Fixing 1978 Honda CB400A always on neutral light — “decaf” project bike

I’m about to sell, with some sadness, my 1978 Honda CB400A “Hondamatic” motorcycle.
I have one last problem with it — that’s been baffling me for over a year.

When I consolidated the speedometer and “idiot lights” to a svelte new cafe racer style chrome LED-based single instrument, I found that its neutral light was always on, no matter what gear.

So I finally figured out a clever (if I may say so) way through research to use the “proverbial $7 part” from in-stock Radioshack — a RELAY switch!

Here, I describe and show the problem, step through a bit of the bike’s electrical system, and show you how I used a relay to fix the problem.

I’ll be sad to see you go, little Decaf!

The *awesome* video learning tutorials I used on Youtube to determine relays were for me!:
RELAYS – How to wire and how they work TUTORIAL !!
How An Automotive Relay Works and How to Wire ‘Em up
(thanks, guys!)

decaf front brake fix — fluid flush and bleed — 1978 Honda CB 400A

The front brake of my 1978 Honda CB400A (baby cafe racer — AKA “decaf”) went almost dead.

Here, we fix it in about 30 minutes — my first time doing more than just an oil change or electronic reworkings! 😎

We assume somehow my brake fluid has deteriorated/aged from viscous fluid to closer to water (this naturally happens over time) and/or somehow has taken in air (which will sack your brakes entirely).

We open my brake master cylinder, inspect, flush clean brake fluid through (making sure to never get air into the line — AKA “brake bleeding”), and see how the results are.

New Bay Bridge Span opens — VLOG 1st person motorcycle ride across

New Bay Bridge Span opens — VLOG 1st person motorcycle ride across.

Labor Day 2013, Monday night, ~10pm

The Bay Bridge opens *7 hours before* the widely reported 5am tuesday reopening, after being completely closed for 5 full days.

My twin, Russ AKA “Green Magic Man” (google it 😉 (on green Ninja) and I are the first 30 vehicles on to the 8th street onramp and show you how the new Bay Bridge span looks like from a first person HD camera (courtesy of Hunter, thanks, Baby!)

It is dazzling at night!

Includes 2nd raw 30 minutes of entire trip in a 2nd file.

Morgan Territory Motorcyclin’ — 85 mile east bay loop around Mt. Diablo with Honda CB400A “decaf”

After months of work, Russ finally gets his Ninja 600cc working!

Hunter, Russ, and I celebrate with an 85-mile day trip during the three day weekend around Mount Diablo, through the legendary Morgan Territory.

Ridden over: Oakland, Canyon, Moraga, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Clayton, Morgan Territory, Danville, San Ramon, and home!

today I did my first oil and oil filter change, ever! (Honda CB400A “decaf”)

Russ and I changed our motorcycle’s oil and oil filters today.  This was the first time I’ve ever changed oil in a vehicle — I guess it sort of was a life goal I figured I’d never get around to — part of understanding cars/bikes more!   So it was a nice way to kick off the start of our 3-day holiday weekend.

The actual work on my bike was quite simple:

  • 1 ratchet-able bolt as the drain plug to release most of the used oil into oil drip pan
  • 1 ratchet-able bolt underneath to release the bike’s oil pan and oil filter section

 Russ helped figure out those bolts which I could confirm with a shop manual PDF.  Harder was sorting out what oil and filter to get/use and getting them.  I went with:

  • Valvoline SAE 10W-40 Motorcycle oil (for 4-strokes; non-synthetic; ideal for wet clutches) (AutoZone/Walmart)
  • K&N KN-111 oil filter (local motorcycle shop)

Putting everything back couldn’t be easier — slipped on new filter to bolt/cover, ratchet-ed the two bolts back in, and poured in ~3 quarts of oil.  I was happy parts were all in good shape and aside from some relatively dirty oil, no badness or surprises for my 35 year old bike.  Phew!

my first oil change
my first oil change
removing bottom bolt and filter
removing bottom bolt and filter
garage work overview
garage work overview

honda CB400A — fixing turn signal and neutral LEDs (to new speedometer)

Whups, my new speedo’s turn indicator LED was only going on when left signal was running.

