A grand day out

I did have a plan, to head down to Gasoline in the middle of Sydney, to act professionally, to ask relevant people relevant questions, and to take pics and have a caption for each. Then I walked in the front gate and got lost in the whole experience. A whole bunch of people, working for a common good, that of the empowerment of all those on two wheels. A community of bikers, looking to build the technical skills of anyone who wants to ride a bike that doesn’t look like it just rolled off the factory floor. Vaughan from MotorRetro working the English Wheel, professional photography for anyone who wanted their bike shot, and so much more.

I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk around the whole time with a big goofy grin on my face at this whole concept, how cool it is, and why ideas like this need to be promoted. However, I did get a whole heap of pics, please enjoy.

Dumb luck

Anyone who tells you that removing the rocker cover from an early 80s GSX250 engine, is a damn liar. After an hour of ‘valve cover jujitsu’, as it has has been put before, I removed the valve cover and found the hole in behind the spark plug goes to nowhere. Nowhere! Like Suzuki knew some goober, at some point, would poke a hole in his cylinder head and it looks like I have been lucky in this.


So we are good now. After working some metal putty into the hole, following s good clean of the area, the best I could carry out with the access to such a tight area. The main problem with cleaning such an area was that the spark plug was in the way, and if I pulled it out, run the risk of pushing detritus into the cylinder itself.

We are good now though, utilising my Father’s Day putting the fuel tank back on with my little helpers, I have drained the fuel bowls after I have left the bike sitting for so long, and I am ready to fire up this machine that I love and hate in equal amounts.

Stay tuned, video soon to feature me starting the bike.

Or beating it with a big stick.

The Aussie building what BSA wouldn’t – Doug Fraser

It is a rather exciting fact that one of the world’s leading BSA customisers is from our very own country. I’m not talking customising as in ‘bobber’ or ‘cafe racer’ customisation, I’m talking of a man who builds the BSA engines that might have been, and mounts then in period specific frames. This man is Doug Fraser of Emu Engineering, and he has been kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about his craft.

Photo 6-04-2012 4 05 20 pm

So where did it all start, when did you first take part in the world of motorcycling?

I started riding at the age of 13, on a mate’s BSA Bantam. When the time came to getting my own bike I started off on a Bantam as well.

When did your first V twin idea come about?

I had been toying with the idea of building a BSA V-twin for a couple of years. I loved the older BSA V-twins like the G12 and Y14, but they were such fragile engines. Good for touring, not so much for spirited riding. I conceived the idea of the M46, wanting to put my own V-twin motor into a period specific frame, to show what BSA might have been able to produce back in the day.

Photo 6-04-2012 4 46 25 pm

How did that first project pan out?

I designed and made my own crankcases, using Harley rods, and put the whole lot in a chassis relevant to the time period I was aiming for. 1400 man hours later I had a bike that BSA themselves might have created, which turned out to be surprisingly fast.

So once you’d finished, you figured that a single one off V-twin wasn’t enough?

Well as soon as the M46 was done I decided to see what I could do with a later model frame. I quite like the layout of the B series model, but I wondered if I could manage to create a V-twin motor to sit inside the frame.

So tell us about the finished product, your one off BSA B66.

I took an A7 chassis and modified it to suit the 1140cc V-twin motor of my own design. The engine has an 88 x 94 bore and stroke, running at 9.25:1 compression, giving a healthy 55 horses at the rear wheel. I created the crankcases, rounding off the cases to give that 50s/60s look.

Photo 6-04-2012 4 33 33 pm

So what is it like to ride?

It’s a good all rounder, as much a touring machine as a sports bike. Easily capable of cracking the ton, it’s been clocked at 125 miles per hour on a dyno. Through tight corners, it’s one of the best handling bikes I have ridden. Just ask anyone who has tried to chase me.

Your B66 isn’t a trailer queen though, is it?

We took the BSA to an international rally in America, and took the opportunity to take it touring whilst over there. We travelled through:
*San Francisco
*Las Vegas
on a 3000 mile round trip. We did get a lot of people walking up and saying ‘I didn’t know BSA made a V-twin like this’.

