Getting ready for the road

I’ve had my ’77 Honda CB400F for a little more than a year now and I’ve been spending my weekend afternoons trying to get her in shape for the summer.

I’ve been riding motorcycles since the summer of ’08, when gas was north of four dollars a gallon and I didnt want to abandon my plans to see the country. My first bike was a yellow Kawasaki Ninja that I converted into a sport tourer.

After falling in love with T.E. Lawrence’s 1932 Brough Superior, I decided to search for something in the style of an old British Roadster for my next bike . But I also wanted a reliable machine that wasn’t just an expensive hobby-toy incapable of daily riding. The Honda CBs from the seventies fit the bill and I settled on my yellow CB400 – single bench seat, racy lines, single headlight, and exposed mechanicals.

(Photo courtesy of the excellent Lisbeth Kaufman!)

It wasn’t in the best shape to begin with – I knew it had carburetor troubles from the get-go because the bike would wheeze at open-throttle. Not long after I brought it home, gas began to leak out of the carbs and onto the hot engine. After a couple of particularly bad leaks, I got into the habit of shutting the petcock every time I dismounted, which kept the gas in the tank while it was sitting. When I was riding, however, I got terrible gas mileage because the carbs were in awful shape. I rode it for an entire season that way and resolved to fix her by the time spring rolled around.

Having an old bike is a double-edged sword. The up-front costs are lower than getting a newer bike, but all of the older bikes have their gremlins, even the bulletproof Hondas. If you’re interested in learning how to maintain and repair it, having an old Japanese bike provides plenty of opportunities.

I couldn’t find convenient storage over the winter months so my bike sat under a cover in my front yard. The cold and snow took their toll and when I lifted the cover come March, I was in for a few surprises. The minor rust had metastasized, expanding into the crevices of some of the chrome parts and the crack in the seat had grown larger.

But the worst part was that the brakes were seized; moisture had crept down the front brake line and corroded the brake caliper assembly. The left pad was completely jammed into the caliper housing. Usually, a few pumps on the brake lever are enough to free the pad, but this one wouldn’t be budged.

I took the bike to my friend Courtney who used to work on Hondas professionally in a past life. We can usually fix most problems with his vast knowledge and arsenal of specialized tools.

But try as we may, we couldn’t get the pad to budge. We even drilled a hole through the brake pad, threaded it with a tap and die, and forced in a bolt to try and pull it out with a slide-hammer. Still no luck.

With our options exhausted, I ordered a new caliper assembly – this brand new set from David Silver Sparescosts about $300 – but I scored mine for about 50 bucks on eBay. This set is off of an old CB550, but Honda standardized the calipers for most of their ’70s CBs so it slid on without issue.

After bleeding the brake lines and filling them with fresh fluid, the caliper worked as it should. But sadly, there’s a small leak in the lower steel pipe at the bottom of the brake line. And to make matters worse, the travel in the brake lever has doubled – I think I probably ruptured a seal in the master cylinder when I tried to force out the original corroded caliper. So a new lower pipe, a master cylinder rebuild kit, and a brand new horn (it’s been busted for ages) are on order. Hopefully they’ll go on this weekend.

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