This was my first big Japanese bike. I had traded in my little Honda - a CB175 - when I had called into Bill Head's in Preston after my abortive attempt to buy a Vincent from Whittakers in Blackpool. Instead, I was now the proud owner of a nearly new CB500 four. It was one of the fleet of marshal's bikes for the 1972 Milk Race so it had been painted white.
Having a reliable, nearly new bike gave me the opportunity to go to some of the more distant rallies that I had only heard tales about. At this time I was a member of the dreaded red horde of the Denholme & District MCC which was a very large club whose members tended to swamp the relatively small rallies in those days. This was before pre-booking was common. When this came out I joined the Dean Valley MCC to avoid being black listed as undesirable!
Barry Clark's CB750, my CB500, Ian Steele's MZ
The Denholme club had an award for the most rallies done in the year, so now all I had to do was earn enough money for the petrol, tyres, chains, oil filters and brake pads that 30,000 miles a year required! Not forgetting the booking in fees and the alcohol consumed doing a rally or two each weekend. I only managed to win this once, in 1975. The following year I lost out at the second rally of the year as my friend and rival Barry Clark did the White Cliffs rally in Dover when I had to help out running the Rallymans rally for the Dean Valley MCC while he managed to go to both that weekend. Normally we rode together so I was unable to make up the extra rally needed despite lots of sneaky attempts to get another one in somewhere.
My 500 four was not trouble free, in common with all early Japanese disc braked bikes it did not stop in the wet. This peculiarity enabled me to learn how to straighten fork stanchions using the fly press at work! Another fault was the metal plug caps. They were fine for a year or so but the second winter the salt water shorted them out. You quite often had a 375cc triple or a 250cc twin instead of a 500cc four when it rained. This was cured when at first Champion then NGK brought out waterproof plug caps.
The most expensive built-in fault though was the rapid rot exhaust system, despite being used mainly for long distances and being ridden to work most days, the silencers managed to rot away after a couple of years. I fitted a Dunstall system, which sounded sporty but actually spoilt the low down and mid range power. Looking back it seems hard to believe that seven or eight K life for a chain was considered good then. If you didn't take care of it in winter 2k was possible - don't ask me how I know! Modern o-ring chains are so much better.
I kept my white 500 four until August 1975, when it had done about 60,000 miles. I traded it in for a new CB500T twin. This turned out to be not the best deal I have ever done but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
- Ted Trett