We will sell no wine before it’s time.
So said Gallo pitchman Orson Welles, a long time ago. Nostalgia is like that. It takes time to develop. We are not usually nostalgic for last weekend.
But 20 years ago – this coming spring?
I feel nostalgia for what I can still remember as if it had been last weekend. That spring of ’02 when I bought my ’03 Kawasaki ZRX1200R, the only new vehicle I have ever bought – because it overcame my habitual reluctant to pay new prices for vehicles one can almost always buy later, used, for much less.
But then, they are not new anymore.
Someone else has already had a relationship with them, for good or not. The vehicle will never be just yours, alone – no matter how long you own it afterward. That’s ok, though, because most vehicles are after all just machines and we buy them for their usefulness to us. A truck with some scratches on the bedwalls is just as capable of hauling a pallet of bricks as the unscratched one inside the showroom – and you pay a lot more for the unscratched one, which you’ll end up scratching yourself, anyhow.
This was different – because it was personal. Which made it emotional.
God help you, then.
I have long owned another Kawasaki – one much older than the ZRX which became mine that long-gone spring of 2002. That one being the ’76 Kz900 I bought – used – because there were no new ones around for me to buy by the time I was old enough to. The big Zed One is an example of the first superbikes, which appeared like a derecho wind in 1973, creating a wake vortex that pulled everyone into a future of speed, power and durability previously thought impossible.
Almost 1 full liter of dual-overhead cam engine – at a time when the ultimate that had been available was three-quarters-of-a-liter and a single overhead cam, in the form of Honda’s CB750 – which preceded the Zed One 900 by a few years. It was a great bike, too – but totally outclassed by the almost-unreal Kawasaki. Here was a bike capable of running a 12 second quarter mile on the way to 140 on top.
And running 140 for hours.
That was not just “better” than the CB750, it mopped the floor with it. Few exotic cars – even Ferraris – could keep up with the Zed, until wind resistance came to the assist on the high side of that 140 MPH top speed.
Fast forward a few years and imagine a kid who is fascinated by bikes, ferociously consuming the motorsport news, in awe of racers like Eddie Lawson, the AMA champ, who rode a lime green Zed 1000 to victory in the early ‘80s.
I wanted that bike – or at least, something like that bike. And so I got my ’76 900 – the Toe Cutter Special – which was what I could afford to get, at the time. I still have it – and will never part with it until I part ways with this world. That bike was my first serious bike, the one I graduated into after a succession of smaller, less threatening machines.
You don’t learn to fly in an F4.
I rode a bunch of bikes and owned (and sold) more than a few along the way. None of them instilled a desire in me to throw all sense to the wind and lay down the bucks for one of them, new . . . until Kawasaki resurrected Eddie’s race bike just in time for me to be able to afford to buy the thing and young-crazy enough to be ready for the thing.
It wasn’t exactly Eddie’s bike, of course. Or even exactly the replica-racer Kawasaki offered for sale back in the ‘80s – when Eddie was racing and I was too young and too poor to do more than buy the magazines it was featured in.
It was better.
The DOHC four was now more than a liter. A 1200 cc monster lurked under the lime green tank – which was exactly the same color and striped just like Eddie’s bike. Water-cooled this time. A necessary thing, given the 120-plus horsepower now vs. the 90-ish, then. But it perfectly channeled the hulking, brutal presence of the original and then amped it up with a massive aluminum swing arm cradling a rear tier fatter than Eddie ever had.
That plus better brakes was pretty much all that was new. Which is why it appealed. The rest was straight out of 1982 – and now I was old enough to do more than read about it.
I bought it. Right off the showroom floor. No hesitation. No haggling. Just give it to me, god help me.
I knew it would be mine, whatever the cost.
There it was, leaning on its side stand, cocky like Sammy the Bull Gravano – waiting for the chumps to hand over their money. I’d ridden some faster bikes before – including the also-legendary Honda VFR Interceptor. But fast as they were, the experience was less threatening because those bikes were modern. They were faired. You didn’t have to fight the slipstream trying to hurl you off the thing at 140. They had suspensions appropriately matched to the capabilities of their engines.
The Rex had a bikini fairing – rightly named because it doesn’t cover up the good parts. Dual coil-spring/combo shocks bolted to its ballsy-looking swingarm and just-forks up front, not inverted. The sole concession to modernity was the set of dual discs up front. No ABS. No EFI. This brand-new bike (in early 2000s) still had four carbs – and no computer.
No catalytic converter.
