Little Stinker Emerges!

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Yesterday was one of the first warm/dry days we’ve had up here in The Woods of southwest Virginia, so I decided to step away from the keyboard and unshroud Little Stinker – my ’75 Kawasaki S1 250 – which had been collecting dust these past several months, like an Egyptian pharaoh under the pyramids.

This bike is my least reliable bike but I love riding it. Or even just listening to it. The thing is like that girl you dated who was everything you didn’t want in a wife but who did it for you like no other woman you ever spent time with.

It is balky, primitive, dangerous and sexy – exactly what you want for a certain kind of experience.

Your first indication of the right kind of trouble awaiting you is the lean. Not in the curves – don’t do this on any old Kaw triple or you will regret it; the wobbly stamped steel frame isn’t set up for that. This is a bike for keeping upright – and vertical. More on that in a moment.

It almost lays over on its kickstand, invitingly baring its parts. If you approach from the right side, you will get the best view – of two of the bike’s three jaunty exhaust pipes, which curl back from the finned aluminum heads and then splay backward like Satan’s bagpipes.

This is no dance of the seven veils, everything is exposed – unlike modern plastic shrouded things. The castings and covers are beautiful, alternatingly polished, chromed or rough bare alloy.

There is a wasp-waisted tank painted gorgeously in color schemes you never see anymore – in my bike’s case, something Kawasaki called Halibut Blue – offset by “KAWASAKI” lettering that also leans suggestively, like the bike itself. The tank holds not much fuel – a tacit admission of its limited radius of action. You generally had to stop to clean the spark plugs (there are three spares under the seat) before you had to stop for gas.

Or, oil.

The Kaw burns it deliberately. Its three cylinder engine – which at 250 cubic centimeters is the smallest three cylinder engine ever mass produced – is a two-stroke engine. Which is why it smokes constantly. This is an indication of mechanical health. If the smoking stops, you have trouble. It means the oil injection pump has stopped feeding vital lubricant to the pistons, which will very shortly weld themselves to the cylinder liners if you don’t shut down immediately.

Smart Kaw owners failsafe the factory oil pump by adding more oil to the gas, just in case. This has the effect of increasing the smoke but that’s okay. It’s like more fireworks  on the Fourth of July.

The little engine is also an incredibly simple engine.

It has no valvetrain – just ports.

The pistons open and close these ports as they go up and down, which they do with great rapidity, like a chainsaw revving – which is basically what this is, except times three. As a  port is exposed, air is gulped – along with gas and oil. A heady musk of internal combustion exits from the opposing port, as it is uncovered.

Each of the engine’s three cylinders operates largely independently of the others; no common valvetrain –  and no common fuel ignition system, either. Each cylinder has its own carburetor, which isn’t unusual for pre-computer/pre-fuel-injected multi-cylinder motorcycle engines. But individual ignition – not just individual coils – is pretty peculiar.

The bike has three sets of points; the timing for each cylinder must be set just so.

But when everything is set right, the triple – as these old Kaws are affectionately referred to by those who have been intimately involved with them – sounds like no other motorcycle and arguable better than any of them.

It is a brutal, angry sound. An alternating staccato snapping and popping from the three exhaust pipes, rising in pitch as the engine is revved. Each pulse staggered in relation to the others. You can separate out each cylinder’s exhalations by sound – and by sight. The bike visibly puffs with each pulse, like your breath does when you breath hard from the cold in winter.

Do you dare to ride?

The unknowing will say sure; it’s “only” a 250, after all. Harmless. They are like the reef diver who reaches his hand into a dark burrow in the coral, hoping to take home a keepsake. The moray eel within takes a few fingers.

This 250 is a two stroke, remember. Which means it makes twice the power of a same-size four-stroke machine. It also makes power viciously, either On or Off- with On coming at about 4,000 RPM on the tach. Hit that without being ready and you will understand why these bikes had another name, back in the day.

Widowmakers.

People forget because two-strokes have been outlawed on the streets – well, outlawed to make for street bikes – lo at least 30 years now. Those who are hip are either Old Freaks who were there – or younger ones, like me, who got inducted into the brotherhood ex post facto.

Four strokes build power in a predictable crescendo. Two strokes are as unpredictable as a lethal lizard that seems quiescent – until it lashes out and its fangs already deep in your flesh, pumping venom.