It’s not like anyone can undertake a project like engineering and building your own engine, so what exactly is your background?

I started out initially as a toolmaker, from there I moved into motorcycle engineering, then into automotive engineering, and now I’m an electrical engineer.

Photo 6-04-2012 3 17 40 pm

That’s quite a CV. So where will your engineering skills take you next?

My current project is developing the E120R, a thoroughly modern bike built from the ground up, featuring a quad cam 1200cc engine, cassette gearbox and upside down forks.

From the initial idea to build a V-twin, to being onto his third project bike, Doug Fraser has shown what motivation and passion can produce. Helps if you are a hell of an good engineer as well.

With thanks to Alan Cathcart and Steven Piper for supplying the images.

Costello Fabrications Honda CL175

Potential. It’s the skill that separates the spanner twirlers from the true customisers, with some seeing bikes for what they are, and the lucky ones seeing bikes as what they could be. Bobby Costello of Costello Fabrications is one of the latter, with a keen eye for seeing what might be. His latest offering, a fully faired Honda CL175, shows what is possible when imagination is put into a build plan. 

When this rather original looking Japanese scrambler was rolled into Bobby’s workshop, it was decided that it looked a bit naked. A full front fairing was fabricated, and a ducktail made to match.  Bobby is no amateur in relation to their manufacture, as seen in his faired RD125 build. A cover was also made for the fuel tank, to give it a longer Honda ‘CR’ style tank profile. 
The scrambler exhaust was given the flick, having two pipes sitting high wouldn’t suit the build. A two into one system was built from scratch, showing the capabilities of the Costello Fabrications workshop. The outlet for the exhaust sits level with the rear hub, in full race style. 
True to their own form of styling, Costello have fitted up the machine with an offset headlight. This allows for spectators to truly enjoy the lines of the fairing without the headlight interrupting the view. The bike now sits on gold rims, the factory front drum setup giving something to the aesthetics of the bike. 
From a weary scrambler, to a shiny CR styled road racer, Costello Fabrications have created a beautiful thing here. Being able to see beyond the 70s bike which arrived in the shop, today a new bike roams the streets, and yes it is road registered, hence the headlight being present at all. I’m telling you, it’s all about the potential, of what might be. 
A million thanks to Bobby Costello for his pictures and approval to write this, be sure to check in on his website: http://www.costello-fabrication.com/ 



Racing the rain

Racing the rain

All the odds were in my favour. It was a sunny day, I had knocked off work early and it was daylight savings. I had planned to meet up with my friend at his place then head for a spirited ride out to Wiseman’s Ferry, a small rural outpost on the edge of civilisation, an awesome ride to awesome food. It was going so well.

I got to my friend’s place, and found we were waiting for his mate to turn up. I pointed to out that I had never doubled on a road bike before and he offered to take me out for a lap of the area. I didn’t realise how different the riding style is on a Harley, where you lean back, wind on the throttle and punch through the air. I am more comfortable with my crouched over the tank, causing little wind resistance way of riding. This caused problems because when we accelerated hard he would lean back, and I would lean forward, causing our helmets to collide.

We got back to find the extra rider waiting for us. This fellow is rather fussy when it comes to his Harley. One time he went to a bike show, and finding that he might have to park his bike in the sun, paid an entry fee to allow him to park his immaculate machine amongst all the show bikes. Due to the condition he keeps it in, this fastidious owner walked away with a couple of trophies. And he wasn’t even trying.

Heading off, the bike is running amazing, and I am feeling like I could ride forever. The Harley riders have a laid back riding style, which means I have to slow down every 10 minutes until I see a flash of chrome in the rear vision mirror, then I take off again in a rather spirited manner. In the far distance, on the horizon, dark grey clouds appeared.

Curve after curve I get more confident, maybe too confident. Leaving the Harley boys for the last stretch, I roar down the hill, and engine brake into town. My compatriots pull up, and compliment me on my riding ability and how well the bike runs for a 250 that had been parked up for almost two decades. We hook into our dinner, and watch the grey storm clouds get nearer. One of my fellow travellers gets a call from a friend, who tells him that the storm is even worse than it looks, and to be careful. We decide to leave, and quick.

