Saturday, December 27, 2014

Clubman

In the latter part of the 80’s, Honda sleeved down the motor from the off-road XR600, chromed it, mated it to a dual-shock vintage-y chassis, added a bum-stop seat, low clip-on handlebars, and wire spoke wheels, and created the GB500 TT, a stone reliable, retro-modern 1960’s café racer.

(Introduction paragraph paraphrased from the Clubman TT website, http://lovik.tripod.com/Clubman2.html.)

The café racer is a light-weight, lightly-powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling rather than comfort. The bodywork and control layout of a café racer typically mimicked the style of a contemporary Grand Prix roadracer, featuring an elongated fuel tank (often with indentations to allow the rider's knees to grip the tank), low slung racing handlebars, and a single-person, elongated, humped seat.

A signature trait was the use of low, narrow handlebars that allowed the rider to "tuck in" — a posture with reduced wind resistance and better control. These handlebars, known as clip-ons (two separate bars that bolt directly to each fork tube), clubman or ace bars (one piece bars that attach to the standard mounting location but drop down and forward). The ergonomics resulting from low bars and the rearward seat often required rearsets, or rear-set footrests and foot controls, again typical of racing motorcycles of the era. Distinctive half or full race-style fairings were sometimes mounted to the forks or frame.

The bikes had a utilitarian, stripped-down appearance, engines tuned for maximum speed and lean, light road handling. The well-known example was "The Triton," a homemade combination of Norton Featherbed frame and Triumph Bonneville engine. It used a common and fast racing engine combined with a well-handling frame, the Featherbed frame by Norton Motorcycles. Those with less money could opt for a “Tribsa” — the Triumph engine in a BSA frame. Other combinations such as the "Norvin" (a Vincent V-Twin engine in a Featherbed frame) and racing frames by Rickman or Seeley were also adopted for road use.

(Since Norton would not sell a bare frame, many riders would purchase the complete motorcycle and then remove the Norton engine. The famous frame got its name from Harold Daniell, a successful Isle of Man TT racer with three victories and several placings in the Tourist Trophy races and the Manx Grand Prix. After testing the new Norton frame in 1950 he declared that it was like "riding on a featherbed" compared with riding the "garden gate" — and it has been called the featherbed frame ever since.)

The Honda GB500 TT was a motorcycle introduced in the 1980s. First marketed in Japan in 1985 in two 400cc and one 500 cc version, followed by a third 400 cc version for Japan and finally a 500cc version for the US.

(The "Tourist Trophy," or TT, derives its name from the Tourist Trophy motorcycle races on a 37-mile road circuit in the Isle of Man off the coast of England.)

The GB500 engine was based on the motor from the Honda XL600, a dry-sump, four-stroke dirt bike. The four-valve single cylinder engine featured a radial four-valve combustion chamber, along with a tubular frame, wire wheels, clip-on handlebars, solo seat, seat hump, and pin-striped gas tank. The styling resembled TT single-cylinder racing bikes (such as the Manx Norton, the BSA Gold Star and the AJS 7R) that were prominent in the TT until the 1960s.

In the USA, GB500s were imported for model years 1989 and 1990. In 1992, a third-party exported 1,000 unsold Honda GB 500 Clubmans from the USA to Germany as unofficial import vehicles.

The GB500 looked like an antique, but it was a modern machine. A single-cylinder, 499cc overhead cam engine was similar to a multitude of British machines that had been powered by "thumper" engines in their heyday and the GB embodied the emotion. A two-into-one exhaust handled the departing gases and the muffler was finished in chrome. (Although a single cylinder, with two exhaust valves, there were two exhaust pipes.) Starting the GB was accomplished via electric start or kick-start pedal.

Released in 1989, it had been many moons since Honda included a kick-starting on a street-going machine. The solo saddle was truncated by a small rear cowling that, along with the classic shaped fuel tank, were draped in Black Green Metallic paint and offset with gold pinstripes. Everything about the Tourist Trophy said "classic," right down to the spoke wheels at either end. Low mounted handlebars or "clip-ons,” and a five speed gearbox complete the list of features. This bike would feel right at home at the Isle of Man.