I had to have it.
And I still do.
Somehow, twenty years have passed under the swingarm. But I have kept the Rex looking as resplendent as it looked that bright warm day in the spring of 2002 when I first threw a leg over and pointed it at tomorrow – where I suddenly find myself.
But I can reach back into yesterday anytime I like, just by throwing a leg over and heading out, once again.
. . .
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I’m glad you kept the bikes you purchased years ago. There were too many great bikes that I regret selling.
My first Kaw was an ’84 GPZ1100 fuelie in “Galaxy Silver” THAT was a monster. Honest out of the showroom 10 second quarter mile snot-rocket. It was faster than my favorite ricer of all time: The 83 Suzi GS1100e which was a brawler.
Mine was used- actually a repo from some black kid who had scratched it up and stored it outside in a car port. $600 I think- or close to that number.
Sadly I never bonded with that bike. It was always tainted by it’s ghetto repo past. Looking back I deeply regret selling it. I should have restored it and driven it proudly. It performed flawlessly and the EFI was a real dream. Hot or cold, night or noon that bike behaved identically- unlike my prized and pristine Suzi which was a buck-snort handful Gemini crazy bitch. You never knew which Suzi you were getting when you cranked her up. She was like a hotter than hell stripper fuck machine that thrilled you every time you touched her. Dangerous, indulgent, finicky, mean- even cruel but oh what a ride she was!
Now I’m old, fat and drive an old Lexus 460. Yawn. I miss the years of wilding in a free America. We were free men once, and young. What a blessing to have lived here then, and driven super rice rockets helmetless and fearless.
I feel that. Me, too – though I’m not yet fat. And – thankfully – I have held on to a couple of pieces of my youth, including the ZRX and the Kz900… as well as my orange Trans Am. Every time I take one of them out, I’m young again and America is still a great place. I wish it still were…
’79 Yamaha RD-400F Daytona Special on the showroom floor in Gulfport, MS in 1982. One of the last ones off the line, still hadn’t been sold. Young 2Lt without the bux to get it, but man, I wanted that bike. By the time I left Keesler, it was gone.
Another entry in the “wish they were still that quirky” category…Honda CBX inline DOHC six. Knew a fellow with one of those. Monster of an engine, sub-12-second quarter mile times.
Kawi’s got some pretty cool ‘retro sport’ models currently. Z900RS, etc…
Looks like their going after something like your old ’76 900.
I have seen the new Z900 in the flesh – and it’s remarkable how “old” it looks. Has EFI – but looks like Keihins… and not obnoxiously pricey, either…
All I will say about it. Don’t sell it, ever! You will regret it the rest of your life.
It was the Kawasaki GPz550 that got to me when I saw it on the cover of Cycle World magazine. Mine was bought and paid for weeks before I got to see it in the flesh. Best bike I ever had.
Man, I WANTED one of those too! I wish Kawi would bring back modern versions of those bikes..
I wish they would keep making the W650.
They make the W800, which is very similar, but it has EFI, a bigger engine, and the kickstarter is gone.
But yeah, the W650 is a nice bike; I know, because I had one. There’s a pristine one available in my area that has 20K miles on it. Part of me is tempted to get it… 🙂
Looks good Mark, except for a couple things:
1) Has ABS (dealbreaker)
2) Engine much too large for my abilities/comfort level
3) No kick starter.
One of the things I like – a lot – about my ’76 Kz900 is that it has both a kicker and electric start. Mine has 10.75:1 pistons, so it’s not the easiest thing to kick start – but I love doing it, anyhow. Part of the experience!
The action of kicking over a bike just exudes “cool” for me. Especially when it starts right up on the first kick…
I know what you mean about having a bike pull at you, because it happened to me late last year! I sold my scooters in early 2020, and I thought I was done with riding. I got the itch again, so I started researching bikes. I came across the Royal Enfield Meteor 350, and I HAD TO HAVE IT!
I got a Fireball Yellow one, which is the base trim. I got it for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t need or want the back rest that comes with the Stellar or Supernova trims. Two, the blacked out exhaust everything else just looked BADASS! Finally, I just liked the color. To make a long story short, I got mine on September 20, 2021. I keep it downstairs in my house, and when I can’t ride on cold days like we have, I go downstairs just to look at it… 🙂
So, why did I get excited over a small bike? As I researched it, I found that it would be perfect for me. At my age (60 next month-my goodness!), I wanted something lighter and easier to manage. I like big single cylinder bikes. I wanted something economical to own, operate, and maintain. I wanted something unique and different. Finally, it’s suited to the vast majority of my riding, which mainly consists of 1-2 hour jaunts on the local back roads, rides along the river, cruising around town, and an occasional day trip. Anything bigger would be overkill.
