Safety on Vintage Motorcycles

After hearing about a fellow CB350 riders crash caused by “Vintage” brake shoes, (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH SHOES FROM Vintage Brake, vintagebrake.com) I felt obligated to assemble this list items to consider with all vintage motorcycles. Having resurrected many vintage motorcycles, more than 100 350K Hondas, I have seen many complications, or at least their results, as well as my own experiences. I recommend you print this information and go over you bike while reading.

MSF Motorcycle Safety Course is the best motorcycle investment a ride can ever make. Has it been a decade since you took your course? Consider another basic course or perhaps an advanced course.

IF safety is the concern that it should be, on any motorcycle, TIRE PRESSURE is the one variable most in your control and easiest to keep correct!

Modern and vintage bikes are both dangerous without functional mirrors. Managing the traffic behind you is a major part of “riding awareness”.

CHAIN: Neglected chains damage sprockets and can break causing; a loss of power to the rear wheel, a chain wrapped around your front sprocket, or worst case scenario – a locked up rear wheel taking away most all the control you had just seconds before.

CABLES: They are called control cable. Loss of the function of any of the cables means loss of control. 50 year old cables are great for EMERGENCY situations. If they’re still on your bike, the EMERGENCY is waiting to show it’s ugly face at any time.

ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS: Riding down the road and having your ignition cut off in traffic is a very dangerous place to be. ANY SIGN of intermittent behaviour of your machine should be resolved before proceeding on the road. Consider taking a can of PB Blaster to each and every electrical connection, rotating and removing and replacing the male bullet connector in and out of the female connector to rub metal on metal removing corrosion in those places where the connectors mate with each other. Leave any remnants of Blaster behind to continue penetrating and dissolving corrosion and protecting metal with remaining residue. If your kill switch is misbehaving you can bypass it inside the headlight until resolved.

Charging System: Failed charging systems are another way to lose control of your machine. You can also find yourself stranded wherever it happens to fail. The 350K Honda charging system is actually a very crude and archaic means of keeping the battery (designed for lead/acid batteries) with a positive charge. The “Orange Fin” Zener diode bridge rectifier is connected directly to the battery. When, not if, the 50 year old rectifier dies, it’s usually a short circuit. This takes the battery and drains it to ground (EVEN WITH THE IGNITION SWITCH TURNED OFF!). Left this way for a couple of weeks, your battery, no matter how new it is, will likely not recover when charged. The “Points based” voltage regulator is as crude a concept as “electronics” has to offer. “It works well enough”. Although by it’s nature, shortens the life of a battery. Modern Solid State regulator/rectifier units are more efficient and much more forgiving and extend the life of a battery. DANGER! Never use a LITHIUM battery with the original charging system! Lithium batteries have a history of catching fire with modern solid state charging systems. Using the points based voltage regulator is asking for trouble. Points based charging systems ALWAYS exceed manufacturer’s maximum allowable voltages! I’m working on creating a combo regulator/rectifier that will available at siriusconinc.com ASAP!

Brake shoes (front and rear, either will take control away from you in a heartbeat) I race with vintage brake shoes on the rear brakes of my CL350 stocker to “detune” braking in the rear to avoid rear tire/wheel lock-ups at speed. I inspect them with a magnifying glass and verify that the glue is connected to both the shoe and the brake material all the way around. Any material that is partially delaminated, is dangerous and should be removed from the bike. NEW MODERN BRAKE SHOES with new technology brake material is far superior to used or NOS and at $35 is a no-brainer to remove the vintage effect from the functionality of the brake system.

Steering bearings, I sport a scar on my shoulder for this flaw and am so grateful it happened to me and not the buyer who was scheduled to receive the bike that day. TAPERED ROLLER STEERING BEARINGS is a safety and handling upgrade which is worth its weight in gold. You will never know what the condition of your steering bearing until you take the steering column apart. While you are at that point it only takes $50 to have the permanent solution which is so much easier to work with from then on out, not having to deal with 30+ ball bearings slopped in grease or dropping all over your floor and waiting to be hunted down, counted and put back into the bearing races after clean all.

