Rat Bike Cleanup

Here’s a picture of “after”… the result of several days’ worth of OCD scrubbing and polishing my poor ol’ 1983 Honda GL650 Silverwing.

This is the one bike I’ve got that I’ll ride in the rain — or at least risk riding in the rain. The others are garage queens that only go out when the coast is absolutely clear of weather threats and never, ever get wet.

It’s also practical. Three hard storage bags and 55-60 MPG whether you’re running all out or just knocking around. Shaft drive, two carbs and a drum rear brake. What else do you need?

I’ve had the Honda for about ten years now and it’s among my favorite bikes — ever — because it’s as trusty as a Swiss Watch but more fun because it has a 9,000 RPM pushrod transverse twin, basically a better-engineered copy of the famous Moto Guzzi twin. It feels a little busy on the highway because it’s only got a five-speed transmission, taching around 4,400 at 60. But she’ll do an honest 118 MPH, which isn’t bad for a 650 with Goldwing bodywork and several fewer cylinders.

The bike is also rare.

While GL500s (and the mechanically similar CX500) are still pretty common, the 650 was only made (or sold) for about one year in the United States. You don’t see them often.

It’s actually almost a 700 cc — and has noticeably more power than the 500s. I’ve enhanced it a little bit but mostly left her stock. I’ve entertained thoughts about expanding its capacity to 750 or even 900 ccs, swapping in higher compression pistons or maybe even adding a turbo (from a CX650). But then I think better of it. This bike, like my other bikes, is now an artifact from what Rush styled a better managed time.

Honda designed to just right, as is.

It has no computer; isn’t gratuitously complex. It’s a motorcycle. Brilliantly engineered to be almost immortal. This one certainly fits the bill. In the decade I’ve owned it and been riding it, it has needed fresh tires every so often, oil and filter once a year, valve clearance check every other, coolant change — routine maintenance.

Not one un-routine thing has ever gone wrong with this bike. Everything on it except its tires and filters and fluids came with it when it left the factory back in ’83.

Gorbachev. Video Killed the Radio Star. The K-car . . . and how often do you see one of those, eh? Times change. The bike hasn’t — even the Nimbus Gray paint still looks great.

It’s all original. And it gets used.

Although it is now pushing 40 years old, I would not hesitate to ride it across the state — or even across the country (assuming I ever find the time again). People put 100,000 miles on these things, no problemo.

It has no mechanical vulnerabilities that I am aware of. And if anything did go wrong, it could probably be put right with hand tools.

My buddy Tim — professional mechanic/shop owner — loves fuel injection. But what happens when you’re three states away from your tool box and the ECU bricks?

No Thanks. Carbs are mechanical things; you can see (and physically handle) what’s gone wrong — and (usually) correct it with tools, not pulling and replacing parts — assuming you’ve got the new parts. If you’re out of state, you will probably have to wait. Hopefully the hotels nearby are nice.

Anyhow, I figured she deserved a clean-up, a spa week.

Mostly, it was just cleaning and polishing. Which is very Zen — makes you stop thinking about the Free Stuff Army that’s assembling somewhere out there…

The one exception being the rehabbing of the “GL650” metal badges on either side of the engine case. These were stained and blotchy; the enameled black inset paint chipped and faded. They looked sorry.

So I took them off the bike, sanded them with 1500 and 2000, some Brillo… and then buffed them on the wheel. I carefully re-painted the black inset by hand; I think it looks almost as good as the original finish.

The one thing left to do is the seat, still original and still covered with its original (and ripped) faux leather, now held together with electric tape — the next best thing in the Guido Gearhead’s tool kit to duct tape, RTV and plastic ties.

That’s coming, eBay willing.

Well, you tell me. Does it look okay?

Or too ok to take it out in the rain?



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