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Friday 13th October 2006


Opinion: Honda CB Reunion

Do you remember your first bike? Phil Speakman's was a Honda 750-4, and they've just enjoyed a reunion after all these years...

Recently I led my mother through the perils of buying a new laptop. Credit where it's due, my Mum has taken to PC use like a duck to water. One recent Sunday I decided that I'd update the anti-virus software over their dial up modem connection and whilst that took place, I thought I'd take a quick peek a few of my favourite motorcycle websites.

'No, don't use the phone I'm updating your anti-virus thingy on the computer.'

Lets see now, www.realcl......

'About 10 or 15 minutes or so, just don't pick up the handset or you'll crash it and I'll have to start all over again.'

Then I saw it!

Can it really be?

It is, yes it really is, it's my old bike!

But it isn't just my old bike, it's my first ever bike and in my eyes that makes it just a tad special.

Bit of patina, that's all.

Oh but my, it has suffered over the years. Of which I'm in no small part responsible, yet remarkably it remains completely original and totally un-restored. The paintwork looks in a pretty beaten up state, with the remnants of a collection of stickers cooked onto the tank's paintwork by the seemingly endless 1976 summer sun. Yet apart from that it hasn't appreciably changed since I last saw it.

It even has the original four-into-four pipes, now virtually devoid of chrome, but even so they are still on the bike and fulfilling their function. Likewise, the original paintwork. This is one of two bikes my brother and I bought brand new in Birkenhead in 1975. They were almost identical Honda 750/4s, both in an unusual pillar box red factory finish that I've never seen since on another bike. Yet they both came like that direct from the factory with only the front mudguards to differentiate them, one in silver, one in gloss black.

They were bought very much on the spur of the moment and to be honest my Dad made a major contribution to the financing of both purchases. We were young and had limited resources, but a new 750-4 each? Oh, that was special and I'd like to think we were the envy of all the lads in our street.

Honda CB750 bits on eBay.co.uk

I can't help but grin now that I think back to the wonderful growling noises those four chrome pipes used to make. I'm sure that the distant memory of those pipes surreptitiously led me to restoring my 1975 Honda 500-4 over 20 years later. I knew I could never fit an aftermarket four-into-one unit, not since the noise of a full set of 4-into-4 pipes had burned itself into my subconscious.

I still remember the catch in my voice as I read out the credit card details to David Silver, at over 100 per pipe plus VAT. You can buy a good MZ for that.

Those original bikes entertained my brother and myself right the way through the mid-seventies and through to the early 80s. They were still almost brand new throughout that wonderful summer of 1976 when we both took them down to South Wales for a family holiday. Yet those youthful days weren't completely without incident. I can't remember just how many times myself and my brother parted company with the bikes, often when we were just messing about on a variety of caravan sites in North Wales. We never had leather jackets or any real protection back then either. Nylon track suit jackets in Liverpool FC colours (did official merchandise exist back then?) and flared jeans with Gola training shoes was all we ever used to wear. Life just became an endless round of skinned elbows and bloodied knees and palms, such was normality back then.

The most serious mishap I had, took place whilst my Dad was away on one of his regular trips to Italy on behalf of Lucas electrical. With the back wheel firmly locked, rear tyre screeching like a Starsky and Hutch soundtrack, I managed to T-Bone an ex-German Army half track tank destroyer. It had been stupidly abandoned by its owner, right in everyone's way because the hitch on the 88mm anti-aircraft gun it was towing had come adrift.

Well, if you're going to hit something...

Well, if you're going to hit something, you may as well make it interesting, I suppose?

There wasn't a mark on the Half Track (they're pretty robust things when all's said and done), but the Honda returned home on the back of a Foden low-loader that was going our way, Unfortunately it arrived in two separate loads. The front forks and yokes had completely parted company with the headstock during the crash.

Yet, once my Dad returned from Italy and had a good look at it, he reckoned it wasn't quite as bad as it looked. Sure enough he was able to straighten the front fork stanchions and repair the damaged headstock and bearings. To be honest, once the bike was back together I couldn't detect any noticeable change in the handling either. Though maybe that was due to the naivety of youth?

Hold on a minute...

Eventually, the Honda was replaced with an ex Italian police Moto Guzzi (which I still have, though it is in a sorry state) and inevitably as I got older I fell in love with rally spec Mini Cooper 1275 that my Dad had sourced on another of his trips to Italy. Indeed, it was only comparatively recently, being offered a 1975 Honda 500/4 by a neighbour in 1999 that really reignited my love of bikes and those in-line four-into-four pipes again.

But back to the bike before my eyes. I immediately contacted the owner and although he has no intention of parting with it at the moment, he's assured me that if he ever doesn't want it any more, first refusal is mine. Not only that, I'm welcome to visit pretty much any time I want; within reason. He's even let me take it out for an occasional play!

Still plenty of tread on the tyres, too...

I've been back to take it out a few times now. The exhaust note is much deeper than I remember it and I'm sure there's a low bass rumble than it never used to have, so maybe something is wearing out with age, or maybe it's just me? But you'd expect that after 30 years wouldn't you?

One thing is certain though, I'm unlikely to meet an abandoned Wehrmacht half-track in my road these days. I know that, because it is still boxed and wrapped up in a rolled-up newspaper in my loft, whereas the Honda 750/4 now lives on a shelf in my Mum and Dad's box room, next to the new laptop.

C'mon, how old do you lot think I am?


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