Thursday, September 27, 2018

A new toy and a new beginning ...

It's been almost 5 years since I was cut out of the twisted wreck that had been my 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby and I've had some physical limitations ever since.  How I survived that wreck I can only give thanks to God but survive I did ... in a somewhat lesser form.  My right shoulder still gives me problems sometimes and while I didn't give up riding motorcycles once my physical therapy was done, riding something as Spartan and hardcore in nature as my 2004 Honda CBR600RR caused me a large amount of discomfort, mostly in my right shoulder, after prolonged riding.  The end result was that over the last five years I've ridden my motorcycle fewer and fewer times until eventually my CBR basically became a garage queen, gathering dust, connected to a trickle charger and doing little more than sharing space next to my 1986 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

Sometime at the end of summer 2018, I started to really want to ride motorcycles again.  I put a good effort towards riding my CBR600RR but the joy just wasn't there anymore.  I realized that it wasn't the joy of motorcycling that I was missing, it was the joy of riding my CBR600RR specifically so I started to think about selling it and finding something else.

Long story short, I went through a bunch of motorcycle choices, did a bunch of research, and knew that if I wanted to get back to enjoying riding and motorcycling that I was going to have to go back to my cruiser roots.  Doing so, I realized that I would probably have to give up a lot of the hardcore performance that I'd come to be comfortable and casual with when owning some of the best designed, most powerful, most capable high-performance motorcycles ever built by man.

While I had grown up owning and riding cruisers (and wishing I could afford a sportbike), it wasn't until I was 22 that I bought my first sportbike, a 1984 Honda VF500F Interceptor, from my best friend Cody (who had owned the VF500F since it was new).  I loved that red, white and blue half-liter Interceptor and probably will own another '84 VF500F again in the next few years just for nostalgia ... and because the '84 VF500F is one of the most beautiful bikes ever designed, IMHO.

In the summer of 1993, for my 24th birthday, I traded the '84 Interceptor (with 88k miles) in on a brand new '93 Honda VFR750F.  I kept that bike for a little over a year, sharing the saddle with my girlfriend/fiance, Cindy, before a drunk driver took us off of the bike and destroyed the VFR in a late-night traffic accident in the fall of '94.

I took October 1994 to June of 1995 off from owning and riding but for my 26th birthday, right before I got married, I bought a brand new 1995 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R in Kawasaki racing green livery.  The then brand new for 1995 ZX-6R Ninja was the fastest, best handling sportbike that I'd ever owned and ridden.

I kept the Ninja until August of 1998 when the Ninja was destroyed by a doe jumping out from the side of the road near Red Bluff and taking me off of the bike at 70mph.  

After that accident, I took a six-year sabbatical from riding and in June of 2004, for my 35th birthday present to myself, I walked into my local Honda dealer in Hattiesburg and rode out on a brand new 2004 Honda CBR600RR which I kept for the next 14 years.  The CBR600RR was my daily rider for many years, racking up 75 plus miles of interstate Monday through Friday and carving two-lane country back roads on weekends.

Then I got a company vehicle and my work started paying for tires, oil and gas.  The CBR600RR went into the garage and was ridden less and less.  Then in 2014, I got cut out of what was left of my '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby and I spent the next five years riding even less and less.

And all of that history brings us up to about August of 2018.

I put the '04 CBR up for sale then started looking for something else and that's when I decided to find something that would allow me to build something that I'd always wanted to build ... a chopper!

I remember going to a big car show in Birmingham, AL in the early '70's, I think it was the 1973 Autorama but I can't be sure.  I couldn't have been three or four years old ... and I saw this bad-ass chopper, all black and chrome, with black lights all around it and a giant Grim Reaper with scythe standing next to it.  That motorcycle blew my little mind and I told myself that one day I'd have a chopper like that.  Years later, I saw this kit of a Grim Reaper chopper and I swear that was the bike that I saw when I was a little kid but I can't find any information on if this kit was ever based on a real custom bike or it was just a kit.  My memories, now at 50 years old, of something I saw when I was three or four, are, rightly so, a bit on the fuzzy side.  Nevertheless, when I set about to start sketching out my chopper I kept going back to this one model kit because this one model kit sparked the memory of that bike that I'd said I'd own one day.

When I thought of building a chopper, another image came to mind ... the bike of the biker hero in Lucasarts' PC game "Full Throttle".  When I saw that bike in Full Throttle, it always reminded me of something else ... those exhaust pipes reminded me of the 1987 to 1988 Honda Super Magna!

Yeah, so there's where I was.  I had a childhood memory of a bike that might or might not have been real (at least based on the kit being based on a real bike) and a memory of building something like the hero's bike in an animated PC video game.

My life is anything if not strange and wonderful.  I can still remember standing there looking at that bad-ass chopper at that auto show, the fog machine blowing white smoke around the chopper and the life-size Grim Reaper with glowing red eyes staring there at me.

Childhood memory seared.

Well, forty-six years, more or less, flashed by in the blink of an eye and suddenly I had both the money and time to build on a childhood fantasy and dream; a bad-ass chopper of my very own.  At almost 50 years old, I no longer had the desire to throw my legs over a 165mph crotch rocket ... just like I no longer cared that there were some four door econoboxes out there that had more horsepower than my '86 Trans Am.  There comes a time when you don't care about being the fastest ... you just care about being the only-est, if that makes sense.

