HONDA BR05

Do any of you ride to work each day on a bike over 30 years old, we asked? Ooooh yes, you said. Michael Pilch, for ex­am­ple, com­mutes in all weath­ers on his hardy Honda…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Michael Pilch More old bikes on­line: Real-Clas­sic.co.uk

Do any of you ride to work each day on a bike over 30 years old, we asked? Ooooh yes, you said. Michael Pilch, for ex­am­ple, com­mutes in all weath­ers on his hardy Honda ...

Ilive in cen­tral Lon­don and my rid­ing is gen­er­ally lim­ited to an hour at week­ends or the odd cheeky day off. That changed when last year my of­fice re­lo­cated to the waste­lands of Strat­ford and I de­cided to com­mute by mo­tor­cy­cle. So what’s a boy to do? Ini­tially I put my trusty 1973 Tri­umph T100R Day­tona into ser­vice, but I was never com­fort­able leav­ing it parked up. Then, oh dear, it started be­ing not so trusty, run­ning ter­ri­bly and / or not start­ing. This was di­ag­nosed as crud in­side the petrol tank gum­ming the carb. Trusty Tri­umph #2, a 1959 T110, was called into ser­vice for a bit and, ex­cept for its mis­er­able 6V light­ing and an­ti­quated brakes, be­haved pretty much im­pec­ca­bly.

But while these ini­tial com­mutes were hap­pen­ing I scoured the in­ter­net look­ing for a cheap hack, ide­ally around £1000, some­thing not too small as I’m tall and ‘still grow­ing’. I’d de­cided to get a Honda CB500F twin when some­one on the RC Face­book group men­tioned a Honda Bros, which I’d vaguely read about in the past. Some re­search re­vealed that the Bros has very good re­views; in fact some own­ers be­come ob­sessed with them. Very pop­u­lar with dis­patch rid­ers a few years ago, there are some bikes out there for sale in de­cent con­di­tion with low mileage. Two ver­sions are avail­able – a re­stricted 400 and a full-on 650. The Bros has a sim­i­lar, wa­ter­cooled, SOHC V-twin en­gine to the Honda Deauville (or Dul­lville), which may not be glam­orous or ex­cit­ing, but along with cer­tain in­sects and rats will sur­vive a nu­clear at­tack, ap­par­ently.

My search was on and as luck would have it a 650 popped up in the RealClas­sic small ads: great! But not so great, it was too far away to view. So I did what any sen­si­ble prospec­tive buyer does in this sit­u­a­tion and had a look on eBay. And guess what? Af­ter a few days the stars aligned and one came up for sale; a 1989 650 Bros in de­cent con­di­tion and only a few miles away. I wanted to view it but didn’t man­age to be­fore the auc­tion ended so chick­ened out and didn’t bid.

How­ever, I was con­tacted by the seller to ask if I was still in­ter­ested as the auc­tion hadn’t met its re­serve. I was, so the next morn­ing I popped over. I could see that the Bros wasn’t per­fect but, hav­ing been im­ported from Ja­pan ten years ago in 2007,

had only 28,000 miles on the clock. It had been well looked af­ter, with a file full of re­ceipts, old MoTs and man­ual, etc. It also had new tyres, shock ab­sorber and a re­cent MoT. The ex­haust was blow­ing slightly and the horn wasn’t work­ing, so I hag­gled and got it for £950. I fac­tored in a cou­ple of hun­dred pounds as the bike had sat for a few months and I thought it might need some TLC… which was for­tu­nate.

Pro­duced from 1988 to 1991, most Bros mod­els were not im­ported into the UK un­til the late 1990s or 2000s. Isn’t ‘Bros’ a silly name, I hear you ask? And yes it is. Ap­par­ently as there are two ver­sions (400 and 650cc) then they are ‘brothers’, so it’s noth­ing to do with the 1980s pop band of the same name. Also known in Amer­ica as the Honda Hawk GT, this fam­ily of ma­chines are among the ear­li­est retro / naked sports­bikes. The Bros was de­signed by Toshi­aki Kishi who is also re­spon­si­ble for the CBR1000RR and VFR1200R, so he’s done OK. The frame on the Bros is alu­minium and was the sec­ond mo­tor­cy­cle to have a Pro-Arm one-sided swing­ing arm, which is re­ally use­ful. It’s light and slen­der at around 390lb dry (my 650 Tri­umph is around 420lb), mak­ing it ideal for ur­ban com­mut­ing. The 400 ver­sion makes 33bhp, which makes it pop­u­lar with hardup newer, re­stricted rid­ers, whereas the 650 pumps out a whop­ping 58bhp, mak­ing it pop­u­lar with old gits like me who got their li­cense by rid­ing around the block while a grumpy man with a clip­board looked on.

