… continued from Part II – The Norton Rides
A 1979 R65S. The “S” was thanks to a Manxman fairing. Perfectly color matched and pin striped. I added a BMW clock just like an R90S or R100S. Dual horns and heated grips. We were waiting on BMW to get the bag mounts. We owned and rode this bike for six months and sold it easily because in the end it was just too small for two of us, used to the luxury of a big custom saddle and frame mounted fairing. I had fun playing with it on twisty roads, but you had to keep it wound up in the rpm range to keep pace with the big bikes. It would easily do that the suspension and frame were stiff enough to keep it pointed where I needed to go. The little bike could be flicked from apex to apex, but when the road straightened out the big liter bikes left and I couldn’t even keep up with the dust that lingered in the air at those speeds.
I still wanted that R100RS. I rode several used examples and never quite found what I wanted. Then we were moving back to Colorado. Lois had a new job, and I would get to finish up college there. Well, we moved with the little 650 just sold, began looking for houses after selling our place in California. The search for a house took priority over the search for the next motorcycle. It was also the dead of winter. We found a house in a couple of months and moved in. Then my search for the next bike could be serious. By then, I was working at BMW of Denver as a motorcycle mechanic. I had to work a year to get my instate residency so college would be affordable. I had faced the same problem when we moved to California. The search was on. I’d zero’d in on the RS and I was pretty sure I wanted a 1979. This was 1980. I would take a mother of pearl white, 1978, but they were rare and expensive. I ended up finding a bike that had originally been sold in Iowa and was originally A Phoenix Gold R100RT. They had changed out the upper fairings and mount and bodywork to that of a European red RS.
Yes, I had to buy that bike. There was no choice. I picked it up from the owner on my birthday in 1980. The second bike I should never have sold.
The RS got ridden a good deal. Lots of fun roads, a few trips. One to California solo, and back to Colorado two up. The seat was not great thanks to the factory placing a small first aid box at the nose of the saddle. This metal structure was constructed on top of the seat pan and extended back from the nose about six inches or so. The sides and top of it were flat and the corners sharp. This left little padding between the rider and those sharp metal corners at a point in any riders anatomy where one has an especial appreciation for comfort. I was at the point of removing that bit of offensive engineering when we found our efforts at adding to our little family were to be successful. The RS went up for sale and was soon replaced with an ugly brown well used Toyota Corona station wagon. A box on wheels more suited to hauling all the stuff needed to support a growing family when away from home.
It was with this BMW, I discovered bicycle road racing. Since I was working as a BMW motorcycle mechanic, I met most of the owners of the machines. I got to know a few. A few more became life long friends. Working bicycle races as a motorcycle mounted official and referee lead to some travel around Colorado. It turned out this sport touring thing, BMW had created with the 1974 R90S, was fun. Keep the gear and luggage pack light. Choose fun two lane roads. Ride and camp. The RS had great protection. Even in the winters of Denver I usually only wore deerskin ropers with silk liners. The BMW heated grips being the game changer. Adding a heated vest under a down jacket covered by a Belstaff Trailmaster jacket and more heated chaps covered with Belstaff pants made for as good as we could get at the time weather gear.
We were for the first time in nearly a decade, bikeless.
That state lasted about eight months before I found a too good to pass up deal on a very lightly used 1979 Honda CB650. IThe Honda came with an unopened Slipstreamer fairing and around 180 miles all totaled on the clock. This was a leftover from the tariff wars or sales slump of the late 70’s. I rode it home to the BMW shop I was working in then from across Denver, followed by my friend and fellow employee in his car. This of course was in December and there was about half a foot of snow on the back streets. I rode most of the way with the side stand down since the Honda stand did not automatically retract when moved from rest as the BMW stand did. We made it unscathed.
I rode home from the shop and that weekend pulled the carburetors, cleaned them and mechanically synchronized them on the kitchen counter, while my wife was off at work and our daughter was napping in her room down the hall. The forks got a service as well as the motor getting the valve clearances all checked and an oil and filter change followed quickly by a 600 mile service once I passed that milestone. I ordered up some S&W shocks and uprated springs to stabilize the rear of the bike, swapped the OEM Bridgestones for Continental RB2 up front and a K112 out back. Much better for wet roads. Since I now knew I’d be working this bike at some bicycle races as a motorcycle mounted official/referee I added 4-way flashers. A tank bag and BMW saddle bags followed, mated to some Luftmeister luggage mounts. The saddle was better by miles, literally than the BMW RS had been. Firm and wide with a slight hump from the rider to the pillion to hole each in position.
