by Lee Meyer
“Apparently those sticky MEZ1s are no good for touring…I didn’t know what to say.”
I have noticed that many new riders searching for a first bike have been showing interest in the old Honda 350 and 360 models built from the late 60s to the late 70s. I have a few things to say about this.
First of all &endash; don’t do it. Although there are tons of these bikes around, and they can be had on the cheap, they are between 20 and 30 years old. Think about that for a second. Would you buy a ’72 Ford Pinto and actually expect to get to work every day? When was the last time you saw an old Pinto moving under its own power? Of these old 350-360 Hondas sitting around, very few are nice running machines. The ones that run at all spend quite a bit of time in the shop getting patched together.
Another thing &endash; very few shops will even talk to you about a twenty-year-old anything. To work on it is often out of the question. Who is going to maintain the bugger for you?
Let’s say you find a mint example and decide to spend a few bucks. The thing looks like a brand-new bike. Super cool. Remember to buy a battery charger. The electrical systems in these old Hondas are weak at best. Twenty-some years ago we did not have to use headlights during daylight hours. The little Honda’s charging system will be overworked by today’s constant headlight use and might need frequent battery recharging. Eventually, something in the charging system burns out like the stator, part of the alternator…the unit that makes the juice. This is a very common problem. Adding to this problem is the fact that you can no longer get a stator for these bikes. Discontinued. That part number has joined the ever growing list of old bike parts that are now made of the ultra-rare material, Unobtanium. Then the little battery will have to be charged every night. Do not go riding far from home without bus fare.
Although the bikes from the 70s or earlier have lots of character and can be plenty cool, most are very primitive by today’s standards. It can be frustrating and even heart breaking to keep one running. A twenty-year-old bike does not need a tune-up. It needs a restoration. An early 80s or newer motorcycle is a better first bike choice-. There are plenty of parts available, most shops will service them and they are much more reliable.
Keep in mind that there were still a few lemons built in the eighties. As always it is a good idea to get a shop’s opinion on your potential dream bike before you buy.
Now I have a few thoughts on Suzuki’s TL1000, more specifically, the people who bought these machines. It seems that many of these bikes were sold to people who have no idea what type of machine they were buying. Bitch, bitch, bitch. The complaints are flying. They snivel about everything from low rpm/low speed stumbles to head shake to nowhere to hang side bags. I had one customer gripe about the tires! Apparently those sticky MEZ1s are no good for touring. He wanted to put some rock-hard Goldwing tires on it. I didn’t know what to say.
Well, now I do. The Suzuki TL1000 is a Hot Rod. It has been built to compete with or better the Ducati 916 at nearly half the price. Why on earth would anyone buy a RACE BIKE, promptly attempt to use it for something it was not designed for, and then complain about its poor performance in said wrong use? Why? Why? Why?!!
Yep, it’s kinda of glitchy at low rpm, but it ROCKS in the middle to high rpm range &endash; right where it’s supposed to. It needs a steering damper. So does a GSXR 750 and most other all-out sport bikes. It is uncomfortable on long trips, and there is nowhere to put saddle bags? Why do you suppose that is? Hmmm.
I know several TL owners who are way happy with them. Sure, they have a few personality quirks (the Suzukis, I mean), but I think most owners are willing to deal with them. If you are looking to install a set of Marathon tires, a Goldwing seat and luggage maybe you should rethink your ride. I bet you could trade your TL in on a very nice GPZ1100 that would suit your needs a little better.
I recently attended a couple of fine racing events. The first was the Champion Auto Stores Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. This is one of my favorite events and definitely the biggest deal of the year at BIR. This is a huge pro drag race and mostly an automotive event. However, they do run Pro Stock Bike, the top professional class in motorcycle drag racing.
These bikes are specifically designed and built for drag racing. They are not modified streeters. About the only part similar to stockers is the engine. The bikes have to run production engines, although they are heavily modified. The most common powerplants are the old GS1100-1150 Suzuki engines of the early eighties and the GPZ 1100 Kawasaki motors of the same era. The four-valve Suzuki is allowed to go to 1340cc and the two-valve Kawi to 1500cc. All have to run gasoline and carburetors &endash; no turbos, superchargers or funky fuels are allowed. These beasts make up to 250 horsepower, which is enough to get down the quarter mile in 7.5 seconds at 185 miles per hour. Kinda speedy.
Most top level motorcycle racing events seem to feature only men these days, but not Pro Stock Motorcycle. Two women competitors in this sport are doing quite well. Angella Seeling and Stephanie Reaves, both on Suzukis, have earned spots in the top ten NHRA Winston points standings. This is the first time in NHRA history that two women competitors have simultaneously been in the top ten. This is a good thing, and we need to see more of it, not just in drag racing but in all bike racing.
The other event I attended was the Minnesota Mile at Canterbury Park. This was a Grand National flat track race involving mostly Harley-Davidsons. A Honda was in there somewhere, but I couldn’t pick it out. I am not much of a dirt or motocross fan, but these Hogs were really moving. They were going nearly 140 miles per hour on the straights and totally sideways in the turns. Very amusing.
I would like to see some competition from other brands though. Harleys racing each other got old for me after a while. Excelsior-Henderson had a large amount of sponsorship dollars involved, and both Hanlon brothers were there with a bunch of their Odd Rods. Maybe they’ll come up with something sporty to keep me from snoozing. After all, if you are going to sponsor races it only makes sense that you build race bikes, right?