1976 Honda CB750

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In 1975, after my stint in the army, I returned to Long Beach, CA and getting a motorcycle was high on my list of goals. I had sold my Honda 305 Scrambler when I had left and the thought of getting a bigger big and doing some cross country touring was the long term plan. At the time, the 750cc bikes were the larger ones coming from Japan and were in the affordable range. The Gold Wing had just hit the market but really wasn't what I wanted, both because of its size and its price. I wanted a bike in what they now call the "sport tour" class, one that was capable of long distance rides in a variety conditions but light enough to feel fun on curvy roads.

While I did exit the military with some cash, most of that had gone to getting myself set up in an apartment, getting insurance on my car, and a myraid of life's other responsibilities that compete with desires. I started working full-time on a midnight shift in a photofinishing lab and that certainly covered my living expenses and, starting in the spring of 1976, I went back to Long Beach City College to take the couple classes I needed to finsih my 2-year degree. School cost $10/semester and I was getting a stipend from the GI Bill which paid me about $350/month so school was a money-maker and should cover the cost of some toys.

As chance would have it, I ran in to an old friend from early high school days who was living with a guy who worked for Honda International. She invited me over and we hit it off great. He had custom built a Honda CB 750, mostly from just parts, and had been riding for a while but was now interested in selling and starting on a new project. Things just worked out well and in April 1977, I had myself a 1976 Honda CB750.

I was pretty excited about getting it and spent the whole of the next weekend riding it and pretty much every weekend after that. My first ride was to downtown Long Beach where I took some photos of the bike and then, based on other photos I shot that day, over to San Pedro. Since I was off during the day, except when I was in school, I'd go out for rides most days, looking for any excuse, missing lots of sleep because of that motorcycle.

When I got the bike it was mostly stock even though it had been built from parts. I rode it that way for quite a while but over time I experimented with various add-ons. I tried longer forks and pull back handlebars with a rear lowering kit. I installed a stepped seat, a 2-into-1 exhaust on both sides, and a set of highway pegs. I had some of the engine casings chromed and painted the cooling fins flat black, filing off the ends to expose the bare aluminum. I eventually changed out the whole front end to one salvaged from a Honda 900. The forks were about 2" over stock and it had a non-wire spoked front wheel. When I got the bike it came with lots of extra parts, including a couple gas tanks, and one of the tanks was painted pearl blue. I cleaned it up, put that on the bike, and painted the side covers to a close match. The photo at the left shows that configuration.

The photos in gallery track these changes over time.

The Disappearance

I had ridden down to Huntington Beach for some body surfing and when I came back to where I had parked the bike was gone. I was crushed but I had also been reading about dealing with issues like this and put some techniques I'd been practicing to work and didn't let it overwhelm me. The short version is that some heroin addicts from Huntington Harbour (a very wealthy community nearby) pulled up and loaded it into a truck and took off with it. When, in an unrelated event, the police raided their house a week or two later they found my bike, mostly stripped. It seemed that they were parting out mine to build another one to pay a drug debt. The kid who lived there while his parents were traveling in Europe was the ring leader. The police said to bring a truck and pick up my bike from the impound. I couldn't tell what was mine and what was the other bike so they said to take it all and bring back what wasn't mine.

I spent the next week or two sorting the parts and putting the bike back together. It was tedious. When I got it back together my bike looked as good as new. I wondered if I would be owed restitution for the time and effort to restore my bike.

I called and the detective said I would have to pursue that in civil court. I asked why it couldn't be part of the punishment for stealing the bike and everything else that they'd been arrested for. He said that the two other guys were low-lifes and had no assets. I asked about the kid who had engineered this whole thing and he said that they parents had come back and, since the dad was well-connected, there were not going to be any charges. Oh, and, by the way, he wanted his motorcycle parts back. I said I'd think about it. I decided that I wanted to keep the parts as an exchange for my trouble. I told the detetcive and he said that wasn't going to happen and I needed to bring the parts back. I said I'd think about it.