A drop in the price of $500 for 1990 probably spoke to the poor sales of this very un-Honda, Honda. Dropped from sales in the US in 1991, perhaps it was replaced in the eyes of Honda management by the new, sportier looking Nighthawk incarnation of the venerable CB750.

It is hard to understand why Honda built a bike like the GB500. Its engine configuration, styling, and even its name tie to an earlier time in motorcycle racing. A time when bikes such as the BSA Gold Star were the sporting bikes of choice and the Isle of Man TT was the premier motorcycle event in the world. But that still leaves the question of "why?" It is almost as if someone at Honda suddenly realized that they had never bulit a 500cc single-cylinder sport bike, and decided that it needed to build one to fill a perceived void.

Even the numeric code was a bit of a mystery. Honda had well used the letter C and also V, X, F, S, and even R and P. GL, of course, was used since the first Gold Wing in 1975. But GB is rather unique. Could it actually stand for "Great Britain?" Is the 500 TT just a tribute from one small Pacific island country to another small island nation in the Atlantic?

The main feature of the GB500 was a 500cc, single-cylinder, overhead-cam four-stroke. The head had four valves in what Honda called a Radial Four Valve Combustion chamber (RFVC). To dampen the vibration inherent in a big single, the engine was equipped with a gear-driven balancer shaft.

The RFVC head has the valves arranged radially and none of the valves are on the same plain giving a hemispheric shape to the combustion chamber. Think of all the valve faces resting on the surface of a ball and how they all point out and away from each other.

Other four valve engines have a pent roof design where the intakes are usually on the same plain and the exhausts are on the same plain. This gives the combustion chamber a shape like a tent.

How is one better than the other … well … pent roof chambers have the advantage of a squish area that makes them less prone to detonation. Hemi's on the other hand have a nice even burn. In theory the hemi-head has advantages and disadvantages. I note that the latest designs of both automobiles and motorcycle heads tend more toward pent roof and squish band designs. The entire semi vs. pent-roof argument all goes back to european designs. Neither the Japanese nor the Americans were first to these high performance head and valve designs, although Honda certainly has made a name for themselves as a four- (or three-) valve engine company. One always wonders about the level of cross-pollination between Honda motorcycle engineers and the automotive group.

For relief from the ritual usually required to start a big single, the GB500 was fitted with an electric start and an automatic compression release. Honda claimed an output of 40 horsepower for the engine. Every bit a throw-back and every bit a modern example of precise Honda engineering.

With a counterbalance that quells vibration, about 33 stock horsepower, and a 7500 or so redline, it is an engine that needs to feel its oats. Somewhere, right now, on some winding slab of asphalt, there’s a happy owner winding this thumper out. I’m sure you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face with a roll of paper towels. I just wish that rider was me.

The styling of the GB500 is very attractive, particularly if you were fond of British café racer styling. With wire spoke wheels, dual rear shocks, a separate speedometer and tachometer in chromed housings, the small front fenders, clubman (clip-on) bars, the seat tailpiece, and the black green paint with gold pin-striping, and you had a bike that fitted the vision of what many people thought motorcycle of the earlier era should look like. A very attractive motorcycle, indeed.

Although only sold for two years due to poor marketplace performance, the bike has a special group of followers including this definitely anglophile rider. I’m actively seeking one of these special bikes for my collection.

There is even special websites dedicated to this single Honda model. Check out http://www.hondagb500.com/ and http://www.honda-gb500.layte.com/

At this website, the rider looks suspiciously like yours truly. http://lovik.tripod.com/Clubman.html

Owners of these special bikes are almost a cult. A much smaller group that those that still ride classic vintage Hondas such as a CB77 Superhawk of the original K0 or K1 versions of the CB450 known as the “Black Bomber.” The few lucky owners of this Honda “Clubman” would not part with their bike for love or money. I suspect they keep the machine safely parked in their living room, or — even better — their bedroom. But trust me, these are not museum pieces. No, any owner would spend his (or her) weekends out on the road, possibly humming some British folk song.

Check out these pictures of the original prototype, a 1962 AJS 7R, 350cc. Now you can see where those tricky Japanese got the look. It’s a simple recipe: one stone-reliable Japanese thumper in one British style frame, and you’re ready for a trip to the Isle of Man. I can recommend several good pubs in Douglas or Castletown. Just park your bike outside.

