The state of the country is depressing, so I decided to buy another motorcycle.
The price was right – $50. And it’s a “classic” – as every man tells his wife when he buys a 36-year-old pile of sorry looking parts. She may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can picture the 1975 Kawasaki S1C Triple restored to its lustrous, obnoxious, CO2-and-oil spewing magnificence. Yes, it will take time – and probably more money than I dare tell her. But the end result will be well worth it, for the old Kaw is both industrial art and political testament.
The S1 is a two-stroke, air-cooled motorcycle. That means it burns oil on purpose, like a chainsaw. There’s a side-saddle tank that you top off with two-stroke oil, which is fed to the engine as it runs, which in turns feeds the results to the air through a set of gorgeously asymmetric, jauntily upturned exhaust pipes – two on one side, one on the other and not a catalytic converter or O2 sensor to be found.
Unlike a four-stroke motorcycle, it is a sign of health for a two-stroke motorcycle to spew, to leave a heady contrail of incomplete combustion in its wake – much like an old 707 spooling up for its take-off run.
This is part of the reason why such bikes are no longer made (just like 707s).
An operational S1 is the equivalent, in motorcycle terms, of eating a porterhouse stake at your hippie niece’s all-Vegan wedding reception. It is also one of the reasons why I love two-stroke Kawasaki triples. (When this one is finished, I think I will ride it back and forth in front of the offices of the local Democratic Party. Not that the Republican Party is significantly less deserving, but after all, you’ve got to start someplace.) It’s the sort of bike Hunter Thompson understood – and rode. A mean son of a bitch that might end up hurting you – hence the appeal.
Which brings me to the other reason why no one makes bikes like the S1 anymore: They’re dangerous.
Two strokes make very high power relative to their displacement and it can come on suddenly – unexpectedly. The S1’s bigger brother, the H1 triple (750 cc) was known as “The Widowmaker” back in the day. It was notorious – legendary – for its exuberant throttle wheelies, ready or not. Sometimes, the rider was not. Then it came down to skill and luck.
Add to the mix a fairly flimsy (relative to the power of the bike) tube steel frame, spoked wheels that were hard to get perfectly balanced and top it all off with hopelessly inadequate drum brakes on both wheels.
Now you’ve got the recipe for fun!
The ninnies who predominate in Today’s America find all this appalling, of course. They won’t be placated until every motorcycle has multiple air bags, ABS, catalytic converters, traction and stability control, tire pressure monitors, Event Data Recorders – and that’s just for openers. Many modern bikes, sadly, already have some or even all of these things. It is why they cost almost as much as a car – more than a car, in the case of several.
Oh, it’s true they’re much more predictable; far less likely to surprise you with an unexpected surge of power, say. It does not take all that much skill to ride one, either. And even for those with skill, the bikes (like modern cars) have capabilities so extreme that they’re either beyond all but the most excellent of riders or you have to ride at a ridiculous pace to feel alive while riding one.
No such problems on a bike like the S1. You will be wide awake from the moment you throw a leg over to the moment when you finally stop that crazy thing and hit the kill switch. To not pay attention on a two-stroke triple from the early ’70s will almost always end up Not Pretty. There is slim margin for error and you’ll need every ounce of luck the motor gods throw your way.
But you will feel as fully alive as a combat soldier just back from a firefight. And that is the whole point of a bike like the S1.
And it is why such bikes are no longer made in this America.
Throw it in the Woods?