Saturday, 30 January 2016

Honda CBF500: Ninth life of a vertical twin

Honda have recently launched the CBF500 twin, which shares most of its engine with the CB500, more a styling refinement than anything else. Both have 58hp, DOHC parallel twin motors, the CB500 a typical rendition of a genre that Honda began to perfect in the mid-sixties. That is, the mill's easy going at lower revs but goes hardcore come 6500rpm, with a gravelly wail and an urgency that belies its near 400lbs of mass and mere 58 horses. And tough, too, regularly doing 50,000 miles in the hands of hardcore DR's without any hiccups. I bought one when they first came out, did 32000 miles in two years – not despatching, merely commuting and fun riding – and only sold the bike because the wife was nagging on about a second car for her...

Six months ago the same nagging wife was now an ex-wife. Supposedly, when couples divorce in the UK, they each end up with half of everything. Not if there are kids involved and the nagging wife becomes a lying wife, then you end up locked out of your own house and handing over most of your income in child support and mortgage payments. Having seen the end coming, and witnessed a friend come close to suicide when a similar thing happened to him, I had managed to secrete a few thousand quid in another bank account. The whole system collapses when you give up your job and do a disappearing act...

Of course, possible future destitution and removal of kids from one's life does add up to serious depression and I resolved to refocus my mind on past delights. No, not some long lost love from my school days, but another bloody motorcycle! There is nothing, in modern life, quite like leaping on to two wheels and charging into battle with the cagers – at the very least, it leaves no room for other thoughts!

It took me no time at all to find a CB500 for five hundred notes. I was the ninth owner, but the clock sported only 24,589 miles. Faded cosmetics and illegal consumables were the main downsides, soon sorted and I was off on the gold paved road to London (too many bad memories in Leeds) in no time at all. After hearing my tale of woe, a mate had offered me a room in his ex-council flat in Acton – still a keen biker he had a garage where the bike could be kept safely overnight.

Leaving my home town, I was filled with a strange euphoria that was at odds with my age (43) and predicament. The Honda whirled and growled in encouragement, doing a surreal, secure 85-90mph down the motorway, the summer sun shining brightly as I headed into a new adventure where anything was possible, or not. Later, the reality of a congested, polluted capital city had me wondering just which planet I was on but the CB didn't seem to mind at all, surprising me with the aplomb with which it shot down to Acton as if I wasn't really needed at the controls. It was like I had never been away from biking.

London and a CB500 equals despatching. At least in theory, it actually took a while to find a company that didn't demand any documentation, paid in cash and didn't seem to mind that I didn't know one end of Kensington High Street from the other. Nothing is ever that easy, the CB deciding it didn't like London – refusing to start until the battery was almost flat and sometimes cutting out. Not the kind of hassle you need in Central London traffic! After some digging around in the headlamp and under the tank, a corroded connector found as the culprit but by then the strange current surges had kneecapped the rectifier as well and total electrical failure resulted. After some eye strain on the MCN classifieds a replacement was found in the breakers and it was back to work.

If I hadn't been staying for free with my friend, I doubt if I would have survived for the first month – dodgy DR companies don't pay serious dosh and the first week I made all of eighty quid! Our rapacious government makes it difficult to find well paid cash-in-hand work – of the legal sort, anyway. Two hundred and fifty notes in a week the most I ever made despatching – the price, a poor old CB that was corroding under me. Anyway after four months of this I had actually added to my cash pile and decided to chance my arm abroad.

Oh forgot to mention the comfort factor – in normal riding the CB's one of the more comfy bikes on the market and initially I did not have many problems but about a month into things I began to shit blood – not being able to register with a doctor didn't help but a visit to the local casualty unit – talk about embarrassing – revealed that I merely had a case of piles! Cleared up nicely with application of Mastu S cream but it killed any juvenile ideas I had of graduating to a race replica – talk about age getting the better of me!

The Honda was serviced, disassembled down to the frame/engine, cleaned up and painted, then furnished with nearly new consumables and a pair of shocks that actually had some damping left in them. Shone brightly in the autumn sunlight she did, too. Used cables, rectifier and spare chain were taken along for the ride, no point tempting fate, was there?

By then the clock sported nearly 40,000 miles and the motor felt a touch tired, happier at 80mph rather than 90mph and turning in 45mpg rather than 55mpg. She would still scamper through the ton, but the vibration turned quite harsh by then, discouraging me from pushing it any harder – newish bikes do 110-115mph. I always bought secondhand tyres, so can only guess that a new set would do 8-9000 miles and it always seemed to churn through a chain in around 6000 miles (new sprockets would most likely double that!). Amazingly, the engine was still oil tight and didn't need topping up between 2000 miles changes.

So off to France went we, full of joy at hearing the ex-wife had been forced to move to a council estate and was spitting blood at the mere mention of my name. The Honda, six thousand quid in a money belt, a small tent, a few clothes and my father's watch represented the complete sum of my worldly goods but I had never felt better.

The Honda definitely liked France, seemingly reinvigorated by foreign soil, though thinking about it the UK was just as foreign to the CB. In two months it has done 12000 miles and shows no imminent signs of imploding. It has been a weird time, with myself falling for a French lady and moving in with her (a widow not a divorcee) – she is fifty but looks better than most British thirty year-olds – and introducing her to the joys of biking. She has her own bakery, so I help her with that off the books.

An happy ending? Well, I have the urge to do some serious exploring on a motorcycle so I expect to have a new tale to tell in a year or so. Not of the CB500 – it has exceeded all expectation but it's getting close to the end of its life, not ideal when contemplating high mileages. I would recommend a used one to anyone who wants a serious motorcycle that would do anything other than insane speeds.

Eddy P.

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