I changed the countershaft sprocket to a 17 tooth from the OEM 16. This lowered the revs at our 55 mph speed limit to nearly undetectable vibration levels. Smooth as butter after that carb clean and sync. Another benefit of this higher final drive ration was much better fuel economy. I easily got 70 mph even riding through the mountains while loaded up for travel. That Slipstreamer fairing that came still boxed with the purchase of the bike was great in the winter. Very easy to install. I got a pair of R90S bars, though by this time the BMW S-bikes were R100S, and used these lower bars coupled with a bikini fairing off a wrecked R80ST I used some fiberglass repair to fix the cracks and scrapes and one broken mount, sanded it and rattle can sprayed it black in my garage paint booth made using thin plastic sheets, an electric oil radiator for warmth and two banks of lights above.
I had also replaced the plug wires and caps when I found they were age hardened, likely thanks to all the time spent in a crate in some warehouse or other. The mirrors got swapped too for some shorter stemmed, but larger rectangular and very vibration free models. In the end the bike worked very well. Very easy to maintain, other than cleaning the wheels which were a pain to keep clean. I only managed to accumulate around 30,000 miles on it owing to the shop bikes I needed to ride home to evaluate for repair, refresh and resale or break in as demonstrators. And between family, engineering school, bicycle racing and training and of course work there was little time for motorcycle travel. I sold the Honda when the market for that was hot at the shop and never really noticed not being officially bikeless, but still riding nearly every day thanks to work. I graduated, found a job, and then we built my BMW.
At the shop we had built a racebike out of a couple of wrecks. The frame 1985 single sided swing arm, motors were 1000cc from anywhere from 1979 to 1985. We had used K-model front ends and brakes for a one or two.
We liked these little bikes and they felt little light and nimble for the time compared to the huge K-models that were heavy and long. Of course they were not real big competition to the current liter bikes from Japan, unless they were piloted by inexperienced riders. Then, a 70 or so horsepower light bike with good brakes and suspension and skilled pilot could have some fun. By now, I had left my big touring bike stage well and truly behind me. I liked riding a bike well at speed and particularly doing just that on a race track, but I did see the the blackhole of racing as not the best way to spend money as a dad and newly minted engineer. However a track day or riding school day was far less expensive, good for learning more about going fast, safely and they are fun.
My BMW got built. I was by then working as an engineer so had almost no time to devote to actually spinning wrenches, but managed to sneak in a few hours on the odd weekend evening or Sunday afternoon. We got the bike built. It was a pile from a 1985 R80RT that had burned in a garage fire, the damage being cosmetic rather than structural. The motor came from a 1982 R100 that had been run into a curb snapping the steering head off the frame, and breaking the wheels. We added factory high compression pistons, lighter wrist pins and keepers. I would later add high flow and lighter valves, lighter and stiffer valve springs, dual plug heads and a dyne tune. The bike dyno’d in Denver at 79 horsepower at the rear wheel. I later swapped the final drive for a 3.00 from the 3.11 stock. This got my fuel economy up along with top speed. The bike would still wheelie in second gear on corner exit. I had swapped the S-bars out for RS bars for the track. And eventually the tall screen went back to a stock sized screen.
I went through three rear shocks and several tunes of the forks before I was satisfied with the action. The last Shock was a FOX. The front brakes were swapped from OEM BMW rotors to Braking cast iron full floating rotors. The brake lines that originally were solid between the calipers, but the line ran under the fender were replaced with custom stainless steel overboard lines from a larger master cylinder to each caliper. I ran Motul 600 DOT 5 brake fluid and never had a problem with the brakes boiling. I had boiled the fluid at one track day. Not a fun experience. I didn’t crash, but I did some dirt riding to save it. This BMW would be the bike I began attending track days on. I took expert instruction in performance riding. I had a lot of fun with this bike.
