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With words by Marina and Kanishka
Purists will tell you that the world of classic bikes is place full of specialists. Pick your flavour of classic machine and suddenly you’ve got a global family of likeminded fellow motorbike guys and girls of all ages who share your passion for a certain type of old metal.
Soichiro Honda started it all
Soichiro Honda started Honda. He’s a national hero in Japan and because of him many adventures were had, freedoms were explored and people became fans from all over the world. His focus on perfection re-invented the motorcycle industry in North America and the world. It’s been 22 years since his death and Soichiro’s reasons for success are still argued in business schools today. Suffice to say, Honda continues to capture the essence of freedom.
The small displacement Honda motorcycle scene is alive and kicking in San Francisco. A new generation of riders are hooked on Mr. Honda’s form and function and why not?
Early Hondas, late 50’s and 60’s, were modeled after old East German bike manufacturer MZ Motorrad. In the 1960's MZ was at the forefront of engine development. You can check out a real classic MZ Motorcycle here.
Later on in the 60’s, likely drawing from inspiration from the MZ, Honda defined his own characteristic look with the Honda Dream. The bike became a near instant hit in North America and fans of these vintage machines love them even more today.
Charlie’s Place is a vintage Honda sanctuary. His customization and repair shop in San Francisco is a cornerstone of the city’s Honda scene. Charlie’s Place doesn’t sell new bikes or build neon clad, chrome encased trophies; no, the shop builds, services, repairs, and sells parts for vintage Honda motorcycles.
Shop owner and the namesake is Charlie O’Hanlon. His goal when he started the shop was to be a source for local retro Honda riders --San Fran’s got lots-- to have access to a competent reliable source where old Honda motorbikes can be made better than new again.
“Soichiro was ingenious in so many ways. He was a revolutionary person” says Charlie, who also adds that “Soichiro’s success was built upon many, many, many failures.” He also credits the early Hondas with being incredibly inspirational and creative from a mechanical viewpoint.
“Those 60’s and 70’s machines were so overbuilt, everything was thought about, worked out, and thought about again.”
Charlie got his start in the early 90’s skinning knuckles on all kinds of bikes at a now defunct shop him and his brother ran. “It was a 1963 Superhawk” Charlie recalls, as he tells me about the first vintage Honda he was asked to work on, “it was red.” He goes on to say how struck he was by the engineering and the ways in which the machine was put together.
He admits that at first the bike was strange, but by the time he was done with it, he was in love. That first customer sent Charlie a few more of his classic Honda owning friends who were looking for someone to take care of their motorbikes. Soon after, and well on his way to being hooked, Charlie bought a ratty old gem of a Honda for $100 and never looked back. By the late 90’s Charlie had started his own shop, dedicated to exclusively working on vintage Hondas.
Today, Charlie's Place services and rebuilds Honda bikes from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s along with the occasional piece from the 90’s.
The San Francisco Vintage Motorcycle Scene
Motorcycling is a year-round pursuit and in many cases a way of life for San Francisco locals.
According to Charlie, “for a lot of riders, myself included, a bike is the sole mode of transportation they own. In the old days [90’s] people rode old Honda’s because they were reliable, cheap to run and above all, a lot of fun.”
Today, maintaining a vintage Honda can be a slightly pricier affair, demand has grown for these bikes from the custom scene, parts are an ever scarcer resource, and the machines themselves are just that much older now.
And the appeal is broad. Women are getting into vintage motorcycles like never before. “Forty percent or so of my customer base is female. It’s not like that with any other brand of bike really” says Charlie talking about his shop.
Vintage Honda’s have spawned loyal fans of every age, race, and economic background, but the one thing San Francisco doesn’t seem to have is clique- like groupings of classic Honda owners. Everyone rides for different reasons, and vintage Honda riders get along with everyone and seem to be accepted everywhere.
**Improving on classic with modern electrical
Modern riders want modern conveniences and Charlie recognized early on that to bring new riders to vintage machines a modern day electrical overhaul was required. So he invented an electric ignition that can be retro-fitted to most vintage Hondas, and today this is one of his featured inventions.
Charlie designed his electric ignition to be integrated with any 12-volt Honda motorcycle without negatively affecting the bike's aesthitics. Charlie's electronic ignition replaces antiquated points & condensers with new state-of- the-art technology that produces a strong, consistent spark for easier starting and better acceleration allowing for an all-round smoother ride.
Things don’t end there, Charlie’s dedicated to keeping retro Honda’s on the road and in better shape than when he found them. His shop will rework the entire electrical system for nearly all old Hondas from new coils to regulator rectifiers and everything in between, which according to Charlie will make any classic bike start and run like a new bike with old bike charm.
‘You meet the nicest people on a Honda’ is the memorable Honda marketing tagline from the 60’s. Charlie, his customers, and San Francisco’s vintage Honda scene seem very much a living embodiment of this old saying.
Here's more vintage eye candy from Charlie's shop: