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That seventies vibe

Living in the seventies has its joys and challenges

(Travels with Guido number 374, Jan 2024, Guy 'Guido' Allen)


(Lead pic: Ben Galli)

Just at the moment, I'm a little sore. And no I didn't fall off anything. However muggins has spent much of the last couple of days crawling over, around and under assorted transports of delight, attending to their needs.

That time has been spent on three out of the six seventies motorcycles currently in the shed: The 1971 Honda CB750-Four K1, 1975 Norton 850 Commando MkIII and 1975 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing.

Though I'll never be mistaken for a mechanic, I'm kind of comfortable working on Japanese motorcycles of this era, having started off on a seventies Kawasaki 400 and then progressing up the capacity ranks across a few different Nippon brands.

honda cb750-four

Across the decade I've owned it, the CB750 has been the least demanding of the seventies machines, though it may surprise you to learn that my 1975 T160 Triumph has given it a solid run for its money on that score over a similar period of time.

The CeeBee is like pulling on an old shoe. A second-hand K2 was my first 'big' motorcycle around four decades ago, something which yours-truly rode fast though not necessarily well, blew up and rebuilt with an upgraded motor. Yep, with a screaming 812cc Yoshimura kit. Hot stuff! (Or so it seemed at the time...)

If you'd told me then that I'd now be getting a kick out of riding an even older example (an unimaginable four decades down the track) you would have been advised to sod off and do a reality-check.

In the meantime, the tally so far with the K1 has been to rebuild the front brakes (master cylinder seals, lines, front caliper seals), and a bit of general servicing. That's it. I know I can walk up after a couple of weeks, pump up the front tyre (which has an irritating slow leak), turn on the fuel and hit the starter. It always goes.

So this weekend was a simple oil and filter change, with a brake fluid freshen-up. Easy.

More on the CB750-Four

Norton Commando

A little more fraught has been the relationship with the Norton, though I can't entirely blame the motorcycle.

It has that annoying Commando habit of wet-sumping what is supposed to be a dry sump motor. The CB750 does it as well, but happily pumps the oil back into the tank on start-up. Not so the Commando, which is more likely to spit oil out of every available orifice, but mostly the breather – not pretty.

Thanks to that little habit, you have to drain the crankcase before getting too excited about going for a ride. You can get a one-way oil return valve to tackle this, but I'm told that has its own risk of causing a blow-up when it fails.

The 850 also has an electric starter system that is only just capable of carrying out the task, so the smart thing to do is turn it over with the kick-starter to loosen it up, then hit the button. Of course it helps enormously if you have a whacking great lithium battery under the seat, which seems to remove or at least reduce the risk of the starter getting tired and emotional.

Yes, I could just kick-start it but see no reason why I should. If or when the electric leg croaks, it will be replaced with a readily-available upgrade.

Because it's a bit of a faff to get going, I tend to leave the lovely Norton longer than ideal which of course makes the situation worse. This time around the gap has been months rather than weeks and, thanks to incredibly wet weather and blanketing humidity, helped no doubt by old fuel, the carburetor slides have seized. No matter, we're in the throes of recommisioning the thing, with a promise to get it out more often.

More on the Norton

honda gold wing

As for the Gold Wing, this is the second that has graced the shed in quick succession. You're no doubt familiar with the idea of selling a motorcycle and almost instantly regretting the decision – this time I was able to do something about it.

A similar 1975 GL1000 (the first model of the series) went through our hands some months ago. It had undergone a significant rebuild and I continued on the work to bring it back closer to stock. Moments after I got it running very nicely, it was on the market. There may have been a good reason at the time, though I'm buggered if I can recall what it was.

Moving on a year or so, another pops up via TT Motorcycles in Mornington (Vic). Ringmaster Brian Browne also sold me the CB750-Four, so it seems we should establish a BB corner in shed, perhaps with a Joey Dunlop statue and a bottle of crisp Pinot in case of emergencies.

Back to the Wing, we got it on the road after some running around – a story for another day – and it's been a bit of fun. I've given it a precautionary end-to-end fluid change, its second in recent months, as it had been sitting a long time before Brian and Co recommissioned it.

Gold Wings of this era are a bit of an eye-opener. The architecture and layout is unusual (okay, seriously weird) for the seventies but it works. Though hardly the most nimble of devices, it handles okay if you're assertive at the tiller and is surprisingly quick (for its day) in a straight line. Forget the famous 'Lead Wing' tag, despite the weight it is/was a quick piece of machinery for the period.

See our previous first-model Gold Wing

Here's a little aside: All three machines are running old-style points ignition and I have no desire to change that. Points are pretty good to work with once you get your head around them, particularly if you're riding for fun instead of relying on or hammering them for day-to-day transport.

There have been times when I've threatened to offload all the seventies machines because they're more demanding of my time than much of the later gear. But then you eyeball one of them, take it for a spin, and all is forgiven.

Our other seventies bikes:

1975 Ducati 860 GT

1975 Triumph T160

1978 Yamaha SR500

More Travels with Guido columns

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See the bikes in our shed


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