Old Bike Asterisk *

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Ever try finding a firing pin for an Iowa Class battleship’s 16 inch guns? They probably didn’t make very many – and the ones they did make were last made probably 50 years ago.

My problem is similar, though on a smaller scale.

Needing some relief from sickness psychosis, I decided to roll out the ’83 Honda GL650 and take myself and girlfriend Dawn out for some fresh air and gyros at a roadside dive that looked promising. This ancient Honda has been a paragon of reliability for the fifteen years I’ve owned it, never once letting me down – except for the time I pushed it too far on the reserve tank and ended up having to push it, far.

But that was not the bike’s fault.

Other than that, it has never demanded more than the usual maintenance, which is minimal with old bikes like this one, which do not have computers or complicated electronics and – if we’re talking Hondas of that era especially – were probably better-built than their new-model analogs because that was Mr. Honda’s policy and because 40-50 years ago, Honda and the other Japanese brands were building their reputations, not yet having established them. Resting on their laurels they were not – and as anyone who has taken apart a Honda (or Kaw or Yamaha or Suzuki; sorry, Harley) engine of the mid-late ’70s and into the ’80s knows, the things are brilliantly engineered and put together.

These attributes make them superlative for everyday use, today. With one asterisk.

Some of these old bikes are oddballs that were not built in huge numbers. Honda stamped out millions of permutations of the CB750 that came out in 1969 and which shared many critical components that could be interchanged among them. Same goes for the Goldwing, the now-famous touring heavyweight that made its debut in 1975.

But Honda only made my 1983 Silverwing for one year. Or at least, only sold this bike for one year, here. That was almost 40 years ago. And that can make scrounging for certain parts harder. Its 650 cc (actually, it is almost 700 cc) “twisted twin” is also an unusual engine – for Honda. It is an entirely different engine than the inline fours and singles that Honda is better known for. And the 650-ish version – though similar to the more abundant 500 cc version – has a number of different parts that are unique to it.

Luckily, the starter isn’t one of them – at least, apparently.

This – on my particular Silverwing – has always been slightly sticky, at least as long as I have owned the bike. Push the button and it . . . eventually heaves over but because the engine is a good one, it has always started almost as soon as the starter tries – I’m given ‘er all she’s got, Captain! – to start it. That stickyness is of course a sign of tiredness and I knew I should have attended to it sooner but the same goes for the siding of my shed – and the new coop for the chickens (and ducks) I’ve only just now finally gotten around to dealing with and the greenhouse I’ve only laid plans for, so far.

It being a function of not having eight arms or a clone.

Anyhow, we got to the dive, which was closed – ironically enough, “for lunch.” But hadn’t had ours, so decided to saddle up and try elsewhere. To get there, we needed to ride some more. Which required starting the bike, which wouldn’t, this time.

The first time in fifteen years.

Now, the bad news was the dive was located on flat land, with no hill in sight – to roll the bike down and clutch start the thing. So I did the next best thing – and had my girlfriend Dawn push the bike, with me on it. She wasn’t able to get me going very fast, though – and when I popped the clutch, all it did was stop the bike. But it did break loose the sticky starter, which – praise the Lord! – stared the bike up again. Tapping a reluctant starter with a hammer sometimes does the trick, too. Don’t forget to remember this! It may save you a tow (or a trailer) in a pinch.

Now we could roll – and so, eat! But I dared not stop the bike – or rather, shut off the engine – until we got back home, to the safety of garage and tools. Luckily, another dive presented itself and – as is often the case with dives – it turned out to be an excellent place for eats and for that reason will give it public praise and encourage you to stop there, if you’re ever there. It is the Cafe Xpress in Salem, Virginia – a New York-style deli that is so good we’ll be back and you should go there, too.

I left the bike running outside while we chowed down on Reubens, superlative coleslaw and what I will tell you is perhaps the best bacon cheeseburger I have ever had in my life. And that’s from a born New Yorker, who has eaten in New York delis.

Back to the story!

We saddled up- again – and rode back home. Once home and no longer needing to worry about it if the bike wouldn’t re-start, I shut it off and tried again – and it did. But I won’t trust it again until the starter is rebuilt – with a kit – or replaced, ideally with a new starter, so as to not have to deal with the problems of someone else’s used starter.