AJS

Norton Manx

Honda GB500 TT

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Tales

This has been an unusual Christmas. We’ve never missed a Christmas with our kids since we were married. And that’s coming up on 38 years. In fact, our anniversary is next week.

We almost missed Christmas one year. I think it was 1982. We still lived on Sherman street in Longmont and Linda’s parents lived out in the country near Berthoud. We took the kids out to their house early on Christmas eve. We still had some shopping and a lot of wrapping to do.

It started to snow rather heavy. By the time Linda and I had all the gifts loaded in the yellow van, the snow was several feet deep. We headed down the street … and got stuck at the end of the block. With the help of neighbors, we got the van back home. So the kids spent Christmas night at their grandparents, and we were stuck home … alone. Linda was in tears missing her kids for X-mas.

The next morning the snow had stopped and the plows had done their best. We jumped back in the van (after shoveling off our sidewalk and driveway) and headed north. No problem getting across town or down US 287. We turned onto Caballero, the street Bob and Bea lived on. It had been plowed by a local farmer and was one narrow lane through four feet of snow. I got two blocks down the street before I became stuck.

With snow up the side of the van, I couldn’t open the doors to get out. I went to the back of the van and pulled the “second door release” latch. I was able to force open the two doors with that latch released. We walked the last block to Linda’s parents and Bob came back with two shovels.

We did some widening of the single path, got the van backed up up a bit, and … with a run … made it to his driveway. He had shoveled it off using his little garden tractor and a plow blade. So soon we were spending Christmas morning (or noon) with the kids and we had a very merry Christmas.

Plus, it gave this tale to tell.

Another time, in the 90’s, I was on an “emergency customer visit” with a valued customer in Philadelphia. I had been there all of Christmas week working on a very intense technical problem. I was there with a senior vice-president who was looking over my shoulder every step of the way … often reminding me just what this client was worth in annual IBM revenue.

Although the problem was a "class-one," critical situation, we did take a break for Christmas. I flew home on Dec. 23, and came back to Philly the day after Christmas. Actually, that wasn’t a bad time to fly since most holiday travelers take a week or more off.

Plus that customer threw a big dinner for us when the work was done a few days later and that V.P. was forever in my debt. In fact, he was a key person in getting me promoted later to a senior scientist position at IBM called STSM. That was my last promotion, and put me into financial security such that we had Christmas turkey ever year after that. Heck, we could have afforded Peking Duck after that raise. So all’s well that ends financially well.

This, then, is the first Christmas in 37 years that I didn’t spend with my kids, although Linda is here and so is my dad. That’s OK. We had a wonderful Christmas party and gift exchange on Dec. 12 when we were back in Colorado for a short time. We reserved space for over a dozen guests at the T.G.I. Fridays and had a wonderful time, wonderful dinner, and the usual great memories.

For most of our married life, we had dinner at Linda's parents. Bea was a wonderful cook and we always enjoyed the hospitality. A couple of times we slept over on Christmas Eve. A few, very special Christmases included family from Alaska. In the early nineties, both of Linda's brothers and their whole family came down and spent December with us. We have a great family portrait with all the Lincoln grandkids in memory of that special year.

Later, after Linda's mom turned 70, she turned the meal preparation over to us. She still helped and our sons both chipped in. We often wonder how Bea was able to prepare those wonderful meals all by herself, when it takes four or five of us to duplicate the feat.

Christmas dinner varies at our homestead. It is often turkey with possibly more dishes such as ham. But it can also be lasagne, a specialty Linda and I prepare. Two years ago, being somewhat burned out on turkey from Thanksgiving, we had cold cuts and salads … all from “Our Butcher Frank.” One year we went to our oldest son’s for dinner and had pasta. That was a good break.