A week or two later my landlady knocked on my door and said that two detectives from Huntington Beach had been there looking for me and left a message that if I didn't bring the parts back within 48 hours they would arrest me for theft. I borrowed a truck, loaded up the parts and drove to the Huntington Beach police yard. I backed up just inside the gate and pushed all the parts out right there in the parking lot. A police office asked what I was doing and I told him to call the detecttive and tell him that his parts had been delivered. I never heard another thing about the whole affair.

The photos show part of the reassembly process. The bike in the background belonged to a friend who needed a place to park it.

The Rides

When it comes down to it, although motorcycles are cool to look at, fun to work on and customize, it is the riding that allows them to feed my passion. Yes, all that stuff about the feeling of freedom, the wind, the sounds on the road, and the manuverability on a curvy road are all true. And, it's a lot of power to be sitting on top of with only a few square inches of tire touching the road.
Aside from using the bike as general transportation, over time I did lots of day rides and also a few longer ones.

Day Rides

In Southern California we had all sorts of great day rides. Keep in mind that this was back in the 1970s and 1980s. Traffic has changed tremendously since then. Here's a short review:

Ortega Highway - Now listed as one of California's "bloodiest drives", back in the day it wasn't very crowded and, especially early in the morning, it offered curvy roads and pretty nice scenery. We would drive down the coast to San Juan Capistrano and pick up Highway 74, following it over the hills until it descended to Lake Elsinore. Sometimes we'd go the other way around and, always, it offered an entertaining day.

Palomar Observatory - Located south of Temecula, in the same area as the Ortega Highway, it offered a nice ride and a look at the big telescope at the end of the ride.

Cook's Corner - Back in those days this was a pretty shabby biker bar, located in Orange County at the foot of Live Oak Canyon Drive. The other road nearby was Santiago Canyon Road which was a pretty nice cruise. The bar was, well, a bit rough, but one could get a long-neck Bud and sit outside with a couple hundred other motorcyclists on the weekends.

The Rock Store - I didn't go here as often since I lived closer to the Orange County rides than those in the hills around Los Angeles but the Rock Store was a "must go" and was similar to Cook's Corner but located on the Mulholland Highway between the Ventura Freeway in The Valley and the Pacific coast around Malibu. On a weekend it was populated by hundreds of motorcycles with beer served in brown paper bags and entertainment provided by other bikes racing up and down that curvy road in front of it.

Turnbull Canyon Road - Located on the east side of the city of Whittier this was relatively close and, although rather short, featured a nice set of curves that ended in Hacienda Heights.

Pacific Coast Highway - AKA Highway 1, this road stretched from the the border of Mexico, where it became freeway up to Dana Point and continued north to Oregon sometimes under the guise of Highway 101. Lucky for me, I lived within a half-mile of PCH and it was not uncommon for me to get up early on a weekend, drive to it, and randomly pick north or south and just ride until I felt like heading back home.

A Ride to the Desert with a New Friend

After getting back from a long trip in 1979, which I cover below, finding a job was the first order of business since I had quit my job at the photolab before I left on that trip. I was very low on funds but it didn't take too long before I landed a job as a mechanical drafter with an engineering and construction company in Gardena, CA.

A day or two after my return from that trip I heard a Harley pull up the driveway I shared with the guys who lived in the rear of the duplex. I went out to see who it was and met Dave. He was looking for Pat and Bob who he had met in a bar up in Canada and who had told him that if he was ever in Southern California to look them up. So here he was. They well both surprised and happy to see him and invited him to stay at their place. We talked motorcycles, our recent long rides, and he said "Let's go for a ride tomorrow!" So, back on the road I went.

