As a “Baby Boomer” who has a lot of musical memories of the 1960s and 1970s, the other title for this story which came to mind was the title of the Steely Dan album, “Countdown to Ecstasy.” At the moment, I am shooting for a less than 30 days from delivery to test drive on the CB77 preservation project. Completion on time, prior to my knee surgery date (Dec.1) will be an ecstatic moment, indeed. The reference to “Beat the Clock” goes back into TV’s earliest days of game shows (1950-61) for those of you who remember it or are just curious about origins of the title. There were some later versions in the 1970s-80s, too.
With arrival of the STD piston, the reassembly of the engine could proceed. The cylinder head had already been prepped for the install, so once the pistons were hooked up and cylinder dropped down, the rest went together fairly quickly. I somehow misplaced the starter clutch chain and after a fruitless search just cut down a good used camchain and hooked it all together again. The starter motor was de-rusted and freshened up before bolting it to the front of the engine cases. Last step was to install the oil pump and screen, add 1.5qts of Honda oil and get it ready to install into the chassis.
With an early morning call from RW Little, our local powdercoating emporium, to say that my parts were ready for pickup, I steamed down there immediately to pick up the frame, tank, centerstand and seat pan so the assembly process could begin in earnest. The frame and tank were sandblasted and epoxy primered, so some color was the first item on the agenda. I wasn’t sure if the two 12oz cans of custom matched spray paint would be sufficient, but it was going to have to do if at all possible. The steering head bearing recesses were already taped off from the sandblast and primer coating, so the frame just got a quick dust off and I attacked it with my Royal Blue spray cans. There are SO MANY nooks and crannies in the CB77 frame to find and cover that it burned through most of the first can on the frame alone. The paint dried quickly, so I started easing the steering head bearing races back into the steering head and got busy greasing up all the little 37 ball bearings for the stem installation. Getting that task completed, along with the installation of the centerstand and spring mark a big turning point for me, for some reason. The swing arm and footplates all go on as a big section, then the shocks can be hooked up and it begins to look a little more motorcycle-like, even without the engine.
Putting the rest of the front end together is a bit of a balancing act, with the bottom fork covers going over the bottom stem and the fork tubes started up inside the stem bores. The upper fork covers with the chromed trim rings and the rubber cushions all tend to wobble one way or the other, while the top fork bridge is swung into place and lowered down on top of the stack of covers. The early forks are 38mm at the stem and the taper tends to get the fork tubes crooked as they are fed up inside the covers. I had to wedge a big flat screwdriver into the expansion slot of the stem legs to spread the holes open just a bit, which allowed the tubes to get centered and moved upwards. Finally, everything drops into place and the big 1 3/8” stem nut can be secured down in place.
Only one fork required changing out the chrome fork seal holder, due to peeling chrome. A set of almost decent used ones was picked up from an eBay auction, but both had some light pipe-wrench looking marks just above the actual removal hole sets. Unfortunately, the forks are identical to the 1961 versions which used rivets to secure the lower fork bushings to the fork tubes. The rivets are countersunk into holes then staked over, making removal very difficult without damaging something. I eventually just drilled the heads off the rivets to get the bushing off the end of the tube. This the only way to get the fork seal holder off the fork assembly, so a lot of patience and a little luck is required to complete fork seal/holder replacement successfully.
Happily the fender mounting bolts were still the correct originals and hadn’t dented the fork slider tubing. The fender was removed when the wheels were taken off for rebuilding and that was the first time they were disturbed since the bike was built 52 years ago. It is critical not to use a replacement bolt of a longer length as the tubing will be deformed when the bolt bottoms out in the threaded hole.
With a rapidly deflating budget, I continued to order more parts and supplies, including a couple of cans of Honda’s Cloud Silver paint, which was used on the fenders to cover up the rusty bits and faded paint. The fenders were placed into a big plastic trough used to mix cement in years past and then drizzled with phosphoric acid/etching solution to neutralize the rust buildup on the steel surfaces. The front fender was aluminum, but the stays are steel and had rust build-up in the little crevices. The combination of chemical etching, some scrubbing with brushes and scrub pads made the fenders suitable for prime paint and then some final Cloud Silver overcoat.
The unique, early 1961-series tail light was mounted on the bracket and then onto the rear fender with wiring fed up through the side passageway. The 1961 machine I previously owned had a tunnel underneath the fender which guided the wires straight up the center of the fender, so this was a departure from that early design. Care was taken to grind off a little paint in a few places to ensure a good ground for the tail light assembly.
It took over an hour to remount the original OEM tires back onto the re-spoked wheels, as the OHTSU tires were pretty hardened over the past half-century. I managed not to pinch the tubes despite all the struggle of getting the wheels assembled safely. The front brake cams were gummy and sticking, so some disassembly and cleaning was in order. Some new Ohio Cycle brake rods were installed in the cleaned up, but not rechromed, brake arm links. I scored three front brake stays, brand new for $12 on eBay, so gladly put one on the front brake panel as they always suffer rust damage. With brakes sorted out, the wheels were installed on both ends. The missing 1961 speedometer drive unit was overcome by using a later bearing retainer plate, which has the drive collar attached and a spare NOS reverse-needle speedometer drive I happened to have in stock. Despite the big difference in the designs of the two speedo drive systems, the adaptation appears to be successful in fit and function.
The bike really is a mix of mostly old, rusty bits that were cleaned off and reinstalled, plus whatever new items at hand or easily ordered, giving new meaning to “barn find” (or ocean find in this case). The bike had such low miles on it (2300) that there was little wear on the parts, just a lot of rust and corrosion. Virtually, every nut, bolt and part was handled, cleaned in some fashion, and set aside for reinstallation. With a time crunch and financial limitations in place, sending all the bright work out for several weeks and many hundreds of dollars was not in the equation for this machine. Apart from the original tires, the bike should be a reliable and fun rider bike, which happens to be an interesting transition piece of history. With a fully-rebuilt engine, any future owners can just pull off a few bits, every so often, and send them out for refinishing to brighten up the bike more towards original condition.
Several days were spent in reworking the original wiring harness and electrical connectors, assembling the new handlebars with refurbished switches and cleaning up the old lever brackets. It is amazing at how long it takes to wrangle these bike parts into a single, operating machine, once again. Carburetors were cleaned and reassembled with new gaskets and o-rings. Care was taken to clean the paint off of some critical areas so that electrical ground paths were reestablished, ensuring full electrical functions for lights and the other controls. It is easy to isolate the tail light, headlight and switch functions after a chassis has been repainted or powdercoated and then wind up chasing electrical gremlins because of discontinuity of the electrical circuits.
After cleaning, the three original black cables (speedo, tach and rear brake) are being reinstalled on the bike to keep originality as much as possible. Aftermarket cables have been problematical on CB77s with flat bars. The KSI clutch cables were patterned after the -810 versions for clip-on bars, so are barely able to reach the lever brackets when the kickstarter cover with forward cable placement is used. Now, the throttle cables I see on the market are about 5 inches too long for flat bar installations. I dug out a used throttle cable from a box of gray cables I have been hauling around for many years. It was the perfect length and has the same patina as the rest of the bike, so it is probably the best choice for now.
All the parts and services have fallen into place just like Soichiro’s “just in time” assembly line concept. With only days left to wrap up the project, my blue seat cover arrived quickly from Canada and the local upholstery shop said they could have the seat done up by Wednesday, which should be the day I am able to crank up the bike for the first time in at least 20 years.
Final report coming up soon!