Before you sneer at a classic...
Before you sneer at a classic 1970 Honda CB750 Four as a chopper, remember that they were very popular back in the 1970s, though few were this well done. Photos by Jeff Hackett.
Sometimes you go looking for a great feature motorcycle, and sometimes, as in the case of Armand Beaupre's classic 1970 Honda CB750 Four chopper, one finds you just standing by the roadside.
I was returning from the 2005 Honda Hoot when a serious brain fart caused me to run out of gas, exactly halfway between nowhere and no place. Stuck in a valley between two exits, the only way I had to go was up, and shoving an out-of-gas Triumph at that. After about 10 feet I decided pushing the bike was almost as bad an idea as running out of gas in the first place, so I stopped to catch my breath and contemplate my next move.
I don't think I sat for more than a minute before a small convoy of trucks and trailers pulled over. Armand Beaupre and his wife Sharon, along with several of their friends, were also returning from the Hoot and graciously stopped to offer what help they could. Who says chivalry is dead? He told me he didn't have a jug of gas onboard, which didn't exactly thrill me, but that he'd be happy to drain some from one of the bikes, which he did. When he opened up the trailer I noticed there was a late-model H-D in there, with some sort of chopper parked next to it. I really couldn't see much more than a dim outline, but being constantly on the prowl for the next feature bike I asked him if I might take a look at it. When he invited me in, I was floored; instead of some run-of-the-mill, non-descript custom, good old Armand had a very tasty chopper that featured an increasingly rare single-cam Honda CB750 mill stuffed into a modified Santee soft-tail frame. I was even more impressed when he mentioned that he'd owned the engine, along with the rest of the bike, since it was new.
A quarter century after it...
A quarter century after it was first minted, the 17970 Honda CB750 found a new life as a chopper.
Standing by the side of the road, Armand gave me a quick rundown on the bike. In the summer of 1970 he purchased the CB750 Honda, which at the time was the most sought-after bike in the universe, from his local Honda dealer. He rode it in more or less stock trim until 1986, when he purchased a Harley FLH. Through the next 18 Massachusetts winters the Honda remained stashed in his garden shed while he racked up miles on his dresser. Now don't get the wrong impression, Armand had never intended to abandon the Honda to the rust gods; quite the contrary. All along he'd meant to turn the bike into something special (as if an early Honda 750/Four could be anything but). Unfortunately, things happen, and despite his best intentions he never quite got around to it.
Then in 2004, perhaps feeling a little guilty, Armand decided to bite the bullet and get 'er done. At first he considered restoring the bike to showroom-new condition. Since he'd be starting with what was basically an intact motorcycle this wouldn't have been a particularly daunting task. Then he decided a nice custom based on the stock bike would be even better.
Armand had heard that when it came to customizing Honda 750s the go-to guys were the Carter brothers, Paul and John, proprietors of PJ's Cycle down in Columbia, Kentucky. In case you're unfamiliar with the Carters you should know that (a) they specialize in building Honda 750/4s, (b) they do very nice work, and (c) they like to build what they call "affordable choppers." Since all three attributes dovetailed nicely with Armand's plans he loaded up the somewhat crusty Honda and hauled it down to Columbia.
This 1970 Honda CB750 single-cam...
This 1970 Honda CB750 single-cam engine has plenty of room to breathe in the modified Santee soft-tail frame, which it now calls home. PJs Cycle, in Columbia, Kentucky, specializes in using the famous Four to build affordable choppers.
When it comes to building choppers it's always a good idea to start with a firm plan in mind. That being said it's never a bad thing to be somewhat flexible in your thinking, either. When Armand arrived at PJ's and had a look at elder brother Paul Carter's rigid-framed Honda 750 chopper he realized it was time to start flexing.
He and Paul brainstormed a bit and Paul took a few measurements, including Armand's physical dimensions, and made a few rough sketches. A few hours later, Armand pointed his headlights north, his bike, or at least most of it, still in the back of his truck. Only the engine and carburetors would be needed to create the bike he and Paul had decided to build.
PJ's began by freshening up the venerable four-banger. What was worn was replaced, but the motor was left entirely stocknot a bad plan considering those old 750s were plenty fast to begin with and reliable as an anvil to boot. Some judicious plating and polishing soon had the old mill shining like the proverbial new penny, while four individual Max drag pipes underscored the engine's aural appeal.
PJ's built a jackshaft to...
PJ's built a jackshaft to transfer the drive from the engine to the rear tire, a cleaner solution than simply offsetting the engine and wheel to solve the design's inevitable alignment issue.
A Santee soft tail frame was used to provide the rigid look, without being too hard on Armand's backbone. The frame, originally meant to hold an American V-twin, needed some serious surgery before it'd accept the Japanese four. The twin downtubes were removed, the frame stretched 2 inches, and a single tube with lower wishbone installed.
Obviously, transplanting a four into a frame originally designed to hold a V-twin creates some driveline alignment issues, especially when you're planning to use a 200-section rear tire. The easy solution would have been to offset the engine and wheel so everything would line up. It wouldn't have been a particularly elegant solution but it would have worked, after a fashion. Paul and his crew preferred well-thought-out to easy, so they designed and built a jackshaft that transfers the drive from the engine to the rear tire, while allowing both to be perfectly centered in the frame.
To simplify the front-end assembly and to help keep overall costs down, a stock H-D Wide Glide fork was used. (This also gives the owner the option of replacing things like the bars and front wheel without having to jump through too many hoops should he desire a change down the road.) To complete the chassis assembly the Hardbody forward controls and Corbin-Gentry seat were mounted in accordance with the stocky Armand's measurements, a move that, according to Paul, resulted in the bike's being a bit more "compact" than it otherwise might have been.
The original plan, or actually plan B, since the original plan had been discarded at the outset, called for PJ's to rough out the bike, while Armand would finish up the details, including the paint after he got it back. Remember that flexible thing? It seems that every time Paul sent Armand a picture of the progress they'd made, Armand, a man who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it, became inclined to let Paul do just a little more work. Eventually, he said the hell with it, and let PJ's finish the bike, including the paint work, which they did in-house.
The end result speaks for itselfwhat Paul and his crew created is the epitome of an old-school metric chopper (although take it from me there were damn few this nice back in the day), using the engine that literally transformed motorcycling, showcased within modern components. As a side issue, the whole thing was built to stay within a realistic budget. It just shows what you can do when you're willing to remain flexible.
Armand Beaupre left his Honda...
Armand Beaupre left his Honda CB750 in a garden shed for 18 years before dusting it off and giving it a new life as a project chopper. It was worth the wait.
Let me go off on a tangent here. I was around when the Honda 750 hit the streets, and I remember all too well early efforts at customizing them. Chopping what was arguably the most sophisticated bike of all time seemed heretical at best, and frankly most of those early Honda choppers looked like something you should be throwing rocks at instead of riding. Being something t of a curmudgeon, the intervening years had done little to change my mind, at least until I ran across this bike. Now I realize that it was the execution that was flawed, not the concept.