He mentioned that he wanted to experience the desert and, since it was August, we knew it would be plenty hot there. We rode south toward San Diego to Oceanside where we turned inland to ride those great, curvy roads on the way to Julian. We were hardly following the speed limit, enjoying those awesome roads and the general lack of traffic, when we stopped for gas in San Ysabel. We were nearly done gassing up when a Highway Patrol car caught up to us. He was in really good humor and said that he was parked under a tree eating his lunch when we blasted past him. He knew we were going pretty fast but only wrote me a ticket for 10 mph over the 55 mph limit. I considered myself lucky since we'd been cruising along doing 90-95 mph. He didn't write Dave a ticket because he figured that, as a Canadian, he wouldn't pay it anyway.

From there we took the road to Julian (awesome drive) and headed across the Anza-Borrego desert. It was HOT. Like 110 degress hot. We stopped at the bar at the Borrego Valley Airport for beer and air-conditioning before we headed out on the Borrego Salton Seaway road to Salton City on the lake. Along that road we stopped to take pictures and movies. I'd brought my 8mm movie camera, shot a bit while I was drivinf, and then stopped so we could shoot film of each other driving fast down the road. Great fun. Here's the 8mm film I shot that day in the desert. Dave shot one quick one of me at the very end.

Somewhere north of Salton City, maybe Desert Shores, we stopped for more beer and a break at a cafe. It was a family-run operation and the parents were gone on an errand leaving their teenage daughters in charge. They thought we were pretty cool. As the day was getting on, we headed north to Palm Springs before grabbing Interstate 10 back into the Los Angeles basin. It was great drive and Dave and I made great riding partners.

A few weeks later, Dave went back to Canada but we dedcided that I needed to head up his way someday and we'd all ride back down the coast together. The plan would happen in 1982.

Just Around the City

There were plenty of times that I'd just go for a ride around the city. Sometimes I'd pick a main street and say "I wonder how far this goes in that direction before I'd have to turn left or right," and ride it to find out. I lived near the end of Lakewood Blvd., (AKA Hwy 19) that begins at the Alamitos Traffic Circle and travels north through the cities of Lakewood, Downey, Whittier, becomes Rosemead Blvd., and finally ends in East Pasedena. I did that same kind of ride looking for the ends of Atlantic Blvd, Long Beach Blvd., Willow/Katella, Carson/Lincoln, and a few others.

I was out for a ride through Long Beach one day with a friend on the back who shot some film with my 8mm movie camera. Here's that film:

Speaking of that traffic circle, in 1977 my sister and I were on the bike headed to my house to get my car so we could go up to Hollywood to see the "Star Wars" movie which had recently been released. We were waiting to enter the circle from Los Coyotes diagonal when we were struck from behind. It knocked us off the bike, crumpled its rear fender and broke a few other things, but we were relatively unharmed. The guy's insurance covered the repairs.

Another time, in 1982, before leaving on a long trip, I was out for a Sunday morning cruise and entered the circle from Lakewood Blvd., more than probably exceeding the speed limit as it was early and there was no traffic. All the sudden I saw sand on the road covering an oil spill but it was too late. I went down. The bike and I ended up against the curb where Pacific Coast Hwy enters the circle. I was wearing shorts, t-shirt, gloves, and, surprisingly, a helmet. I had some road rash and my chest felt sore but I was otherwise unscathed. I picked up the bike and saw oil leaking from the engine casing on the left side where the road had worn away the aluminum. I hit the starter and when it started up and sounded fine I headed for home, about 1/2 away. I was at the dealer the next day picking up an new engine side casing. My ribs hurt for a few weeks and the road rash scabbed over. I considered myself pretty lucky.

The Longer Rides

The San Francisco Jaunt

In 1978, a friend from work, Nolan, and I decided to do a trip up the California coast to San Francisco. He had a Yamaha about the same size as my bike so we scheduled time off from work and hit the road. To be honest, my memories of the trip are bit hazy but I remember that we rode from Long Beach, up Highway 1, up to Felton, CA, which is near Santa Cruz, and stayed with a friend of his. Next, we went up to San Francisco and rode around the city before going across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County where we stayed with some other friends of his. He had lots of friends and they were interesting. Nolan was a songwriter/musician as were his friends and they all had ambitions, stories, and life goals. They were fun to be around. We cruised around that area and then headed back to Southern California and to work on the midnight shift.

