Saturday, November 26, 2016


It seems strange that, with all the motorcycles I’ve owned in the last fifty plus years, I never owned a Kawasaki. Those big K bikes from the sixties and the seventies had engineering to equal the best of Honda and the other Japanese competitors, with sales that put it firmly in the big four Japanese companies.

It started when Kawasaki Heavy Industries as it is now known was Kawasaki Aircraft. They initially manufactured motorcycles under the Meguro name, having bought an ailing motorcycle manufacturer, Meguro Manufacturing, with whom they had been in partnership. It was later renamed when they formed Kawasaki Motor Sales. Some early motorcycles display an emblem with "Kawasaki Aircraft" on the fuel tank.

During 1962, Kawasaki engineers were developing a four-stroke engine for small cars which ended when some of the engineers transferred to the Meguro factory to work on the Meguro K1 and the SG, a single cylinder 250 cc OHV. In 1963, Kawasaki and Meguro merged to form Kawasaki Motorcycle Co.,Ltd. Kawasaki motorcycles from 1962 through 1967 used an emblem which can be described as a flag within a wing.

Work continued on the Meguro K1, a copy of the BSA A7 500 cc vertical twin, and on the Kawasaki W1. The K2 was exported to the U.S. for a test in response to the expanding American market for four-stroke motorcycles. Unfortunately, it was rejected for a lack of power. But by the mid-1960s, Kawasaki was finally exporting a moderate number of motorcycles. The Kawasaki H1 (Mach III) in 1968, along with several enduro-styled motorcycles to compete with Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda, increased sales of Kawasaki units.

Besides the “evil” triples, the Mach III and Mach IV, Kawasaki was developing a 750cc, four cylinder, four stroke bike in a late sixties project called hopefully "NY Steak," but they were surprised by the 1969 release of the Honda Four of equal displacement. So, they went back to their drawing boards eventually producing the Z1 in 1972, a 900cc, dual overhead cam competitor that pretty much beat the CB750 in all departments. Honda’s answers later in the decade were the Gold Wing and the CBX six. But this story isn’t about Honda.

As I said, I’ve never owned a Kawasaki … at least up until now. I am now the proud owner of two of the finest Kawasaki bikes ever made (in my not so humble opinion). I have a ’74 Z1, fully reconditioned that looks like it just came from the showroom floor all NOS parts and shiny new paint and chrome. I also have an H1, the infamous Mach III two stroke triple. This one is original and out of a museum. So it looks spanking fresh too.

When I told my good biking buddy, David “Woody” Woodman, about the H1, he brought up the name of Yvon Duhamel, perhaps the only rider who ever mastered the ill handling monster Mach IV, although judging by the number of crashes he survived, maybe master isn’t quite the correct term. More like “came to grips.”

A little history of Team Green and the Famous Flying Frog — Yvon Duhamel:

The Kawasaki name has, over the decades, been inextricably linked to a handful of riders. Dave Simmonds, who brought the marque its first world championship title in 1969 on a Kawasaki 125, and its first race win in the 500cc class at Jarama two years later, Mick Grant who brought Kawasaki their only 500cc win at the Isle of Man Senior TT in 1975, the last year it counted as a world championship round, and Kork Ballington, who won both the 250 and 350cc titles on the company’s tandem twins for two consecutive years in ’78 and ’79 are all staunch Kawasaki men.

Across the Atlantic in the USA a diminutive little French-Canadian, Yvon Duhamel, known affectionately as the “Flying Frog,” brought the Kawasaki name firmly into the limelight in the market where it counted most. Through his sheer talent — and the number of crashes he survived on the evil-handling 750cc two-stroke triple, the Kawasaki H2R, he became forever linked with the big K.

Duhamel — father of the more recent top-level AMA superbike racer Miguel — was an extraordinarily talented fellow. He won the Canadian dirt track championship in 1963, ’65, ’66, ’67, and ’68. He scooped various motocross championships, was a successful ice racer, winning three Canadian championships, and finished second in the ’68 Canadian trials championship.

He also had a talent for making money from all of his activities. in 1975 Duhamel, who earned a record $90,000 a year from Kawasaki to race their unruly triples in the USA, told an interviewer that he earned another $90,000 from product endorsements. “But I never count. Because I make money from snowmobiles too. I was making almost $100,000 with snowmobiles…”

Snowmobiles? Yep. Duhamel raced the things in the winters in Canada, won the world 1970 World Championship as well as the grueling 800km cross-country Winnipeg to St Paul race, and the following year set a World Snowmobile Speed Record of 127 mph. Then again, maybe all that record breaking money was in Canadian dollars. You have to do the conversion.

Despite all these accomplishments, Duhamel was most famous in the USA for his brave rides on the ill-handling 750cc Kawasaki two-strokes. As Kawasaki’s top rider in the early to mid-1970s he won half a dozen national championship races on the two-strokes, breaking down or crashing out of the rest. Note that he pretty much either won or crashed!

