Sunday, October 14, 2012

Charlie's Place - where old Hondas go to LIVE!

A line-up of old bikes, a bit of signage - it can only be a classic bike specialist
The classic bike world is full of specialists - it's just that sometimes it's hard to find one in your backyard. Read the British classic bike magazines and weep at the range of specialists that any old bike enthusiast has to choose from. But buyer demand is creating new businesses here in Australia and in major markets like the USA. In the States, the supply of classic British and Japanese bikes seems never-ending (although the day must come when the container-loads of old bikes shipped to Australia, the UK and even back to Japan must slow to a trickle). We've blogged before about the classic, custom and cafe racer bike scene in the US - it's big enough to encourage Aussie-founded Deus ex Machina to set up in Los Angeles and to spawn new stores such as Iron & Resin (see previous blog).
There are also US-based specialist shops that are ahead of the curve, with an established reputation that pre-dates the swing away from mega-buck custom showbikes to budget builds and beautifully-engineered cafe racers. These shops use classic Brit and Japanese bikes as the basis for some great builds. Some of them have built a reputation for restoring classic bikes and reproducing parts - or supplying new parts that bring modern standards of performance and reliability to older bikes.
There's no lettered sign outside - but Charlie's Place is unmistakeable.
One such specialist is Charlie's Place, a focused repair, restoration and build shop in San Francisco's colorful Mission district. Established by Charlie O'Hanlon in 1993, Charlie's Place is unapologetic in its specialisation. The signs outside say it all:
We do not sell motorcycles - Service, Repair and Part Sales Only
We repair old Honda motorcycles only! We do not fix mopeds, bikes or scooters
And a favorite for any workshop:
We do not lend tools!
On a recent visit, Charlie was good enough to spend a few minutes talking about the shop, customers, and some of the special parts the team has developed. (And don't under-estimate how valuable that bit of time is to Charlie and guys like him - they're there to work. Talk with genuine customers is part of the job. Social chit-chat with casual visitors and tyre-kickers doesn't get the job done or the bills paid.)
Read the signs...

As the sign says, Charlie's Place specialises in the repair and restoration of older-model Honda motorcycles. That's it - no YamaKawaZukis. No Beezas, no Trumpies, no Dukes, no Guzzis, no Hardly Ablesons (a blessed relief...). Lined up outside on busy 17th Street there are Hondas from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and even the Nineties. There are neat, original CB160s, CB400F Super Sports, the occasional cruiser-style aberration from the Eighties... Inside the workshop it's more of the same - classic Hondas in every state of repair, restoration or servicing. And hanging from every available space are complete bikes and a range of tanks and other parts that would be the envy of any Honda restorer-builder-collector.
Charlie has developed a range of specialist parts in addition to the usual bits that need replacing in any rebuild or restoration. One of his newest items is a range of electronic ignition systems for most 12-volt Honda street bikes. Apparently this system is magic on early 450 twins, but there's a model that's equally effective for Honda's other early twin-cylinder bikes and on the SOHC fours.
Charlie's Place built this neat CB350
for local bike journo Gabe Ets-Hokin

We heard about Charlie's Place on a previous visit to San Francisco when we ran into motorcycling journo Gabe Ets-Hokin. Charlie built up a neat Honda CB350 cafe racer that Gabe rides at every opportunity, and it seemed everyone in the San Francisco Bay area whom we talked to about early Hondas had either been to, or was about to take their bike to Charlie's Place.
So if you own a classic Honda and you're in San Francisco, you're in luck. Charlie's Place will fix it, fettle it, or turn it into a stylish street custom.
If you're like the rest of us, and a long way from the mean streets of the Mission district, check out Charlie's online store - we certainly will.

When he has time away from fixing classic Hondas and building custom bikes, Charlie likes to create unique mechanical sculptures
such as this custom sign, Charlie's Winged Dream. Check out Motozilla on his website!
A workshop exclusively for old Hondas

Classic Honda CB160 awaits Charlie's attention

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