The little blue bike that could

While visiting my folks in Kirkwood, Missouri one weekend in late Fall of 1979, I impulsively bought myself a slightly used candy blue Honda CB550-4 for about $575. The thing was bone stock and absolutely mint, other than it had some bad aftermarket accessories bolted onto it—including crash bars with highway pegs (never liked either of ‘em on my bikes), an enormous plexiglass windshield (never cared much for those either), higher handlebars, and a high sissy bar with back pad.

The bike had about 4000 miles on it and had never been dropped. Its beautiful chrome factory four-into-one exhaust gleamed and it ran beautifully. These little Honda fours were fantastic bikes back in the day, and this one was no exception. It had a perfectly smooth power band, that light Honda clutch and precise gearbox, and it never failed to start and run properly no matter how cold it was outside. Being as it was my first four-cylinder four stroke powered motorcycle, I often imagined I was riding a small automobile engine on two wheels when I rode it.

Of course, the first thing I did as soon as I got it home to Carbondale, Illinois where I was pursuing my MBA degree at the time, was remove the crash bars and windshield (though in retrospect I should have kept it for winter riding!). I did leave the sissy bar on it, however, as I liked to take one of my female MBA classmates, Elly Tubbs, out for rides on the beautiful two lane roads all around us, as she seemed to feel safer not being able to slide off the back of the seat!

Sorry for the grainy photos- I rode it more than photographed it!

Of course being the late-blooming juvenile delinquent I was at the time (I was only 21 after all!), I liked to do burnouts with it. One time, not long after I got it, I pulled out onto Rural Route 3, also known as “Giant City Blacktop”, from Wildwood Mobile Home Park where I lived, and stopped in the middle of the road so I could see how the bike did burnouts (I was doing a lot of drag racing at that time on my Kawasaki 500 triple). Leaning forward with a quick rev of the motor and dumping of the clutch, all while holding the front disc brake (of course), it lit up the back tire. When I let off the brake the bike began accelerating through first gear and well into second when the back wheel started to come alongside of me!  What the heck was happening?  I backed off the throttle and the rear end was scary loose but the bike straightened up quickly and began to slow down when I quickly came to the realization that I had a completely flat back tire. Luckily, I kept it under control and the tire didn’t try to come off the rim before I got the bike stopped. When I got off to look and see what happened to my back tire, I found I had spun the tube and ripped off the valve stem. I must admit that I was kind of surprised that little Honda had enough horsepower to do that—but it did!  And fortunately I was only a short bit down the road from my trailer park, so I limped the bike home at walking speed.

Giant City Blacktop was an awesome two-lane road with a 55 mph speed limit on it (that was as high as they went back then, folks!). Our athletic director at Southern Illinois University at that time was none other than Gayle Sayers, and he lived out Giant City past the Wildwood Mobile Home Park. I would regularly run into him on the road either heading into town and campus or coming back home. And I made it a point to blow past him every time I found myself behind him driving his light blue late model Olds 98 Regency down that road—which was often.  On pretty days, he would be putting along at 55 with his window down and give me a small wave as I shot by on a downhill straightaway!

A grainy old Polaroid of the instrument cluster. Who else remembers these?

One of the best aspects of riding that bike year-round was the sympathy I got from my female MBA classmates in the winter. On particularly cold days, a couple of the girls would come all the way out to my trailer to get me and take me to campus, and then take me home at the end of the day. One of them even did that and then went to her house in the next town over, made dinner for us, and came back to get me to take me to her house and then back again—all in the same day!

When I finished my MBA in August of 1980, I packed up everything I owned, including that CB550, into my Crayola blue ‘72 Chevy van with a bed in the back, and went back home to Kirkwood. I didn’t have a job, although I got one within a week or so of graduating. I don’t remember how I got rid of that Honda, but a couple years later, when my then girlfriend (and future wife) finished up with her third degree at SIU, I traded that mobile home to my buddy for a nearly new Honda CBX and $1000, and that became my ride. Because I was living in an apartment at that time, I kept that one in the basement of my friend John Worrell’s house. He was a diehard Harley guy—always had Sportsters—but he did like riding my CBX every chance he had. But that’s a story for another day!



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