Wednesday, 28 March 2018
I had enough trouble finding the money for petrol, so when an uncle offered me his old Honda for free it seemed almost too good to be true. After the Neval this was, at last, the real thing, even if it was only a Honda CB250G5.
The rear tyre was bald, the chrome was mostly missing, the chain was shot to pieces and there was no MOT. Some appeasement made to the critical eye of the MOT tester, the bike was ready for its first ride to the MOT station.
You never forget your first bit of real acceleration and throwing caution and the relevant cliches to the wind, I went through the whole eyeball popping, shoulder wrenching rigmarole before noticing, that the speedo was pointing at the ninety mark and the deserted bit of road was fast becoming a crowded bit of junction.
I immediately employed the braking techniques learnt on the Neval, namely grab/stamp on both brakes as hard as possible, running various accident scenarios through your head whilst waiting for your trusty steed to come to a halt. This kind of tactic is not recommended on a wet surface with a front disc and rear drum that actually work!
The resultant locking of both wheels was both inevitable and unexpected. Miraculously, I didn't drop it and after waiting for my pulse to slow to twice its normal speed, I carried on with a new found respect for motorcycle brakes.
The MOT was a complete farce. All they did was test the lights and brakes. The next few weeks were spent hurtling to and from college at increasingly demented velocities. Subject to this kind of abuse, the bike coped better than you could expect from any 12 year old machine. It always started 1st or 15th kick and warmed up in no time. The choke could be turned off before moving away, which was just as well as it was carb mounted and difficult to reach once in motion.
The back end was reasonable, thanks to a set of Koni shocks. The forks dived quicker than a torpedoed U-boat, probably thanks to the huge full fairing which had been skilfully transplanted from a 750 with no more than a bit of welding, an old pram frame and a gung ho outlook.
The handling defects this created were mostly compensated by the excellent weather protection it afforded. In all but the worst downpour it kept me bone dry - unfortunately, being short in stature l was unable to see over the top of the screen, so in the rain I had to clamber over the front end to wipe it clear, which, on reflection, could have done little to aid high speed stability.
My uncle had owned the bike from new and had the head removed at 25000 miles to check on the state of the camshaft and its bearings (which were part of the cylinder head), an area of self destruction for which the G5 was notorious. Fortunately, this one was OK and remained free of problems for the 30000 miles I did after getting the bike with 40000 miles on the clock. Other engine problems were a different matter, but I get ahead of myself here...
Eager to try out my new steed's touring ability I arranged to take a friend for a run down to the coast. He had never been on the back of a bike before, so much amusement was had trying to make him understand that he was supposed to lean the same way as the bike... despite this we made it there. and I proudly parked my machine amongst a gaggle of racer clones, much to their owners' annoyance.
On the way back along the M18, my friend expressed a desire to go over the Humber Bridge. I obliged and have to admit to being impressed by its sheer size, but was not impressed by the fact that there was only one toll booth open. I still cringe when I think of the size of the tailback we caused whilst I searched for some coinage. I had to perform a drastically rapid take off to avoid being flattened by the irate box owners behind.
Shortly afterwards we left the motorway and headed back to Doncaster. It was at this point I noticed a strange knocking noise coming from the motor. I had just decided to stop to get a proper earful when the knocking noise was drowned out by the screams from the passenger as the rear wheel locked solid. By then I had got the hang of riding moving vehicles with stationary wheels and l was able to slew gracefully to a halt, leaving a thick black line to mark several quids worth of sudden tyre depreciation.
A seized camchain and missing tappet bolt did not exactly inspire optimism once the cylinder head cover had been removed. Nor did the need to jump from the garage rafters on to a tyre lever wedged between cylinder and head to remove the latter. Having succeeded in reducing the engine to a heap of scattered pieces and knackered screws, the next problem was getting the new bits - one tappet bolt and damaged lower camchain sprocket. The local dealer was almost in hysterics when l enquired of the chances of obtaining them. Thank god for the breaker.
Working in groups of three and alternating every 100 kicks, eventually persuaded the rebuilt motor to resume fruitful life. Much to everyone's shock it went just as well as before. Performance was fairly normal for a four stroke OHC twin, around 90mph and 60mpg. Breakdowns came and went. Minor stuff like broken wires and knackered batteries caused by old age. I went everywhere on the bike and revelled in the personal freedom gained. I terrorised most of Yorkshire with a combination of crash and burn riding tactics and silencers that didn't live up to their name.
Long distances could be covered without terminal bum ache, and I went on long trips with nothing more than a map stuck down my jacket and a determined look on my face. I had got the handling so well sussed that I could overtake much larger machines on the outside in tight corners, much to my amusement and their annoyance - admittedly the Honda was going up and down and sideways at the same time!
The nearest miss of all time came one summer when l was once again heading for the coast with a mate on the back. I was in the process of overtaking a large truck when suddenly a large black bin bag with nothing better to do came flying out of nowhere and hit me square on the visor, completely blinding me. Bearing in mind that we were still bowling along at a fair speed in close proximity to a truck, I judged this a suitable point at which to break out in extreme and utter panic. Fortunately, the pillion had a strong sense of self preservation and tore off the offending bag just in time for me to note that the road took a sharp right turn immediately ahead.
I don't know what the odds are of a heavily laden, well worn out Honda 250 making it around a 30mph bend at 60mph with the brakes full on, but I reckon I used up my lifetime's supply of luck several times over. Afterwards I found scrape marks on the engine cases!
Having thus used up my luck I was not greatly surprised when the gearbox decided not to change out of sixth on the way home. After much necessary abuse of the clutch, it thereafter slipped whenever revs were high. The gear lever had stripped its splines and after much pondering was fixed by angle grinding a flat edge on the shaft and a slot in the lever, thus allowing a metal peg to be whacked in with a hammer.
Next came the greatest horror of all, the tappet fell off again. I couldn't face the thought of another engine strip, so I had the idea of turning the bike upside down in the hope that the bolt might fall out. We tied a winch around the garage roof, wrapped it around the frame and cranked the bike off the ground. When it was about four feet off the floor we all grabbed hold of it, spun it upside down and shook it with great gusto.
It didn't work and the motor had to be stripped. It was soon back on the road but I was so pissed off that at the slightest excuse I was going to throw it in the river! Remarkably, it didn't give me the chance and ran along for another 10000 miles. However, every dog has its day and the Honda's came when the compression disappeared to the extent that it refused to start I unless hurtled down a steep hill. I sold it for £50 as a field bike and was more than a little saddened to see it go.