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From the Owner
The ups and downs of owning a classic motorcycle

Ben Schenk's 1966 Kawasaki 85 J1TR

Ben Schenk

I was very pleased to read the latest Under the Radar column in the September/October 2017 issue of the magazine. The story featured the Honda S90, but also gives “Contender” status to two other bikes: The Suzuki K11 Sport 80 and the Kawasaki 85 J1.

I will soon be working on a 1966 Kawasaki 85 J1TR, which is the trail bike version of the J1. I think that was a very good choice for a bit of focus. It is a somewhat rare little bike, as it was the first year that Kawasaki imported motorcycles into the U.S. as their own company. The J1TR was manufactured in 1966, using premix oil/gasoline. In 1967, this bike was replaced by the J1TRL, which was the same bike, but with “Superlube” oil injection. The 1966 version also utilized an all-chrome tank with painted accents while the 1967 featured chrome side panels on each side of the tank. The 1966 model was painted a root beer-like brown color, while the 1967 TRL was painted a vivid bright red color.

The photo shows the 1966 Kawasaki 85 J1TR bike I have in the shop. This is obviously a “before” photo. It is “as discovered” in a garage in Sumner, Washington. I purchased this bike from a relative of its original owner. The bike is complete. Following a major parts hunt, I have all the remaining chassis parts in storage waiting for overall restoration. Just too much other work in the shop right now. Keep up the great work with the magazine. I am an original subscriber.

Ben Schenk, Schenk Racing Enterprises/Eatonville, Washington

Rick Campbell's 1989 Honda Hawk GT

Rick Campbells Honda Hawk

Your excellent September/October 2017 issue underscores a most important point about the success of Honda Japanese motorcycles in the early years: they were not just “styled” but were integrated designs. The beloved Honda S90 (I had two) proves the point: sprightly, reliable, and simply elegant in their design. Hondas of that era always looked right to me. In contrast, the Ariel Leader and Arrow demonstrate the failure of later English design. The Arrow’s red-and-white paint scheme was the ultimate example of putting “lipstick on a pig.” Sadly, the Commando Hi-rider is an even worse example of the same thing. To underscore the point, after World War II, England produced the Corgi, America produced the Cushman Eagle, and Japan produced the Honda 50. Engineering and design were far superior on the Honda.

I say this after spending a couple of wonderful morning hours on my 1989 Honda Hawk NT650 GT, and wondering why today no one will make a compact bike even close to it in terms of finish (polished cases, aluminum frame and swingarm, sandcast aluminum brackets), low weight (390 pounds) and good handling. No offense to the good folks at Royal Enfield, but this is much more bike than their historic singles, which I considered before buying and restoring the Hawk. Engineering, when combined with good esthetics, results in successful motorcycle sales. I think you have to look very hard to find ugly motorcycles that sold well.

Rick Campbell/Tigard, Oregon

Joe Carrillo's 1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma

From the Owner

Rider: Joe Carrillo, Menlo Park, California
Age: 57
Occupation: Property management
Current rides: Ducati Desmosedici and 1299 Superlegerra, Husky 701 S/M, KTM 1290 Super Duke, Yamaha TZR250, Honda NSR250, Suzuki RGV250, Honda NS250, Yamaha RD350LC, Kawasaki KH400, Velocette LE200 and about 50 more!

Joe’s 1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma find: “I had pretty much given up on the idea of ever finding a nice Suzuki RG500 for my collection, but the other day, my good friend Graham Yates called to tell me an acquaintance of his had just done some handyman work for an elderly woman. Apparently, the woman’s late husband was a bit of a motorcycle buff and had several bikes of his still in her possession. The handyman did a couple of weeks of work for her, and in lieu of payment, he could choose one of the bikes. Guess what he picked out and came home with? Yep, a basically new 1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma with only 800 miles on it!

From the Owner

“Graham works at a local motorcycle shop called Catalyst Reaction in San Carlos, California, where the bike was taken for a carburetor cleaning and fluid change. Graham called me to come check it out. At this point, although I was jealous, I never thought I had a chance of owning it. I was just thinking that guy was in the right place at the right time, and I was happy for him. So as I was leaving, I halfheartedly asked Graham to offer the guy a trade for my Ducati 999R and some cash. Well, 10 minutes after I left, the phone rang. It was Graham, and he said load up your 999R and grab your cash, because the guy agreed, and it’s yours! I couldn’t believe it, so I moved very fast, before the guy changed his mind. Well, to make a long story longer, after I got it home and was going through all the extra stuff that came with the bike (spare parts, owner’s and service manuals, etc.), I came across a handwritten note that had my name, phone number and address on it.

“Yes, apparently I had originally sold the bike to this late gentlemen back in 1986, when I had a small business selling exotic motorcycles that I imported from around the world. I guess it was just meant to be!”