One time, about ten years ago, we had Prime Rib. Earlier in Dec. that year, as a department event, our IBM group of 8 went to a chef school for a special day. We were taught french cooking techniques and enjoyed wine and cheese and bread while we prepared a meal for about 20. We then sat down with the chefs, instructors, helpers, and had our self-prepared feast. The star was the Prime Rib. It was a “Rib Roast — First Cut.” I did the potatoes. Under mentorship of the chef, I sliced them very thin and quickly browned them in a skillet with butter. I then piled them, one on another, in a round bowl with a flat bottom. Next I turned the bowl over into a pan, creating a solid and nicely sculpted potato dish which I baked. Others made the salads, home made vinaigrette dressing, and side dishes.

It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about cooking, knife skills, and other preparation methods. I used a “mandolin” to cut the potatoes as thin as paper. Not a stringed instrument, but a thin slicing kitchen appliance. I ended up getting one for Linda as a Christmas present (from McGuckin’s for those familiar with Boulder, CO) and used it for the meal after she opened the present. We still use it to this day. (If you watch “Chopped” on the Food Channel you’ll see them in use.)

I repeated the meal for our family a couple of weeks later. One reason one has turkey is lower cost for a large meal. I paid over $100 for the roast. When I got back to work after the holidays, my boss said he’d done the same. Only his roast had cost over $200.

By the way, the little event at the cooking school cost $325 per person. IBM had a fund that paid for events for the departments as morale boosters and teamwork builders. We would often spend our money on a luxury box at the Rockies games. One year it was two-for-one, so we got two wonderful days at the ball game in the luxury boxes. And, let me tell you, this luxury boxes are pure luxury.

Another memory from Christmas long, long ago included our best friends, Steve and Sandy. I don’t remember where our two boys were that night, or their two girls, but it was just the four of us out driving around town on Christmas eve. It was around 8 or 9 at night, and all the restaurants were closed. We found a Chinese restaurant that was open, as they didn’t celebrate the holiday. We had a wonderful diner … we were the only ones in the restaurant at that time of night.

Later, about ten, we were riding around enjoying the lights. There was very little traffic. Sandy said they didn’t have a tree, and we passed several lots that sold trees. They were all closed at this late hour of Christmas Eve. Steve said we should just stop and take a tree. They weren’t worth anything now with the holiday almost over, and it wouldn’t really be stealing. We thought about it pretty hard, but decided not too. I think that decision was made right after we passed a police car on patrol.

So we drove around until midnight looking at lights and enjoying the solitude and each others company. Finally we took them home and returned to our abode to await the sound of tiny reindeer on the roof.

Speaking of reindeer, Linda would always try to trick the boys on holidays. After they went to bed, she would make footprints on the living room floor using white powder. She'd tell the boys it was Santa or, in the Spring, the Easter bunny. We always had stockings filled with candy and toys that we’d put up after everyone was in bed, and preserved the Santa myth as long as we could. It is fun to pretend.

We often spend Christmas eve now driving around and enjoying the lights. We go up to Fox Hill because they always do luminaries in the entire neighborhood. These are paper bags with burning candles in them.

Recently, for about the last five or ten years, we've been attending a candle light service at our church. I remember the first one. After we all sat down and sang some carols and prayed, our paster, Tom Beaman, came out dressed as Joseph. He said Mary and the baby were sleeping, but he could tell us all about the miraculous night and the shepherds and wise men visitors. He was dressed authentically and told the story beautifully in a sort of "you are there" style.

Then, they turned out all the lights, including the decorations on the tree. It was black as pitch. As Tom spoke of the light that came into the world, he lit a candle. The ushers lit their candles from his. Then they went down the aisles lighting the candles on the end. Each person would light the candle next to them and the room was soon filled with light. This was how the story is told. This is called "evangelism." It is a beautiful thing. Don't hide your light under a hat. Rather, shine your light like a city on a hill.

For those that don't know, Colorado is the official Christmas state. That's true. Think of all the Christmas specials filmed in Colorado. Think of a cabin and a warm fire with white snow outside. (Think of skiing and hot tubs.) You see, it is true. Colorado is the official Christmas state. Right now hollywood stars and millionaire are celebrating in Aspen and Vail. Merry Christmas to Colorado.

Many memories. That’s what Christmas means to me … memories. I hope all of you reading this little note built some more good family memories this Christmas season. This will always be a special Christmas to me. The Christmas I spent away from Colorado with my wife and my dad. Great that I can spend time with him. No one knows. This could be the last Christmas with him. That is a great gift in itself.

