The Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club is a national organization devoted to the preservation and use of all vintage Japanese-made bikes, twenty years and older. The club was founded in 1977 and I discovered it in the early 1980s, when I acquired a 1953 Benly J model, of which I knew nothing at the time. The newsletter was a couple of sheets of paper, stapled and folded over, then taped and stamped on the cover for mailing. The club has gone through growth spurts and fallen backwards, through the years, but has now a solid footing in the US, producing a high-quality glossy newsletter/magazine. Contact the club at: www.vjmc.org for details and to subscribe.
The club has staged a couple of National Rallys in the past few years, plus has a large presence at the Barber Museum Festival, held in early October at the Leeds, Alabama facility. Because of the size of this country and diversity of motorcycle owners and clubs, much of the activities have been successful in the Central and Eastern regions, to date. Last year’s 1st West Coast Rally was organized and held in Solvang, CA, which is somewhat centralized in the state, but more than a short drive for enthusiasts from the So Cal and No Cal regions. They even coaxed Jack McCormack out from his nearby home base to speak to the club about the early days of his involvement with Honda and Suzuki, as they blossomed in the US in the later 1950s-early 1960s. Unfortunately, the event was not well-attended, but the courageous crew chose to move the location to the Big Bear Lake, CA resort, high up in the Angeles Mountains above LA.
Pre-registrations were required for attendees, to help gauge the response and to arrange for a block of rooms at the Northwoods resort hotel. Somewhere around 50 people registered before the cutoff date and the event was green-lighted to proceed. The dates for the event were Aug 30-Sept 1, which was Labor Day weekend. The resort is 150 miles from my home and I was waffling about attending, due to the busy previous week which included my trip to WA State for a big vintage motorcycle adventure. The organizers sought me out and tempted me with some lodging and registration support if I were to be an after-dinner guest speaker on Saturday night. With cooperation with my friend, Ron Smith, who owns a burly diesel-powered Ford truck and 2-rail trailer, we hatched a plan to gather the bikes I have and haul them up to participate in the scheduled Saturday afternoon ride, then be part of the festivities in the evening. Ron got to ride my 2000 W650 Kawasaki and I was to ride my 1961 CB77 Super Hawk, which hadn’t seen a lot of use lately, due to the W650 acquisition back in April.
Ron had been in Illinois and Wisconsin for a few weeks previous to the event returning home on Thursday. We decided to just drive up early on Saturday and return on Sunday morning, rather than head up on the first day, Friday. This was fortuitous as the So Cal monsoon rain patterns had been dousing the whole region with thunderstorms and high heat/humidity for several weeks. The forecast was for rain on Friday and then a break on Saturday and Sunday, so it all looked favorable for our plans. Sure enough, the club activities on Friday were dampened by a series of rain/drizzle events that were intermittent throughout the day. Our departure from San Diego at a bit before eight-o’clock got us up the mountain by eleven o’clock in the morning, just in time to see the morning’s bike show, which was setup in the resort’s parking lot. As soon as we arrived and unloaded the bikes, they were grabbed up and inserted into the bike show line-up!
There was a great display of bikes from various manufacturers, some dating back to the 1950s. A good selection of entries was Hondas, including a CP77 version of the 305 Super Hawk, that I had brought. Vintage Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamahas and some defunct brands rounded out a delightful display of vintage Japanese motorcycles. Not long after the bike show entries were judged for trophies, the schedule called for a seventeen mile ride, which was to be run on Friday. Ron and I got ourselves checked into the hotel and grabbed our riding gear to go riding, as quickly as possible. I had added an additional gallon of gas to my CB77 just before we left home and that was fortunate as the ride turned into something closer to forty-five mile run, one-way!
