by Gary Charpentier
Those of you familiar with my previous work in this magazine will probably not recognize what is to follow. In the past, I have written about my own adventures, on my own bikes, in the first person and with as little embellishment as possible. But as the demands of my REAL job began to encroach upon my life as a cafe racer, this column became more of a “Diary of a Crazed Commuter”. That culminated in the infamous incident in March of 2000, when I was arrested by the highway patrol for riding over 120 mph through rush hour traffic, trying to beat the clock and get to work on time. Game Over!
I have taken a year off to rethink my approach to riding, and life in general. In these days of extreme everything, I have decided to buck the flow once again and just slow down for awhile. My wife and daughter would like to have me around for the next several years, and I have decided that I would prefer that to life behind bars, or death on the highway.
So, I have decided to revisit the roots of my two-wheeled obsession: Cafe Racers. Shawn Downey has covered the British, or more specifically Irish end of things in this respect, so I thought I would concentrate on the bikes many of us grew up on and, as our incomes and egos grew, left behind.
Vintage Japanese motorcycles are enjoying a bit of a renaissance these days. With the advent of the internet and instant worldwide communication, enthusiasts from everywhere can trade parts and information which allows many of these former “barn-fresh” relics to be dug up, dusted off, and restored to some semblance of their original glory. Since my intention is to cover these bikes in a series of columns, I am going to start with the first Japanese bike to really spark the imaginations of many wannabe roadracers: the once ubiquitous Honda CB77 Superhawk.
Dave Richter built one of these into a cafe Racer back in the `70’s, and he sent us this story, along with the photos you see here.
The bike was purchased used in the early 70’s by my best buddy, Harry Bosyk. As found it was a beautiful box stock, scarlet and silver 1965 Honda CB77 Super Hawk. Harry paid $300, and I helped him bring it home in my VW bus. I remember looking back at it in the rear view mirror and thinking how absolutely beautiful and functional it looked, and how I wished that it was my own. Harry rode the bike for that first summer, but almost immediately he began stripping off cosmetic parts…. He had a cafe racer in mind. One day he appeared in my driveway on the Super Hawk sporting a bobbed rear fender and a thin stubby home made racer seat. He talked wildly about some parts he was fabricating. Eventually, however, before the bike was fitted with any of the trick pieces he mentioned, my friend began to pursue other interests and progress on the Super Hawk stalled.
The project came to me as a rolling chassis with a number of neat semi-completed trick pieces and many boxes of disassembled parts. The production Super Hawk was designed with footpegs and controls for the rear brake and shifter that could be quickly and easily repositioned by moving two bolts and replacing the shift rod with a longer part. To complete the conversion of the project to a more racer like appearance I fitted standard Honda CB72 Hawk flat handlebars.
The gas tank was a CB350 – 4 unit. It was a perfect fit and with the emblems and graphics removed its neat racer styling and subtle knee indents became apparent. An oil cooler adapter was fabricated by heli-arcing aluminum plugs to the old filter cover. Holes were drilled and tapped and the appropriate passages plugged. The oil cooler was mounted in place of the electric starter. I rarely used the awkward forward thrust kick-starter as I knew from experience that it was prone to crack the engine side cover. In practice I found it very exciting and racy to yank the leather thong-connected red rubber balls from the velocity stacks, stuff them in my jacket and then run and bump start the bike in true period racer form.
The standard Honda sheet metal covers were removed from the forks, and were replaced by Honda CL350 rubber gaiters to protect the fork seals and legs, and give the bike a European flair. Black anodized CB350 handlebar controls were used, matching the black engine trim and providing a headlight and “kill” switches. The tach and speedo were also black Honda CB 350 units mounted on an aluminum bracket. Nice used Honda parts were inexpensive and plentiful, and they seemed to fit the theme of keeping the project entirely Honda.
The Super Hawk Cafe project was completed in the spring of 1975. The bike performed flawlessly from the start. It was extremely reliable and not a single component failed during the time that I owned it. The silver Cafe racer was my sole transport as I attended classes at the University. The route I took daily affirmed the legendary Super Hawk handling and power characteristics, and it instilled in me a sense of confidence on a bike which I have not known since.
Near the final weeks of my relationship with the Honda a friend, Gary Winn, and I had a most memorable adventure on our bikes. My friend had a very nice stock Honda 500-4, and having similar interests and riding styles, we often rode together. Our wives understood our need to ride and the fact the season for comfortable riding was coming to an end. When we phoned our homes one late summer evening pleading for time off for a greater adventure, permission was granted. We discussed a destination and after a lengthy elimination process we decided to head up to Gary’s boyhood home, and present home of his parents, in Old Kinderhook, New York.
The road was twisty and hilly and I was unfamiliar with it. The pace was brisk but not at all intimidating. The road surface was dry and good, and most importantly, there was virtually no traffic. I recall vividly following the beautiful music of his four pipes blending with the mellow sound of my own megaphone and sucking of the carbs. My instruments were lit with a pleasant greenish glow and at times I became almost mesmerized by the rise and fall of the tach, the exhaust note and the rush of scenery through the plexiglas of the fairing.
Eventually we turned down a side road and pulled into the dirt driveway of a small guest cottage on his parent’s property. As I stepped off the bike my legs were wobbly. I reached into my jacket and withdrew the red rubber balls that had begun to make my ribs ache. I stuffed them in the velocity stacks and turned off the gas. I stretched and pulled off my gloves and helmet. I was immediately overwhelmed by the brilliance and abundance of stars in the inky black sky. We found the hidden key to the cottage and spent the night.
It’s a neat sensation to wake up in the morning in a new place after arriving there in the dark. We stepped outside and squinted at the rising sun. We were surrounded by luscious greenery. Our bikes were covered with dew, and our gas tanks had a curious pattern where insects had slid through it. A spider web glistening with moisture was suspended across my windshield. The morning air was refreshingly cool and clean. We stretched and breathed deep. We languished in the sun against the southeast cottage wall and smoked cigarettes as we warmed up and cleared our heads. When we were sufficiently awake and ready to ride, we headed to town for coffee. The harmonized sounds of our combined six cylinders shattered the clear, cool air and I noticed a more than few heads turning as we rode slowly through this sleepy little town.
I can’t recall exactly why I began to think about selling Mariah, but at some point it seemed like the thing to do. We had a splendid run together and my family and career was becoming more important to me daily. The decision was made in the fall of 1975 and the price was set at $600. In retrospect that must have been a lot of money for a decade old bike that cost not much more than that new. I began to feel that maybe I had made a mistake when the first perspective buyer, almost without discussion, reached for his wallet and handed me six big ones. I knew then that I had made a dreadful mistake, as I watched him pull the red rubber balls from the velocity stacks, stuff them in his leather jacket, don his helmet, and run and bump the Super Hawk Cafe to life. At that moment my heart sank as I realized that the many good times we had together were over.
A lifetime has passed since that day, and after years away from motorcycles as I raised my children, I have again immersed myself in the sport. Recently my married son has become interested in vintage Hondas. He has shown a keen interest in pictures of Mariah. I am currently in the process of trying to locate my former Super Hawk cafe racer, but of course I realize the chance of finding it is very slim.
Therefore, my son and I are in the process of accumulating and fabricating the necessary bits and pieces to build a pair of wonderful, reliable CB77 cafe racers in the memory and likeness of Mariah.