Starters for almost-40-year-old (and one-year-only) Honda GL650s are not easy to find. Enter the asterisk about owning an almost-40-year-old (and one-year-only) motorcycle. They do not stock them and eBay is fresh out of them. Rice Paddy – an excellent resource for old Japanese bikes – has some “good” (allegedly) used ones.

But a little researching clued me in to the good news – not in the salvation sense – that a GL500 starter (and rebuild kit) ought to work on a GL650. I am going to try the rebuild route first as it’s the cheapest – about $20. A new starter looks like about $150. Either way, the bike will be ready to roll again, soon.

Probably for another almost-40-years!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will do my best to answer!

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! Just ran across the article on the CX650 somehow. What a joy to read your fun on board that great m/c. I owned a ’79 CX500 for quite a few years and enjoyed it immensely. Always did my own repairs as most of them were easy.
    Thanks for the memories. I still miss that bike. Sold off due to health concerns. Wished I’d just kept it to putter around on in the garage. Oh, well, as the saying goes, “sh*t happens”.
    Thanks again.

    • My pleasure, Revjay4!

      I also love this old Honda, one of several I’ve owned over the years. They’re not as well known as the CBs but they have a unique character and are – like Hondas, generally – incredibly reliable machines.

  2. Gotta say- getting a new stator or field coil on a 1st gen CB750 is getting mighty hard. Pretty much the only option is to pay rick’s electric for a rebuild. Here is an example of better japanese build- valve seals….
    I did the job on my harley (86 evo 1340) and my 78cb750f. The harley valve has straight cut notches you need to cover with tape or a seleve to slide the seal over, which is so delicate if it slides over the notch, it is damaged and cannot be used. It is also super thin. I got a thick seal from ‘fueling’ instead and paid extra for it and still had to use the sleeve. Honda- in 1978, the seal stock looks like the high grade harley fueling one, and the valve notch is rounded, so just slide the sucker on, put the spring back on, and install the head. No stress, super easy

  3. Eric,

    You friggin’ crack me up. Old scooter trash here, so trash that when my ’76 Grand Prix was down, me and the ol’ lady AND rugrat #1 (we have 7 now, all adults, only 3 left to marry off!) used to strap my ALICE pack on the 12″ over springer front end on my ’74 Sportster (frame, seat, engine, front end, rear only brake, sit down, shut up and HANG ON!) and do the laundry/grocery shopping/parts run. We survived, the Sporty was kick start only, once I replaced the bad gear, never failed to fire and, man, oh man, the Karens (didn’t have a name for ’em back then!) would clutch their pearls and audibly gasp when the ol’ lady’d throw the boy in between us as I clunked ‘er into first and roared off in an earth shaking display of “leave me the f♡€# alone”! Your starter tale was great, and I find your ascerbic wit and scathing assessment of the jackasses that are just asking for it to be spot on! You are a daily bit of sanity for me and, being a lover of old iron of the American persuasion, I’ll still read you, even though you ride a Honda! Keep the faith, Brother, folks need guys like you tellin’ it like it is!

    • While obviously not directed my way, That comment made me smile, Easy Rider.

      Thanks for taking the time.

      A good way to end the day.

    • The good ol’ days! I did similar in Thailand not long ago – rented a motorbike, rode around for weeks with gf on the back and her daughter jammed between us. No one batted an eye, since a lot of other folks were doing the same. A family of four on a scooter wasn’t uncommon – older kid standing between dad’s knees, mom hanging on to the youngest.
      Pretty normal behavior in countries lacking the enforcement mechanisms of the nanny safety state. I suspect there are a few fatalities to go along with that – the price of freedom.

      • Hi Karalan,

        Every once in awhile, I defy the law and ride my sport bike like I used to – without a god-damned helmet. It is not because I am reckless or stupid. It is because I resent my choice being taken away and because I esteem the feel of the wind and the sun on my face and judge my overall risk of riding that way to be slight. Especially in view of the fact that the law says nothing about my riding around wearing shorts and a T shirt. So long as I wear the god-damned helmet.