My long-time friend Scott Brown, owner of North County Motorcycle Salvage, wound up on the 1965 CP77, so I trailed him out on the ride, until we cleared the local traffic and started up the mountain roads, which led us up past 8,000 feet elevation. My 1961 CB77 is setup with larger than stock main jets, to help compensate for alcohol-based gasoline that we all have had to learn to live with and I was concerned that the bike would fall flat on its face, when dialing up big throttle settings at that altitude. Scott is a few years younger than I am and experienced dirt rider, so he took off quickly, pitching the CP77 into sharp corners with big lean angles. Although I was a former road-racer, back in the 1970-80s, I have grown conservative in my riding style, coupled with the limitations of some 30+ year old vintage rubber on my bike and the accessory side stand, which drags on left-handers. I chased Scott as much as I could, safely, but he increased his lead at various intervals, then fell back somewhat to allow the rest of us to catch up. We got into some uphill passing zones, where we could swing past some slower moving cars and I just downshifted to let the bike pull as far as it could, given the conditions. When I looked back in the mirrors, I expected to see Scott tucked in behind me on the uphill climbs, but to my surprise his bike was getting smaller and smaller in the rearward views. I thought that he was just cooling-it for the moment, but then he jetted past me on the downhill sections. When we started uphill again, the same thing occurred. My ancient CB77 was leaving his 1965 CP77 for dead in the upward climbs, seemingly having a several horsepower advantage. We played chase and diced it out for the remainder of the ride, enjoying a rare opportunity to exercise our 50-year old machines to their fullest.
Back in the parking lot, Scott and the owner of the CP77 came over eyeing my rear sprocket size. Because of the way my bike pulled away from theirs, the suspicion was that I was carrying some shorter gearing than stock. Seeing a stock, 30-tooth rear sprocket in place, they wondered if I had a 14-tooth front sprocket installed rather than the stock 15 tooth version. Wrong again! I actually set the bike up with a 16-tooth front sprocket, in order to be able to backshift into 3rd gear on the freeway and have the motor in the meat of the power band, if needed. This also allowed the bike to run lower rpms on the freeway at freeway speeds. With current gearing the bike runs about 6k rpm at 70 mph, whereas standard gearing will have the motor turning about 6k rpms at 60 mph.
I rebuilt the 1961 CB77 back about two years ago, using a brand new crankshaft, but reusing the already over-bored, low-compression piston/ring combo which had been done by the previous owner. The bike came with 9.5:1 compression pistons, but Honda dropped the compression to 8.5:1 in 1965 and almost all the replacement pistons are low-compression types. I owned a stock 1964 CB77, previously, which had the stock hi-comp pistons installed and it was very crisp and powerful, until I under-jetted it during an “experiment” and the right side piston seized up at 60 mph on a very hot day. With today’s fuels, it is necessary to religiously maintain the ignition timing at no more than 45 degrees BTDC and to jet the carbs up to #140 mains vs. the stock #135 sizes. I had reused the pistons/rings from the previous bore job, but noted that the ring gaps were out about .020-.025” rather than down in the .008-.010” range where they should have been. The extra gap has caused some extra crankcase pressure build-up in the cases, which are not well ventilated due to the insufficient original breather design. I do have some new rings, which will be installed in this engine in the near future.
One of the odd side-effects of the extra crankcase pressure problem is that it pushed oil up the tachometer drive cable all the way up to the meter connection fitting. With nowhere else to go, the oil spilled out at the non-sealed connection and dripped down inside the headlight shell, exiting through a small drain hole and onto the back of the front fender! Everywhere I stopped, during the mountain rides, a small oil puddle formed from oil that appeared to be “leaking” from the front fender. I have since added a couple of tiny o-rings to the inner cable at both ends and the leaks have ceased for now. A fresh set of properly-sized rings should reduce this pressure issue permanently, however I am considering installing a later, vented, cylinder head cover to alleviate the crankcase pressure problems even further.
Other than the leaking front fender problem, the bike ran surprisingly well at altitude. After running the bike very hard for about 90 miles, I stopped for fuel back in town. Starting with less than a completely full tank, the refill only took 1.6 gallons, which seems to work out to be about 60+mpg! Amazing!
Sunday morning’s ride, which was scheduled to go down the eastern slopes of the mountains, seemed to be too much for small displacement bikes, so we elected to just do a lap around the Big Bear Lake, observing the throngs of weekenders who came up to enjoy a cooler weekend outdoor experience than what was available down on the LA basin levels.
Future VJMC West Coast Rallys may take place further east, next year. There were numerous attendees from AZ and even one from NZ, as in New Zealand! Organizers are open to whatever it takes to encourage greater participation from the region. Lots of planning and logistics are required to put on an event, even at a small size such as this one at Big Bear Lake. Hats-off to the organizers, Peter Slatcoff and Bob Leonard, who helped pull it together and create a memorable weekend for the attendees.
Bill “MrHonda” Silver