Nothing happens at first. There is so little power the engine will stall unless you feather the clutch and even use your feet to get her rolling. A slug, thinks the novice. He rotates the right grip and the bike starts to wake up. But the rider is relaxed; his thighs not gripping the tank as he would if he knew.

At 4,000 it happens. The power curve spikes as the three chainsaws go berserk. The front end of this 250 gets loose as the weight shifts to the rear. Which it will, if the rider isn’t ready. He will slide backward on the suicidally flat seat. Flabbergasted he forgets to dial back the throttle and the revs are now 9,000-plus and there is air under the front wheel of the 250.

Soon, he will have a very nice view of the clouds.

Yes, indeed.

And from a 250.

There is also a 750, for the truly demented, sick and depraved. They made them in purple, too. To match the color of the welts and contusions.

Assuming a horizontal orientation is recovered, there is the matter slowing down. The bike could use a drag chute. The brakes – factory equipped drums on both wheels – are  gorgeously useless. I made mine marginally useful by replacing the front drum with a slightly more effective disc pirated from another/newer Kaw triple.

These are serious bikes as well as sexy ones. They are not for the poseur – nor the poltroon.

But they are exciting and compelling and alive in a way that nothing new can approach.

If you get the chance, ride one and see.

If you dare.

. . .

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45 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing spaz shoes. You should put the hose away and clean up that oily tracked upon brickwork outside of your garage.
    I just thought that I would remind you of the wife.

      • A bit of humor is worth something. I always rode with leathers and an open face 1967 Bell helmet with Spanish goggles. Dang, hitting a big bumblebee was hurtful and especially if it went down the collar. Riding in driving rain at 39 degrees was a treat too but there were no bees stupid enough to go on the road.
        Hey, you want a fun 1959 BSA Super Rocket with 13.5/1 roller cams and welded on dual carbs? It is a real lunge to start but it is sorta’ fast on its bald trail tire. I like Schwinn type Moto Guzzi lightweights like the 500 and 650. Way under 400# and great in the coulies.

        • i bought a Guzzi ’73 V7 Sport and a 500 Guzzi in about 1983. The V7 has been done hard and the thing sounds like nothing else with the ridiculously lightened drive train. The flywheel and clutch is one third of the original weight and performance far better.
          The Guineas in NYC used to be enamored with this bike. I’ll have to assemble it again. The four leading shoe brakes were pretty but utterly ineffective in the wet.
          Later on Guzzi and all bigger Italian bikes went to integrated Brembo brakes which ruined them.
          My 500 Guzzi had the best stopping length in any motor vehicle at the time. It still is slow, but a pleasure to ride.

  2. I have all my 4-stroke bikes running this summer, 7 of them. The last to run is my 66 Suzuki T-20 2-stroker 250. I restored it in 1986, and traded it for a ’75 CB550 in 1987. It got a re-paint to factory blue by the interim owner, as he was a Suzuki Dealership owner, and wanted a showroom trophy. And so it sat, idle for 30 years. I went and “retrieved” it in February of 2017, and have just been pondering whether or not to return it to MY paint scheme of Silver/Green.
    It is only halfway through Summer, and I am already sick and tired of all the fat slugs waddling past on their flaccid, flatulent sounding Hardley Ablesons. I swear their machines get washed more often than the owners, what a waste of precious H2O. If they even went half as fast as the volume of their wet-farting exhaust racket, I suspect more of them would be dumping their riders from “death wobble”, and maybe it would get quieter here.
    At least, thank God, I can still put my key in any one of mine and listen to pure harmony whenever I wish. I will have the 2-Stroker running soon, though, and then it will be my turn to make noise worthy of speed, and pest-fog the hell out of everyone within my line of sight while doing so, lol!

    • GTC,

      You mean it’s their bikes making that noise?! I always thought it was the big fat chick on the passenger seat!

      And you mean: They didn’t run over dog poop; but rather their hygiene is questionable?! I’m shocked!

    • gtc, thanks for the Hardly Ableson reference.
      One time on a fairly close trip My pal that was my best man later had a Ducati desmo 860 that I helped with doing the top end. He had a cycle shop and suggested that I use the Benelli 750 Sei. It had the guts pulled out of all six of the exhausts and replaced with some bits of steel wool. It was rather noisy.
      Anyway, we went to some bar dump in Dousman, WI and I have never seen so many drunks. Come bartime it was just to get out past the cop that was parked across the street I pretended that the racket bike wouldn’t start and pushed it down the street to get away. Luckily one of the drunks from the bar came fast down the street and lit ’em up right next to the cop. Bless him. With that I started the Benelli and got the hell out of there.
      The next morning My friend ripped off a huge fart that coincided with a Hardly that was going up a hill outside. Sometimes it is difficult to getting past juvenile humor. I still laugh.