        • There are times it makes sense to go doo rag no helmet. On the way to Sturgis from WA first food break Post Falls ID by then about 95 plus, after lunch stow the helmet for the rest of the trip. (Unless hailstorm!)
          No mandatory helmet laws ID and on at least 20 years ago.

          Ride all day in that heat with a helmet? No thanks. I’ll take the safety of staying alert vs. rummy attention span from an overheated noggin.

    • Thanks, Easy –

      And: You do a fair job, yourself! I love the description of you and the ol’ lady riding the ’74 Sporty with the kids on board. Hot damn! – as the Doctor used to put it – that is (was) America.

      I miss it. A lot.

  4. This is why I love dual sport motorcycles. You can buy brand new or slightly used jap ds bikes that are exactly the same as they were 20 years ago. Granted my drz400 isn’t much fun two up and I wish there was a brand new old bike that would be good for cross country travel. Keep your feelers out for a parts bike or buy something more common and sell the bike to a collector.

  5. Greaat story. I’m laughing at the mental image of Dawn struggling to push you and the bike! You should have recruited someone…to video it! 😀 Great story. Glad it had a happy ending. But wait! Crunchy girlfriend eats bacon? Better watch out or you’ll be needing a Harley to haul her around on….and they’re much harder to push (And need it much more often).

    • Dear Nunzio,

      As I read it, the GF had a ruben. While wheat isn’t in my classification of crunchy (see the book: Wheat Belly) and nitrates are debatable, and sugar is toxic, bacon is certainly not anti-crunchy. I’m pretty sure Mark Sisson would agree, and he’s definitely crunchy, his website is chock full of Primal goodness, I highly recommend it. Imho, he’s the Eric Peters of the food world, ‘er something like that.

      https://www.marksdailyapple.com/

  6. Part Number 31200-449-405 Replaces 31200-449-008

    Fits the following models
    78 CX500
    80 CX500C-A
    81 CX500C-B
    79 CX500C-Z
    80 CX500D-A
    81 CX500D-B
    79 CX500D-Z
    82 CX500TC-C
    79 CX500Z
    83 GL650C-D
    81 GL500-B
    82 GL500-C
    81 GL500I-B
    82 GL500I-C
    83 GL650-D
    83 GL65I-D

    Refurbished at Stockers Starters P/N HS 14 but shows Temporarily out of stock but you might call and find out if/when they might get some in. They also sell rebuild kits.

    You might check the starter relay. Mine was intermittent even though I heard the relay click.

    Ebay has some used starters using “starter honda silverwing” but were high priced.

    I rebuilt mine using the kit from Amazon. If I remember correctly the seal did not fit but the rest fit okay.

    https://www.amazon.com/Starter-Rebuild-ATC200-Interstate-Motorcycle/dp/B00G4CON0Q

  7. If the rotor or stator are bad or weak, you might get lucky by finding an alternator rewind shop, and they might be able to rewind them for you (if the unit was not able to be bought completely new). They do go bad over time from normal exposure, heat, etc… just like electric motors do.
    The shops also might be able to test the windings for you. Not sure if they would need the actual specs for that starter, but I bet an experienced rewinder could guess pretty good on the condition with some simple tests.

  8. Eric,
    If adventure in the land of whether my bike will start or not can be found in vintage British machines 50 years past. I own (2): 68 BSA Lightning and a 74 Norton Commando and each has all the excitement of whether I am going or when I get there how I am coming back. Fortunately the Brits were well on top of this and planned for their obsolescence well by making a sh’tload of spares.
    (I do enjoy the sound and torque of old British iron rolling under me.)

  9. Replace or rebuild – I’m a rebuilder too when possible. In the mid 70s I had a 69 Alfa Romeo with a balky starter, prior owner had the dealer “fix” it but when I took it apart it had a commutator with several burnt segments. New starter, too much, I bought the rotor for $35 and never had another problem.

  10. That’s got to be – one of the most gut wrenching feelings in the world – when the motor won’t start, usually in a place where it’s not a good thing. It’s absolutely double so when you’ve got a woman in tow.

    A flat tire or running out of gasoline is wayyy preferable.

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