The Long Haul Part 8: The Ride Continues
Texas to Ohio to Minnesota and Back Again on a 1974 Honda CB450
With the 2018 AMA Mid-Ohio Vintage Days behind us, the crew spent a few days in Columbus taking care of some regular maintenance and bolting-on some sweet finds from the rally. The Long Haul Honda CB450 got a highway bar and a taller set of handlebars to give me the option of a more upright riding position. The taller handlebars did require a longer upper brake hose and clutch cable, both of which I found at the rally.
The biggest maintenance hurdle was chasing down a weak coil. Both cylinders were getting spark, but the left cylinder was weak and yellow as opposed to the strong purple spark that should exist on both sides. It was enough for the right cylinder to fire the majority of time, only to drop out randomly down the road. Fortunately we had a spare coil, and once it got swapped out the bike ran steady from then on out.
We also installed a prototype of our upcoming Shockwave electronic ignition system. Although this was the first CB450 to run the setup, another prototype had been successfully running on Brenden's CB360 for over a year at that point. I was confident that it would hold up for the remainder of the ride, but I packed my contact points and condenser just in case. Fortunately I wouldn't need them.
We set off that following Friday the 13th. Brenden and Tom took a week riding their CB550 and CB360 back to Texas via the Natchez Trace parkway. I split north through Detroit and across the upper peninsula of Michigan.
The whole Long Haul adventure consisted of three considerably different rides. The first third (Houston to Mid-Ohio) was a fairly quick trip that took three days averaging over 400 miles per day. The main goal there was to make it to the Vintage Days by the weekend. While I was fortunate enough to have friends to stay with along the way, my late start meant most of the ride was on major roads and interstates. Not ideal.
The next week in Michigan would make up the 2nd and far-more-leisurely portion of the ride. A weekend in nearby Detroit provided the time and local advice to make plans and campsite reservations for the days following. Ultimately I needed to end up in Breezy Point, MN the following Friday for a family reunion, giving me 5 days and 4 nights to travel roughly 1000 miles across the state. This plan took about 200 miles per day, which is the pace I recommend for a road trip on any bike this size.
The first day took me west to Traverse City, The Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan. This part of the state is full of vacation spots teeming with families in RVs and with good reason. A diverse coastline, countless cherry orchards, and a healthy spattering of lakes makes an ideal setting for a family road trip.
Aside from a slow oil leak at my cylinder base gasket, the only mechanical challenge for the rest of the trip would be a leaky float bowl gasket. It turns out that ethanol-rich gasoline causes the flat rubber gaskets to expand slightly. With the bowls clamped to the carb body the gaskets are held captive and the expansion is negligible. When the bowl is taken off however, if the gasket has been sitting in contact with ethanol it expands to the point where it interferes with the surrounding aluminium edges on the carb body upon re-installation. If the gaskets are left in the sun for a few hours they shrink right back down, but on the side of the road I didn't have that luxury. Fortunately I was able to improvise with the help of a pocket knife and some over-the-counter gasket material. In the future I would simply pack an extra set of 450 carburetor gaskets and o-rings.
Glen Arbor, MI Campsite
The following day I rode up the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan. That ride saw a wide variety of weather conditions from rainy and cold near Old Mission to warm and sunny on the road just south of the Mackinaw Bridge. After setting up camp near Mackinaw City, I took a ferry across to Mackinac Island; somewhere I had dreamt of visiting for some time. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark and has a ban on all motor vehicles. Everyone is on foot, horseback, or bicycle like some beautiful, carbon-neutral alternate reality. Swarms of tourists killed the vibe a little, but it was fun nevertheless.
After some standard maintenance the following morning, I set off across the Mackinaw Bridge into the upper peninsula. Detroit locals made it seem like crossing the bridge on a motorcycle would be a terrifying experience on account of the see-through metal grating suspended over 150' above the frigid water. While not quite as intimidating as promised, crossing the monumental bridge was surreal and rewarding. Once in the upper peninsula I was surprised just how cold the air was there in the peak of summer. Thick pine trees lined the road as I pushed to reach Lake Superior by sundown.
My campsite that night was just outside the town of Munising. I pitched my tent across the way from two awesome vintage RVs: one GMC and one Airstream. A father & son were taking them around Lake Michigan with their families for their summer vacation. The work they did on their giant land ships was not unlike the work I did on the Long Haul CB450 in preparation it for the road. Though I'll admit I was a little jealous they got to bring their family and friends along for the ride, it was affirming to meet other folks pushing their old machines to go the distance.
Two Vintage RVs on on the coast of Lake Superior
The next morning I took a short cruise up the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Designated the first National Lakeshore in the country by Congress in 1966, the sandstone cliffs are quite the sight to behold. Apparently the lakeshore and the nearby town of Munising had seen a boom in tourism over the last few years due to a Kid Rock music video that was filmed nearby. I watched it - search at your own risk.
