Thursday, 17 May 2018

Hackin': £500 Hacks


If you say it quickly, £500 doesn’t sound much. If you’re skint and on the dole, it's a different matter. But I decided I wanted another bike, as the amount of ale and such like I was getting through as a result of being bored shitless would pay for the running costs of a half decent machine.

Just one hassle, at the time I didn't even have 50p, let alone half a grand. A problem. A glance at a record collecting rag gave me a bit of a shock -some early singles that I had purchased in a junk shop for around 15p were worth rather more than that. In one case, £120. Various other odds and sods were put up for sale, and with a load of UMGs to read, I took a look at what I could pick up for the dosh.

As well as costing around 500 notes, preferably less, the bike had to fill certain other criteria. It had to be able to cruise at the legal limit, two up. So, a minimum of 250cc, as much for physical comfort, as power. Reasonably reliable and cheap running costs were also high on the agenda, so it had to be a common model with loads in the breakers.

Brits were out of the picture, as was most Wop stuff. A doggy V50 was thought about and nearly as quickly forgotten. Due to unhappy experiences in the past, anything with a CZ or Jawa badge was dismissed. Unless a Jawa Rotax 500 turns up. Cossacks and Urals... well, despite the appeal of something I could sling the dog in, the chair didn't inspire and you hardly ever see them solo. Other Europeans? The BMW R45 and R65 were at the top of my price range but not often seen. I just don't like MZs, whatever their virtues.

That leaves loads of Japs. The Honda RS250 appeals but not many good 'uns left now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a CBX250RS. Having owned and ridden several Honda 250 twins I didn’t fancy another. VT250s are too complex for my liking. If a very clean CJ360 turns up I might be tempted. A bit more capacity brings us to the famed CB400/4 and 400 Supersnooze. I've owned both and I’d mark them for further consideration. The spurious classic label on the four leads to inflated prices and despite reasonable speed and handling, the CB400N bored me to tears when I had one. I also recall the pillion space as being a little limited.

Having spent some of the summer hacking around on a CB500T that had much of the excess weight stripped off, both that and its predecessor, the famed (and much beloved of the editor) Black Bomber CB450 will bear inspection. Sticking with 500s, the CX is worth a look, even if it has the sort of looks that could only appeal to a sex crazed warthog on acid. Most were despatched to destruction.

Diverting to the fours, 500/4s are a bit thin on the ground, but there are still plenty of CB550Fs about for less than £500. The CBX550 would have been considered but in this price range would normally be a dog. SOHC 750s can also be picked up in this area and having had a '76 F1 model a few years back, I quite like them, even if the amount of consumables they get through is a bit fierce.

The DOHC CB750/900s have an appetite for tyres, chains, etc and any Honda with two camchains has to be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion. Dog CBXs and Gold WIngs are supposedly about for less than a grand in private deals, but running and restoration costs leave them out of the picture. I had tried a new CB650 when they came out and was not impressed, so that was out.

Both my Kawasaki Z400 and 650 took enormous mileage and neglect without a whimper. Not so the Z250 and GPz305 which have suspect top ends. The Z440 is tougher than the 400 twin but a bit boring. The 400/4 is cheap to buy and run but very peaky, not the most practical tool for my requirements. Z500, 550 and GPz550s are just about in the price range, but I can feel my camchain paranoia lurking in the background again. The next item, and one l shall be keeping an eye open for, is the Z650, though I must admit neither the fuel consumption nor consumable wear is anything to inspire much admiration. The later 750 version is faster but hasn't got such good reliability. The Z750 twin is dead cheap, looks nice but is rather complex for a twin, not to mention expensive to run.

Having owned both Suzuki GT and GS250 twins l have no desire to repeat past errors, although to be fair both the ones i had were dogs to start with. The pair only cost me £15 and a pint of Guinness, respectively, and were sold for £25 and £50, so I was happy. The X7 l'd ridden in the past and not enjoyed - too twitchy solo and awful two up. T250s and 350s are very rare and spares would be hard to find and expensive. The GT380 and 550 triples are too thirsty, but if a decent one comes up at the right price I could be tempted.

The SP/GN singles are a bit lacking in top end for motorway work. There are loads of GS twins around for under £500, so no rush there. The 400/4 is a fairly rare beast in the under £500 bracket, and has dubious reliability. The T/GT500 stroker twins outlast many a four stroke; legal runners can be picked up for less than £200. And then there’s the GT750 Kettle triple, but at 30-40mpg and two stroke oil rather expensive to run. The GS550 four can quite often be found for less than 500 notes, but the few GS750s I've seen over recent times for that kind of money have been dogs needing a lot of work and money.

Yamaha two stroke twins score highly on the grin factor but things like RD250s, 350s and 400s are usually well thrashed. My confession to a mate that at the advanced age of 31 I was considering LC ownership, was taken by him as proof that abuse of mind altering substances has led to an early attack of senile dementia and second childhood. Despite trying to get on with them, l don't like the XS250 and 400 twins. Can't recall the last time I saw a decent XS500 twin either. The XT500 single is one of the few dual purpose jobs that could tempt me and I like the looks of the SR500, but the latter has not got the best of reputations.

The XZ550 gets the boot because of its complexity; no chance. The XJ550 four struck me as being a bit too much work to ride last time I tried one, but it was straight after riding a British twin full of an excess of torque. A tough cookie is the XS650 and I think I could learn to live with one if l can find one before they all get chopped. The XS750 triple is a bike l have mixed feelings about. A friend's pampered '77 model lasted for years and a very high mileage, but some have fallen by the wayside in a very short time. A cheap XV750 might just initiate me into the charms of vee twins - there is a cure for the troublesome starter.

Well, as l write this still don't know what to get. A friend’s selling his low mileage CB750KZ but it needs new yokes. Then there is a ’78 Z750 twin for about £350, no tax but only 22000 miles in 12 years - it seems to have been owned by a stream of Bonnie owners who needed something to get spares on. There’s also a CB550 with new t&t and shocks for £425, and rumours of another that’s been laid up for 10 years, worth a phone call.

To be honest, here in '91 l'm quite amazed at the choice. Agreed that as l’m over 30, insurance is not that much. l'm not going to rush the purchase as I want something that will last for a year or so before spending out money on it - tyres, chain and sprockets can easily add up to over the ton on a larger bike It's also possible to get any of the bikes mentioned as rats or non-runners for much less, but I just want to get mobile and some kicks without hassle. See you on the road...

Bruce Enzer

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