Full of steak and French fries, and ready for a quick ride back to civilisation, the bike moves my bloated self up the hill and out of town. I had never ridden in the rain and was not planning on doing so until I had some wet weather gear. I push the bike into corners hard, occasional drops of rain splattering on my visor. My friends are well behind now, and self preservation overrides my desire to take a leisurely ride. The sky is filled with murderous grey clouds, looking to beat down on me like an ex girlfriend’s brother.

The sky darkens rapidly, in the rear vision I can see my friends have picked up the pace and are a couple of hundred metres behind me. Large flashes of lightning illuminate the sky, my 35 watt headlight bulb doing little to help me see. I see a set of headlights overtake both Harley bikes in one swoop, then come up quickly behind me. A European sports hatch, something generally driven by someone with more money than driving skills. I lean into the corners harder, there is nowhere around here I can pull onto the shoulder without a chance of spilling. Finally, on a blind corner, he drops back a couple of gears and takes off in a blaze of self importance and exhaust fumes. I drop back the pace to accommodate for my lack of vision.

I decide to try to get to my mate’s place, as it is the nearest safe haven from a big storm. We get to the last 20km stretch, only a ferry to cross, then we’re home free. Coasting down the hill towards the ferry, the heavens open up and the rains come down. Hard.

We pull up next to each other on the ferry, and decide that the extra rider and I will head for our places, and my friend will just head home. The rain is coming down so hard, it is getting hard to see ahead. I decide to leave my visor up, as it just mists up when I drop it down. I can’t believe it as it seems to be getting even darker. I am putting along at 30kmh, my new friend sitting behind me, regretting he wore an open face helmet. It’s really bad now, visibility is down to a couple of feet, my headlight doing nothing at all to cut through the downpour.

I start to climb a slight rise, but my bike is sitting at minimum revs, and I decide to drop down a gear. It’s not until later when I spoke to other motorcycle riders about what I did, that I realised how much of a mistake I made. The back wheel locked up, by some miracle I kept the bike rubber side down, and my thighs were so tight on the machine I left imprints on the tank. Later, the rider I was with said he doesn’t know how I kept it upright, it was the best death wobble he had ever seen. Then, with a flash of his more than adequate high beam, my riding partner turned off for home.

Like the song says, I was all by myself, which I didn’t want to be anymore. I kept on, the little 250 carrying me towards home, every part of me soaked to the core. Except for my feet. I was damn glad I paid extra to get a good pair of boots. Lightning occurred more frequently now, it being the only way I could see ahead any distance. A 5km stretch of straight road lay before me, with no street lights, and the rain seeming to come down even harder.

On any other day I could have done this stretch in a few minutes, but on that night it seemed to take 5 hours. Switching my attention between the front and the rear, I kept my eyes in front to make sure I was still following the road, and sporadically looking behind to check no one was coming up behind me. Most of the time I would choose a bike over a car, but that night I was jealous of the drivers and passengers in their comfortable cages, narrowly missing the little Suzuki on the side of the road and probably not even knowing it.

After an interminable amount of time, I cleared the death stretch of road, and crossed the bridge into the next town I could stop at. Parking up under an awning, I pry myself from the machine and get my phone out to call my wife. I am too late, she has already called numerous times, and is worried. I call her to reassure her I am 20 minutes away, and that the rain was subsiding, which it was. I wait five minutes, then as the rain finally stops I pull into traffic and am on the last leg of the journey.

I take this quiet time, or maybe cos I’m in shock, to take stock of the situation and think through the night’s events. Good ride out there, great dinner, and my first ride in the wet was more of a baptism of fire, which I am glad for. I was still upright, my clothes were soaked but at least my feet were dry and warm. I was pondering this to a degree where I didn’t think of why the road in front of me should look so glassy, and ride into a foot deep puddle that stretched over a good length of road. I am glad I made it almost before that happened, as my spirit was broken once that occurred and I pretty much let the bike take me home.

