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Vintage Things – CB750F and A Renewed Romance

As he preps for a long ride into British Columbia’s interior, a 77-year-old man contemplates his aging Honda CB750F and his life influences.

At this point I have to wonder, how many wonderful touring years do Silver and I have left? He’s a 1982 Honda CB750F Super Sport purchased new during my divorce in the spring of 1983. The vendors were Ross Crawford and Angus McDonald at Saskatoon’s former Hub City Honda. 

The faithful mount silver-streamlined with blue and black stripes, is now 35 though the last five years were spent in tarp-covered patience as I endured a pain-and-limp era waiting for a new hip. After two cancellations the titanium and plastic joint arrived in April 2016. 

honda cb750F supersport

It’s August as I write this and with my birthday fast approaching and my own personal odometer about to turn over to age 77, I felt fit and ready to ride if Silver was also up for the trail. 

Yet there was a certain irony about being nearly 77 as I contemplated the pending riding season because 10 years ago I met a rider who was then the age I am now. It was a brief encounter but, for me, a pivotal one in deciding how I wanted to live my life. 

It was early August 2006 that found me and another rider named Horvard Heimdal off-loading our machines at West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. 

A retired pilot, Hovard looked nicely contemporary in a smart riding jacket and pants as he sat his classy but utilitarian 2001 Moto Guzzi 1100. As for me, I was kitted-out in blue hand-me-down leathers and 31-year-old Ray-Ban pilot shades with one nose pad missing. The leathers are a well-used gift from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan friend Heinz Reichle, a serious low plains drifter until retirement a few years ago.

Though my appearance was rustic, hidden beneath blue jeans and leather leggings were sartorial secret weapons. My 50-year-old traditional English riding boots that were originally brown but are now black and still finely made. 

Following immigration from Norway, Heimdal had flown big and small aircraft mainly in western Canada, including a stint as flight engineer in the renowned Hercules transporter. Prince Albert’s NorCanAir was his home base for six years.

Though we had only just met, we knew some pilots in common: former Saskatoon jet-drivers Merv Andrew and Beth Moxley, ex-NorCanAir owners Jack Lloyd and Albert Ethier, Athabasca Airways owner Floyd Glass and legendary Prince Albert pilot George Greening, a fun-loving character and early biker who named his son Harley after his motorcycle. 

Hovard’s original intention was to ride into the British Columbia interior to visit a friend living in Tappen, near Salmon Arm. One option for getting there was to pick up Highway One from the ferry terminal and motor through mad but beautiful Vancouver and then on into the Fraser Valley. At the town of Hope 150 kilometres east of Vancouver, he might leave the Trans-Canada and ride over the Coquihalla Pass on Highway Five leading into Kamloops. Alternatively, once on the Coquihalla, he might veer off near the ranching community of Merritt and pick up a secondary route leading to the city of Kelowna in the Okanagan. 

All this had been in his mind until we met onboard BC Ferries vessel Queen of Oak Bay departing from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Over cafeteria coffee the two possible routes were discussed, and finally I suggested a third more circuitous but highly scenic route. “I think Whistler’s the way to go,” I said, “Highway 99. It’s a great ride if you haven’t done it.”

The legendary Sea-To-Sky Highway actually points north of Vancouver and into the Coastal Mountain Range toward Whistler. And beyond the world-famous ski resort are quaint towns and villages such as Pemberton and Lillooet, which are connected by BC’s own “Tail of the Dragon,” the picturesque and switchback-laden Duffey Lake Road, a route “so lovely that it is considered an attraction itself.” There’s almost zero traffic and coming down from its summit as you descend into Lillooet is interesting too. You’re on the gears the whole way.

Once you’re up top you’re actually in BC’s Interior where it’s usually warm and sunny, and dry. The town of Lytton on the Thompson River is said to be the hottest place in Canada.

“Hmm,” said Hovard, a man of few words, as he mulled my suggestion.

We exchanged cards. Hovard’s was an attractive picture of his boat cruising what looked like the Georgia Strait. The lovely white craft, a full displacement troller style pleasure boat, is a Willard 30 Voyager called ‘Viking Spirit.’ Apparently Hovard is an original Norwegian soul too. Manning the flying bridge was Captain Heimdal and his wife Karen, Nanaimo residents. The boat looked like a big seagull with a blue-water bone in its teeth, and a large red and white maple leaf waving astern. Clearly, this man knows how to live. 

At Horseshoe Bay we continued north to Whistler, but not together. When Silver blew his rear master cylinder near Squamish, after only 24 years of faithful service, I slowed down and shipmate Hovard carried on. Abort the trip? No way.  The long-life brake lasted more than two decades because it was not used much anyway. With mild concern, and reasonable caution, we carried on to high adventure.  

At Whistler, a staple McDonald’s hamburger, ketchup-soaked chips and a Coke restored fighting spirit. Silver and I continued up to Pemberton, with its bright, biker-popular PetroCan and 91-octane pump. There, smiling staffer Olivia sells fresh-made sandwiches and chats with visitors about local attractions. I asked her how many restaurants there are in Pemberton.

“Uh, seven, not including McDonalds,” she said, tilting her head as she counted. 

Eight food emporiums for such a small place is pretty good choice. Indeed, if you visit the farming village of Pemberton today in 2017 you will find it is blessed with a community of young entrepreneurs who have recently opened businesses such as Mount Currie Coffee serving craft coffee and organic deli-style food. Also relatively new in town is Tyler Schramm, who studied the fine art of distilling in Edinburgh, Scotland and now produces the world’s only certified organic potato vodka. Schramm’s Pemberton Distillery supplied the official “sipping vodka” of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (pembertondistillery.com). For comfort food at its best, gulp down gourmet burgers at Pemberton’s Mile One Eating House, founded by Cindi Yu and Randi Jones, a Red Seal chef who trained at Fairmont Hotels.