Thankfully, found this post on hondatwins that mentioned the orange and light blue bike lines were actually active lines for when left or right turn signal was on — not that they were positive and negative general lines. It also mentioned a (cheap/simple, yay!) fix to use two 3-amp diodes and tie them in together. A quick putt-putt to Radioshack and $2 later…


I focus mainly on that in this image, but also some other related notes.

annotated picture of wiring behind headlight


I also have my new speedo’s neutral LED light now turning on when bike is on (but not running) — will see tomorrow if it *also* properly goes *off* when shift up when bike is running.

decaf 1978 honda CB400A speedometer and instruments replaced!

OK, so I sorted out all my re-wiring and was able to replace my stock honda huge instrument cluster with a much smaller and streamlined single mini-speedometer with four instrument lights combined in it.

I used a CB400A wiring clymer manual image that I found online to sort out which wires connect where. I also cleared up quite a few wire clusters that no longer needed to leave the headlight wire storage area and made space for the new connections.

VERY satisfying! Can’t wait to fire her up tomorrow and hopefully the speedo/odometer work properly and track accurately. The indicator lights I could test (blinkers, hi-beam, as well as instrument backlight) work. Will see if my neutral light works tomorrow too (and hopefully will not see the “oil pressure” light come on ever 😎 )

replacing CB400A instruments to smaller cafe racer style

Today I did much more than I thought I would — I pulled out and disconnected all instruments and relocated the ignition/key switch.

The plan is to combine the current speedometer/odometer with four of the seven indicator lights (neutral, high beam indicator, oil warning light, turn signal indicator) into a smaller chrome combined unit, and just plain omit the other three lights (parking brake, 1st gear, 2nd gear).

Now that I’ve done more than I had planned (“oh, maybe just two bolts today to see if I can figure out more what I’m up against…”) it is time to order parts! 😎

decaf! Honda CB400A automatic cafe racer. I’ve been a bad girl today….

Today Hunter helped me inspect, test-drive, buy, and drive 100+ miles home from a mom-n-pop custom bike modifier in California’s central valley.

We avoided the 5 and all freeways and started out with about an hour of “country roads” and farm roads that were mostly straight and flat. Next we nearly ran out of gas but recovered thanks to the “reserve switch” to fillup in Tracy. Finally, we started the fun curvy and up-and-down stuff through the northwest backside of Mt. Diablo and had a late lunch in Clayton. We wrapped it up through Moraga, and then our favorite twisty mountain pass up Pinehurst to Skyline Blvd and home

What an wild day!

I’ve named her “decaf” since she’s an automatic (with just “lo” and “hi” gears, no clutch) *and* a cafe racer style modified bike. I’m really pleased she did so well on the first ambitious ride all the way home.

Here’s some bike porn / pix!




mole rolls to freedom

hunter and i were biking the other day parallel to the caldecott tunnel / 24, and were horrified to see a mole, midday, just rolling over and over again down the hill/pavement. we think maybe a huge rainstorm drove it out and it got lost trying to not drown on the road. they are **ALL HANDS**, no limbs! poor thing was made to dig/swim only, not walk/run.

after picking up the panicked little thing, we gently tossed it into dirt, but it looked just unhappy. intuition kicked in and seemed like the soil was too hard so found some damper stuff to move it to. presto! in seconds our little dirt scuba diver was self-buried in moist topsoil and happy. hunter points out “bird food…” but it’s a warm and furry mammal creature!!



donors to my AIDS LifeCycle8 bikeride!

I took about 500 photos myself during the seven days of riding. Hunter also took about that many photos, too. I will make a combined album soon and edit a video as well and put links to them on this site.

However, for now, you can see    ~100 of my best photos on my public albums here:

Photo album (1 of 2)

Photo album (2 of 2)

one of my most favorite shots for the whole trip!!

Finished the ride!

Well, Hunter and I made it home safe and sound last night!

We finished just before the course formally closed, yesterday (saturday) around 3pm.
(A lot of us were late due to two accident-caused road closure/delays and then Hunter and I decided to sneak off course a block to reward ourselves with Peets mocha freddos 😎 just before riding in.   We flew from LAX to SFO and then BART-ed and were home just after midnight.  Was sooo nice to see the kitties again and get things airing out!