Randy Trom’s Yamaha Twin Jet 100 and Trailmaster 100

Randy Trom's Yamaha bikes

Randy Trom's lovely 1967 Yamaha Trailmaster 100 YL2C (left) and 1967 Yamaha Twin Jet 100 YL1E (right). Too cool. Photo courtesy Randy Trom

Great tiddlers

One of the columns I always look forward to is Under the Radar. I found the September/October 2017 feature on the 1964-1969 Honda S90 of particular interest. The motorcycles of that era were a big part of my youth. However, I’d like to offer alternatives to the “Contenders” to the Honda S90. Although the Suzuki Sport 80 and Kawasaki 80 are worthy contenders, I believe a few other bikes of that time may have proven equal to, or even more memorable, popular and competitive to the Honda S90. Worthy of note is the Yamaha Twin Jet 100, Bridgestone 90 Sport, and the Yamaha Trailmaster 100 and 80. Keep up the good work and enjoy a couple of gems from my "tiddler" collection, a blue-and-silver 1967 Yamaha Twin Jet 100 YL1E, and a 1967 (registered in 1968) Yamaha Trailmaster 100 YL2C. They’ve been restored to near-concours condition.

Randy Trom

Darrel Ricketts’ 1973 Norton 750 Commando

1973 750 Commando

Darrel Ricketts’ 1973 Norton 750 Commando. Photo courtesy Darrel Ricketts

I finished this 1973 Norton 750 Commando last fall. It is my second Norton build. The next one will be a 1968 Atlas featuring many Commando upgrades. I sold this bike to a good friend, Brian. Ironically, my first exposure to a Norton was a 1971 Commando my brother bought from Brian nearly 20 years ago (he still has it). Now I am building Nortons and selling them back to Brian.

-Darrel Ricketts

Jerry L. Hall’s 1971 BMW R75/5

The BMW back out on the road. Photo courtesy Jerry L. Hall

Back in the Seventies and Eighties an older gentleman named Loren often rode with me and my brothers and our father. We all rode BMWs. Loren rode FAST in the curves, but what I remember best is his unique riding style. He sat straight upright as if he had a steel rod for a spine. Curves to the left. Curves to the right. Flat out down the straights. Nothing mattered. He was always sitting bolt upright. And always FAST.

About two years ago Loren’s trusty polaris silver with blue pin stripes 1971 BMW R75/5 serendipitously crossed my path. It was offered to me, and thankfully I was in a position to say, “Yes, please.” I had been wanting a /5 again and I had a personal connection with this bike. It had passed through one or two owners since Loren, and wore a Wixom frame-mounted fairing and safety bars. It was missing the headlamp innards and front turn signals, and it had aftermarket silencers, but everything else was still showroom stock and in amazing condition! I smile every time I cast my eyes on that beautiful saddle with the two chrome hand holds.

New Mikunis on an old /5. Photo courtesy Jerry L. Hall

The fairing and safety bars were shelved. Then I went treasure hunting and located all the missing headlamp parts and the polished aluminum signals with the amber side reflectors. I bought new replica cigar-shaped silencers. I wanted it to look just as it did out of the crate. I tried to rediscover my factory-trained BMW mechanic skills from decades ago. What was foggy to my mind was somehow remembered by the muscle memory in my hands. My hands knew which size wrench to use and how to remove the front cover and how to torque the heads and how to adjust the valve clearance. But no matter how many times I balanced the carburetors for idle and smooth acceleration the adjustments wouldn’t hold. I overhauled the carbs to no avail. A little research and some memory jogging made it clear that these Bings were from a batch of bad carbs that found their way into production. There could be no “fixin’ ’em.” Then I remembered putting Mikuni carbs on a number of bikes in those years. Some Internet research led me to a shop in Massachusetts with everything I needed.

Today I put the new Japanese carbs on the old German bike. I hung the auxiliary fuel tank from the handlebars. I slipped the fuel lines onto the carbs and turned on the petcock. I pushed down the old plunger key on top of the headlamp, took a deep breath and thumbed the starter button. Without any hesitation the engine came to life, complete with that old /5 rocker noise and valve clatter. Oh, sweet music to my ears!

Sometimes an old motorcycle will let you know it’s happy just like a good dog does when it looks up at you and “smiles.” Ya know what I mean? — Jerry L. Hall

Clark Stewart’s Classic Bikes

Reader Clark Stewart with his lovely collection of vintage motorcycles. Photo courtesy Clark Stewart

More trouble

I enjoyed your editorial (Black Side Down, July/August 2017) in which you note a relationship between mechanical skills and artistic endeavor. This is pretty germane to my own experience. I am a retired art professor from the University of Tennessee living in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the past 40 or so years I have been into old bikes, managing over that time to keep 15 or so on the road. These have included Bultaco Metrallas, Norton Commandos, a Norton Atlas, a BSA, a Benelli, a Yamaha RD350, an Enfield and a BMW R65LS.

Most of the maintenance and repairs I’ve been able to manage myself, only a few times needing professional services. I’ve found that an eye and feel for sequential and visual relationships have been key to both my art and wrenching. For the most part “what looks good is good” and vice versa holds pretty true. Conceiving a process of orderly steps is key to both endeavors. I’m fortunate to live in motorcycle paradise adjacent to the Smoky Mountains and beautiful and lightly traveled country roads, and am a member of a great group, the Time Warp Vintage Motorcycle Club. I’ve enjoyed your magazine since issue one and look forward to forthcoming ones. Attached is a shot of the current bikes. — Clark Stewart/via email


We admire your fine row of classic rides (especially that Fastback!) along with your thoughtful approach of orderly steps. Ride, and wrench, well. — Ed.