  3. I tormented the town on an S3 (KH400) pre -helmet law, when i was teenager. A 1975 model, just like yours. I have a NEW ktmRC390…as soon as the motor goes, I plan on putting a Banshee motor in it!!!

      • Not so hot on the giraffe mirrors. In the old days JC Whitney had some inexpensive but extremely good bar end mirrors. If they were clear on a BSA 650 they would work on anything.
        Nevertheless that is one heck of a restoration. I could have bought my brother’s perfect 400 triple but the frame thing put me off.
        I bought a Rickman Triumph instead.

  4. Oh the good old days, I had a couple of great bikes back then. A 350 kawasaki triple a orange rocket,A kawasaki 400 triple with Denco expansion chambers what a ride. A Honda 400F 4 stroke 4 cylinder with a factory 4 into one exhaust, drag bar handle bars and rear set footpegs and a 11000 rpm red line another little rocket but this time yellow, boy I wish I had them all now, boy the good old days of being Twenty something and the freedoms we had,Boy im sounding old!

    • Hi Steve,

      Amen – and me too. We feel older because we remember. Not change,burt change for the worse. People who can’t remember the world as it was as recently as the early ’90s have no idea how much more free the joint was, in terms of just the everyday things. It’s a tragedy.

      • Hi Ya Eric!

        Ya know what’s sad too? It’s not just an age thing. Even most of the people from my generation who knew the splendor and freedom of the 70’s, don’t seem to notice or care that we have lost virtually all of liberty and thast our culture has devolved into nothingness and savagery.

        Even worse, my sisters- who were born in the 40’s- and who thus got to experience the bliss of the 50’s and 60’s…..don’t care. They don’t cherish the past, nor mind the present; as long as their basic needs are met, all is good. They don’t give a rat’s chooch about freedom, because they never have the need nor desire to avail themselves of any. And sadly, that’s the way most people have been now for generations. (I guess to, that is why one sis has a kid, grandkid, and son-in-law who are pigs; other sis was married to a pig, and had post-divorce affairs with others…and her kids desire to be pigs- but are too stupid to qualify- yet none-the-less, your state in iut’s infinite wisdom has put a gun and badge in the hand of one of ’em on 3 different occasions, in other capacities. )

        I still have some memories of the 60’s, though I was only 7 when the decade ended…… It was truly a completely different world!!!!! What I wouldn’t give to be able to return to that time! Even if we could somehow roll back the clock politically- it still wouldn’t be the same because our culture has so devolved. It woulkd still greatly benefit us…but we’d never have what we have lost, because most of it was bound-up in the values and actions of the average person.

        But those precious memories of that time! I will never forget. I pine for the world that then was. And like you say, the young’uns will never know; to them, the 60’s were hippies and Southerners protesting bussing. (And to think, knee-grows even made GOOD music back then!)

        • I hail from the 1950s and agree wholeheartedly. The amount of liberty we enjoyed back then makes today’s USA look like an open-air prison in comparison. There were problems and BS to deal with of course. But in terms of day-to-day freedom there is no comparison.

          Today’s young people, freshly minted from today’s government indoctrination centers, have no real concept or experience of it. I’d go back in a heartbeat if it were possible.

        • That’s another thing. People have been so brainwashed to think in terms of “grievance” that if they see anyone pining for “the good old days” they immediately think “Oh, so you think it was better when black people had to drink from separate fountains and women had to stay in the kitchen?” It doesn’t even occur to them that someone might be looking back to other elements of that time and not even thinking about race/whatever. I, for example (despite not being alive to see that time) would be thinking about racing.

          • I get that frequently when I simply point out where today’s “problems” came from. If I describe how medical care was cheap until the government got involved they go blathering about the state of medical knowledge and technology in 1910. Or like you say they pick out some government caused error or some sort of social issue that never really was. Like the various feminist fictions.

            Then when you point out that their complaint about times past was also government caused they really get nasty. Yeah, racists used the government to practice racism. Without government’s help racists can’t do much of anything.

