The story of my 1980 Honda CB900 Custom

Here’s the story of how I came to purchase a 900cc bike, on an island where the legal limit for motorcycle engines is only 150cc.

I have been riding motorcycles since I was 16 years old, starting with a couple of mopeds and progressing to a 1975 Suzuki GT250 when I was 18 years old. Those bikes were my year-round transportation – even through the cold and snowy winters of England. As much as I loved that Suzuki, I sold it to buy my first car, once I had passed my driving test. I was then a non-biker for a few years, as I made my way through several cars: a Morris Minor, Ford Escort, Austin Allegro and a Ford Cortina. But, in 1984, I moved to Bermuda where bikes once again became my year-round transportation, starting with a Honda C90 Cub.

My love of motorcycles was rekindled, but the experience was limited due to Bermuda’s restrictive vehicle laws (maximum engine size of 150cc for motorcycles) and the size of the island (22 square miles). I yearned for a bigger bike but it seemed impossible to achieve in Bermuda.

I was able to scratch the itch occasionally by renting large motorcycles whilst on trips to the USA, but that wasn’t enough. But I did enjoy riding a Harley Davidson Road King, HD Electra Glide, HD Heritage Softail Classic, a Triumph Bonneville and a Honda ST1300 on such trips.

I got to thinking. Whilst I couldn’t legally register a large displacement motorcycle for use on Bermuda’s roads, I might be able to import a large classic motorcycle as a collector’s item. And there might be the odd occasion when I could get permission to ride the bike. I made some enquiries and received confirmation that I could, indeed, import such a bike if it was a collectible classic bike.

Having decided that I was going to purchase a classic bike, I set about seeing what was available.  I initially looked at the Honda CB750 from the 1970’s – a bike that I always admired as a youngster.  The CB750’s have been very collectible for several years and command higher prices than other bikes from that era. Honda CB900 Customs seemed to be selling for almost half the price of CB750s in similar condition. Online research suggested that the CB900C would be a nice bike to own, so I began looking at available bikes.

After a while, I came across this 1980 Honda CB900 Custom being sold on e-bay. I contacted the seller, located in Belfast, Maine, for further details and, on 10th June 2005, I purchased the bike.

Having purchased the bike, I now had to decide how I was going to get it back to Bermuda. I considered having it shipped from Maine, but finally decided to seize the opportunity to ride the bike on the open road before it reached the small island of Bermuda. I travelled to the USA to collect the bike personally.

On Saturday 30th July, 2005, I arrived in Belfast, Maine, where I met the seller, Steve Clarke.  Steve owned his own polishing and chroming facility, called English Custom Polishing, and had his own line of metal polishes. He had already used some of his skills to polish the bike. Steve introduced me to my new bike, we went for a short ride and we shared a few drinks. He kindly allowed me to stay overnight at his home and the following day I set off on the ride to Newark, New Jersey. I’m sorry to say that Steve passed away a year or so later, following a battle with cancer.

The ride on 31st July allowed me to put in some mileage on the bike.  The route took me through several states (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey) and clocked up 465 miles along the way. The following day, I delivered the bike to a shipping company in Newark for crating and shipment to Bermuda.

On Tuesday 23rd August, 2005, I was finally able to collect the bike from the docks in Bermuda and take it home.

A few days after the bike arrived, I was able to begin work on cleaning up the bike. I removed the touring rack and gave the bike a thorough clean, polish and wax.

 

Whilst the bike was in pretty good shape when it arrived, classic bikes always need a few touches along the way.

 In April 2006, I performed some touch-up work on the exhaust system, rear light unit and centre stand. During this process, I found Rusteco rust remover to be a very useful product.

 

By September 2006, the bike had been in Bermuda for over a year. In that time, it had a replacement seat, a grab bar was added, exhaust refurbished, replacement rear light unit, full service and lubrication and plenty of cleaning and polishing.

One of the downsides of having a classic CB900 that sits around for long periods between rides is a tendency for the brake calipers to bind. This is a common problem faced by CB900 owners. It prompted me to rebuild the brakes. And whilst I was at it, I fitted Galfer stainless steel brake lines to replace the stock rubber lines.

Due to the scarcity of mechanics with experience working on such bikes in Bermuda, I took on some of these tasks myself. I’m not a mechanic but, for simple tasks, I can follow directions in the factory service manual.

 

These photos were taken in Bermuda’s Botanical Gardens in September 2006, one week after Hurricane Florence blew a lot of leaves from the trees.

 

The bike was looking gorgeous by 2007. It’s hard to tell that she was already 27 years old by then. Here is a selection of photos from that year.

 

By March 2008, I had encountered an issue when riding the bike in rainy weather. Rainwater was causing the bike to run erratically, which I suspected was caused by a crack in either the coils or the plug leads, that resulted in a short when wet. To fix the problem, I installed Dyna ignition coils and Dyna plug wires. I also checked the valve clearances and changed valve shims, as needed. With the valve cover already off to check the valve clearances, I took the opportunity to swap it out with a highly polished cover that I had on hand.

 

In April 2008, I decided to tackle the front forks, which were leaking some fluid from the fork seals. As I would be removing the forks, I decided to take the opportunity to upgrade the front suspension, by installing a set of Progressive fork springs. And, for good measure, I also did some rust removal on the underside of the front mudguard and then painted it.

 

By 2008, groups of overseas motorcyclists were visiting Bermuda on cruise ships as part of organized tours. These visits included police-escorted rides around the island on their large-displacement bikes. These ETA Cruise visits provided 2-3 more opportunities per year to get the CB900 out on the roads, with one-day permits being granted by the authorities. Added to the annual Bermuda Day Parade and other charity bike rides, there was the potential to ride the bike on the road 5-6 times per year. Not a lot, but better than none.

 

My friend Howard followed my lead that year and imported a 1982 Honda CB1000 Custom. Now there were two big Hondas on the scene.

 

The CB900 comes with a nice stock 4-into-4 exhaust system, but 28 years-old exhausts rot and degrade. Replacement standard systems are no longer available and old systems in good condition fetch high prices. When my exhaust system started showing signs of problems, I was able to buy one of the last available sets of Jardine 4-2 aftermarket exhaust systems. I fitted that system in December 2008. I would have preferred another 4-4 system, but I do like the interwoven, cross-over style of the headers on the Jardine system.

 

In 2009, the bike was displayed in front of Hamilton’s City Hall, along with other classic bikes, as part of the opening of a ‘motorcycles as art’ exhibition in the National Gallery.

 

I continued to enjoy the bike, on the occasions that I could get a permit to ride. But, by 2013, I was advertising the bike for sale, hoping to raise some funds for my Land Rover and my 2014 overland expedition. But finding a buyer for a bike that you can only ride 4-6 times per year isn’t easy.

By 2017, I was preparing to leave Bermuda to enjoy my retirement in Portugal. The CB900 had to go. Fortunately, I was able to agree a sale with my friends Gerry and Giovanni, who got a great deal and have given the old girl a loving home. She continues to make the occasional appearance on Bermuda’s roads and is still looking good as she approaches her 40th birthday.

Since moving to Portugal, I’ve already owned a BMW F800GS, A Honda CBF600 and my two current bikes – a Honda Goldwing GL1800 and a Honda XR400R. My motorcycling itch is most definitely getting scratched now, but I fondly remember the CB900 for holding me over for 12 years.

5 Comments

  1. Your 900 now has a adjustable backrest and is looking as good as it ever did. The new owner has kept up with it’s appearance and is as proud of it as you were my friend!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s