God bless us all, Tiny Tim.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Crazy Larry and the MG B

There’s one in every fraternity. You know … a kidder, a jokester, a trickster. In our frat it was Larry. We even called him “Crazy Larry” because of the escapades he would perpetuate. Larry had a nice MG sports car, and he and I were out on a ride one day. We were on a back road near Bozeman, Montana, and it was fairly straight.

Suddenly, Larry lifted the steering wheel off the post and handed it to me. I was flabbergasted. Sure the car was going in a straight line, but you know how cars can drift on the road. And I was holding the steering wheel.

I didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to scream and too nervous to really make any sudden movements. I tried to hand the wheel back to Larry so he could put it back on the steering column and keep us on the road. He just laughed and refused. The car was still going down the road straight and we weren’t going too fast, only about 45 mph, but I just knew, at any point, the car would head for the ditch and there wouldn’t be enough time for Larry to reattach the wheel.

I started to beg with Larry to take the wheel back, but he just laughed. You know how those kind of people can laugh. And the more nervous and frustrated I got, the more Larry laughed. Finally, as a curve approached ahead, he agreed to take the wheel back. He fit it back on the column and steered around the curve, all the time laughing so hard he had tears. After that I am afraid I blacked out and didn’t come back to my senses until we returned to the fraternity house.

That night, as we gathered with several other foolish college boys and discussed the day, Larry performed a great imitation of my expressions as I pleaded with him to restore the steering before we crashed and burned. I was the object of much laughter and derision, but I still didn't understand. Then Larry explained things. Apparently everyone else was already familiar with Larry’s car and his little stunt.

He explained that his car pulled a bit to the right if no steering correction was provided. Most cars have this tendency to creep either right or left when unattended due to some unbalance in the suspension.

Further, the brakes, when applied, pulled a bit to the left. So, with the natural tendency to shift to the right and the brakes applying a bit of force in the other direction, Larry could keep the car on a straight line for hours by just applying a little brakes. He had pulled this trick on half the guys in the fraternity and everyone had a great laugh at my expense.

That was Crazy Larry. Always laughing at someone else’s expense. That also explained why he had removed the nut securing the steering wheel to the column. This was one of his favorite jokes played often on unsuspecting fraternity brothers and anyone else foolish enough to get in his car.

A few weeks later I scored a date with a local prom queen. She was a senior at the high school in Bozeman, and I met her and, through considerable effort, I convinced her to go out with me.

It was a beautiful night in Bozeman, and I borrowed Larry’s car. I had the top down, and we were driving down a country road when the idea struck me to play the trick on her that Larry had pulled on me. Not to be cruel, but just to convince her I had a great sense of humor.

Soon we were on a straight stretch, so I pulled off the steering wheel and handed it to her. She had the same reaction I had had a few weeks earlier. She tried to hand the steering wheel back to me, but I pretended I was going to get another radio station on the dial.

Just as Larry had predicted, the car started to drift to the right. I touched the brakes slightly to compensate, but it had no effect. The car continued to drift to the right. I pressed the brakes harder before I realized they were not correcting the drift toward the ditch on the side of the road.

Realizing my trick wasn't working, frantically I tried to get the steering wheel back from my date and reattached to the column before disaster, but she had it in a death grip, no doubt expecting that to be her fate in just a few moments. The car left the road. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a ditch and we quickly smashed through the fence and started plowing across a farmer's corn field. Corn was flying through the air and landing in our open compartment before I could apply enough brakes to get us to a stop.

Without saying a word, she handed me back the wheel. As I repaired the steering and drove back onto the road, she said just three words, “Take me home.” It was then that I noticed the corn cob in her lap and the corn tassels in her hair. Not a word was spoken as I drove her back home, all hopes of a successful evening smashed by Crazy Larry’s car trick.

I stopped in front of her house. She got out without a word, slammed the car door, walked up the steps, slammed her front door, and I never saw or heard from her again.

I got back to the frat house where the usual bunch was hanging out watching TV, drinking beer, and — of course — laughing at some story Larry was in the middle of telling. One look at me with the remnants of a corn field all over my head and clothes, and they quickly turned to me for an explanation.