The Long Ride of 1979

The ride of 1979 had been many years in the planning, in fact, goes back to the 1960s and the movie "Easy Rider" and the television show "Then Came Bronson." In both of those we had people riding motorcycles around the country with a loose set of goals and destinations, in search of something, pretty much defining the "road movie" and an attitude following the unrest and disillusionment of the Sixties. This followed the "Route 66" television series but in that case it was a car, a Chevy Corvette.

This trip DID happen. I left Southern California in early July of 1979 and, after covering about 7,000 miles, returned in late-August. The bike ran great the entire time as I toured through Yosemite Park, the Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone Park, the Beartooth Highway, Mount Rushmore, Detroit, Canada, the East Coast, and the American South. The trip was everything I had hoped for: long hours riding, fantastic scenery, meeting great people along the way, lots of time alone just to think and put everything else in life out of my mind.

Rather than load this page up with the details, I provide this trip a page of its own. You can read the account here.

The Canada Trip in 1982

As I mentioned above, when my friend, Dave, headed back to Canada in 1979 we agreed to do a trip where I would ride up to British Columbia and we'd ride back down the West Coast together. I took a few rides on my own in the intervening time, but decided that the summer of 1982 would be the best time for the trip as I could get enough time off work, school wouldn't be in session, the bike was running great, and I was itching for another long ride.

The difference was that my sister, Terry, decided to come along so she bought a bike and we planned the trip together. The trip came off well with lots of long rides, sightseeing through California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Canada. The ride back south was full of adventure, great rides, and laughs.

Since I have a fairly long narrative about that ride, I have placed it on its own page which you can view here.

The End of the Rides

I put over 50,000 miles on that bike in about 8 years with numerous day trips and quite a few touring trips. The longest was the 1979 trip where I went around most of the lower 48 and even went up into Ontaria, Canada, covering about 7,000 miles. The other long trip was to one to Canada I did with my sister and that was about 4,600 miles.

That Honda was a great bike and never let me down until on one trip, I forget where I was going, but had only planned to be gone for a week but ended up with transmission trouble in San Bernadino. I was passing a bus on the freeway and all the sudden I heard, and felt, and very nasty mechanical sound. I pulled in the clutch, killed the engine, and coasted to the shoulder. I started it up and it sounded fine but I could tell the tranny was gone. It took a bunch of fiddling but I finally got it in third gear and rode it home that way on surface streets.

Disassembly revealed that the primary chain tensioner was shot and it allowed the chain too much flex and it had clipped a gusset in the aluminum casting of the transmission case. That piece migrated into the area of the shift forks and that was the end of that. I bought a gasket set and a bunch of other parts with the intent to rebuild it, but I got a bit over my head and was also looking at the arrival of first child, a house that needed a ton of work, etc. I decided to box it up and get back to it later. I think that was in about 1986.

Move ahead to 2012 and son #2 is into motorcycles and has a Honda crotch rocket. He's going to a technical school for automotive technician and has turned into a most excellent mechanic. He prodes me to do something with the old 750 that is sitting in our back shed, just as he had done to get me motivated to drag out the Volvo PV544 that had been in the same shed for years.

The short version of the story is that the surface rust on much of the engine was pretty bad and I still needed a bottom end so we opted for buying an engine, a 1972, off eBay. I think it's a good engine but, due to some other issues, I had to swap out the valve train portion of the head with parts I'd accumulated a few decades ago. As of this writing, the engine is all together and sitting in a freshly powder coated frame. The swing arm and rear wheel are on and the front forks and handlebars are on so it actually looks like a motorcycle again. Other things cropped up in life and it went into hibernation again. Another prod might get this project finished.

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Updated January 2021.