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…
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