Build qual­ity and the components used are ex­cel­lent and, for a 30 year-old bike, so far it’s been a de­light to work on. It’s de­signed re­ally well, with things that gen­er­ally make you smile rather than curse. Get­ting the tank off in­volves re­mov­ing two bolts, and this has to be done in or­der as the first bolt has a spacer that fits into the sec­ond, en­abling re­moval; nice touch that. I soon found out that the water pump has a small weep hole that fills and leaks a few drips of coolant to no­tify you that a seal is fail­ing, oth­er­wise coolant will leak into the en­gine re­sult­ing in a costly re­build. Un­for­tu­nately you can’t re­ally just re­place this seal so it’s nec­es­sary to re­place the pump and at £200 plus VAT it’s not cheap. But they’re avail­able and even some­one as me­chan­i­cally in­ept as me can do it in un­der an hour.

That sin­gle-sided swing­ing arm comes in handy when you need to re­move the rear wheel, which I had to do when I had a punc­ture. The wheel slides off leav­ing the sprocket and chain in place: what will they think of next? Ad­just­ing the chain in­volves slack­en­ing one bolt and cor­rect­ing to suit. You need a be­spoke span­ner, avail­able at all good Honda deal­ers for around £8, and it’s a breeze which takes five min­utes to do.

Brakes are good, the huge front stop­per ex­cel­lent and the rear is ad­e­quate. I fit­ted new pads to the rear, which im­proved stop­ping power a bit. I’ve read that it’s a good idea to change the seals reg­u­larly so that’s on the to-do list at some point. It’s worth not­ing that the en­gine brak­ing is ex­cel­lent too, just roll off the throt­tle.

On my com­mute through busy Lon­don traf­fic I get ap­prox­i­mately 45mpg, that’s with many stops at traf­fic lights and af­ter­mar­ket K&N air fil­ters fit­ted. A fuel pump feeds the twin carbs.

Electrics are ba­sic but func­tional. Look, Mum, it’s got in­di­ca­tors that work! I was wor­ried that the elec­tric sys­tem might need some at­ten­tion or re­plac­ing, given the bike’s age, but luck­ily the only prob­lem so far has been a bat­tery not hold­ing a charge, prob­a­bly due to it hav­ing sat for a few months be­fore I got it. When I col­lected the bike, the horn had been fixed and it’s an af­ter­mar­ket one that’s the loud­est I’ve ever heard on a bike. Rid­ing to and from work in parts of Lon­don that some­times re­sem­ble the Wild West this is handy… and also very sat­is­fy­ing when honked.

The Bros is elec­tric start only and usu­ally fires straight away, or at worse af­ter two or three pushes, even if sat in the gar­den for a week get­ting cold and wet. Even on the cold­est day I’ve only ever had to have a very small amount of choke to get a start. How­ever, there’s also an en­gine kill switch which will let the en­gine spin rather than cut out, so it’s easy to think it’s on and drain the bat­tery… don’t ask.

That slen­der petrol tank doesn’t hold much fuel, so af­ter around 60 miles I tend to fill up. Ap­par­ently you can get 90 be­fore you need to switch to re­serve. I’m not sure how well that went down with dis­patch rid­ers, but they prob­a­bly needed a fag break and a stretch of the legs at that point. That petrol tank de­sign can cause an­other prob­lem. It’s quite a high step ad­ja­cent to the seat, so hit a speed bump or drop down a kerb and you’re likely to ‘bash your­self’, if you get my drift!

I’d never owned a V-twin be­fore, and dis­cov­ered that it’s a joy to ride. It’ll hap­pily bur­ble along at 20mph through traf­fic, and in town I rarely get out of sec­ond or third gear,

with plenty of ac­cel­er­a­tion up to le­gal speed lim­its if needed. It’s a lovely, flex­i­ble, torquey en­gine and I look for­ward to giv­ing it a proper blast away from crowded city streets.

As the ex­haust col­lec­tor was rot­ting through, I re­placed this huge lump of heavy metal with a much more light­weight af­ter­mar­ket can. This sounds fan­tas­tic with a lovely rasp­ing cackle when opened up. Oth­er­wise it’s a gen­tle chug-alug on my com­mute along the roads of east Lon­don.

Late 2017 and 2018 had some ex­treme weather and I’ve rid­den to work in rain that would shame Ni­a­gara Falls, had slow wob­bles home in the snow, and through winds that saw me hang­ing on for dear life like Rol­lie Free on his Vin­cent at Bon­neville… but while go­ing over the Bow fly­over. The Bros han­dled im­pec­ca­bly, get­ting me to and from work eas­ily. Even when I was suf­fer­ing with the dreaded man flu, the bike was so light and easy to ride I’ve man­aged to com­mute on it all year round.