WHEEL TRUING AND BALANCING: 50 year old wheels have a history. Some histories are easier to see than others. Looking down the length of each spoke will help visualise straightness of each spoke. Tapping each spoke with a 14/17/19mm wrench and listening for pitch of each spoke will assist in sensing tightness. The only way to really check off this variable is to remove the tire and, if ALL spoke nipples turn smoothly reusing spokes may be a possibility. If you chose this route, remove each nipple individually, clean thread area and grease interior of nipple before placing back on the recently cleaned and greased spoke. However, there’s nothing as nice as new OEM type spokes, although new Buchanan spokes are even nicer. Truing the wheel, removing almost all imperfections of eccentricity of wheels makes balancing require so much less weight and eliminates the need for steering dampers in street use.

RIM WIDTH: Research your tire manufacturer’s specifications for rim requirements for your size tire and you’ll be surprised just how “pinched” your tire profile actually is.

Example: Continental Road Attack 2 Radial (ROCKS) in the 90/90-18″ size wants a 2.15″ wide rim. That’s two sizes larger than the 1.60″ front rim of a CB/CL350.

REAR SWING ARM BUSHINGS: It’s so easy to test if this is needed. Bike on center stand, kneel behind your bike, grab the rear of the rear wheel and push the wheel towards each end of the rear axle. If this side to side motion shows no slack at the swing arm mount, then all you need is to GREASE THE SWING ARM BUSHINGS with the sirtS on each end of the swing arm shaft.

Wheel bearings, I’ve never heard of an issue, but unsealed bearings on the inside. This is not a problem if the wheel ALWAYS stayed mounted on the bike. But for those wheels with unknown history, one possibility for danger is a removed wheel leaned up against a building where rain gets into the axle chamber and water on bearings is what caused the rustedsteering bearings that scarred my shoulder. New wheel bearings at $12 per set is the last thing I do before mounting a fully modernized wheel on a bike. Todays bearings are sealed on BOTH SIDES.

I originally started this article based on order of importance. Realizing that they are all important, i rearranged the items to the order of likeliness of occurrence. Although this article was prompted by the failure of a set of brake shoes, my experience has shown this to be quite rare. Check the frame lower and front of engine. If this area is rougn from rust, you want to go straight to inspecting/replacing the front brake shoes. It’s just the one indicator I’ve found that may be indicative of brake shoe condition.

Addendum #1:

Rob Zwiercan AND ALL 350K Lovers: Thank you for helping me refine the list of items to address!

Rim Straps/Strips: Vintage Racers already say NO to Rim Strips! As I spent my first year racing a Norton that developed a high speed wobble, the faster our times got, SAY NO TO RIM STRIPS! There’s a reason that there is a new product out there call Rim Tape. Rim Strips SLIP! The Norton problem was that a rim strip had slipped under about 1/3 the way around of one side of the tire. It ended up lodged between the tire and the bead of the rim. As my times got faster and I was on faster tracks, I was holding on for dear life while the handle bars wrenched left and right out of my control. Racers use duct tape. Two wraps, overlapping at the valve stem hole and it stays where you put it. I have no experience with rim tape.

As for Tires, I also need to point out my Help article: I have a complete section on Modern Tires on Vintage Rims at the bottom of the page https://vintageracer.wordpress.com/help/ And for that matter, the resurrection of 350 Hondas is covered in FatAoVMR8x (Friends and the Art of Vintage Motorcycle Restoration) , a compilation of tech support for 350 lovers before there was a Facebook forum like the one we now gather on.https://vintageracer.wordpress.com/fataovmr8x/

Air Boxes/Filters: With rare few exceptions, usually found on CL350s that were dirt road ridden, I’ve always been amazed by the functionality and how most can be run as is.

Tubes are another area where if nothing else (as a survivalist) I have two tubs of used tubes that I just cant bring myself to throw out. Yes they are inexpensive to replace. However, the ones that I take out of 50 year old wheels have proven themselves as dependable, if still inflated when I get around to them. This also brings up another bragging point about the 350K Honda series. I believe them to be the ultimate survivalist motorcycle. Proliferated like no other highway worthy motorcycle, the 350 Hondas are still distributed around the country waiting to be “found” in barns, outbuildings, and warehouse all over the world.

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About videojackster

A freedom loving libertarian who really enjoys experiencing that freedom on a motorcycle, on the race track, as often as possible.
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2 Responses to Safety on Vintage Motorcycles

  1. Mushroom says:

    Hey grandma, would you like me to show you how to suck eggs too ?

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