After Pemberton we rode up Portage Road on the 99-kilometre ride to the high country, past Lillooet Lake and Mount Currie, and on to Duffey Lake, including the steep, quick, hairpins that climb almost straight up. What did I say about Lytton and Lillooet country being August hot? It was 38C that day.

By the time we had escaped the giant Duffey Lake horseflies and were approaching Lillooet, I was stripped down to shorts and T-shirt, the heavy leathers bungeed on top of luggage rack gear. The lovely black riding boots were doing their knee-high job strafing grasshoppers and other low-flying critters. But here was British Columbia in all its glory with gorgeous green-grey mountains, the fresh-water scent of rushing creeks, the desert-dry upper Fraser country and the endless sky.

The Honda CB750F Super Sport’s  air-cooled engine hummed along as a counterpoint to the chest-thumping exhaust notes bouncing across Cayoosh Creek and off rock walls, and the inviting waters of Seton Lake as we approached Lillooet.

Now it was so hot the options were simple: submerge or perish. A left deke down to the lake’s beach access, a quick swimsuit change behind a tree, and a running leap into the water saved the broiling and the bashful. Refreshed and recuperated, we were back on the road with a loopy-loop run up to tiny Pavilion on the map, and down again to connect with Highway 97 north of Cache Creek, one of the Interior’s main arteries. 

But it wasn’t long before the heat of the day demanded another stop. I spotted a sign announcing HISTORIC HAT CREEK RANCH. It was the only motorcycle shade for miles, and I was reminded of another reason for the boots—to fend off the scorching, ticking, flesh-frying engine on dismounting.  

Three worn steps led to a shady open veranda with weathered pine-tree railing and a few old lawn chairs. The choices: cold beer or cold anything else. Beer is out. To have one cold one, and then another, is questionable judgment on a motorcycle when the temperature is nearing 100F. 

I entered the cool premise, no doubt the ranch’s original home in 1860. “Back then it was a ‘road house,’ or hotel,” said general manager Don Pearse. “The second floor and west wing were added later. We have the original kitchen and dining room, plus the saloon and parlour, and some of the guest rooms.”

On this particular scorching day I figuratively embraced the ancient waist-high cooler and decided what looked good. A large, frigid apple juice was just the ticket. So with glass in hand I wandered out to the porch and sunk into one of the ancient wooden lawn chairs. Sitting there in the cold-drink shade, I again admired the fine British officers’ riding boots cocked on the railing. From this vantage point the parking lot seemed hotter and drier and more insufferable because of the dusty gravel. I wondered about rattlesnakes. No, said GM Pearse. They only live around Cache Creek a few miles south.   

Before long, another biker turned into the sand and gravel scape. He was on a new purple cruiser that crunched slowly over the baking stones. The rider casually removed his helmet to reveal a shock of white hair. Carefully, he lifted one long leg to dismount and stand to a lean and respectable height; they were the moves of an older man. He walked slowly to the verandah, put a hand on the short railing and climbed the risers in a measured way.

Having watched all this with interest, I felt young by comparison and risked a question, as graciously as possible: 

“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “That’s a nice machine you’re riding. It looks new. I was wondering … forgive me for asking, but, uh … I was wondering about your age.” 

The man turned, with a stare that was six or seven on the hard-eyed scale. It was not a threatening look but rather one that was direct and no nonsense. 

“Seventy-seven,” he said tersely.

Seventy-seven, I thought. That means I’ve still got 10 years of touring left, if I make it to his age. 

“Thank you,” I said.

Uttering nothing more, he strode off into the store in the dusty, flat-healed Wellingtons that marked him as an apparent local citizen in this ranching community. For short rides the no-nonsense ranch-cuts are more practical than fine English riding boots.  

Ten years later, August 11, 2016, five years of motorcycle denial and frustration were about to end, and a renewed romance was pending. The CB750F Super Sport’s four carb drains were snug. The tank of five-year-old stabilized gas was siphoned out and refilled with Chevron 94. A new battery was bought and installed, and the 97,169-kilometre machine was soap-washed and rinsed of all dust and cobwebs. 

I twisted the fuel cock on, waited a few seconds, and then turned the ignition. The dash lit up neutral green. I choked it full, held my breath and pressed the red starter button. Throttled half, the tall old motorcycle clanked and coughed a couple of times, and then fired. A few hiccups followed, and then, playing with the choke, my old friend hit full respiration. The wonderful roar ricocheted round and around as blue exhaust rose in the confined space. 

I laid my hand fondly on the bike and almost cried: “Silver, you really are amazing.” 

The next day we rode over to friend Dwight Carroll’s home, two short blocks away. There, the former Regina motorcycle shop owner changed the oil and freed up the sticking front brakes, with zero service and half the pads left after 34 years. Later, he hoped he might mate it with Dwight’s restored 1970 Triumph Trophy for an interesting Japanese/British hybrid.

My son Ari called that morning from New Brunswick saying that he was happily back on the road and heading west to his Saskatoon business base. 

“Ari Boy! Are you bringing your bikes back?” I asked. His van is a big Mercedes diesel, pulling a custom-made motorcycle trailer. Inside this rig he has a yellow 1999 Honda VTR Firestorm, and a 2000 silver, red and black Honda RC51 fitted with gummy racing rubber.

Ari prefers statements to questions: “We can go for a ride to the Kootenays,” he suggested. “Maybe to a hotspring. Ainsworth is the best. I don’t have much time though. I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”

That’s okay, I won’t be doing any long hauls for a while either, but I’ll be back on my bike tomorrow, in time for my 77th on Saturday, God willing, of course. And He was. 

by Eric Hemmings Nelson Canadian Biker #330

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