from college on a random weekend, and 2.) cluttering their garage with a leaky old motorcycle, a notion that would inevitably give my dear mother an aneurysm. Oh, and I hadn’t told them any of this.
It would be foolproof. Nothing could possibly go wrong, I reassured myself.

I learned to rebuild these so many times I can now do it in my sleep. Or hanging upside down from a helicopter.

Turns out, PJ’s father wasn’t as enthusiastic about seeing his son’s only mode of transportation being bummed across the country by someone foolish enough to buy a motorcycle on a whim. So the plan fell through from the beginning and I went home with my tail between my legs, where I spilled the dastardly plot to my parents. My father, a can-do type of guy, was vaguely amused. My mother, however, acted like I had wrung a puppy’s neck in front of her: a mixture of disbelief, shock, denial, and then anger flooded over her features like incoming tidal waves.
There’s something that needs to be said about my father: when faced with a problem, he’s just as stubborn and resilient as I am. This is the guy who, when I was three, drove 2 hours across a sweltering Orlando summer in our beige 1988 Taurus because he missed the turnoff to Disneyworld and refused to turn back. And faced with legally binding financial transactions and the threat of legal action, we knew that we couldn’t just ignore the elephant in the driveway: we’d have to get the bike back home somehow by any means necessary.
So when Don and his brother, who had just pulled up in a rusty Chevy C/K pickup (now that would have been a far more useful vehicle), saw the minivan that we had rented and driven from Massachusetts all the way to a rural Cleveland suburb, backed into the driveway with its tailgate wide open, they didn’t know what to expect.
“Wait, how’re you gonna get it back?” his brother piped up.
I sheepishly pointed at the minivan.
“Wait, hold on…” he said, a look of horror slowly sweeping across his face, “you’re going to take it back in that thing?
“Jesus,” Don said.
The man had a point. Nowhere in the clause of any rental vehicle contract does it say that it is a good idea to stack a motorcycle into the back of a Dodge Grand Caravan.

At this point I told my mom, "hey, it almost kinda looks like a real motorcycle!" She was still not amused.

We first took off the sidecovers and fuel tank. With the rear seats folded, we could crank the handlebars all the way to the left and slot the motorcycle in on its side. The rear wheel barely fit with the hatch closed, threatening to put a dent in the plastic shrouding the rear hatch. A drop of gasoline leaked out of a drain tube somewhere—enough to fill the entire cabin up with fumes. The carpeted floor mats were blotted with oil, fuel and grease stains that the rental agency would be livid about. I sat in the back, up against the passenger-side door. There was no room otherwise.
“Boy,” said Don, as we began to pull out of the driveway, “you must have some awesome parents.”
And on that note we drove the 10 hours across I-80 with my new acquisition in the back, with the windows wide open and the fan cranked to maximum power. The bike fit surprisingly well in the van, like a set of gasoline-filled matryoshka dolls, and I had room to duck my head to avoid being seen by cops wondering why I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
We finally pulled into our driveway at 3 in the morning. For someone who had literally spent all day sitting down, I was too tired to do anything. I stared at the motorcycle and the moonlight glinting off the headlight. That night we left it in the van; we were too tired from the drive to lift it out.
But tomorrow, I would get to work.

How she stands now. All that's left is to install new coils off a Gold Wing, finish painting the tank, weld in the exhaust tip, fire up the engine after four years of stagnation without setting my mom's Civic (seen in back) on fire, and go pick up chicks. Alternatively, my friend has christened it the "Thrustmaster," and I shall be rocking custom badges to that effect. It helps to have friends who, unlike me, actually know what they're doing.

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  1. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

    So what is this, a CB350F? Or maybe a CB400F?

  2. bzr Avatar

    CB550F Super Sport, 1976.

    1. plecostomus Avatar

      I pulled the same trick you did by bringing it home as a surprise – I didn't tell the GF til 3-4 days after I'd bought my bike XD!!!

  3. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    Good read, nothing quite like the feeling the morning after huh. That whole "ah crap now what have I done to myself?"

  4. Thrashy Avatar

    Looks like a cool, (mostly) fun project. I wish you luck, and hope that it ends in a better place than my old housemate's flirtation with old bikes. As I alluded to in a thread last week, after several months of effort his GPz-750 is now a collection of dusty parts stuffed into a corner and forgotten. See it through to the end, it'll be worth it!

  5. Derek Avatar

    What a great adventure! It’s nice to see someone getting dirty and actually working on their ride, rather than paying someone else to do all the work.
    I hope you replaced the front wheel bearings/seals, I had a coupla real close calls (wobbly trailing throttle under steer in corners)on my ’80 750 Honda before I discovered that they were corroded from the previous owner pressure washing the bike.
    A similar situation happened on a year old borrowed ’73 Kawasaki 903 Z1 right at 120 mph when it went into a wobbly tank slapper that I barely recovered from, which turned out to be loose/flat spotted, steering head bearings from too many wheelies.
    And do check the swing arm retaining nut cotter pin, as I the one on my ’75 Kawasaki 350 (2 stroke) came off on the freeway, and the swing arm bolt backed out almost all the way, and it made for “unusual” handling to say the least.
    Bad bearings can kill you, never skimp, buy the best you can afford, and don’t pressure wash anywhere near bearings and seals.
    Also, consider taking a motorcycle safety foundation rider safety course, it could save your life.
    Have fun, and keep the rubber side down bro.

