IN THE BEGINNING
"She called him Speedo
But his Christian name
Was Mr. Earl"
Paul Simon from: Was A Sunny Day
Late summer of '70 I divided a map of the U.S. into six more or less equal parts; spending two months traveling in each one day-jobbing when I needed cash. In Alhambra, California I sold my Chevy van to buy my first ( and only new ) motorcycle a Ruby red Honda Motosport 350. I rode a lot but another year went by in the usual way. I sold it and flew back East to resume graduate studies. As a cage driver I moved to Vermont and got bit again empty, up-down roads; nice mix of increasing and decreasing radius curves. This time buying a slightly used 1985 Yamaha 700 Maxim X nicknamed Mrs.Earl after a twist on the Paul Simon lyric, or because I bought it from a couple who needed room in their wallet for child number one. Routine maintenance was satisfying but not enough so I cast about for a project bike. Teaching a full load; space, time, and money dictated a partial restoration that could be finished over one long winter. Through a trade magazine I found a '66 Sportster XLCH the year Harley went with a new set of P cams and changed to Tillotson's diaphragm carb with its 1" insulator block and hamcan air cleaner, lunch box oil tank, and hexagonal tank transfer.
New guy on the block must have been real obvious to the shop owner. "There's no way you won't like this bike. The engine's a fresh rebuild and my painter has recreated a special order stock color." I still have the bike so the first sentence was true. I bought a paint job Chrysler's Black Cherry right off the shelf. Unleaded seats went into the redo of the engine breathing through a 38 mm Bendix and staggered, shorty duals. The controls and front end are correct but not much else. That's okay the bike's handsome. An uncluttered runner and reminder of how much I didn't know.
Don't misunderstand. A quality restoration or rebuild can be a fine, occasional
ride; more so if you're willing to tinker. Regardless of make, vintage motorcycles have issues. Many are undersquare - their long heartbeats better on backroads than in traffic. Cold starting a kicker can be a bear. Especially if the magneto's tired. Rebuild the mag. Give it a chance to be the state of the art it once was. Components of 6-volt battery-coil ignitions with half the electric potential of modern systems need to be spot-on. A former colleague, a French teacher, raced motocross in his off-hours as a Peace Corps volunteer in Algeria. He told me how lined up for a race, the fellow next to him calmly had both feet on the pegs. Some skills don't need reasons and neither do some old motorcycles.