I told the whole tale in agonizing detail, including the silent trip back to the girl’s house, and the very real likelihood that I’d never get a date with her again … or a date with any of her friends as soon as she filled them in on my rather unorthodox behavior.

Larry turned to me and said, “How did that happen?” I said I didn’t know. The car drifted a bit to the right, just as he had described. But, when I stepped on the brake, it failed to correct. I said that he had told me the brakes would pull the car to the left. He replied, “Yes, they used to, but that was before I got them fixed. Now they don't pull at all!”

The laughter didn’t fade as I headed upstairs to bed. Damn you Crazy Larry. Damn you and your MG B.

Now you may wonder if this is a true story. No. It is not. It isn’t even my story. I never went to college in Bozeman, and the only fraternity I ever belonged to was an honor society. I just got a plaque … no Crazy Larry, no MG B, no frat house, and no date with a prom queen. I don’t even know anyone named Larry.

But I didn’t make this up. I actually heard it on the Car Guys. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” Channel 141 on Sirius Satellite plays Tom and Ray reruns every day around noon. They’re up to 1992 at this point. I heard this story on one of my trips.

This is just too good of a story to leave it only on the radio waves. So I’ve written it down for posterity. I only recall the basic plot. I turned that into a story that certainly could of happened to me. Maybe it did … in an alternate universe. Love those alternate universes. They can explain so much.

It isn’t even Tom or Ray’s story. They read it in a letter. I liked it. I hope you did too.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Honda

Honda started making motorcycles over 65 years ago and, Nov. 26, they announced a huge milestone: producing their 300-millionth motorcycle. Current population of the U.S. is 323,700,000. So that’s about one motorcycle for every person in the United States including the little babies.

Of course, the 300 million number includes a lot of sales in other countries, but it is a tremendous number, exceeding by far the total manufacture of any other motorcycle company.

In 1958, Honda introduced the Honda 50, known globally as the Super Cub, which would go on to revolutionize the industry. This iconic bike paved the way for Honda’s expansion into the U.S. in 1959 and Canada in 1969. The Super Cub, which has sold nearly 90 million units globally since its inception, was the focus of a mid-1960s advertising campaign, "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," that played a major role in the transformation and growth of the U.S. motorcycle market.

The Super Cub and it’s fraternal twins with up to 90cc engines are the all-time best selling single model of a transportation devices on two-, four- or any number of wheels.

In 1949, Honda started mass production of motorcycles in Japan with their 98cc Dream Type-D. Today, Honda produces motorcycles and related vehicles: ATVs and UTVs (side-by-sides) at 32 plants in 22 countries, including two plants in North America.

In the 1960s, Honda established Honda of America Mfg. and the company’s first U.S. production facility, the Marysville Motorcycle Plant. The plant, which opened on September 10, 1979 in Marysville, Ohio, produced both motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) until 2009. Production of ATVs has since shifted to Honda of South Carolina Mfg. (HSC) in Timmonsville, South Carolina.

Since the start of production in 1979, Honda has manufactured more than five million power sports products in North America using global and domestically sourced parts. Today, Honda Power Sports manufactures FourTrax ATVs and Pioneer side-by-sides and engines, while the Honda plant in El Salto, Jalisco, Mexico, produces motorcycles.

The successful startup of motorcycle production at Honda of America Mfg. in 1979 was soon followed by the auto production at the Marysville Auto Plant in 1982. Motorcycle production continued in Ohio until 2009 and planted the seeds of manufacturing expertise that has led to many Honda facilities across North America. Today, Honda operates 17 major manufacturing facilities in North America, producing a wide range of Honda and Acura automobiles, automobile engines and transmissions, Honda all-terrain vehicles and side-by-sides, lawn mowers and power equipment products, and the HondaJet light jet.

The Honda HA-420 HondaJet is the first general aviation aircraft developed by the Honda Aircraft Company. [Wikipedia]
Range: 1,358 miles
Top speed: 483 mph
First flight: December 3, 2003
Length: 43 ft
Unit cost: $3,650,000 USD
Engine type: GE Honda HF120

That’s right. Honda makes a jet. I know! Who knew?