Honda CB 125 SS  (1968)

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May 1968 - May 1969          One year - 6,000 miles

My First Motorcycle

  Buying a first motorcycle is a major transition.  When I bought my first bike I was going to college and still living with my parents in NYC.  I didn't own a car because of parking hassles and insurance costs.  But I did want my own wheels.  In an instant decision on a bad day on the subway in the spring of 1968, I decided to buy a motorcycle.  I got off at the next station, found a phone booth and looked up motorcycle dealers in Manhattan.  My previous motorcycle experience was a 10 minute ride on the back of a Honda 175, and a photo taken of me posed on a parked Harley ratbike in a Florida junk yard a few months back.  But I knew I wanted to ride.... I always knew I wanted to ride.

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Larger view

  First, I went to a Suzuki dealer and priced this 120cc two stroke single.  I collected some brochures, looked at the pictures and compared horsepower and features.

  I went to the Honda dealership (Camrod) over on the west side and looked at the smallest four-stroke twin made.  I wasn't that interested in two-stroke bikes even though a Suzuki 250 X6 Hustler was considered a performance bike back then. 

  I was concerned that a 125 might not be big enough for me and my girlfriend.  So I made the salesman ride me around the block on the bike to prove it could do the job of carrying two people.  Not that I was able to judge anything about bikes, but if he claimed it had 'plenty of power', I wanted to see that for myself.  The bike cost me $440 + tax.

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Larger view

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Cycle Guide - March 1968

  The salesman also taught me to ride the morning I picked the bike up.  He explained the controls and had me ride up and down the street a few times.  In those 10 minutes, I shifted into third gear maybe once.  He then pronounced me ready to ride.  I rode away on a hot May morning with the sweat streaming down inside my helmet, trying not to stall at every light. 

  I learned how to ride a motorcycle on the streets of Manhattan on that day.  At least it was a Saturday and there was less traffic than a weekday.

  I rode over a 100 miles that first day and ran out of gas on the Long Island Expressway coming home that night.  I had to pull over and try to figure out why my brand new bike had stopped.  It took a while for me to realize that since I had put in 2 gallons of gas that morning (the tank only held 2.2 gal.) and I had been riding all day,  I was merely out of gas and had to switch to reserve.

  I somehow expected that, like a car with a 15+ gallon tank, I could ride a few hundred miles on a tankful of gas.

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Tank detail - Cycle Guide - March 1968

  There's more to this story.  The salesman had said he was an actor.  We lived in the same neighborhood.  When we met by chance a few months later, he said he was in a 'big' movie, which I dismissed as boasting. 

  Soon after this, I went to see 'Alice's Restaurant', and it turns out that he was not exaggerating.  He had a major part playing a very dark character, the drug addict with a romantic interest in Alice (as you might remember), and dies a sad, grim death near the end of the movie.  So my thanks to Mike McClanahan, the guy who sold me my first bike.

  I finished the last miles of the 600 mile break-in by riding around the perimeter drive in Central Park a few times, enjoying what I had only done before by bicycle.  On the 18th day of riding I took my first spill.  As I went around a double-parked truck, the driver opened his door and clipped my handlebars dumping me over on my left side.  Minor scrapes to the bike.  Minor abrasions to my gear and just a bruise here and there for me. 

  I did go down two more times with this bike.  All minor.  Once, I slid out the rear tire on curve (never figured out why).  I slid down the road on my side for 30 feet with my girlfriend hanging on to me like we were still on the bike. We were hardly scraped at all.

  This little bike served me well.   I did have to remove the carburetor and reseat the vacuum diaphragm (all new stuff to me) when it just popped on a ride.  I'd had to limp home with the idle turned way up and walk it over to a local shop to get help with the fix.

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Cycle Guide March 1968

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Last Edited - Dec. 1, 2011