Sunday, October 14, 2012

Charlie's Place - where old Hondas go to LIVE!

A line-up of old bikes, a bit of signage - it can only be a classic bike specialist
The classic bike world is full of specialists - it's just that sometimes it's hard to find one in your backyard. Read the British classic bike magazines and weep at the range of specialists that any old bike enthusiast has to choose from. But buyer demand is creating new businesses here in Australia and in major markets like the USA. In the States, the supply of classic British and Japanese bikes seems never-ending (although the day must come when the container-loads of old bikes shipped to Australia, the UK and even back to Japan must slow to a trickle). We've blogged before about the classic, custom and cafe racer bike scene in the US - it's big enough to encourage Aussie-founded Deus ex Machina to set up in Los Angeles and to spawn new stores such as Iron & Resin (see previous blog).
There are also US-based specialist shops that are ahead of the curve, with an established reputation that pre-dates the swing away from mega-buck custom showbikes to budget builds and beautifully-engineered cafe racers. These shops use classic Brit and Japanese bikes as the basis for some great builds. Some of them have built a reputation for restoring classic bikes and reproducing parts - or supplying new parts that bring modern standards of performance and reliability to older bikes.
There's no lettered sign outside - but Charlie's Place is unmistakeable.
One such specialist is Charlie's Place, a focused repair, restoration and build shop in San Francisco's colorful Mission district. Established by Charlie O'Hanlon in 1993, Charlie's Place is unapologetic in its specialisation. The signs outside say it all:
We do not sell motorcycles - Service, Repair and Part Sales Only
We repair old Honda motorcycles only! We do not fix mopeds, bikes or scooters
And a favorite for any workshop:
We do not lend tools!
On a recent visit, Charlie was good enough to spend a few minutes talking about the shop, customers, and some of the special parts the team has developed. (And don't under-estimate how valuable that bit of time is to Charlie and guys like him - they're there to work. Talk with genuine customers is part of the job. Social chit-chat with casual visitors and tyre-kickers doesn't get the job done or the bills paid.)
Read the signs...

As the sign says, Charlie's Place specialises in the repair and restoration of older-model Honda motorcycles. That's it - no YamaKawaZukis. No Beezas, no Trumpies, no Dukes, no Guzzis, no Hardly Ablesons (a blessed relief...). Lined up outside on busy 17th Street there are Hondas from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and even the Nineties. There are neat, original CB160s, CB400F Super Sports, the occasional cruiser-style aberration from the Eighties... Inside the workshop it's more of the same - classic Hondas in every state of repair, restoration or servicing. And hanging from every available space are complete bikes and a range of tanks and other parts that would be the envy of any Honda restorer-builder-collector.
Charlie has developed a range of specialist parts in addition to the usual bits that need replacing in any rebuild or restoration. One of his newest items is a range of electronic ignition systems for most 12-volt Honda street bikes. Apparently this system is magic on early 450 twins, but there's a model that's equally effective for Honda's other early twin-cylinder bikes and on the SOHC fours.
Charlie's Place built this neat CB350
for local bike journo Gabe Ets-Hokin

We heard about Charlie's Place on a previous visit to San Francisco when we ran into motorcycling journo Gabe Ets-Hokin. Charlie built up a neat Honda CB350 cafe racer that Gabe rides at every opportunity, and it seemed everyone in the San Francisco Bay area whom we talked to about early Hondas had either been to, or was about to take their bike to Charlie's Place.
So if you own a classic Honda and you're in San Francisco, you're in luck. Charlie's Place will fix it, fettle it, or turn it into a stylish street custom.
If you're like the rest of us, and a long way from the mean streets of the Mission district, check out Charlie's online store - we certainly will.

When he has time away from fixing classic Hondas and building custom bikes, Charlie likes to create unique mechanical sculptures
such as this custom sign, Charlie's Winged Dream. Check out Motozilla on his website!
A workshop exclusively for old Hondas

Classic Honda CB160 awaits Charlie's attention

Monday, September 17, 2012

This Ventura highway leads to Iron & Resin

Iron & Resin is the new USA cool
Iron & Resin in Main Street, Ventura, California is a cool place. Opened on July 4th (American Independence Day) this year, the store facade is similar to Mid Life Cycles – a big door opening from the street into the showroom. Except here the bikes are fewer in number and there to draw attention to the merchandise – T-shirts, jackets, retro-style Bell open face helmets, books, posters, badges and much more, including surf gear. Three bikes including the owner’s recently-restored 1950s Triumph twin and an early Honda Dream 305 are just enough to attract the “right” crowd, those who appreciate classic style.
I&R co-founder Thom Hill is equally able to chat with the old codgers who remember his Triumph when it was showroom-fresh while also talking to the visitors who are new to classic bikes. Thom says he "knows the Deus guys" who’ve also recently opened a store in Los Angeles, an hour or so south of Ventura. I&R's staff are friendly and helpful and obviously enjoy the place's funky mechanical style. For more:
Been there, got the T-shirt(s)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ace 125s and Silver Shogun on the road

