By the time we pulled up, Franklin (name changed to protect the guilty) had already taken off his helmet, and was staring at the bike as if the intensity of his gaze alone would remedy the issue and cause it to start. Franklin had violated the
; never take a new-to-you (or newly repaired/restored) vintage bike out for a long (or hard) run without building up mileage and confidence incrementally. The Honda CB750 looked beautiful in the gleaming sunlight with its candy paint, but apparently, it simply would not start.
“You know you violated the law of…..” Franklin interrupted me and held up his hand in the universal sign that said — stop right there or this will get ugly.
“So it just died all of a sudden?” Skip thought that he would steer the conversation to safer ground.
“It started with a lumpy idle at the last stop sign, but it seemed fine once I got it up above 3 grand. Then ten minutes later it just sputtered and died.” Franklin squatted to check the plug wires.
“You want me to call roadside assistance?” Skip was not mechanically or diagnostically inclined. His Honda VFR 750 was selected in large part on reliability reviews.
Franklin held up his hand again.
Skip looked at me with a face that clearly said — well aren’t you going to help him get going before we all die of heat stroke?
I glared back at him with a face that clearly said — this is your fault in the first place in case you have forgotten, you lug nut.
And it was clearly Skip’s fault. It began earlier that morning.
We were all fortunate to have more than one running bike at the time. When we went for our Sunday Morning Service (as we called it), it was like a distorted game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Skip had 3 bikes, I had 2, and Franklin had 8 that we knew of. The combination produced odd trios like a Harley dresser (Franklin), a BMW R1100S (me), and a Honda TransAlp (Skip). the R1100S was fastest, but the Transalp was more versatile, and the Harley could run over them both without noticing. Harley wins. On this Sunday, Skip was already at Franklin’s house with the VFR when I pulled up on the R75/5. Franklin was undecided about which bike to extract from his crowded garage.
“Hey, we both have 750s. Frank, you should ride your new Honda. Today’s sermon will be on the 750 motor.” Reverend Skip was excited.
“Frank, didn’t you just get that bike?” I interjected.
“I got it home Wednesday, but it is immaculate. The PO won second at a show this spring. It starts on the button.” Franklin was warming to the idea.
doesn’t care about show ribbons.” The bike looked in tip top shape, and I was mostly joking.
“Sturgeon’s law says that 90% of everything is crap. That includes your laws.” Reverend Skip was in rare form, and continued.
“We can just go for French Toast.” Skip turned to Franklin and offered this as if it was just around the corner. French toast for us was about 45 miles away at a place that made it with the most delicious homemade bread.
“C’mon, its the only bike you don’t have to dig out. Its a sign. You don’t have any other 750.” Skip was piling on the pressure.
“Ok, but we’re taking it easy today.” Franklin yielded. I shrugged. I wanted to get going, and it was already heating up.
Fast forward, and 30 minutes later we are on the side of the road, with rivulets of sweat already forming on brows.
“Air, fuel, and fire. It has to be one of them, right Frank?” I threw my jacket over the R75/5 and walked toward the CB.
We checked fuel. Almost a full tank, but we changed the petcocks to reserve. The Honda fours of the early 1970s were beautiful engines to look at, but the carbs are an absolute PITA to access, much less keep balanced. We determined that the flow to the carbs was good, but couldn’t do much else without pulling the float bowls and carbs themselves. We checked the airbox at the back of the engine. Nothing obvious there, and pulling it away made no difference. We checked spark, and there was none. Aha !
“I think its a coil or condenser problem.” I thought that either diagnosis matched the symptoms.
“Why would both coils die at the same time?” Franklin was unconvinced. He wiggled wires around and attempted to reach up under the tank to check the connection at the coils.
“I don’t know, but you have no spark, and we have no meter to test current to the coils. Do you want to start pulling this thing apart ?” I was thinking that Skip’s roadside assistance was sounding good, or Franklin could take one of our bikes and go get his trailer.
Then Franklin thumbed the starter, and the bike fired up into a horrible idle. He gunned it to keep it from stalling, but it conked out a few seconds later.
“The problem is……you have too many cylinders, which leads to too many carbs, and too many coils. If you had the right amount, which is two, we could be on our way.” The bike had a single coil operating and was only firing on two cylinders.
“The problem is….you guys insist on riding machines that evolution replaced over a decade ago with vastly superior technology.” Skip was now sweating profusely.
We both turned toward Skip with similar intent to do physical harm. No one would find him out here for days. They would think the buzzards found a dead cow. I recovered first.
“I think it’s the coils. Just let it sit for a while. Skip, why don’t you run down to the Circle K on your new technology and get us some water. I’m sure we’ll be ready to roll when you get back.”
Franklin and I sat in the sun and waited. This was central Florida in September, and there was no shade as we were in the midst of an arrow-straight expanse of cattle ranch stretching for miles in both directions. The red mist cleared, and Franklin became a melancholy lump of gortex.
“You are both right you know. I have several newer perfectly reliable bikes in the garage, but I took the one I had only ridden around the block. On top of that, it is 25 years old.” Franklin confessed.
“I think it has a lot to do with it being 90 degrees out already. Stuff happens.” You don’t kick a man when he is down. I walked off to take a leak while Franklin sat staring off into the distance.
“I’m selling all my old bikes and getting a couple of newer ones.” I understand where he was at that moment. He was becoming drenched in his own sweat, a nice ride had been spoiled, not the first time an old bike left him stranded, no thick homemade french toast, no fresh squeezed orange juice, some repair work and expense ahead, perhaps a trip back to get the truck and trailer to come back out to tow it home, hands reeking of gasoline, buzzards circling overhead. Been there. It was a moment to comiserate, to demonstrate empathy, to appreciate the slings and arrows of vintage motorcycle ownership. To be supportive, to offer solace to a fellow enthusiast, to be there for him, and to offer your deepest words of compassion.
“Can I have the Norton?”