Thursday, March 30, 2023

What comes around, goes back around, sometimes... CB160 cafe'

Well, here we go again. Some people adopt stray dogs and cats, I adopt stray Honda motorcycles. And so it goes… In a local Craigslist posting, this “cafe” CB160 popped up with a price so low it could have been a scam, but the text was pretty clear that it was a project and no longer needed/wanted.

I responded quickly but didn’t hear back the next day. I imagined that the seller would have been flooded with responses, but after a few more days of seeing the post, I renewed my message to him. The reply was that “someone was coming for it this weekend, but if it didn’t sell, he would let me know” so I just let it go for the moment. After the weekend, the post was still up so I checked again and then the answer was that the buyer had flaked out. Would I be able to meet him on Thursday? Sure!

It was a rainy week, with a bit of drizzle on Thursday, but I loaded up the Tacoma with a ramp and tie-downs and a bit of money and headed over to the North Park area of San Diego to see it in person. The owner, Kevin, had a couple of Honda XL650s, with street rubber, mounted up and the little CB160 sleeping at the back of the garage. Kevin said that the “first buyer” had sent a deposit, but lived in Huntington Beach which is about 90 miles up the coast. When the weekend rolled around, the buyer couldn’t get a truck to come down and pick it up with, so the deposit was refunded and I got the call.

According to Kevin and the sparse paperwork supplied, the bike was built in Utah for the guy’s daughter, who promptly decided that she didn’t like it, so it was sold to a woman in Pacifica, CA (Northern Calif.). Kevin bought it from her in 2019, rode it once, tipped it over in the garage, and broke the connector for the master cylinder reservoir. So, that was the end of the CB160 adventure for him. Now, his wife just had a daughter, so he was cleaning house and preparing for fatherhood. We came to a mutual agreement on the price and I loaded it up in the Toyota and off I went.

The bike: the serial numbers for the frame and engine were pretty close, indicating that it was a factory-paired bike. Obviously, there was a great deal of work involved in powder-coating the chassis and wheel rims, plus the engine was all painted up. Hydraulic master cylinders operated the small slave cylinders that pull, rather than push when activated for the front brake linkage and the clutch lifter.

Peeking under the cafe racer seat pan, all the electrics were relocated to a flat plate that was welded to the back of the frame. A rather large AGM battery was mounted using parts of the original CB160 battery holder bracket. When checked, the battery was down to 3.4 volts, so that went onto the charger right away. The beautifully reworked fuel tank had been smoothed out and the tank badge recesses filled in. The stock CB160 petcock was removed and cleaned/rebuilt.

The carburetors were some Chinese copies of Honda ATV carburetors from the 1980s, having only 18mm slides. Because they were made for single-cylinder models, each had a separate plastic choke lever, on the left side. The carb flanges mounting holes had been enlarged in order to fit onto the stock 160 carb manifolds and the carb tops had shortened tubing connectors to allow the throttle cable to be attached. The carbs were full of slimy old fuel, so were disassembled and given a bath in the ultrasonic cleaner.

The AGM battery mounted in the tail section was dated 2018 and failed to take a full charge after 24 hours of cooking on the charger. The replacement cost $80 but was available at a local bike supply shop. With a fresh battery installed and rebuilt carbs, the remote fuel bottle was connected and then the left side carb started leaking from the drain port on the bottom of the bowl. I removed the bowl and cleaned the shutoff screw tip more thoroughly but it still dripped until I put the bowl in a vise and used my big screwdriver to tighten up the screw with a lot of force. That fixed the leak, so the bowl went back on.

The ignition timing was checked next. The spark advancer weight springs were a bit loose, so the advancer was removed, and cleaned, springs tightened up and point cam lube applied. The ignition timing was checked and adjusted, along with the camchain tension.

The electric starter was working now, but there were snapping sounds coming from the starter clutch which was slipping on the hub. So, the rotor was removed and loose pieces were retrieved from below the stator where they fell out. Fortunately, the starter clutch parts are all the same as the 250-305 items, so I was able to rebuild the starter clutch with spares.

With a good grip on the crankshaft, the engine spun over and started up to full roar. The carb cable for the left side wasn’t letting the slide come down all the way, but a bit of work got that squared away. Apart from a bit of valve clatter, the engine settled down and didn’t smoke while running for the few minutes of start-up after 4 years of sleeping.

I thought that the valve noise needed to be investigated, so I checked the clearances… The right side valves were at about .004-.005,” but when I went to the left side the clearances were about .125”! Looking at the height of the adjustment screw settings, it was apparent that the valves had been set on the wrong stroke. When they were adjusted back to the .002” specification, the motor quieted down markedly.

Having the original UT title in hand, because it had never been changed to a CA title, I contacted the original owner and builder to see if there was anything else he could tell me about the bike’s build. He was surprised, of course, to hear about the bike that he had built almost ten years ago. After sending him photos and details about what had been done to the bike recently, he asked if I was going to sell it. Having ridden it once around the block, it was so uncomfortable that I would never have kept it for myself. We struck a deal and when he’s able to fetch it from 475 miles away, it will be his once again.

Bill Silver

aka MrHonda


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