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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been wanting to get into motorcycling for a long time. A really lone time. Decades, really. At 48, I must have officially entered mid-life, because, suddenly I realized there was no time to lose.

Now, I'm a researcher. When I want to do something, I get into it. How to get a license in NYS, the MSF course, etc. I spent days and days looking at bikes and preparing. Finally, I take the initiative and sign up for the course. In the interim, prepare for the written test and go to the DMV. Wish the whole enterprise was as easy as the permit test.

Now, with my permit in hand, it's time to shop for a bike! I'm on a Craigslist budget. Even those 2000 Sportsters are looking too expensive. I'm looking at cruisers, of course. Who doesn't as their first bike. I have a penchant for Honda. I have driven my beloved Civic for years and although it's not relegated to "second" car status, I love it so much more than my new Toyota, which the wife drives, anyway.

So I'm looking for the best Honda Shadow I can afford... A few look promising until they turn out to be scams. As I'm looking around, a funny thing starts to happen. I start to notice these Honda CB models and I absolutely love them! All of them. 70s, 80s, whatever. That's a bike! Just like when I was a kid. (If you're gonna have a mid-life crisis, might as well go whole hog.)

I'm spending countless hours on eBay looking at all these bikes. But I notice, most of these bikes, if they are in good shape, are commanding decent prices. I'm weakening, however, I'm sure I can do better if I just hold out!

I'd just about given up on finding something good on CL, but I take a new look with my now broadened outlook to include Honda standard motorcycles, rather than just the Shadow.

I start researching and find out there is something called a Universal Japanese Motorcycle! And the more I see, the more I like. I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I someone posted somewhere that the Honda Nighthawk is the quintessential UJM.

OK, let's search for that. Bang. There it is on CL, a few miles away. It's a '92. Black. 750. A little old and showing it but basically quite acceptable. I reach out to the guy and, wow, he's like normal. A rarity on CL, as we all know.

As I talk to him, I get the sense this fellow loves this bike. He's had it for years and taken good care of it. He's finally ready to move on (says he's thinking about a Versys)

So, I explain to him that I only have a permit, so can't ride the bike home if I should buy it, and could he possibly take a ride over? To my amazement, he agrees. I tell him if I buy it, I'll give him a ride home in my car.

It was love at first site. The lines were sleek, it was (to me) big and powerful. OK, time for the test ride. I convinced the seller to follow me in my car. I've ridden some dirt bikes in my youth.

I live in Flushing, right of the LIE, right in between the Main Street and Kissena Blvd exits. OK, I'm just gonna take the service road, cross over Kissena, ride down to Main Street and come back. Four left turns. It'll be a snap.

I start up the bike, put it in gear and promptly dump the clutch. OK, take it easy. Man, this clutch is heavy. Very stiff. Oh, well. It's an old bike. I'll get used to it.

I pull out and give it some gas. Whoa. I wasn't expecting that. These things are a lot more powerful than the dirt bikes I remember. Those things had pickup in their way, but the torque here... I wasn't expecting it. Oh, and I haven't yet even heard of the friction zone...

I take off and wisely decide instantly that I'm not making no left. I could barely control this bike at 10 mph. I'm not braving the service road.

I somehow make it around the block on the side streets, never shifted out of first. Sold. :)

Just a few days later, I take the MSF course. That was a lot of fun and now I have an idea how to work the clutch! Cool. I can even shift into second gear! I'm ready.

The next day, I hit the DMV bright and early and validate my licence. I'm legal.

That night, I take the bike out. I'm gonna make those lefts now, damn it!

It did not go well. I just couldn't control this beast like those little 250s on the course! My head snapping back every time I hit the throttle. I remembered how much easier the bike is to control in second. It works! I somehow make the 4-mile loop in a mear 25 minutes. Man, one or two of those lefts were just horrible...

I had gotten friendly with my instructor so I sent him a note. Basically, telling him, I can't figure out why I can't control this bike. I mean, it's a 750 and all that, but that doesn't really explain it. I mean, I can't do anything without horrible low speed control. I just don't understand it.

He graciously agrees to swing by and give me a few pointers. He gives the bike a quick inspection and howls: "What the [F] are you doing trying to ride with a cluck like that?"

"What? Clutch. Why?"

"Dude, I can barely squeeze it."

"That's not normal?"