I rolled around the side of the house, and straight into the back sunroom, where the bike tried to slide out on the tiles. I wouldn’t let it, and I wasn’t going to park in the shed tonight, it deserved better than that. I turned to find my wife standing at the back door, warmth spilling out past her from the house. Felt damn good to be home again, and I could get those damn wet boots off.

Side note: My mate got hit so hard with the rain he rode past his street twice. Our companion got home alright, and although he was soaked through, still washed his bike before putting it away.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Honda CB750A – The Hondamatic Motorcycle

Hondamatic. To most Australians it is associated with the Honda automatic cars that were sold in the country in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It seems a little known fact in Australia that Hondamatic is also the term given to Honda motorcycles equipped with automatic transmissions, and that Honda attempted offering these to these Australian bikeriding fraternity with no luck. The feature bike in this article is a relic from this era, a California spec CB750A brought to Australia for testing in the local conditions. Even though Honda Australia decided against selling the model here, the bike stayed, and it has found it’s way into safe hands.


At the start of 1977, Honda was producing two motorcycles models that were equipped with automatic transmissions. The CB400A, known in the USA as the Hawk, and the CB750A, a reworking of the CB750F model available at the time. These bikes were initially conceived as a way for learner riders to get used to riding motorcycles, without the fear of stalling. This allowed for the novice to practice staying upright, braking and riding in traffic, all without having to focus on changing gears constantly as well.

I say changing gears constantly , because the automatic transmissions offered on Honda motorcycles were not automatic in the true sense of the word. A shift lever (in the same position as a gear changer) on a manual Honda, allowed the rider to shift between neutral, low and drive. The ability to manually shift between high and low made sure the bike wouldn’t shift gears through a corner, throwing any novice rider off balance. Also built into the automatic models was a linkage from the kickstand to the gear lever, so when the kickstand was operated, the bike would put itself back into neutral. This would stop the bike from starting while in gear, something someone new to riding might overlook after getting back on the back. Nifty little tricks like these helped Honda to aim these new motorbike riders, to protect them from themselves.


On the downside, the automatic bikes lacked the performance of their manual brothers. Quarter mile times and top speeds were slower, the added weight of the transmissions not helping. The CB750A didn’t allow enough acceleration on the downshift to pass cars, the CB400A transmission allowed too much chance of over run when heading into corners at speed. Performance issues, and a change in the demographic of bike buyers at the time made sure the Hondamatics only got a three year run before being dropped from the lineup.

In an engineering sense, the CB750A wasn’t just a CB750 with an automatic transmission fitted. Much work went into this model to make them stand apart from their CB750 stablemates. The engine gained different rocker covers and crankcases to suit the different engine/ transmission combo. The engines were changed from dry sump to wet sump, the same oil going from the torque convertor,  through the engine to be cooled. The torque convertor is of the same design as the Civic cars of the time, as well as the Moto Guzzi V1000 which would have been a competitor to the CB750A. A three part unit, the convertor was made up of a centrifugal oil pump, a turbine wheel and a stator. The oil pump, driven off a primary drive connected to the crank, would spin inside the turbine wheel, both of these components being bowl shaped. The oil from the pump would travel along the vanes of the turbine wheel, where it is then directed to the cup shaped vanes of the stator wheels, and deflected back to the oil pump hub. A simple but rugged idea, with the Hondamatic motorcycles gaining a name for reliability which still stands today.


In regards to the fuel system, the standard CB750 fare was not going to suit the Hondamatic. Four 24mm slide/needle Keihin carbs are fitted, along with an accelerator pump so when the bike is accelerated from  idle it does not suffer from the ‘Honda Burp’ of the period. On top of this an electronically controlled diaphragm on the throttle linkage automatically bumps up the revs as soon as the transmission is engaged, to make sure the bike doesn’t stall. Breathing out is taken care of by a 4 into 2 exhaust system, the silencers swept up and back in the ‘custom’ style of the time.

