White Rabbit Psychedelia, And Tea Trolley “Monkey Bike” Restoration

by Iain Macauley
21 September 2017 3 min read
White Rabbit Psychedelia, And Tea Trolley “Monkey Bike” Restoration
Honda ST50 'monkey bike'

So, there I was, surrounded by the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, a Ducati Multistrada, and my ginger cat sitting on a barstool, in a setting that looked like the US Marines had just been through.

No, not a Stilton-induced psychedelic dream; my first foray into classic bike, of sorts, restoration. Project Ground Zero – PeeGeeZee – six square feet of garage, was the only space on the entire family estate which didn’t draw telepathically-powered sixth-sense distant shouts from the wife, TW, of “you’re not doing that there”.

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So, there it was, sitting on its centre stand – having been wrestled up a plank onto a kitchen worktop offcut, itself resting on a handily-heighted metal 1930s former British Railways travel chest – broodily preparing to at best resist, at worst fight back.

A high-headlamped BSA? A grumpy Norton? A Torrey Canyon Triumph? Nah, nothing so predictable.

A 1972 Honda ST50.

A what? Well, the uninformed refer to them as “monkey bikes” in the same generic fashion as the cast on the BBC’s “Death in Paradise” call their Land Rover “the jeep”.

Capital letters … The “Honda Monkey Bike” is an actual model. It’s smaller, and pre-dates the ST50, and its ST70 and CT70 relatives. Conversations usually go along the lines of asking what I’ve got, me saying an ST50, them asking what that is, me saying “a sort of monkey bike”, them saying “ah, yes, that’s it. Brilliant. Er, where are you going to ride it?”. Good point.

I’ve never rebuilt a bike. Modern technology is off-putting. If my Ducati stalled at the lights, I’d expect four blokes with laptops to appear, plug in and fire it up. Taking the seat off it reveals modules and wires and things that look like stuff Tom Cruise would disarm in a nuclear power plant.

The plan with the Honda was to tinker: it has fewer total componentage than the Ducati has in a seat bracket. The ST50 needed some paint, new badges, a misfire sorting, and a throttle cable replaced.

Within seconds, with the crinkled Honda 50 badges removed, I could see the colour of the machine, scarlet, was not original: learning point one – these things came in Candy Blue or Candy Ruby Red. This one was originally red.

Dilemma: touch-up, or return to original?

Three days later: the guessed-shade touch-up paint I ordered was the wrong red. Two hours later, after numerous near toppling-overs, predictable damage to knuckles and visitation to marginal-expletives territory, I had a bare frame and forks sitting before me, Heath-Robinson-propped on the now-commandeered feline audience bar stool and an indeterminate-age tea trolley. The Full Paint Job had been commenced. You have to use the word “commenced” on such projects.

And I’d been infected by the original-detail bug.

The White Rabbit – a scarecrow contest entry – was unmoved. In every sense of the word.

If in doubt, and there was lots of it, stand with a beer looking at it. I was surrounded by unintentional chaos. Yes, parts removed and placed on a wallpaper table in order of removal, but otherwise see-above US Marines reference….

I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what, and, when I did, I realised I didn’t have what I needed. I should have researched and planned beforehand, but then again, if I hadn’t pulled it apart I wouldn’t have known what I needed to research or plan.

Two weeks later – which passed desperately slowly – tools collected from Screwfix, a dozen phone calls with monkey bikes – generic – specialist Rod at Shires Bikes (and as many parcels delivered) and Phil at RS Bike Paints (ditto, when I worked out that painting involves more than 30 minutes and a rattle can), engine lightly refreshed by Cliff at TWR Motorcycle Restorations, rusty bits back from shot blasting, everything painted, Tesco beer offer availed-of, I’m organised for the re-build.

Surgery-like, everything was lined up in preparation on the now two wallpaper tables – one for tools, one for bike bits. Order wouldn’t have happened without two weeks of man-cave tumbleweed. The White Rabbit remained unmoved. Still. In every sense of the word.

Rebuild started 7am Saturday. After putting the wheels back together the wrong way, re-installing a few things in the wrong order, mixing up the wheel spindles – crucially a few mm difference in length – to my utter astonishment I was done in time to watch Moto GP qualifying.

But trepidation encroached: Several visits to PDZ, assessing whether I’d done everything I should before I fired it up. I even had a check list. Everything was ticked.

And, literally, just as I swung a leg to kick it over, a text came in: “Ment to mention I thnk bike needs new coil”.

Bloody electrics. Product of Hades.

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