So, we clean and lube the clutch cable. It started out really stiff, but we get it good and smooth. Surprisingly, the cable itself is in pretty good shape, but it was encased in brown goo.

It got better, but the clutch was still much too stiff. At that point, he had to go. He tells me to change the oil and if that doesn't do it, I'll have to take it in.

Change oil. OK. I can do that! There's a Napa down the street. I know because the Clymer manual came with the bike, I need 10W40. I pick the Napa branded motor oil because it's only $4.95 a quart. Upon reflection, I'm thinking, I need to free up the transmission, right? Let's get some STP oil treatment, too!

I change the oil and put in half a quart of STP. And you know what? It worked. The clutch is now shifting like butter!

I take a congratulatory loop around the highway and I do it like a champ! The bike's so much easier to handle now. I'm so proud of myself.

End part 1

Tom
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Part 2

A few days later, we meet up again. He sees the dramatic improvement and decides it's time for the highway. I'm scared ****less, but I trust this guy, so off we go.

We were headed to Brooklyn to meet up with biker guys. In the middle of rush hour, the BQE wasn't very challenging at all. I think it opened up for about a half mile where I hit 40. Other than that, it was stop and go the whole way. Man, bumper to bumper is not fun on a bike!

I'm so proud of myself. I did have a little bit of confusion along the way, however. This is the first time I'm going highway speeds, therefor the first time I'm shifting into the higher gears. But, the speed to gear seemed off to me. I mean, I was going 25 in third, 30 something in fourth and needed 5th for 35-40. I'm inexperienced with this bike, but that didn't seem right... I wanted to ask my instructor to take the bike for a test ride, but there wasn't time.

I had a great time with the guys. They were all good people with Japanese crusiers. I felt very welcome. I got gear and a bear. I'm a cool dude. Yes, I am.

Come time to go home, Flushing is on the way for one of my new acquaintances, so I tell my instructor that I certainly don't mind if he goes home his route and I will take his friend as an escort. (Actually, I was a little apprehensive about it, as I didn't know this guy nearly as well, but I trust my friend. If he says it will be fine, I believe it.)

In fact, the fellow was a gentleman and it was all good, except for the fact that he insisted we take the Jackie Robinson. For those of you who don't know, that parkway is filled with twisties. This is my second time on a highway, at this hour, without traffic, at highway speed. I swallow hard and put a brave face on it. Sometimes you gotta just go for it.

He led well and made sure he didn't lose me. I'll never forget the first bend. It lasted maybe 5 seconds, but I can remember each millisecond of it. It went right and I'm in the turn noticing the wall on the left is getting closer and closer... Why am I doing that? Come on, turn. Turn more. Come on. Heart starts beating. The wall is inching closer toward me. At this rate, I'm not gonna make it through the turn without hitting it. God, is my first ride gonna be my last?

Suddenly, I remember all I learned on the course, specifically target fixation and to look where you are going. I hear my instructor's voice in my head. A phrase I heard him yell at least 100 times over the two days: LOOK UP! I pick my head up and look through the turn. The bike goes where it should. It was like magic!

Two or three twisties later, and I'm getting the hang of it! I'm starting to relax and enjoy the hell out of it. I even leaned a bit. It was awesome!

But all was not roses, however. My buddy kept trying to push me faster when it was safe to do so. But try as I might, I couldn't go above 45 mph. I'm in fifth with the throttle full open and I'm going 42, 43, 44... 45...

What the heck? New rider or not, I know this is not right. What could it be. I didn't have a chance to talk to my new buddy on the way home, but I speak to my friend the next day. We are talking and he's asking me all kinds of questions about how the clutch is shifting, etc. Suddenly, he pauses and askes, "You didn't put automotive oil in it the other day did you?"

"Sure did. 10W40, just like the book says. STP treatment, too. It worked like a charm to free up the clutch! Is that a problem?"

I had a vague understanding that a bike is not a car; and that the engine oil also lubricates the transmission and clutch. However, I did not yet understand the finer points of things like friction modifiers and such. Obviously.

It took three oil changes to restore the bike to normal operation. The first time, I went to AutoZone, where they have actual motorcycle oil, and got the only 10W40 they had: Valvoline.

Instant improvement! But still not good. Now, max speed was 55-60. OK, I'm headed in the right direction.