Then, in late 1972, Kawasaki launched their 903cc four-cylinder Z1 four-stroke, and in March 1973 set out to smash a couple of dozen world records for various distances and times up to 24 hours. Off to Daytona International Speedway they went with a pair of showroom standard 903cc Z1s, and one mildly modified version with a fairing. Yvon Duhamel was to ride that machine around the famous track to establish a new world single-lap speed record, as well as 10 km and 100 km records. On the first of the three days he did so with ease, lapping for the single lap at an average of 160 mph, or just over 257 km/h — a new world record for any motorcycle. He also achieved his goals over the 10km and 100 km distances.

Over the next two days and night the eight riders involved set another 49 records, including the 24 hour record at a 109 mph average for over 2600 miles, including stops for rider changes, fuel, and tires. Take that Honda!

Whatever that little Daytona exercise cost Kawasaki, it was worth it. Motorcyclists around the world were in awe of the mighty Z1, and sales rocketed. The King had arrived, and Yvon Duhamel became even more famous worldwide — along with what Kawasaki claimed was the world’s first Superbike!

Now let’s argue that last point. What about the Vincent? What about the original Honda CB750 … or the British Triples from BSA and Triumph that beat the Honda four to the market? Or maybe the Suzuki “Water Buffalo” (or “Kettle” as the tea drinking Brits called it), or Kawasaki’s very own H1 and H2 models? I’ll leave that argument alone and just go outside and ride one. They’re all pretty super to me, and I never thought I’d own one until the collector bug bit me. Now I want to own (and RIDE) them all.

I don’t really care which was the first super bike. I just want to ride them. The previous paragraph is a pretty good shopping list for what I'm looking for. Got the two big Kawasaki's now, so I'm after bigger game. (Try to imagine bigger game than the Z1 … pretty scary … eh what?)

Since no one is offering me a ride on their classic, vintage bikes, I have to buy my own. Ride 'em, don't hide 'em, that's my motto. That’s why I want to collect all of them. (Except the Vincent. I’m rich … but I ain’t THAT rich!)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Trailer for Sale or Rent

Trailer for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes

Ah, but, two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

This old song by Roger Miller was popular when I first started college at the Montana School of Mines. The lyrics tell of the day-to-day life of a vagabond hobo who, despite being poor (a "man of means by no means"), revels in his freedom, describing himself humorously as the "king of the road.” It was Miller's fifth single for Smash Records.

According to a ’69 interview in Pop Chronicles, Miller said that the song was inspired when he was driving and saw a sign on the side of a barn that read, "Trailers for sale or rent.”

As many of my readers know, I’m a avid motorcycle collector. I like those vintage bikes from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I’ve traveled far and wide to pick up my purchases. I used to rent a U-Haul van to make these journeys. But after four trips in those expensive vehicles, including one clear to Philadelphia when I crammed two motorcycles into the back, I decided there was a better … and cheaper way.

Not only did the daily rent charge for these week long trips add up quickly, but the loading into the van was very difficult. For the first trip I got a large wooden pallet that I added a wheel chock and several tie down rings. I’d load that pallet into the back of the U-Haul. I had a long 6” x 12” ramp that I’d push the bike up.

Because the ramp was so narrow, you had to push the bike up manually. You couldn’t run the engine because the throttle and clutch would get over your head while loading and the ramp was so narrow. I was always glad to get plenty of help from the person I bought the bike from, since it was a real task to get it up and into the van and then over the edge of the pallet. I usually had to remove the mirrors prior to loading to get all to fit.

I considered buying my own van. I found some nice ones with high ceilings and I could have purchased a good ramp for the back. But even a used van of the type I needed ran over $20,000, and I just could not justify that expense. Trailers seemed a much more cost effective and reasonable choice.

So I decided to buy a trailer for the next trip. The trailer cost about $3,000. Since I had already spent over $5,000 on U-Haul rentals, it seemed like a sound business decision. It had a high ceiling plus the back door would drop down for loading making a simpler and easier ramp that one could actually ride the bike up into the trailer. The height would clear mirrors, rider, and even windshields if that was ever necessary. Since I was able to install the wheel chock and tie downs in the floor of the trailer, it was a straight, flat shot onto the wheel chock. I added a side door for quick load inspection and access. The trailer had a V-nose and it is long enough for the biggest bike made.

The Ford Flex has a factory hitch receiver capable of 4700 pound towing weight and is fully equipped with lighting connections and electric brake attachment. However I only needed a single axle, 3,000 pound GVW trailer, so I expected the Flex would have no problem towing such a trailer. Single axle trailers don’t require electric brakes and are simpler and cheaper, yet could easily handle a motorcycle or two loaded.