That day's ride lead up to the last campsite of the trip. I was told the northernmost Michigan town of Copper Harbor is a must-see, so I took a slight detour up the Keweenaw peninsula to find out for myself. It turned out to be surprisingly worthwhile. The ride was beautiful, and roughly halfway up I discovered the sister cities of Houghton and Hancock. Home to more than one university, the historic mining towns were unique and authentic. I wish I had given myself more time to explore the cities, but when I rolled into my campsite at the northernmost tip of Michigan with plenty of daylight to spare I was glad I had gone the distance. Copper Harbor, Brockway Mountain, Fort Wilkins, and Horseshoe Harbor were wonderfully remote. From many vantage points Lake Superior extends forever in all directions and I truly got the sense that I had gone as far as I could, literally and figuratively.
The area is home to the end of Highway 41, which stretches all the way down to Florida. I didn't take it that far this time around, but the next morning's ride southwest along 41 was bittersweet. The most idyllic legs of the journey were behind me, and while part of me wished I could stay and camp and explore the upper peninsula forever, I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in Minnesota.
The Iron Butt
With two-thirds of the ride behind me, I spent that weekend with family in the small town where my grandmother grew up north of the Twin Cities. Once everyone parted ways I followed my uncle Pancho to his house east of St. Paul. I hulled up there for a few days catching up with him and prepping the bike for the final third.
I owe a tremendous thanks to Andrew Blaschko and the guys at The Moto Collective / CROIG for sharing his space and tools. I spent a few hours there doing an oil change, chain adjustment / lube, carb sync, and a few other minor tweaks. Even after spewing oil all over the shop floor, Andrew was helpful, friendly, and stoked to help me keep the thing on the road. If you find yourself in near Minneapolis / St. Paul be sure to stop by The Moto Collective.
The Moto Collective
At that point 1200 miles remained if I shot straight south with no detours. The majority of July had been spent on the road and I was ready to be home already. I got to geek out over old bikes with my friends at the Vintage Days, camped solo along the shores of the great lakes, took some much-needed family time, and got to visit with plenty of other friends old and new alike. Aside from the joy of discovering the unknown road on a trip like this, its the people that interrupt the sober solitude that make the time truly memorable. Since the route home would be mostly lonesome I was ready to make it as quick as possible.
My southwest run the year prior had began with an IBA Saddle Sore 1000 mile endurance challenge. Perhaps it was nostalgia or some contrived sense of completion, but it felt right to end this trip the same way. In all honesty it was mostly that I was homesick and there wasn't much to see along the strip of middle America that would take me home. The morning of July 26th I woke up extra early, got Pancho to sign off as my starting witness, and headed off into the cold, dark dawn.
It wasn't until about the 3rd gas stop that the sun started warming the air around me. The first half of the day saw flat, endless cornfields. Feeling validated in my decision to make this run a quick one, I made good time snacking only at gas stops that I strategically spaced out as far as possible. At roughly the 750 mile mark just south of Fayetteville my surroundings started to get a bit more interesting. Fort Smith, the Arkansas River, and the Ouachita National Forest were easily the most scenic stints of my ride home. It didn't hurt that the sun was setting providing the terrain a decent backdrop. By the time Texarkana rolled around it was completely dark. With 5 hours and about 300 miles to go I pressed on. Paranoia and exhaustion came and went like the passing mile markers, and there was nothing I wanted more than to be home already. The harsh realities of normal life began to hit as the thick muggy air of the gulf coast had long replaced the cool northern breeze. Houston's urban sprawl was more brutal and vast as it had ever been before, extending like an endless homogeneous mote that surrounds the city I know and love.
Around 3am on July 27th, roughly 4 hours later than I had hoped, I reached the gas station around the corner from my house and printed my ending gas receipt (the IBA uses the timestamps on gas receipts to validate rides). The total mileage was just over 1200 miles that day, and I had less than one hour remaining in my 24hr window. The entire trip amounted to 5000 miles on that 44 year old motorcycle, and aside from a few minor leaks and rattles our Long Haul Honda CB450 had fulfilled its mission.
The IBA SaddleSore 1000
Though built to last, these bikes were never intended as endurance touring machines. Similarly, I was not born into motorcycling or hardcore travelling. There is a relationship you develop with a machine when you choose to rely on it. The attention it needs to be fit for purpose is analogous with the attention we owe ourselves, and the maintenance it requires to continue is not independent of its rider's ability to persevere.
While putting over 1000 miles on a vintage bike in a day might be a little extreme, its serves as an example that these bikes are made to be ridden. They are made to be relatively easy to maintain, adjust, and carry its rider through an endless variety of riding conditions. They are made to be enjoyed and sure, your idea of enjoyment might be the gratitude you feel looking at you bike while it sits perfectly still, each fin and bolt and cover meticulously polished, free of dents and corrosion and pits from the road. While certainly beautiful sculptures in their own right, I would argue that these bikes possess far more potential than that. For me, the story behind each dent and scratch is exponentially more rewarding than a perfect chrome surface finish could ever be.
For footage from the trip check out the video at the top of this page. See the map halfway down for the route, and check out the slideshow below for (largely unedited) pictures from the road. If you want to see all the work that went into our 1974 Honda CB450 required to make this trip a success just Start from the beginning and stay tuned as we go through the bike post-trip.