Some interesting summary thoughts:

  • Day 6 got entirely cancelled and we had to be bussed from camp to camp. We originally thought it was due to the uphill and downhill being deemed “too dangerous” in the rain by the CHP, but it was actually because that pass got closed temporarily due to rain related accidents and only ~250 riders (~10%) made it out on the rainy road before the “hold”. We had a 3 hour permit to cone off a single lane of route 101/1 on this narrow “no shoulder” bridge, and by the time the pass was reopened, not all the riders were likely to make it through the pass. CHP didn’t want to extend the times so they asked us to cancel that day. *First time* that has happened in 16 years of LifeCycle / AIDSRide !   Of course, the irony is that the rains stopped early in the morning by about 8am, and Hunter and I (and the riders who have similar pace — at least 50% of the riders) could have easily made that road closure for a really wonderfully beautiful perfect biking weather day.
  • Although the weather was a bit ominous at times, we only got about three 5-10 minute very light sprinkles of rain while biking or in the nonsleeping hours of camp.  It did rain one morning pretty good — causing a lot of tents to flood.  We prepared a bit better with a tarp under our tent (and had a thick air mattress) so we didn’t get tooo wet.
  • I was slightly crabby or something Day1 (due to lack of sleep and foggy wet start) but every day pretty much got *more* beautiful and better as it went on.  If fact, I loved every day but day6 (which wasn’t awful — just disappointing that the route got cancelled.)
  • This year the biggest difference was the fact that while last year was hot and dry nearly every single day, this ride was a slight bit cool (though nicely never cold at all) and *very* humid (comparatively) every day.  Strange this time of year!
  • Day 5 was a big change of course this year.  Last year was a total cakewalk (or “champagne ride” as the pros sometime call last day of Tour de France 😎 ) at only 43 miles and limited hills (w/ so so scenery).  This year was a noteably tougher nearly 70 miles where the ride to lunch was *jaw droppingly* gorgeous (riding wine country a al the movie “Sideways” into Solvang for the first time in ALC history) and fantastic.  However, after lunch was quite challenging where we headed directly westward for Lompoc — which meant the picking up strong wind was all headwind on flats and downhills and we were working hard on a *lot* of uphills.  So there was “no recovery” period from lunch to camp.  

Overall, once again an utterly fantastic ride!

We knew so many people this year it was like a rolling party of socializing and eating (well with determined-to-finish work on the bike in between 🙂 ).  It’s soooo nice to have found this wonderful community of people who care for others and everyone in the Ride.  I’ve been thinking it’s a lot like the communities people find in churches (having grown up Methodist but now non-religious).

Starting Day 6!

So far so good.
We made it safe and dry until now.
Today started light rain with wet tent.
It’s let up over breakfast mostly
so we are hoping hoping for a break
Today and crossing our fingers

Today’s highlights are Santa Barbara,
Hopefully dolphin coastal sightings,
And an ice cream stop — it’s
Normally super hot today!

Yesterday’s day 5 “red dress day” was
A blast even though it was a bit of a
Hard finish with hills and headwinds

Thanks all for your support, interest,
And comments!

Halfway through AIDS LifeCycle

We finished day three’s ride today. I an feeling very strong still and enjoying the unbelievably pretty inland agricultural “salad bowl” of CA and then the dryer wide open grasslands too. The weather has been quite good – not too hot and not too cool. The colder mornings are offset by the rather unseasonly humidity

Hunter is doing well too. Each day seems to get more social and more fun. We know and keep meeting more wonderful people

What a fantastic event!

tracey bike accident — walks away scraped but OK

tracey bike accident -- walks away scraped but OK
tracey bike accident -- walks away scraped but OK


A steel cruiser bike roared blindly out of a blind drive and ran into me.  The impact “taco-ed” (crumpled) my wheel and pitched me over the handle bars and the 2nd bike. I hit the pavement, but managed to not break anything or hit my head. I scraped up my fingers, tore up 4 fingernails, and scraped my elbow and knee. Later we’d learn it was all surface stuff and only my front wheel needed replacing. Amazingly lucky to have had so little damage!

I was prolly doing 10-15 mph; other rider maybe 7-10.  All of this happened right in front of Hunter’s horrified eyes!

More pictures on public Facebook album.