TIM, short for “That Infernal Machine.” I should have known better, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Yet, there I was paying too much money for a thirty-two-year-old motorcycle with electric problems.
A 1976, Honda CB 550F, TIM was everything that I had been looking for: sleek black, with knee dents, drag bars, and a solo seat, a caffe racer through and through. So what if I only got to test drive it for five minute before the battery gave out and I had to wheel it back to the guys selling it. I wanted it.
The two guys I bought it from were a pair of backyard builders who had been laid off during the recession and were trying to make a few extra bucks flipping motorcycles. When I brought it back they swore it was just a problem with the battery and if I returned in a couple of hours it would be fixed and I could ride it home.
That’s when I should have said, “thank you no,” kept my money and walked away. Instead a little bit of haggling and a few hours waiting and I was riding it home. That is, until I got about four blocks from my apartment. While stopped at a red light, the power gave out and the engine sputtered and died.
Wheeling it to the side of the road, I tried the starter — Nothing. I tried to kick it — Nothing. I cursed and screamed like a mad man, hoping that my words would somehow break the evil spell that was keeping my bike from running.
Those four blocks home felt like an eternity. I was like Sisyphus, only instead of a boulder I was pushing an awkward lump of metal with a front brake that kept squeaking.
When I bought TIM it was clear I would have to do some work, but I didn’t know how much. I’d had other motorcycles in the past, but except for replacing a battery I’d never done any real work on them. Yes I’d taken a shop class in high school, and my first car was a 1960 MGA 1600 that I’d partially restored with my dad before leaving home for college, but I’d never really worked on a motorcycle before.
To make matters worse my apartment didn’t have a garage or covered parking spot, and the homeless travelers around where I live love to take motorcycle covers and use them as shelters. Never the less I was determined to make TIM run again.
After ordering a Clymers and Owners Manual, and buying a multi-meter I set out to diagnose the problem and try to fix it. As I began to run through the bike I started to notice more and more problems. The battery wasn’t the right kind and didn’t have sufficient power. And I quickly realized once I’d trickle charged it and started it, that the battery wasn’t getting any electricity from the engine.
I bought a new battery and a new regulator/rectifier believing that would fix the problem. I tried to perform some basic services like changing the oil, but the drain screw was so mangled once I’d unscrewed it, it wouldn’t tighten sufficiently to prevent it from leaking oil like a sieve. Believing the oil pan was cracked I tried to replace it, ending up over tightening and breaking a bolt in the process.
It was at this point I decided to call on a professional for some much needed help. In most cases like this calling in some help is a quick, though often costly solution, but this was just the beginning of this adventure and not the end.