It was at this point, I finally looked down at my inspection sticker. Somehow, I never thought about it before. It expired last month. OK. Fine. Have to take it in for this.

I take it in for an inspection and, even though I didn't want to admit it, tell the mechanic what I did with the oil and that it's still slipping. He squeezes the clutch and tells me it's too set up too tight and loosens it at the lever. That'd do it. He says.

But I'm not convinced. There was a few millimeters of play in the clutch. I'm sure that's not the reason.I tell him, since I'm here and everything, let's just go ahead and change the oil again. I brought my own oil filter with me.

He readily agrees (I'll find out why in a few minutes). We talk about oil and I tell him I'd like mineral oil, 10W40, please. He says I can have whatever I want but he recommends synthetic blend. It is air cooled, after all.

I don't really want it, but I defer to his expert knowledge. He gives me Castrol Actevo and a coronary in the process when I get the bill. $85. WTF? Inspection, oil change and what? He's charging me for that 30 second clutch adjustment? I'm too stunned to get out a coherent sentence. I just give him the cash and go.

This second oil change did, in fact improve things, but I'm still topping out at about 60-65. So much for the clutch adjustment. I knew that wasn't the issue! (I won't be going back to that shop again.) It's improving, but I know it can be better.

Now that I can do 65, however. I'm going to go on an extended ride! At max 45, even 55, I didn't dare ride on the highway too extensively. These NY drivers don't have that much patience. But at 65, I can at least keep up with the flow of traffic while I'm working out the bad oil.

Another buddy of mine lives in Long Beach, L.I. I take a ride out there and we go for a coffee. Him on his immaculate Harley with low mileage. Man, you could eat off that thing. Me with my 26 year old Honda with 44k. :) It was fun.

He had to work, however, so I ride all the parkways in Nassau County alone and return home 120 miles later. I'm getting the hand of this. Time for one last oil change. I'm not changing the filter again. The $16 K&N 303 is brand new.

I drain my $85 oil and sing a dirge while it trickles out into the pan. I decided to go with Rotella T4, 15W40. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't want synthetic in my bike. It's just too old an engine. It may not be scientific, but there you go. Also, the 15 is a bit heavier, just what I want. I don't plan on riding in sub-zero temperatures anyway. And there's plenty on the shelf at Wallmart for $13 a gallon. I'm sold on my decision.

Well, the third time's the charm! I could tell immediately when I put it in first, that torque was back! I hit the highway and hit, 55, 65, 75, effortlessly! I briefly touch 80, but can't keep it up because I'm scarred ****tless. The wind is incredible. At 80, there was more to go. Another day, perhaps. (Officer, really, I never speed like that. I was just testing my transmission. Honest.)

All seems good now. I have a clutch that works well and gears that move the bike! And I had a ton of fun in the process!

Of course, I have a long way to go, but I made a lot of improvement in just a few weeks. I remember vividly, on that first ride, the 30-minute loop, I stopped to get gas and made a fool of myself going up the slope. At the last fill up, I coasted up to the pump like it was nothing.

I also bled the brakes and took off most of the rust on the chrome with WD-40, aluminum foil and finally chrome polish. It's still old, but getting better and better. I degreased the engine and that worked wonders. Think it needs a second attempt to finish the job.

Oh, one more random bit. I was finding my hands were getting numb while riding for only 10 minutes or less! It was the oddest thing! I thought it was the gloves. Not the gloves. I thought I was squeezing too hard and not relaxing. I force myself to hold the handlebars like egg shells. Actually, that was a good thing to do, but not the cause. The only thing that would restore circulation was to put my hands below my waist.

I was baffled until I remembered my wife telling me she thought the jacket I bought was too small for me. I stubbornly told her it was fine! But sure enough, when I changed jackets, no more numb fingers. The waist fit fine, but it was small in the chest, cutting off circulation just enough to numb my extremities. The oddest thing.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but that's enough for now. It's been an odyssey and I'm lovin' it!

Tom
 

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Sounds like you are having fun and that's great! However I know exactly where you live and I'm not sure I would want to ride there even with over 40 years experience. You have a full plate trying to learn to ride in a high traffic area while trying to keep a lookout for distracted drivers who don't so you or even care about your safety. I have a customer on Kissena Blvd and I find it hard enough to drive there in my work van.