  5. BTW, in case anyone thinks 2-strokes have been dead for awhile. They aren’t in the off-road motorcycle world. While most motorcycle manuf. went all-in on 4-strokes the past 10+ years, some European manuf. slugged it out with both. What we found in the off-road racing world where there’s mud and river crossings, etc…. is if we lunched a 4-stroke the repair bill would be 5-10x a 2-stroke (ieee. titanium valves that cost $125 each!). So many off-road racers started climbing back on 2-strokes and they had a resurgence. Most off-road Manuf. offer at least one, and some have full lineups (150, 250, 300). Recently, some innovation has come to them with different forms of fuel injection. Just FYI.
    ps: and with the newer electronic engine management computers (to run the injection) they have become much more tame than in the past, even with selectable ride/terrain modes.

      • Sadly, IIRC, the dirt is the only place you’ll see any recent 2-strokes, ’cause I believe Uncle out-lawed the manufacture and sale of new strokes for road use….. (Or does that just pertain to oines unbder 250cc? -I forget)

        Is there anything that Uncle HASN’T ruyined?

  6. Luv me some 2-cycles….I owned 2 H-1s simultaneously back in the early ’80s, a white ’71 and charcoal grey ’69. Funny, I remember them as quite tractable as well as plenty fast! Fun fact: the CDI ignition had 400 volts DC in the wiring between the ignition box and the coil that will make your arms flail uncontrollably if touched with key on! Found out the hard way!
    Had a wiseass kid with a ’70 Honda CB450 come into the shop one day back then bragging on how he could smoke 2-cycles all day…I said I have a Kawa 500, wanna race? Sure, he says, having no clue what he got himself into…of course I got the jump and he was sniffing 2 cycle smoke up the street and back, afterwards I calmly parked the H-1 and went back to work while he made up some excuse about a fouled plug or something….joker got spanked hard…
    Early H-1s had ‘surface gap’ spark plugs that were resistant to fouling…NGK BUHX…and a distributor under a cover on the right side of the engine.
    I rode Suzuki triples back then too, not as fast- more ‘wifely’- but still a lot of fun when they got ‘on the pipe’! Put 50,000 miles on a GT 380, probably another 30K on a GT 750. Always wanted a GT 550, looked into getting one recently, prices are way too high for my taste…I’m spoiled since I used to pick up complete bikes for $100- $300….
    Thanks for the article Eric, brought back good memories!

    • Morning, Greg!

      My pleasure – to hear your story, too! I pine for a 750… and would have had one in the works had it not been for the divorce. I’m now treading water, but at least my nose is a few inches above the water now and – maybe – I will be able to get together enough spare change to buy a complete frame/matching engine to resuscitate, as I did Lil’ Stinker.

      Put in a word with the Motor Gods, will you?

      • I rode that Norton Commando, a righteous balls to the walls screamer. I made the deal I could afford and then got busted on a bullshit charge simply because my 70 year old neighbor hated us for being young. We weren’t rich, far from it. We weren’t loud, we did that other places and even when he called the cops(a situation where they nearly got killed, they never knew my Garand was loaded and waiting to be used).

        This old asshole was proof positive to not live in town. Those two uniformed cops not much older than us didn’t give a shit there was a smoking pipe in the house and since we had no drugs, they took it with them and never turned it in, my hat’s off to those two guys, going through a house in the dark, something no cop would do now since they have no backbone and no morals.

        The lawyer fees for a prescription bottle not labeled holding the same prescription the big bottle had….with the label, brought down the wrath of the “plain clothes investigators”, as if there were something to investigate.

        And most of this because they kept asking “Who does this house belong to?” and I kept saying “I don’t have a clue, I just rent it”.

        Up to that time I didn’t know it was a crime to rent and not know the owner of the house. Apparently everything is a crime.

        Then there is rural America, where you can do what I did all day today….I drove a truck, in the ruralities, and didn’t give a shit about stopping, seatbelts nor anything else other than the job at hand. I broke countless laws all day. Who here was hurt? Better speak up since I’d deny it and with no evidence other than hearsay, they’d be hard-pressed to invent any paying paper.

  7. In 1970 with a brand new bike license I got “such a deal” on a hardly used Mach III H1 500. Same bike but in the 500cc flavor. After owing it I realized why the original owner did not want to end up in the Kawasaki H1 memorial hospital emergency room. What an unwieldy 380 pound rocket ship beast. Absolutely all bog and grunts before 4,000-4,500 RPM. Then instant 9,000 and climbing before the a quick shift put it right back at 4,000 for a return lurch to the stars and beyond. No brakes, no cornering ability, it kept (“Whoa Nelly!”) wanting to go straight in the curves, and no comfort. But it was (as I recall) the quickest 1/4 mile production vehicle of any type made in that year. If you could keep the front wheel on the ground.

