Damp coils and blazing hair – a Honda CB400 trip to remember!

Lindsay Norris, now living in New Zealand, set off on a Honda CB400F with a mate to the Italianate village of Portmeirion, North Wales, where the TV series The Prisoner was filmed. But he had no idea of the challenges ahead…

It was January 1978, and I was a 21-year-old student living in London. I’d just obtained a job working evenings as a kitchen hand in return for free bed and board, which meant my student grant for the new term was all mine to spend.

I’d passed my test the previous year on a Honda CB200, and Mocheck’s showrooms in Clapham were more than happy to take it in part-exchange for a 1976 Honda CB400F.

Almost 40 years ago, when unlike today his hair was like a thick, warm thatch, Lindsay Norris, who now lives in New Zealand, checks the oil level on his Honda CB400F.

I recall seeing in their showrooms a very attractive-looking racing version of the CB400F fitted with an alloy tank, Yoshimura engine kit and twin discs, the second disc having the brake caliper reversed as they used a left-hand fork leg on the right-hand side.

I believe Ron Haslam had some success racing this bike, and Mocheck probably used the experience gained to help them create the exciting Honda Mocheck Harrier road bike.

I was eager to take my newly acquired Honda on a long journey to experience its reputedly excellent handling and true 100mph-plus top speed, and as the 1960s TV series The Prisoner was being repeated at the time, and I was fascinated by every episode, I decided that a trip to ‘The Village’, or Portmeirion, North Wales, where the series was mainly filmed, would be a great idea.

I enlisted my good friend Julian Roche (Jules) to accompany me on the pillion, and as his dad was in the Army he reckoned we should follow the military practice for overnight camping by using a couple of Army ponchos, one for a ground sheet and the other as a ‘tent’ cover, so two green ponchos and two ex-Army sleeping bags were bought from the Army and Navy store in London.

Loaded up, we set off for North Wales on a cool and cloudy Saturday morning. Rather naively, we hadn’t checked the weather forecast, and the temperature gradually became chillier.

My winter riding gear consisted of a cheap waterproof jacket and trousers over pullovers and jeans while Jules wore his RAF-type Irving flying jacket and jeans.

By mid-morning we’d reached Banbury, and as we got to the outskirts on the Stratford road there were snow-covered fields as far as we could see. To make matters worse, a steep hill that we had to descend was covered in sheet ice.

We watched lorries struggling for grip with spinning rear wheels as they tried to go up it, and even discussed turning back. However I reckoned that if I didn’t touch the front brake we could make it down at a very cautious pace, and indeed did so.

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