Aesthetically the bike looks very different to the other CB750 models, the designers looking to the GL model Honda for inspiration. GL style rims are fitted front and reaf, a 19.5 litre GL styled tank is factory fitted, the handlebars high and wide. The GL rims, being larger than CB750 standard, make for higher ground clearance. On the other hand they make the bike look bulkier than it really is. Stopping duties are covered by standard Honda fare, disc in the front, drum in the rear. The front caliper is slightly different to standard CB spec, as the owner has found out whilst doing routine maintenance, and had to source the parts specific to his bike. A road test of the period rates the rear drum as adequate, and the front disc as ‘though not being the best disc brake, but for the design of the bike it works well’.


Instruments are basic, the tachometer making way for a large light readout showing whatever gear the bike is in at the time. The speedometer gives the range for both low and drive gear, so as to make sure the rider does not overwork the engine. Drive gear is good from 0 up to 100mph, the low gear being only from 0 to 60mph. Although it is possible to use high gear all the time, using low gear in traffic is the better option, and leave the drive gear for the open road.

To keep the spark in the plugs, the electrical system has been worked over also. A large 20 amp hour battery takes the traditional place of the Honda oil reservoir, being fed by a 290 watt alternator. Kickstart on this model is in case of emergency only, with a kickstart lever mounted under the seat in case of a flat battery.  And even with all this additional engineering, on top of the great bike design that was the CB750, the CB750A couldn’t keep itself viable in the market.


In early 1977 Bennett Honda, Australia’s Honda importer, brought in two California spec CB750A for evaluation in regards to selling them on the Australian market.  These bikes were given to local motoring journalists, on the proviso that no one was to do a writeup on a roadtest for the bike. One magazine broke the pact, and wrote up their thoughts on the CB750A. This prompted Honda Australia, who had taken over from Bennett in importing bikes, to release the bikes for a second full roadtest. This time the journalists would be allowed to do a full review and publish their view of the bike. This was all for naught, as in the end Honda Japan decided that it would be a waste of money to specify such a small batch of bikes to sell on the Australian market, and the two test bikes were the only CB750A bikes brought into the country by Honda.

After Honda Australia gave up on the idea of importing CB750A bikes into the country, the test bikes were sold onto Jim Airey’s dealership in Sydney. One of the bikes was purchased by a local car dealer, who painted it white. It got stolen not long after and hasn’t been seen since. The second test bike found it’s way into the hands of the current owner, who after 35 years is still happy with the purchase. Modifications have been made over the years, an oil cooler fitted, lower handlebars for better riding position, the original exhaust pipes put away for safekeeping. The only other noticeable modification is the seat being retrimmed, but foam doesn’t last forever and this bike has racked up some miles. The bike being California spec, the indicators and headlight come on as soon as the ignition is turned on, not something you normally find on bikes in Australia. The bike looks immaculate for all it’s years, looking no worse than pictures of it taken for a magazine review in late 1977. This CB750A is definitely no trailer queen either, if it goes somewhere it is under it’s own power, and the owner likes to take it out at least once a month to stretch it’s two speed legs. This remnant, of an attempt to produce a whole new class of motorcycles is in good hands, the owner showing it is possible to have a rare bike and not have to hide it away in the garage under a cover.


Ultimately the automatic motorcycle craze did not take off. The CB750A was classed as too heavy for novice riders, and too slow for experienced riders. The bulk of the transmission worked against both class of riders, leaving the over engineered CB750A without a demographic to sell to, thus ending in it’s demise in 1978. Popularity in these models are rising, with riders realising that these bikes aren’t bad per se, it’s just a different riding style is required. Plus the fact they are older bikes aren’t a handicap that they are lacking in performance. A rare bike, with a good build quality, it’s good that a CB750A has found it’s way into the feature bike owner’s hands and that he is willing to show it off. Or to put it in Motorcycle Classics terms: To ride it, not hide it.

Thanks to the owner of the bike for his time and information. Also  Tom Day and Stewart MacDonald for their assistance in researching this piece.


(As posted on Motorcycle Classics 07/02/2013)

Post Script: One thing I got wrong in this article when I first wrote it was that the CB750A used the same frame as the other CB750 models. In fact, it had a unique frame which alot of other CB750 parts would not fit on.