12 December 2012

On Two Wheels, Part 5+

It would be nearly impossible now...
If you wanted the "fastest" motorcycle made, you'd be buying a different bike every few months.
But for a few years, when I first got home from Viet Nam, that was my goal. In 1970, that meant buying a Kawasaki triple.
There really wasn't anything faster than those two-stroke Kaws for several years. They were noisy, smoky, inefficient, and evil handling when you tried to persuade them to do anything but go straight.
But they were WICKED fast, and I loved the "light switch" way in which the engines produced power...
Twist the throttle and that Kawasaki would accelerate, sorta, until you got to 4,000 RPM.
Then ZOWIE...
At 4K the engine would shriek and all the horsepower it could produce would be transmitted to the rear wheel, causing the front tire to try to reach for the sun.
I loved mine. I now wish I had kept it, 'cause like everything else from "back in the day", decent versions of those bikes are now selling for ten times what they brought when new.

But I didn't keep it.
And the reason I didn't keep it is shown here:

That's a Yamaha "XS1100SF".
And reviews said it was faster than my Kaw.
It also had some things I had come to realize would improve my life on two wheels:
Two disc brakes up front. A disc brake at the rear wheel. Alloy wheels (so I wouldn't have to continually polish individual spokes.)
And it was shaft driven... no chain.
If you don't remember why "no chain" is important on a bike you intend to use to cover MANY miles with, you need to refresh your memory here.

The switch from the 750 Kaw to the big Yamaha was a learning experience.
The 1100 WAS fast.
But it was also quiet. It didn't smoke like a mosquito sprayer. The engine produced usable power at almost any RPM, so I didn't constantly have to downshift to pass. It didn't vibrate.
I bought a "Windjammer" full-fairing and a backrest/luggage rack for it, and proceeded to ride the thing 19,000 miles in three years.

But I missed the quirkiness of the two-stroke.
For years I had heard others sing the praises of the little Yamaha RD350/400.
Reviews said they had many of the characteristics I loved in my Kawasakis, but also handled well in the twisties.
So I added another bike to my stable. It looked like this:

And I was disappointed in it. Yeah, it handled well.
But it didn't have the characteristics I loved about the "evil" Kawasakis.
I lent it to a buddy, who promptly seized the engine.
He then started to do the right thing and dismantled the engine, but then moved away and left me with a "basket case".
Some friend, huh?
I gave the pile of parts to another friend.

Sometime around 1984 Spring came, and I had no desire to ride.
That was weird because up to that time, every year the temperature would rise above 40 degrees, I'd bundle up and get on two wheels (and be miserable due to lack of proper cold-weather gear).
I sold the 1100.
And went without a motorcycle for over twenty years.
And then, for some reason, Spring came and I wanted to ride.
Bikes today are faster. Actually, "faster" doesn't begin to describe the power of today's motorcycles...
They truly are "stupid fast".
And I have no desire to scare myself anymore.
I want to be comfortable. I want to get great fuel mileage. I want my wife to ride along and enjoy the experience as much as I do.
So that brings us to why I've bought six very different motorcycles in three years.
More on all this later.


Ed Bonderenka said...

Yep, rode a triple 350 back in '72 or 3.
Got out of the service and bought a Yamaha DT400 Enduro.
It ended up a basket case I gave away.
Then a Honda 750 punched out to 1000, then down to a 900.
That bike sat unridden for 15 years since we got a boat which the wife prefers on warm summer nights and I couldn't keep my wrist out of the throttle (and I'm no longer immortal).
If I could cost justify it (had enough money) I'd get some comfortable cruiser, short of a full dresser.

lotta joy said...

I watched MOTORCYCLE WARS last night because there was nothing else on television. I figure Jesse James would win, but Junior did - putting his dad into third place.

Yes. My life is DULL.

Old NFO said...

OH you are bringing back some memories... :-) I wish I still had a couple of mine!

I had a true oddball though... Triumph TR5T dirt bike! http://www.tr5tadventurer.net/

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Going back to college after the Army, a 200 cc 2 cycle Yamaha was my sole transportation, in Denver, year around. Snowmobile suit, boots, and gloves combined with a full face shield helmet kept me from freezing. Was working on my Instrument rating plus college expenses so no money for a car. Maybe I married my ex because she had a Volvo P1800.

Timothy Frazier said...

Remember me?

Id love to have my Yamaha XS1100 again. I didn't learn how to ride on it, but I learned how to be an expert at crashing.

The fastest production motorcycle on the market is never the best choice for one's first bike, but that was a glorious firebreathing , rubber burning, wheelie popping Japanese marvel.

I don't find many kindred souls whove shared the experience of riding an XS1000, but back in the day you could tell who'd just got off one by the frozen silly grin on their faces.

Milepost 154 said...

Haven't ridden a Hayabusa. Or the new "fastest production bike" now: the Kawasaki ZX-16R.

I found the cop bikes I rode and taught on were sufficiently fast. The Honda ST1300PA could easily pull the front wheel in first and second. I wasn't brave enough to try third.

The BMW boxer RTPs will soon be liquid-cooled.

And I too had a 750 Mach III, and a 1980 XS11 in burgundy. It had an 85-mph speedometer so I could never discern its top speed.