celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

Chapter 17 – Fettling the 500

Engineering again.

Another short period without a bike followed until I got bitten by the bug again. But my bad experience with the 750 had me looking for a middleweight again and I found a delightful 1973 model Honda 500/4 in almost new condition in late 1979. I loved it and it restored my faith in Hondas.

I had always maintained that the 500cc engine was the sweetest of the single cam Honda motors and this one was certainly a beauty. The bike had been well looked-after and it looked a million dollars, in my opinion.

However, there was one fly in the ointment. The 500/4 had the old pivoted caliper single front brake that was totally ineffective in the wet and when the opportunity was presented to upgrade, I took it. Enter Allen Harding again. An inveterate tinkerer, Allen was a Suzuki “nut” as well as having just completed a restoration of a Vincent Black Shadow. He had bought it as a “barn find” for $800 and subsequently sold it for over $8000.

Allen had recently wrecked a Suzuki GT750, the water-cooled triple, and, when he found I was trying to improve the braking on the 500/4 he suggested that I look into grafting on the front end from the 750. At first I discounted the idea, but some measurements with a micrometer and a ruler, suggested that it was not only possible, but maybe even easy. So Allen sold the complete front end, forks, mudguard and wheel to me for $85. 

There is a saying that ignorance is bliss and, looking back on it now, the audacity of me expecting that I could somehow graft this different front end onto my bike, amazes me. But, I did it. Allen worked at the nuclear lab at the Australian National University and he took the disks to work drilled them out. All up he removed 2 and a half pounds of metal from each of the two front disks, using a pattern copied from the “works” Suzuki TR750 Formula 750 bikes. And, along with some other custom fitting tricks, I ended up with a 500/4 that handled 100% better, stopped beautifully and stopped in the wet as well.

And it was on this bike that I began my career as a touring motorcyclist. Up until this time, I had ridden around town, ridden many times to race meetings, some quite some way away, and done short trips. But now I started to go away on extended rides, 2 or 3 days at a time. And the 500 proved to be an excellent little tourer. Being an older bike, the seat was a bit on the “firm” side, but I solved that with a lambswool seat cover and luggage was taken care of with a small plastic top box and a set of canvas “throw-over” panniers.

I also carried out another modicication to the bike, fitting a custom-made alloy “Dunstall” style tank. This increased my fuel capacity by several litres and made a big difference to my touring ability as well.

Unfortunately, I never took a photo of the 500/4 with the alloy tank, and the guy who bought it from me trashed it very soon afterwards when he lowsided the bike in a novice-style accident.

Speak Your Mind