Monday, 7 March 2016
Rickman CB750: Brutal Cafe Racer
I had been suspicious that such an old motorcycle had only 17000 miles on the clock. But it looked beautiful, neither the nickel plated frame nor the original four into four exhaust had the slightest blemish… the bike had spent most of its time in the vendor’s spare bedroom! The test ride revealed why — the riding position was torture. A long petrol tank and low bars meant a huge amount of weight on my wrists. The CB needed a silly amount of effort to throw about in suburbia. Every time I braked hard the fairing screen threatened to cut my neck open.
I‘m a sucker tor motorcycles like this. though. Two and a half grand bought me a piece of motorcycling history. The original Honda 750 tours had such dodgy handling and excess of weight that Dresda and Rickman, amongst others, came out with frame kits to transform the breed. Rickman were later to opt for a more sensible touring rig, but I wasn’t put off by the single seat nor the singular nature of this particular model.
This one had wire wheels, albeit with some juicy alloy rims and a single disc at each end. The forward mounted front caliper. a huge lump of alloy, shows how old was the era of the Rickman. The Rickman torks were still enough to resist both brake dive and twisting from the surprisingly powertul front brake. It needed more muscle than modern bikers might expect but I found it a basically reliable periormer, well up to the 135mph top speed.
The engine was mostly a stock OHC CB750, even down to the OE airfilter. Slight rattles at low revs were the only sign of age. I knew that clutch knocking noises and transmission slop were just the same as on a brand new motor. The rearset gearchange linkage probably made the box even less precise than stock, but anyone who has spent a bit of time with old Hondas will be at home with the change. The best that could be said for the gearbox was that once a ratio was engaged it never slipped out again.
The final drive sprockets were far from stock, making ﬁrst seem like third. The Rickman was maybe 50lb lighter than the original bike. which helped with the taller gearing, but some serious clutch abuse was often necessary to ensure that the engine didn’t die a death. Power was never vicious, the best rev range was 5000 to 7000rpm. There was enough to make life interesting and a relative lack of secondary vibes. The upper end of this rev range provided a 100mph cruising speed, when the screen and racing crouch began to hurt less. The chassis also preferred speed to slouching around in town. It wasn't that it wobbled or shook, it was commendably stable at most speeds, but the suspension didn't begin to work until 70mph was on the clock. A pot-hole in town went straight up my wickedly bent spine; a quick way to end up with either a slipped disc or hunchback.
The seat was reasonably well padded and the bum-stop was an excellent way of bracing my body at speed, although the shape of the frame dictated a high seat height which left me feeling perched way above the bike. It was the classic bum in the air, head in the clocks stance. Judging by the cat-calls I sometimes received in town it must've looked slightly absurd.
Tyres were thin Avons, the front wheel looking like it was a reject from a particularly frail moped! It actually held on to its line on the tarmac with great tenacity. although the steering never lost its heavy feel. I think the only time it would've done a wheelie was by using the engine and clutch so hard that they both broke.
In the first couple of months my main beef was with the drive chain, which stretched wildly every time I used the bike. A new piece of chain went on but this was no better, needing an adjustment every 250 to 300 miles. Every time the chain went out of adjustment the gearbox became almost unusable. The swinging arm pivot is a long way from the engine sprocket which might be why chains didn't last longer than 4500 miles! Maybe there was also a bit of mild misalignment.
When the engine started to misfire I had to tear off the half fairing and petrol tank just to get to the spark plugs. The ones that came out looked so ancient they probably came with the bike. Putting the fairing back on was a tedious affair as nothing seemed to line up. It was tempting to dump the plastic as it so restricted lock that a U-turn became a seven point turn in narrow roads and it was dead easy to lose the bike. The only thing that stopped me was that there wouldn't have been anywhere to put the clocks and light. The latter good for 75mph cruising on country roads. Another bit of poor design was soon revealed, the plastic front guard was held on with jubilee clips that allowed it to rattle loose, dancing with the tyre. It wasn't as if it stopped any of the water from being flung off the tyre on to the engine. Five minutes in the rain had the Rickman covered with crud. The guard was too delicate to support a mudflap. The minimal rear protection similarly allowed my back to be drenched in the rain.
These minor quibbles were no more than expected. I put them to the back of my mind with fast and furious runs down my favourite back roads. The echo of the across the frame four, the feeling of supreme security and the sheer exhilaration of being free on a wide open road all combined to get me high. The physical discomfort was submerged beneath the adrenalin buzz of intensified life on two wheels.
It was only when I pulled up for petrol after a couple of hundred miles of riding that I realised the wide seat, vibration and eccentric riding position made it difficult to stand upright, let alone stagger the few feet to pay the cashier. The vibes were evident in the way the fairing shook and from the tingles in the bars and pegs. It wasn't the soul destroying stuff of your average vertical twin but prolonged exposure to the high frequency buzz took its toll on my body.
Fuel, when riding on the open road. was the most surprising aspect of this bike. It turned in better than 60mpg. giving a range of over 200 miles. In town it wasn’t so good, nearer 50mpg. The CB had a rather archaic oil tank which needed a pint added every 500 miles. The mill didn't leak, apart from a slight weep around the cylinder. Carbs, valves and points all needed adjustment every 1500 miles. Tedious and time-consuming rather than difficult.
I soon leamt that the downside of nickel plating was the way it tarnishes rapidly; a wet day's riding was all it took to make the frame look naff. The OE exhaust also needed regular doses of Solvol to stop the cans turning rusty. They corrode from the inside out but are still whole after two years and about 10,000 miles of abuse. The Rickman plastic has lots of hairline cracks, but looks nice from a few feet away.
With around 25000 miles on the clock the camchain rattles rebounded off the plastic. I had tweaked the camchain tensioner a couple of times. apparently to little avail. The camchain was alright, the tensioner blade was worn down. I found one in a breaker's for a fiver. I'd had to pull the engine out to see what I was doing, so it was a tiresome business.
The chassis was made to a more robust standard than other cafe racers of the day. hasnt really caused any problems other than those which allow naturally from its riding position. The CB750 engine should be good for 50000 plus miles until any serious attention is needed, although those that were tuned or bored out didn't last so well, mainly down to insufficient lubrication and excessive revs.
As mentioned, mileage hasn't been too high, not that l distrust the Honda. it's just that there isn't much fun in using it for the commuter chores (thank god for the step-thru) and I don't have the time for month long holidays, more’s the pity. l was offered £3000 for it by some eager forty year old who reckoned he had spent his whole youth lusting after one. They are rare enough to demand a premium over the stock model. Unless I become desperate for money. I rather think I will keep it a long time.