There is a substitute for being the fastest ... you can still be the baddest even if you're not the fastest ... as long as you drive or ride something really, really cool and as long as no one else has what you have.

Life is too short to drive mediocre cars or ride mediocre motorcycles.

I don't like to drive cars or ride motorcycles that everyone else has ... that's boring.  I like the rare stuff.  I like to drive and ride stuff that makes people turn their heads, stuff that draws a crowd when I park it and invites people to start conversations about my toys.  I don't want to see what I'm driving or riding ten times over, coming and going, where ever I'm headed.  The problem with cars and motorcycles today is that they are all too cookie cutter plain.  If someone zips by in a new Camaro or Mustang or Challenger or thunders by on a Harley, I can promise you that I'll see that exact car, color and options, or that exact bike, within a short time after I see the one that just passed.

I knew that I had to have something different ... so I went looking for my own unicorn.  Way back in 1990, when I first started at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), I got a part-time job in the IT department at the university library.  Parked outside the library on many days, was this beautiful 1988 Honda VF750C Super Magna.  I loved the stance of that bike, the four into four exhaust pipes ... that bike just looked so right!  It wasn't boring like a Harley Davidson and while it wasn't a sportbike it did have a sportbike engine.

I've been a fan of Honda's family of V4 engines since I was a teenager.  The Honda Magnas and Sabres and Interceptors were the stuff of teenage dreams when I was growing up, along with IROC-Zs, Trans Ams, Mustang GTs, Monte Carlo SS's, Buick Grand Nationals, Toyota Supras, Mazda RX-7s, and all the other sports cars of the 1980's.


Just the thought of the technology that Honda perfected in that family of engines still blows my mind ... and the fact that a 31-year-old 45 cubic inch Honda V4 can keep up with, if not blow away, anything that Harley Davidson can field today in 2019 including the now discontinued VRSC V-Rod ... and the Honda does it with over 55 cubic inches less.

So, I decided to find a Honda Magna.  When I'd bought my '93 VFR750F, Honda had just released their third generation Magna, itself powered by a slightly detuned VFR750F V4 engine.  Finding a '93 to '02 Magna wasn't hard because nothing much changed during those years except the paint colors.  I tracked several third gen Magnas down and almost bought one in Tennessee but something told me to hold out ... to hold out for a 1988 Super Magna ... and that's what I did.

I didn't have to wait long, even though the 1987 to 1988 Honda Super Magna is probably one of the rarest Magnas ever built.  Finding one is good condition, let alone great condition, is a real grail quest but then my life is full of odd and strange and wonderful experiences, incidents and coincidences.

This proved no different.

Three days after I looked through the Facebook Marketplace and set an alert for a 1988 Super Magna my search results pinged me that not only was a 1988 Super Magna available nearby but it was the color that I wanted ... black.  When I checked to see where the Super Magna was for sale at, I was surprised that the owner lived just outside of Jackson.  In fact, I routinely passed by the owner's house a few times each month when traveling to and from Jackson for my state job.

A few emails, a trip up to Jackson to test ride the '88 Super Magna, a cash deposit and a trip back with a trailer one week later and I was the somewhat surprised but very happy owner of a beautiful 1988 Honda Super Magna.  The bike that I'd been looking for, the ultra low production bike of my dreams had literally landed in my lap.

748cc liquid cooled V4 with double overhead cams and sixteen valves.  Four Khein carburetors, four into four upswept exhaust, mag front wheel, solid disc rear wheel, six-speed transmission, and shaft drive.

Oh, the sound of that three quarter liter V4!  Not since my '93 VFR750F had I heard an exhaust note of a motorcycle that sounded so orchestrated, so ... powerful.

The first thing that I did when I got the '88 Super Magna home was to take it to my Honda dealer in Hattiesburg and leave it with them.  I didn't have the time to go through the bike and check everything ... but I had the money to let someone else do it for me so that's what I did.

A week later and a few hundred dollars lighter in the wallet the '88 Super Magna was back in my garage ... tuned, all fluids replaced, fresh plugs, fresh brake pads all around, everything checked and inspected and it was running like brand new.

About that time, a week and a half worth of rain set in so I didn't get to ride my new toy very much but I sat down and started sketching out ideas, new graphics, a list of modifications that I wanted to accomplish ... and that was when I got serious about turning the '88 Super Magna into something that I'd always wanted to build ... a power chopper.

A power chopper ... not some neutered, air-cooled V-twin irrigation pump powered Harley that was all show and no go, but a serious power cruiser turned power chopper ... a V4 power chopper that had all the power of a V4 Magna but all the style of those long nosed motorcycles that I fell in love with as a child of the 1970's.

So here we are ... building a power chopper.  Yeah, we're going to be going a little slower than I'm used to ... but I'm also going to be turning a hell of a lot more heads when I ride by on a stretched out V4 Magna.  The best part of it all?

I don't know of anyone else who has a choppered out Magna, let alone a Super Magna.

Being the only one of your kind isn't just exclusive ... in a world where everyone tries to copy everyone else being original is downright enviable.

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