Reviving a Honda MB5

Mechanical Meditations

Not too long ago I had a habit of keeping a project on the backburner, some ongoing mechanical venture ready to collaborate with a cold Dos Equis to placate my mind after a hectic day at work. Sometime between now and 2008 I strayed from that therapeutic practice. Maybe it's the fact that my LA apartment doesn't have a garage, or the lack of a real winter to force me into said garage. Regardless, I've been feeling like it's time I had a proper project again. I must have mentioned the craving to Motorcyclist mechanic Michael Candreia, because a couple of weeks ago he approached me with the perfect candidate: an '82 Honda MB5 in need of some serious TLC.

[I was working at a small motorcycle shop in North Carolina when I had my first interaction with an MB5. This particular specimen had been in a New Orleans basement when Hurricane Katrina hit and had spent the better part of a week submerged in bayou flood waters. How it made it to Asheville some six months later, I have no idea. Miraculously, it only took two days’ work to get running. The little two-stroke coughed and sputtered to life, and as was shop practice, I took it for a test ride around Downtown to identify the bugs. That was nearly six years ago, and I’ve been passively looking for an MB5 of my own ever since.

Honda’s 50cc MB5 “sports moped” experiment was short-lived; it was only sold in the US for one year in 1982. It had been popular in Europe and Asia, but as with many exchanges the strange moped/motorcycle hybrid flopped when it was presented to the power hungry, bigger-is-better American market. In Europe the MB’s moped-sized two-stroke engine classified it as a scooter and it was restricted to 30 mph, but in the US the bike’s 5-speed transmission qualified it as a motorcycle, and although the speedometer reads to 75mph, that’s purely chimerical. The tachometer spins to an impressive 10,500 rpm, but despite the high revs power output is meager at best. For the most part the model faded into obscurity, but a few individuals were intrigued and that interest has grown into a strange, underground cult following.

Michael’s friend Bill had bought the bike years back but had moved on to other projects, and now he needed the floor space. I took possession of the bike, or to be more exact, the milk crates and oily boxes that contained the pieces that, once assembled, would be a motorcycle. Bill said all the parts were there, and I took his word for it.

Spreading the parts out across the driveway, it looked as though I did in fact have the makings of a motorcycle. I sorted everything to get an idea for what was missing, and as far as I can tell, nothing is. But since I didn’t take the thing apart, I guess I won’t really know until I start putting it together. The 28 years that have passed since the MB rolled off the Honda assembly line will necessitate the replacement or rebuilding of some components if the little bike is to be made to run reliably. Still, the bike is in miraculously good condition. What’s more miraculous is that Honda still supports the model with all the parts I’ll need to bring this second MB5 back to life. It won’t be a quick project, but that is decidedly not the point. Check back on occasion to see how me and the MB are doing.