I purchased a Haulmark Passport trailer from a dealer in Denver and left it with them to have the tie-downs installed. While that was being done, I headed for Seattle to visit my brother. He’s a motorcycle enthusiast also and has a trailer he uses to move his large road bike to distant destinations. He’d towed everything from a hitch to a fifth wheel trailer, and had plenty of trailer experience. He told me I wasn’t going to like the trailer. He said they are noisy, awkward, and really mess with your gas mileage.

I had little experience with trailers prior to this purchase. It turns out my brother was spot on. Upon returning to Colorado, I picked up the trailer. It was very noisy as it snapped back and forward over bumps and joints in the street and navigating railroad tracks and dips in the road. The trailer would bounce on the hitch and up and down and clattered and clanked behind the Flex. I assumed that once loaded it wouldn’t be as noisy, and that turned out to be somewhat true.

It pulled very well and I had pretty good visibility around the trailer, but I was surprised once I headed for Dallas. Prior to this purchase I had very limited experience with trailers. When I got out of the Navy, I lived with my parents in Spokane, WA for a few months and we would take Dad’s boat over to Idaho for water skiing and camping. I usually drove his large pickup with the boat in tow. I don’t really recall much about towing that trailer since it was so long ago.

On occasion I’ve towed a trailer with my pickup and the Flex. I brought a motorcycle home from Oregon with a small U-Haul trailer and I’d driven a large Penski rental truck to Idaho with a car on a trailer in tow. Neither of those experiences prepared me for my trip to Dallas. The open motorcycle trailer from U-Haul added little wind resistance and the big Penski diesel truck was not affected much by adding the trailer in back.

As I headed south and east on US 287 with my new trailer in tow and into a stiff 50 mph headwind, the first thing I noticed was the Flex didn’t shift into it’s highest gear. Running at 65 mph the tach showed I was in a much lower gear than usual. The wind resistance added by the stiff headwind made it hard for the Flex to keep up with the speed limit.

The Ford Flex has a relatively small six cylinder engine. That usually gave me excellent gas mileage. It could get up to 25 mpg if I kept the speeds at 60 or under. On the 80 mph speed limit roads, it dropped to 20. I had reset the instruments in the Flex to get a current gas mileage reading. Even though I was only going 65 into the wind the mileage dropped down to about 11 mpg. I soon learned to slow down more to let the Flex shift into a more comfortable gear and pretty much took it easy on the whole two day drive.

When I previously had filled the tank, the instruments would report a range of over 400 miles with a full tank. Now it was more like 250 miles and I’d stop very often to top off the fuel.

Things were a little better on the trip home. As expected, with the bike adding weight to the trailer and on the hitch, it was quieter and didn’t jump up and down so much. Also, without the strong headwind (although it never became a tail wind, mostly blowing at right angles to my direction of travel) gas mileage improved a bit. I got as good as 13+ in the mpg department measured both by my instruments and the frequent visits to gas stations. But I still kept 5 or 10 under the posted speed limit to keep the RPMs down.

The good news is that the bike loaded as smooth as butter. We actually rode it into the trailer and locked it onto the wheel chock under power. Had to duck my head a bit inside, but it rode right up the ramp and into the trailer. Tie-downs worked well and the bike made it home with no incidents or accidents.

Now I need a place to store the trailer. With a U-Haul I just took it back to the store. Still I think the little 5’ x 8’ enclosed trailer is going to be an asset to MC Squared. I’m already shopping for more bikes and planning to attach my little trailer to the Flex and head East or West or South as the case may be. I do think a new pickup with a big V-8 or even a Diesel might be a good solution for going the speed limit on the super slab, although I’m told by more experienced friends that trailers suck down the gas mileage no matter how big or small the engine is.

The problem is quite simple: wind resistance. The Flex already suffered from that physical fact due to the height that the roomy vehicle posses. Add that high trailer to the back end and, even though it has a V-nose, it takes considerable energy to pull it through the air. That issue is aggravated by higher speeds and head winds. Plus it can’t be doing the Flex good to be running all day in those higher speed gears. She’s an old lady now with over 160,000 miles. She has been very trouble free so far in her travels, but the trailer is putting stresses on her parts and adding a hitch in her get along.

Turns out my brother was correct. “Bro knows trailers!” The trailer is noisy. It was also a task to back that baby up the long driveway to the garage where my new motorcycle was waiting for me. (I’m getting better at backing a trailer with practice.) And Lord have mercy, that trailer robbed a ton of gas mileage and top speed from my Blue Bus. He was right on all counts. Yet it was a cheaper trip than driving a rented van.

So what is to become of my little trailer? Will I have to buy a more suitable towing vehicle, or will the Flex be just fine as long as I keep the speed down? I’m currently pondering the answer to those questions. Meanwhile, no matter what decision I make, I’m “King of the Road.”