I pulled off the freeway feeling like I had just won the Daytona 200, though my victory was more private. A friend gave me a 1970 Honda CB350 that hadn’t been started in 15 years and, with surprisingly little effort, I had it running. I couldn’t fully experience the 350 on the city streets of San Jose, Calif., so I took to the freeway to give its rusty, frayed, throttle cable the stern pull it deserved.
The 350 came on with surprising strength from 6,000 to its 10,500 redline and it sounded great doing it. After my test run, I put the bike on its center stand to lube its rust-coated chain. Spinning the rear wheel, I watched the thin-looking chain go by. Then I grabbed the tire in horror. One link’s side plate had snapped and the side plate opposite it was bowed. I imagined what could have happened if everything had gone just wrong out there on the freeway among the cars and trucks at 80 or so.
A new job called for a move to Southern California, and there wasn’t time to take the Honda along. A solution, of sorts, appeared. Some friends were leaving San Francisco to move to Germany after a stop in Los Angeles, and they wanted to ride the 350 from Northern California to Los Angeles. They had no jobs lined up, and no place to live in Germany. That seemed like enough adventure for any two people, but riding the rusty 350 at freeway speeds, two-up, for more than 400 miles sounded like suicide. I explained the condition of the bike to them. They were convinced it was just one visit to the shop away from being completely roadworthy.
When my friends called from Los Angeles International Airport, I couldn’t believe it. They could have sent photos proving they jumped the Snake River Canyon on the 350 without surprising me more. I saw them off at the airport and braced myself for the night ride home. I found the 350 in the cold light of the parking garage surprisingly as I remembered it. If steps were taken to make it safer to ride, not many showed. It had a new front tire and drive chain. The headlight, which had all the power of a flashlight with weak batteries, had no low beam. The brakelight worked; the taillight didn’t. The engine had oil, but needed plenty. (Click image to enlarge)
The CB350 fired up, but a leak where one headpipe met the head had gotten worse. Before I was fully ready for it, I was battling for position on the freeway. A car behind me flashed its brights. I was doing over 70 and I was in the slow lane. What did this clown want? Oh. The headpipe! It was off the head and had swung down in the loose muffler clamp. Dragging along on the concrete freeway, sending a trail of sparks behind the Honda, it may have caught in the road and pole vaulted the bike into the air.
I pulled onto the shoulder. At night, the side of a freeway doesn’t offer many spare parts for early Honda street bikes. Glass bottles, plastic bottles, a diaper, a hubcap. Then, I spotted it—a length of steel strap from a pallet. With a few wraps and a crude knot, I had the headpipe in a reasonably functional position.
As I backed off the throttle on the off ramp near my place, I could see blue flames flashing at the exhaust port with the hanging headpipe as the engine backfired. I pictured my friends on their way to Germany. Man, I thought, those two know something about adventure!