1978 Honda CB400T Hawk Story by Dave Arkle

Ok, so this isn’t really a review per se, but given your story of your ZRX I think it fits in the spirit of things…it’s the story of my first bike.


Hey, Kool Aid!

I only remember a very few things from my early childhood. I remember my evil 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. O’Brien. I remember my Grandmother playing Cheevers on the kitchen floor with me (if you really want to know what ‘Cheevers’ is, use that as an excuse to add a comment). I remember my dog, Thor. And, I remember my Dad’s 1968 Olds Cutlass 442. That’s about it.

That 442 was a pretty bad ass car, and my Dad brought home more than a few trophies from the local dragway with it. Even at 4 years old, I knew that there was something pretty cool about stuff that goes fast. And, as I got older, I turned into a right and proper gearhead. I loved muscle cars, but I also was drawn to performance driving. I read Car and Driver magazine religiously, studying every driving technique article I could find, I bought books about driving, and I practiced my technique around the family farm. It is a minor miracle that I never totaled any of the family vehicles, but I managed to keep myself and my Mom’s 82 Celica in tact. By the time I was of legal driving age, I was a 100% dyed-in-the-wool driving enthusiast.

This is the part of the story where I should relate a fabulously witty and interesting anecdote about how some magically transforming event happened, and I was reborn a motorcycle fanatic. Sadly, I have no such story. My good friend Tyler had a dirt bike when we were kids, and I had fun riding that, but mostly, motorcycles were cool things not at the forefront of my daily thoughts. If I go back to my middle school years, I remember my Dad picking me up from baseball games on his CB750, but even this, while lots of fun, failed to really make an impression. Weird, eh?

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that I had a little bit of money saved up, and it was burning a hole in my pocket. I decided that buying a motorcycle was as good a way as any to both spend the money and irritate my parents (I was 18 at this point), so I went on a mission to do so. I checked out the local newspaper classifieds, and there was exactly one motorcycle in there that was both street-legal and within my budget. I drove across town to check it out, asked a few questions (which one is the brake, how does it shift, etc.), plopped down $400, and it was mine. I was now the proud owner of a 1978 Honda CB400T Hawk. It was orange, in pretty darn good shape, and had period-appropriate fiberglass saddlebags on it (these were Kool Aid tight by the way…more later).

I rode that Hawk all summer, and never crashed it once (another minor miracle). I had no Earthly idea what I was doing as far as riding a motorcycle. I had no idea how it actually steered, I didn’t know about how the front brake is so important, and I definitely didn’t appreciate the idea that there might be more to safety than a good helmet. But, luck was on my side, and I get to sit here today with all of my limbs and functions in tact. Looking back, all I can say is “whew.”

However, even though I was without skill, I did my best to make up for it with enthusiasm. Never in my short life had I experienced something as scary, exciting, fun, fast, scary, and, umm…fast (I know, enough with the fifty cent vocabulary…sorry). I was completely hooked. There is no feeling quite like the one you get the first few times you ride a motorcycle, particularly if it’s your motorcycle. I was absolutely stunned by the intensity of riding, and as soon as I was able to think anything other than “wow,” I realized I’d found more than a simple diversion.

And ya, for all you jaded S.O.B.’s reading this, those feelings were generated on a 25 hp 400cc 2-cylinder motorcycle…really.

Oh yes, I did say that I’d get back to the Kool Aid thing. One of my best friends had shaved his head that August, just a few days after I bought the bike. At 6’4 and over 200 pounds, Don was a big guy, even at 17 years old. Don needed a ride to town one day, and I let him know that I would be working at my house painting job until 5pm or so, but I’d be along after work to pick him up.

Later that day, I rolled into the driveway, spare helmet tucked into one of the saddlebags, and there was Don waiting for me. The moment I saw him, two things became immediately apparent. First, Don had clearly been out in the sun all day, judging by the bright scarlet color of his freshly shorn scalp and the accompanying look of misery on his face. Second, Don’s giant melon (he rides bikes himself these days, in a XXXL helmet) was not going to be happy being squeezed into the size medium open-face helmet I had with me, a situation certain to be exacerbated by the radiation burn science fair exhibit that was his scalp.

I parked the bike, hopped off, and opened the saddlebag to get the helmet. Upon opening the lid, I learned that my bags were water-tight, as proven by the gallon of red Kool Aid that had previously occupied my Thermos. The capless Thermos was now afloat along with the included drinking cup and cap, a Boston Red Sox hat…and my passenger helmet.

Sadly, there was nothing cool about the red mixture of sugar, water, and saddlebag grime, as the bike had been parked in the sun all day, and the black bags did a fine job of bringing the sweet soup up to 125f or so. I reached into the hot liquid and retrieved the helmet. Of course I dumped the Kool Aid onto the ground, but the padding in the liner was saturated. I tried very hard not to appear amused as I held it out for Don to put on.

Nothing in this world is as simultaneously hilarious and tragic as watching your hairless, sunburned friend squeeze his giant hairless sunburned head into a 3-sizes-too-small hot Kool Aid-soaked helmet. Even the cascade of liquid refreshment pouring over his face couldn’t hide the exquisite agony he was experiencing. I like to think that the Kool Aid somehow soothed the sunburned flesh as it was squished out of the foam liner like dirty water from a wrung mop. I’m pretty sure it did not do so.

I did learn an important lesson here. If you’re going to give a friend a ride, make sure your Kool Aid is properly iced. From what I was able to gather form the expletive-laced tirade Don unleashed in between gasps, coughs and yelps, warm Kool Aid apparently doesn’t feel too good on a freshly sunburned scalp.

On a side note, the helmet was an open-faced red number, with no face shield of any kind. Ironically, between the horrible sunburn and the red helmet, Don bore an uncanny resemblance to the Kool Aid guy in those old commercials. Funny, that.

Anyway, we made it where we were going that evening, incident-free. Looking back, I am very thankful for my luck that summer because I gave crash-free rides to many of my friends, and I had not even a shred of a clue what I was doing. As Autumn drew near, it occurred to me that there was really only one possible course of action.

I needed a bigger bike.

One thought on “1978 Honda CB400T Hawk Story by Dave Arkle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s