Stay safe!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Sounds like you are having fun and that's great! However I know exactly where you live and I'm not sure I would want to ride there even with over 40 years experience. You have a full plate trying to learn to ride in a high traffic area while trying to keep a lookout for distracted drivers who don't so you or even care about your safety. I have a customer on Kissena Blvd and I find it hard enough to drive there in my work van.

Stay safe!
This is the truth, unfortunately. I try to mitigate it with situational awareness and very conservative riding habits, but it's certainly not ideal.

Left to my own devices, I head east. I think the drivers in Nassau are just as bad, if not worse, actually. There is less traffic, but as a consequence, the drivers are very impatient. I do a lot of driving there in my car and I really come across more a-holes in Long Island than in Queens! Suffolk is better.

Thanks for your reply. Hope to see you out there!

Tom
 

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Wow, new rider on a problematic bike, driving beyond your skill level in NY. Talk about a recipe for disaster. But you survived... congrats. I like your story because I had the exact same experience at 48 years-old (it's time!!!). Didn't have nearly the drama since I had the cash to buy a new bike (800 cruiser), but promptly dropped it in the first 10 miles and scratched the pipes. You've earned your stripes, and it's a special kind of fun and excitement when you first start out. Enjoy and stay safe.
 

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Welcome and great story. Not the way most of us would recommend but it seems to have worked for you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Wow, new rider on a problematic bike, driving beyond your skill level in NY. Talk about a recipe for disaster. But you survived... congrats. I like your story because I had the exact same experience at 48 years-old (it's time!!!). Didn't have nearly the drama since I had the cash to buy a new bike (800 cruiser), but promptly dropped it in the first 10 miles and scratched the pipes. You've earned your stripes, and it's a special kind of fun and excitement when you first start out. Enjoy and stay safe.
Thank you. Of course, that's great! But I tell you, working on this bike is half the fun! I love it!

Oh, I didn't mention, I dropped the bike, but not while riding it. I have a center stand. When I bought the bike, the owner demonstrated it to me so gracefully. However, the first time I tried it myself, I was perpendicular to the slope on the street! I just didn't think that moment through. The bike went right down. I know how I should pick up a dropped bike, but because it was on a downward slope, I could not get the leverage! I'm a strong guy and 500 pounds is not a terribly heavy bike, but it was enough in that situation. Fortunately, my neighbor was walking by and he helped me get it up.

Snapped the break lever right in half. I could still get two fingers on the lever, however, so I rode to the parts store and installed the new one in the parking lot.

Also bent the rear break pedal against the crank case, but I was able to bend it back by hand. Put a bit of a gash on the cover, but not too bad. It could have been worse!

Since then, I've gotten the bike up on the stand without issue. Making sure it's on flat ground!

It's all a learning curve. Hopefully, that incident will appease the gods as my required bike drop and I won't do it again at an intersection or something! :angel:
 

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Nice story and it hit close to home, i taught myself to ride on a Honda Hawk II in the same area, I used to live 2 blocks off Kissena Blvd in Flushing 30 years ago! My first ride to work on the Van Wyck expressway to JFK Airport sure was an eye opener.. but like you I survived somehow too :)
 

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When using automotive or diesel oil, look for the JASO approval . Rotella synthetic has that and the 15w number is something i do not concern myself with. I ride the old Japanese stuff and it works fine.. That Nighthawk has hydraulic lifters and is one of the most durable engines produced by Honda.. The modern oils should only make it last longer.

I started late in life as well and now have quite a herd of the old ones
 

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That Rotella T4 is good oil for your bike, you won’t have any problems with it.
Keep riding and be safe!
Oh and I was back in the old neighborhood not too long ago, I took a little 150 mile ride from Pennsylvania. This should look familiar ...
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
That Rotella T4 is good oil for your bike, you won’t have any problems with it.
Keep riding and be safe!
Oh and I was back in the old neighborhood not too long ago, I took a little 150 mile ride from Pennsylvania. This should look familiar ...
Hey! That's that place on Northern Blvd, right? I've never been. How is it?
 

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Yep, Northern and Francis lewis.
I've been eating there for over 30 years, since I used to hang out on the Blvd back in the day, and 2 or 3 times a year I still make the 300 mile trip to eat there.. that should tell you how good the food is. Have the gyro/ Souvlaki combo platter.. you won't regret it.

Hey! That's that place on Northern Blvd, right? I've never been. How is it?
 
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