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Harley Vs Honda - An Owner's Perspective
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Harley Vs Honda  -  An Owner\'s Perspective

Like most of the kids in the 60's, my motorcycling life began with a little Japanese two-stroke. In my case, it was a Yamaha 80, then a Twin Jet 100 and upwards. They were fun and affordable for a kid with nothing more than a part time job. The only other motorcycles around our town were big Harley dressers and English machines. They were out of our price range and handling abilities except (size-wise) for perhaps the little 250 Harley put out.

The Japanese two-strokes were cute little things that gave performance that a similar-sized four-stroke simply could not match. The machines were very simple, dependable and easy to work on. By work on, I mean that, according to the manual, the cylinder head had to be removed on a regular basis and the carbon scraped off. Anything else that was done on them was just as easy and when you put them back together, you always had a few bolts or washers left over. It never seemed to matter.

Honda had an early foothold on the motorcycle market and most Japanese machines were referred to as Hondas by non-riders regardless of their make. Then, the world changed when Honda brought out their stunning four-stroke machines. The first Honda I rode was a CB160 and I have been in love with them ever since. I simply drooled over the CB450 thinking it was the most beautiful motorcycle ever built. Perhaps it was the very similar styling to the English BSA's and Triumphs which I loved.

Yamaha and Bridgestone were two of the other little terrors of our town. Bridgestone had a unique step-through gearbox so that you did not have to gear down. You simple shifted forward once more to neutral. Bridgestone disappeared but Yamaha followed Honda's wake by putting out copies of the extremely popular Honda 50 and larger, high performance machines such as the Big Bear 250. Suzuki burst on the scene with their Tasmanian devil they called the 250 Hustler. These two-strokes howled like banshees and shamed many four-stroke 650s of the day. Kawasaki showed up to the party and the race was on.

Harley and England's finest began a slow decline which actually saw some of the revered lines like BSA and Norton fade away. Luckily, they were rekindled as of late. For North America, is was the Japanese who gardened the bike world in fierce competition. Racing was at the forefront of this competition and to the winner came the bragging rights and customer sales. Former makers of pianos and weaving looms now put out the most technologically machines of the day. The tight, beautifully engined Japanese machines made the old guard of America and England look like farm implements.

Like most people who continued to ride, I graduated up the scale and I bought a new CB500-4. Although I have had a half dozen Yamahas, it has been the Hondas that kept me in love with motorcycling and the in-line fours, to me, was the best engine ever built. I have also owned the CB350 and CB500 Twin but my CB500-4 and CB900C were truly great. My CB500-4 was stolen by some creeps and my CB900C is now in the loving hands of my step-son who is revamping it into a really cool cafe racer. It is now at least 100 lbs lighter and should really haul. I am looking forward to him finishing it and taking it for a spin.

The reason I let the 900C go, which I owned for 15 years, was that it was getting harder for me to manhandle when stopped. Moving its 638 lbs around my carport was a real chore and after surgery, not something I looked forward to. Being short, I wanted a new mount that was lower and lighter. That is when I picked up a 2007 Harley Sportster from the local dealer. I always loved the looks of the Sportsers and the Harley sound. It was the right size for me.

I put about 13,000 km on it since last summer and now can look at Harley in comparison to the Hondas I have owned. Harley has really come a long way in the quality department. They had to. Why buy a Harley that would shake itself plus your kidneys to pieces and leak oil when you could buy a Honda for less cost, look like a gem and perform as Harley could only dream of. Luckily for Harley, they still had a big piece of the North American heart allowing them to stumble through a couple of near-fatal rebirths.

By 2007, when my machine rolled out of Milwaukee, Harley was producing a modern, tight and dependable machine. The fit and finish is very good, especially the fabulous paint. My tank looks like a metallic sheet of glass. The only trouble I have had is leaking valve covers due to incorrect torquing on the assembly line. This caused a problem for years at the plant until they got the bolt tightener back to torque specs. Since then, no more leaks and no more problems. It has been a very reliable machine and the addition of fuel injection added a 15 percent increase in power plus even more reliability.

On the downside, the Harleys I have ridden, including my own, simply cannot match the handling of their competitors. Whereas I could throw the much bigger Honda 900C into any corner without a worry, you cannot toss caution to the wind with a Harley. Also, Harley seems to have put too much effort into making their machines civilized to the point that seem to de-tune them to give extra mileage and even call their exhausts "noise abatement" systems. After going from the Honda 900 to the similar size engined Harley 883, I was really disappointed in the performance. It was on a level with my old CB500 twin.

I upped the performance of the Harley immensely with the addition of performance pipes and Vance and Hines Fuelpak. Now, it performs and sounds like a Harley should, leaving me much happier. Harley is far behind the technology of the Japanese machines still but are a big improvement over the old shakers they used to produce. Young and old still ogle a parked Harley but rarely will you ever hear, "Oooh, a Honda!". My little Sportster if fun and, now that I changed the exhaust, I am quite happy with it. So, in the end, I would say, "If you want to carve up the road, get a Honda. If you want to own the road, get a Harley."


Street Talk

Thanks a lot, Shawn. You are probably one of the few of us that remember them well. They were fun little buggers, weren't they. Hard to believe what we did with them in those days. Love to get my hands on a Yamaha RD350. That was one little mean streak.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

What a great article! I raced Bridgestones in high school years ago, ( now I am dating myself for sure)

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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