Sumo is an English bloke with a serious motorcycle problem. He hasn't owned a car in years (except the 80 year old one he recently bought and promptly blew up). In a country with only sporadic sunshine, one has to be a hardy fellow to commute an hour each way on a motorcycle every day for years on end. To get some sunshine, Sumo flies over to the US nearly every year for some grass roots bike event. He's done three EDR's and three Gypsy Runs, plus the Biltwell Bash and a low key Baja trip. He's shooting about 50/50 when it comes reliable bikes for these rides. So far he's commissioned friends to help him string together an old 2-stroke Suzuki T500, a cone shovel, a BSA chopper and now, this fine example of a Honda CB750 Chopper that I named the Praying Mantis.
When Sumo asked me some months ago if I'd help him get a bike together for the 2011 EDR, his parameters were simple; nothing stock or cafe, it had to be chopperish or cool in some way and it had to be cheap. Of course I agreed, and suggested that we search for a venerable old SOHC 750 for budget and reliability reasons. I asked Duane Ballard if he knew of any Hondas out there since that's his bag. Sure enough, a bunch of texting friends and friends of friends and I had the lead over in Orange County. A day later the Mantis was in the back of the truck and headed home. Sumo dug the pics of it and approved the purchase. Chopperish has been accomplished, oh my. I parked the bike and promptly went back to business as usual and procrastinated the winter months away. As the EDR got closer, I'd do an hour's work here, fifteen minutes there, and hadn't really accomplished much. Luckily for me our friend Shawn was hiding from the Canadian cold by hanging out in So Cal, and he offered to lend a hand. A solid day's work from Shawn and a little help from me and we had a new tires front and rear, wheel bearings, and oil changed. A week or so later I dropped the bike off at a local retired Honda mechanic who loves stock CB's but gets really nervous about choppers or custom work. He went through the carbs completely, adjusted timing chain, valves and added new points. When putting the carbs back on he discovered that the stock linkage hit the backbone, a lot. He was sure I should cut the tank off and make a new backbone and all kinds of craziness but I just cut down the stock linkage cam and return spring and made the whole assembly way smaller. Now, the bike had been this way a long time. Had it ever really been run? I guess it could have had dual carbs at one time that would have fit, but things like lack of a frame VIN or fork stops leads me to believe it was someone's broken dream and never really hit the road. With the linkage dialed and throttle working it was back out to Dennis' place for final carb tweaks, then back to the shop where we chased down a pesky oil leak and buttoned up a few more loose ends.
Luckily Sumo flew in a few days early and got to work on his own machine. After a day or so the beast had lights, a front brake, and some sick gold chain fork stops. Shawn again kicked ass at wiring and period correct jokes. Duane even drove over with the proper o-ring to replace the leaky one behind the points. I got the license plate just in time and Sumo started banging out some shakedown miles.
By the time the pack left Denny's in Temecula, Sumo and some friends were already 100 miles ahead. They were smart and took off early just in case they ran into trouble along the way and he wanted to take it easy on the Mantis, at least at first. I had ridden the bike and had confidence in it, but was still pleasantly surprised to pull up in San Felipe and find it and owner already relaxed under a palapa enjoying the warm breezes from the Sea of Cortez. Now, choppers are supposed to be for freaking out the squares but I think this one even freaks out chopper dudes. The Ness Hard Head weld-on front frame section looks so weird, but the trail is correct and the riding position very close to stock. Other riders either loved it or hated it, not a lot of in-between opinions. When Sumo's flying down the road on it with his giant red beard and shit-eating grin, it was impossible not to smile back. Local onlookers were not shy about gawking.
The next leg of the EDR is a rough stretch of pocked pavement and lots of elevation gain and twisty roads. Sumo showed his skills as a rider of old machines and neither flogged it to death trying to keep up with faster bikes, nor did he overcook into corners or otherwise beat it up. He rolled successfully into Ensenada and two days later into Temecula and all the Praying Mantis had asked for along the way was a few gallons of gas and one quart of oil.
In the end, a happy Brit road a Japanese bike to Mexico after it was worked on by a Canadian and a couple Yanks. Maybe we can achieve world peace after all...
You can read Sumo's blog here.