    • Morning, T –

      Yes, that captures the flavor! These bikes are gorgeous and evil; the heroin of motorcycling. You will have a good time while you ride,but the ride may be short…

  8. Fantastic sound! I grew up riding two-stroke dirt bikes. Love the sound and smell. There was nothing like the sound of a pro motocross race with forty 125cc bikes screaming towards the first turn. Pure bliss in so many ways. Glad I got to experience it.

  9. Great video Eric that thing sounds amazing! Would love to hear it in action. Great stuff lately. Your site is my new daily addiction.

  10. Ah yes, the Kawa S1. A 500cc 4-stroke 6 in the space of 3 cylinders, with handling only a mother could love, and as you note, a powerband the width of a G-string on a Vegas dancer. And like said dancer, capable of eliciting the most amazing of emotion from otherwise sober men. Rode one once that had center-punched a big dog earlier in its life. The front fork bearing races were dimpled, meaning a very interesting “detent” sensation near dead-ahead.

    I’ve got a Yamaha RD-400 now, in pieces, waiting for time/money for me to put it back on the road. More power than the S1, much better brakes, and better handling. Loved riding it. But something about those Kawa triples, you hit it, that burble they make, like 3 angry chainsaws fighting in a burlap bag to get out.

    Wanna really blow your 2-stroke mind? Try a Saab 96 with a water cooled 2-stroke triple. Very fun to scoot around the forest on 3 wheels, braaping like an angry bumblebee 🙂

  11. I have owned a few 2 smoke. A Yamaha FS!E, very fast for a moped, would do over 60mph. Suzuki A100 – gas flowed with expansion pipe and K & N filter, did 75 + . Suzuki X5 2 of them, a 1984 and a 1969, the old one was very quick for a 200cc bike 95mph and 28HP and very well made. A Java 350 with sidecar, slow but would pull like a 4 stroke. If a Yamaha LC500 comes up at an afordable price I would be tempted to buy it

  12. I always wanted a 2 stroke street bike. Loved my dirt bikes, and it would have been an easy transition. Even back when I was looking – the early 90’s I didn’t have any luck.

    Hold onto that, especially while riding 🙂

  13. Awesome Eric. Love that thing. Use to race against 250 smokers back in the day, they were allowed in our 600 class. The Hayden boys cut their teeth on them. The only year or two we could say we beat a Hayden, hahaha, but they were 12, 14 years old !!!!!
    Some local promoters had to make some rule exemptions to allow father Earl to hold the boys up at the start because they couldn’t touch the ground. Can’t believe I still remember this stuff. RIP Nicky!

    Check out the new motorcycle niche, adventure riding. Will give you something to do for sure.
    My wife and I will be doing whats called the mid Atlantic route soon, approx. SW Virginia to PA/NY border, as much dirt roads as possible.

  14. Wow! Now THAT’S a bike with character! I did not know about these- but I know that two-stroikes are ridiculously fast- and I even used to own a Suzuki 250 2-stroke dirt bike from the 70’s, which I had the same affections for as you do for this baby, Eric! -And that old bike, though not a 3 cyl. (It was a single, if memory serves) would also require feathering the clutch with a very precise touch to take off- but could also effortlessly and even unintentionally pop a wheelie.

    I still remember the name of the kid I sold it to, 31 years ago! I wonder if the bike is still alive? (I wonder if the kid is still alive? 😉 ) -Darn, I miss that bike! (Only motorcicle I’ve ever owned)

  15. When I was a new biker, I cut my teeth on a Yamaha XS-400. After a couple of months, I was ready to move up, so I test rode an old Kawi H1 750 triple. That was a BIG mistake! It was fast, vicious, and evil. The thing felt alive, and like it wanted to toss me like a bronco bucking a cowboy at a rodeo. No matter what gear it was in, it wanted to wheelie. It vibrated so bad that my XS-400 felt smooth. Even though it had a front disc brake, the brakes weren’t that good. In plain English, the thing scared the shit out of me!

  16. Brakes just slow you down anyway. -Old bicycling proverb.

    No wonder you’ve been churning out material over the last few weeks. Sucky weather means better epautos.com. Got it.

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