    1. rocketrodeo Avatar

      My priorities would be in the opposite order of Derek's. You have two separate concerns, each of pressing importance. While you need to turn this pile of parts into a safely operable motorcycle, FIRST you have to make yourself a motorcyclist. Motorcycle ownership is the least important factor in this process. I would go as far as to say that the MSF course WILL
      Secondly, you need good safety gear. Minimum of a brand-new full-face helmet, abrasion and impact resistant jacket and pants, and moto-specific gloves and boots. You will never need good gear more than you will at the very beginning of your riding career. DO NOT SKIMP. It will also show your loved ones that you're serious about doing this right. All good parents hate the idea of their progeny on two wheels. They may be externally supportive, but trust me, they hate the very idea. This will go a long ways towards easing their minds a bit.
      I agree with the bearing concerns, but these are easily checked to see if they need replacement. Bearings are binary; either they're working correctly or they're not. Steering head bearings are virtually certain to need replacement, and you would have felt this need while the wheel was off the fork. If it was the least bit notchy on-center, replace. If you've ever looked for something fun to do with a slide hammer, this would be the task.
      Next on the concern list is brakes and tires. Check the date codes on the tires. I won't ride a tire over three years old, personally, and five is the absolute outside safety limit. Once you're on the road, your personal longevity is intimately linked to the progressive and predictable braking ability of your front tire.
      If the bike hasn't been ridden for a while, you should expect your fork seals to begin leaking immediately after you start riding the bike, if they're not right now. It's an immutable law of motorcycle maintenance that fork oil always migrates down the tubes directly onto the brakes.
      I've had a number of SOHC four Hondas, including a CB350F, a CB500K, two CB750Ks, and a CB750SS. Fun bikes all, and relatively reliable, but only in the context of their times. This isn't the easiest or cheapest way to get into riding, but by the time the bike is completely roadworthy you will know it inside and out, and that has a value beyond money.

      1. bzr Avatar

        In the interests of full disclosure, I've been pootling around on a Yamaha Seca II for two years now with a full-face helmet and jacket, and I took the MRC course before I bought the Yamaha.

        1. DerangedStoat Avatar

          You may already and just neglected to mention them, but appropriate gloves should be right there along side your helmet as gear that you must wear when going out for a ride. Even in a low speed lie-down, your first reaction is going to be to stick your hands out to catch yourself. Life could be incredibly difficult for the few weeks it may take for them to heal otherwise.
          May your roads be smooth and winding!

  6. dustin_driver Avatar

    Way back when I got obsessed with motorcycles and took the training course. When I was in college I came "this" close to buying a beat-to-hell Honda VFR 700. White with no lower faring. Mismatched headlight from a later 750f. It was only 1,000 bucks. My god, was it a blast. So smooth and fast. So much power and torque. I remember on the test ride forgetting to downshift after a test panic stop. The bike was in third, but pulled away with no trouble. I went home and told my folks. My mom, as expected, blew a gasket. I expected my dad to shrug, but he simply said, "I don't think it's a good idea." I could see the fear in his eyes. I never got a bike. I just couldn't do it to my old man.
    The bike looked like this, but very scruffy:
    <img src="http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~john/vfr/specs/pics/87-vfr700f2-wt.jpg"&gt;

  7. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

    Awesome. Same block (mostly) and bigger cubes.

  8. P161911 Avatar

    Cool bike!
    The only vehicle I ever drug home while in college was a Fiat 850 Spider. I was working a Co-Op Job in Ohio/Kentucky. I brought it home to Georgia on a U-Haul trailer behind my K-5 Blazer with thoughts of restoring it, realized it was beyond my skills/budget. Ended up selling it off by the piece on e-bay, actually came out ahead on the deal in the long run.

  9. jrverster Avatar

    Well said!
    I had 2 "incidents" in the first 6 months of owning my first bike – luckily the bigger of the 2 was at (relatively) low speed on mowed lawn (dry but hard – my Nitro jacket saved me from severe grazes or worse there)
    Since then, you learn to look, listen and think – especially for those you share the road with (because they mostly just drive without thinking, in my experience)
    Respect the beast but above all else – ENJOY!

  10. Jim7 Avatar

    Just know that a motorcycle is a selective Cloak of Invisibility; the other drivers WILL NOT see you until you're on fire. The only other drivers that will see you are the cops.
    Counter-steer. Keep your fingers around the front brake. Have fun.