The pre­vi­ous owner fit­ted a new rear shock and pro­gres­sive fork springs, so this may have helped the ride. The rid­ing po­si­tion is quite neu­tral: think home-mar­ket Brit bike rather than any kind of su­per-sport­ster. Prob­lems? It’s not a tourer, as men­tioned the fuel tank has a very lim­ited range and the pil­lion seat and pegs don’t look comfy. There’s not much room un­der the seat, enough for a bungee and a spare clutch cable. Ap­par­ently, the gear­boxes can be clunky. I can’t say I’ve no­ticed any prob­lems at all but I am used to rid­ing older bikes. There’s also hor­ror sto­ries on­line con­nected to welded-on front sprock­ets, so that’s worth ask­ing or check­ing on a po­ten­tial bike.

That clever de­sign isn’t al­ways in­tu­itive and means that I’d have never got the seat or tank off with­out the man­ual, but now I know how it works it’s a dod­dle. A kick­start would be good in a belt and braces kind of way, but it’s not been an is­sue. The ex­haust pipe on the right side of the bike can heat your leg up, so even on the hottest days I wear overtrousers.

Gen­eral main­te­nance looks straight­for­ward. I’ve not done much ex­cept change the plugs, brake pads, oil and coolant. Hav­ing a one-sided swing­ing arm, rear wheel bear­ings can ap­par­ently be an is­sue and ex­pen­sive to re­place, so are worth check­ing. I was ini­tially put off by the hi-tech na­ture of a 30 year-old bike but any components that could go wrong seem to be avail­able – but they might be ex­pen­sive. We­moto and David Sil­ver have both been very good for new spares. Shop around as the prices seem to vary quite dras­ti­cally.

If con­sid­er­ing an old bike like this for Lon­don com­mut­ing, remember that as of April 2019 Lon­don is in­tro­duc­ing an Ul­tra Low Emis­sions Zone. Mo­tor­cy­cles must be Euro 3 com­pli­ant or pay a steep daily rate (usu­ally reg­is­tered af­ter 1st July 2007), although His­toric class ve­hi­cles like my Tri­umphs are ex­empt from the £12.50 a day charge.

Would I rec­om­mend a Bros? If you’re af­ter a use­able Ja­panese bike from the 1980s

that’s ap­proach­ing clas­sic sta­tus, then yes. But mainly I’d say get one be­cause with the com­bi­na­tion of its light­weight rac­ing de­sign and softly tuned en­gine it’s a bike that’s a joy to ride. It’s a much bet­ter retro bike than the Hinck­ley Bon­nie or Kawak­saki ZRX1100 I’ve owned, espe­cially around town. It also has that un­known qual­ity, ‘soul’ or ‘char­ac­ter’. The seller de­scribed the bike to me as be­ing more than a col­lec­tion of parts and I think that’s a good de­scrip­tion.

A ride­able Bros can be picked up be­tween £500 and £1500, with the 650s be­ing more de­sir­able and get­ting a higher price. Some op­ti­mistic deal­ers are try­ing to sell the 650s closer to the £3000 mark. These en­gines can do very high mileages so don’t let that put you off. There’s a great friendly on­line com­mu­nity of own­ers. It’s prompted con­ver­sa­tions at the lights or when park­ing up. I can’t see me sell­ing this bike in a hurry, which must be a rec­om­men­da­tion. The styling has re­ally grown on me and I’ve got to ad­mit that I love my lit­tle Bros. There’s of­ten dis­cus­sion in these pages about light­weight bikes for older rid­ers and I think a Bros could fit the bill. Tempted? Buy one now be­fore more rid­ers re­alise how great they are.

This may not be the orig­i­nal si­lencer. It may also be fairly vo­cal

Every ma­chine rid­den in a city de­serves two au­di­ble means of ap­proach…

Rad­i­cal at the time, less so to­day, the sin­gle-sided swing­ing arm makes wheel re­moval sim­ple. The brake disc lives in­board of the sprocket, so it pays to aim care­fully when ap­ply­ing chain lube

Brak­ing is pre­dictably good, with this large sin­gle float­ing disc be­ing well up to the twin’s per­for­mance

Above and below: Switchgear is clear, easy to op­er­ate as well as weath­er­proof and ro­bust

Noth­ing com­pli­cated here. Mis­matched mir­rors may be a style state­ment…

An ad­van­tage of the V-twin lay­out is the slim­ness of the en­gine, tucked neatly here in­side a fine al­loy beam frame

Easy ac­cess to the bat­tery and rear brake reser­voir

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