Anthony and Ace 125 ready to raid and pillage along the promenade
A busy weekend saw two Ace 125s and our Honda CB125 Silver Shogun cafe racer all take to the roads around Mid Life Cycles. First we had Anthony call in for a few minor adjustments to his Ace 125 before he took it for a run down the Bayside promenade. A short session on the bench with Dr Roger had it idling properly and revving-out as it should. Anthony has plans for his Ace and we'll try out a few mods on ours as well and report back on what works best. In fact, a set of Pirelli tyres plus after-market shocks and a few adjustments to the front forks seem to be a good start. Next up might be some adjustments to the stock carburettor or maybe a replacement carby along with a pod filter and related changes to help get the fuel-air mixture in and the exhaust gases out.

We also had new Silver Shogun owner Romi in to discuss the possibility of getting a bike for his brother-in-law-to-be, Rega. As Romi seems to be permanently attached to his CB125 cafe racer, it didn't take much to get Rega out for a ride on our Ace CR125.
Romi (left) and Rega are rapt in their new rides

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ducati 450 Single joins 900SS Bevel and Mule XS650 Street-tracker

The Mid Life Cycles workshop has been busy again with some interesting and diverse bikes, from classic Ducati Single to a Yamaha XS650-based street-tracker.
Nick's Ducati 450 Mark 3 heads a Latin line-up

First on the list for Sam Speer's expert attention was a very neat Ducati 450 Mark 3 that's been sitting idle for a while now. Some concentrated work on carb and electrics got this bevel-engined beauty up and running. Sam says it rides as well as it looks - for a short distance. Now we need to source a new alternator to keep the good spark going and a replacement for the tired Dellorto carby so it doesn't fuel up the plug after a short run. The Dellorto is a work of art - and this one will make a good shelf ornament. Call it another sacrifice to the Gods of Speed or other Ducati Deities. But it looks great alongside our almost-completed bevel-engined Ducati 900SS replica.
Yes, they do look good together...

Sandy finally gets to ride his Mule XS650 Tracker
Next up was Sandy's Mule XS650 Street Tracker. This one would have tested the patience of a weaker man, but Sandy's been waiting a while - first for the bike to be built in the States and delivered, and then for us to get it somewhere near road-legal and to sort out some teething troubles. Dr Roger fabricated front guard and chain guard, fitted a mirror, got the speedo working and wired the lights to... light; Sam stepped in to make sure the fuel flowed and the CDI unit fired that big grunty twin... There was a bit to do. But it now starts and rumbles like the big-engined XS that it is and Sandy is looking forward to riding Melbourne's streets and doing a few selected shows.

It's a handsome beast... 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Simon and his Norton 750 Commando

We get some enthusiastic visitors at Mid Life Cycles - and one of the more interesting recently was Simon, who rode out of his personal Tardis to bring us a touch of the Seventies.
Simon and his well-used Norton Commando

Simon has owned his Norton 750 Commando "for years" and he's modified it along the way to make it more rideable, if not more reliable. The early Honda CB750 front forks and disc brake conversion make for an interesting cross-pollination between the bike that changed motorcycling and one of the last (and best) of traditional British motorcycles. The fairing looks like it's been there since the Seventies and the overall bike looks well thought-through, and well-used.
And Simon? It would be unfair to say he looks well-used, in fact he's in fine fettle, but with open-face helmet and wrap-around shades and those fantastic period leathers, Simon is definitely Living the Dream...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kawasaki's retro Classic ZR750

1998 Kawasaki ZR750 Classic

Not quite a cafe racer - but a handsome retro-classic.

Kawasaki built a limited run of its ZR750 Classic for model years 1996 and 1998. The Classic is based on the long-running Zephyr series, with added features such as wire-spoked wheels, four-into-two exhaust and paint schemes that paid tribute to the iconic Kawasaki Z1. We've developed a real liking for these very rideable retro-bikes.
Check it out at:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Honda's CB Singles make great cafe racers

Sammy the CB100 Cafe Racer
And here he is – Sammy the CB100 cafe racer. Every visitor to Mid Life Cycles is blown away by what ace builder Darren Brown has created here – a bike that’s more mascot than motorcycle, more art than machine, more Honda CR than CB… and it runs as well as it looks. We are building more of these, so Sammy is currently our Showpiece. Please inquire about your cafe racer build on any of Honda's classic CB series.
M: 0408 129 169

Honda CB125 Silver Shogun cafe racer

Meet “Silver Shogun”, a Honda CB125-based cafe racer that makes short work of the local urban circuit. Bike-builder Luke Ward used a Prixhistoric Fibreglass Ducati Silver Shotgun tank and a neat seat unit to top-off this great example of a custom build.