I still did all my commuting on the bike and even snuck in some travel. By now, we had moved back to Orange County California and I could indulge my track day habit a bit more. In Colorado I’d done a few day trips on an odd weekend and even one ride with a friend to the Black Hills when he moved to Minnesota.
In California, I worked with some guys who had all had motorcycles a bit or had the itch and we got together for one big weekend trip as our work and overtime schedule allowed. We had intended to ride to Sequoia and camp, but only made it to lower elevations thanks to snow in town. We stayed at a KOA and mostly stayed warm and dry. We had a good adventure though.
I’d have to say that built up recovery airhead was a great bike it worked well commuting, traveling and playing on the track. Not long after turning the odometer past one hundred thousand miles, I wrecked the little airhead. Totaled. I was unhurt other than pride and confidence. I really felt I’d let the bike down after so many memorable miles. I looked around for a replacement bike of some sort. I didn’t like the new R1100S from BMW. I thought about another touring bike, but I was still hooked on track days. I had been gifted a free motorcycle prior to the wreck, a 1983 Kawasaki GPz 550. It had at one point belonged to another friend, as his first motorcycle. He had sold it to a guy who with the help of yet another non-motorcycle friend had managed to crash it from the curb where he started, into his own car immediately in front of him. Nothing was bent, but the sad and fragile Kawasaki turn indicators had taken a final blow. The masses of electrical tape that had been barely keeping them semi-drooping in suspension were a tangle of sticky strands. I spent far too much money on this little bike, bringing it back from the brink.
Above the GPz sits in front of the airhead BMW the evening we unloaded it for the van to its new home for a while. By the look of the bike, no one had ever properly maintained any aspect of it. The registration and title had not been renewed for the last three owners and the fourth back was nowhere to be found. Registered letters got that all sorted with the DMV for a small sum. With ownership sorted, I could look at spending money on repairs and rebuild.
About a starter motor-sized pile of money was eventually exchanged for a much larger and more satisfying pile of parts to be used to transform this pathetic little wreck of a motorcycle back into a not quite as pathetic wreck of a motorcycle that was at least safe and reliable.
The little bike became my main ride after I wrecked the BMW and insurance bought it, (They would later sell it at auction to some crazy person who just fired it up and began riding it. I found out about this because I’d had a custom seat made for the bike and the company listed my name, email and of all things, my work phone number on the bottom on a label I had missed and not removed.) This crazy guy then calls me and complains about the handling. The frame, and both wheels were bent along with the bars, seat and tank, forks and swinging arm. It was quite an effective wreck. No half measures for sure.
At any rate, once the little Kawasaki was roadworthy, I noticed in short order it seemed to really like oil. This would lead to my next motorcycle and the sale of the little GPz. I found the next bike first of course, always have a good foothold before stepping full weight. Found what appeared to be a lightly used 1997 Honda CBR900RR, but was more than likely a lightly crashed recovery thanks to the clues I slowly uncovered through ownership. I made it work.
In spite of the suspected history, this motorcycle would be the least expensive bike I’ve ever owned to ride past 100,000 miles. the 1997 CBR900RR also had the best ergonomics for all around riding of the bikes of that era. After I got the bike home and began looking at it more critically, I found it had aftermarket clip-ons that were higher, Helibars. I would later slowly inch these bars down to a more OEM position as I grew comfortable with a more aggressive seating position. These bars worked very well for my daily commute and occasional weekend day long rides. They were fine for track days too.
The Fireblade ended my sport touring days when the bike was nearing 100,000 miles and I was deciding on spending more money on fiddling with it. I was getting an itch for something else and I knew a time was coming when I would have to carry a work computer. The soft luggage I had would not handle the huge 35 plus pound notebook computers we used at the time. And that hundred thousand mile mark lurked in the back of my head as maybe my good luck with this bike might run dry.
I sold the bike after it had sat in the front of my garage almost without being disturbed for nearly six months. I’d found the next bike and bought it and riding track days or canyons was no longer a big draw. I was learning to explore unpaved roads and two track. Riding on soft sand and firmer dirt. I enjoyed the dirt, the sand not so much.
After one last weekend at the track the CBR was parked for the last time with a blistered up set of Pirelli race tires and a stack of fond memories. Lots of laughs and fun with friends. Not a lot of travel, and that is what was missing. The next bike became literally the next adventure.