|The liberty bell, just one of the great assets of the cb550f
Back when my friend ‘Raptor’ still graced us with his presence, I would harass him with links to good deals on old Honda 550s. Since both of us loved riding antiquated machinery, Raptor had been fighting a long time to get me to ‘graduate’ to a Beemer airhead. Then one day, he actually asked me to let him take the Honda for a spin. When he came back, I knew there was a chink in that thick-plated BMW armor. “That’s the smoothest bike I’ve ever ridden…” he told me. Well, it’s not like he was riding Goldwings, but high praise from a beemer man…
Shortly thereafter, I picked up the phone early one morning to, “I need help getting a bike into the truck over in Hampton Roads.” When Raptor called, you answered. You were never sure if he was calling with half-baked plan or looking for help staving off suicide, so, no matter what time of the day you answered. What time was it? He wanted to buy a what, a Honda? Obviously, his mental health was questionable, but when a man says he’s going to buy another bike, even a fourth or a fifth, even if it’s not his brand, you don’t put up a fight. “Come on, man, we just need to stop at the bank first.” He was impatient at the other end of the line. Flashes of the last time Raptor’s truck was used to move a motorcycle whirred in my head – the bald tires, the lack of steering, and the mysterious dragging chain sound at low speeds, like the Marley’s ghost visiting Scrooge portending doom. Ooooohhh… Change your ways! They will be your undoing!
“Well?” he demanded impatiently.
“When do we need to leave”
“Now. I told the guy we’d be there by lunch.”
“Aggh. Lunch? It’s two hours just to get there. I haven’t had breakfast. Did you fix the radio?
“It still works sometimes – under 50.”
“The tires, tie rods, or ball joints? How about that starter relay, will it even start?”
“It always starts, you know that, I keep the hammer in the bed. The tires won’t blow out, you worry too
much. Oh, and bring your little compressor thing, that rear is flat again.”
“See you in ten.”
Raptor got to the edge of town before I made him stop. Two of his other tires had less than 10 pounds of air. When I was filling I noticed the cracks on his side sidewalls. I really thought we’d have a blowout. The tire would explode, the truck would flip over on the interstate and burst into flames. We argued about who would drive, but after he admitted to only maybe two or three hours of sleep the night before, he finally capitulated. We drifted in and out of our lane at an unknown speed all the way speed all the way to Hampton Roads, without incident, not listening to the radio and yelling at each other over the wind rushing through the bent doors frames the whole way.
When we finally got there, we actually found a nice specimen of a ’77 super sport. Candy Apple Red paint still in tact, very little rust, no leaks, everything there and working. The tires were shot, so it was ready to fit in with the rest of Raptor’s garage. Only one dent… and the questionable taste of the previous owner. The sissy was tall and had half a liberty from the 1976 biennial as decoration. The seat was… what a worm would look right before it pops under your shoe – all flat one one end and pressurized to explosion on the other. (known instantly as ‘Bulbasaur.’) Apparently, the wife of the previous owner had made it custom. How fortunate.
While I wasn’t able to graduate into ‘ze German’ club until after his death, I’m glad he joined me in my little Honda world for the short time I knew him. Of course, as soon he we got that 550 home Raptor ripped off the sissy bar, ape hangers and Bulbasaur, though he never worried about the tires. What’s more, he never even crashed it, in spite of his best efforts. Really, he should have taken his Honda cash and gotten a new clutch for one of his airheads and a new tank for the other. But this experience with the Honda pretty much sums up my whole experience with the man. Instead of doing the prudent thing he took his old tires out to do the ton up in the Blue Ridge mountains, and he locked up his rear at every red light – the tires wouldn’t stop in any other way. It was all half luck and half insanity, and that lucky SOB survived all of it with a grin and a laugh unscathed. I already miss his insanity, but wherever he’s at now, I don’t suppose he needs luck anymore. I hope he’s spreading it around, I know I could use it. And if he can be bothered I hope keeping an eye out for me, and for all of us. Good tires or not, we could all use that kind of blessing.