BTW, I had a nice, used 1999 Kawasaki ZRX1100, which is similar to your bike. I had fun on it while I had it. That said, it always scared me, because it’s a POWERFUL bike! It’s not scary like the 750 H2 triple was, but I never felt like I could totally relax on it. Now, being older, I don’t have the same zest for speed, shall we say? Anyway, I brought it back to the shop where I’d bought it two years before, and her previous owner bought it back. He saw the bike, and said, “I want my bike back!” I’m happy he got his bike back… 🙂
As an aside, I’m planning on taking my Meteor on a road trip come spring time. I’m going to visit my brother in Tampa, FL. I won’t be taking the Interstate unless I have to, e.g. the US highway I’m on overlaps with it, run in to a traffic jam, etc. I might even stop by and see you in The Woods! I looked at the map, and in addition to I-81, there’s US-21 or US-221.
So, why did I buy new? Partly because the bike pulled at me. I also got new because one simply doesn’t see used Royal Enfield bikes for sale very often; those that are put up for sale are valued accordingly, and they’re snapped up quickly. Finally, since I’d missed out on the Classic 500 when it was still available (something I kicked myself for), I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Which is why, when the Classic 350, based on the Meteor’s platform (sharing the same engine, frame, and brakes, but done up in Post War style), becomes available, I’m planning to get one. Besides, ICEVs, both two and four wheel, will be banned before long, so I’m going to strike while the iron is hot…
I started at 13 on a Hodaka Acc 100 dirt/street bike. Then my Dad got his mid-life crisis and bought a 71 Yamaha R5 350 which was only a few years old at the time. Back in the day in CA, you could ride a motorcycle (500cc or less & not on freeway) with a learners permit at 14.5 so I blasted around the Oakland hills when I was just a kid on that bike. My dad laid the R5 down in a corner one day, and at the repair shop he traded up for a Yamaha 74 500cc Dbl OH cam. I rode that to school in HS, what fun. I had a friend who had the Z1 900 in Eric’s green exact bike back then, which there was *no mass* as Roberto Duran would say running up against that bike.
I was into cars after that and stayed that way until 2013 when I was watching “Cafe Racer” on one of those car show channels. I remembered the days and thought I might be fun to get a vintage bike again. Started looking at Kawas, then I thought a Brit bike might be fun. Found a 68 BSA Lightning for the right price and had fun since. The Beezer gets instant street cred with the Old-timers at car shows. Always secretly liked the Nortons as well and after joining a local vintage brit bike group I had to have one. in 2020 just before the plandemic I found a 74 Norton Commando Interstate. Although the Norton is in better overall condition, it has challenged my shade-tree mechanic skills to keep her running. Shifting on the right vs the left side is interesting and I don’t think I can go back unless I find the right next vintage bike for my collection.
I’m kind of bent, so I have always wanted a Suzuki RE5 – the one with the rotary engine. Damn it, I miss the weirdness of the good old days, when there was so much that was different instead of all just the same.
On the weird side was the 71 Suzuki water buffalo 2-stroke water cooled 750. One of our Norton club members has one…bitchin bike! The president of the club has a Vincent Rapide and another member has Brough Superior SS100. Some cool bikes in the club.
I love the Water Buffalo! Knew a guy locally who owned a pristine one; asked him to keep me in mind if he ever decides to sell…
Great story Eric. I remember when that bike came out and I wanted one too, very bad. But it was also the time we just started having kids…………………..
Glad you got one. I would love to ride one of those.
I played with ‘sport bikes’ for a very short timeframe in the early 90’s. I was fascinated with them so much I roadraced the 600 class at amateur events, eventually getting some sponsorship and competing at a few AMA Nationals. Could never beat the factory guys, but we got close a couple times.
The interesting part was I was commuting to our race shop 2-3 times a week (after work) to prep the bike, and it was 1hr each way, so I picked up a used FZR1000 to shorten the commute. It certainly did. Here I was a qualified roadracer (relative) on an amazing machine, and after about 5+ trips I had more close encounters with idiot drivers than I was comfortable with. I said at the time “who would believe that roadracing is safer than road riding”. I still believe that. Drove a car from then on, and the sportbike/racing fascination thing stayed on the track. Of course this was all in the NE, where traffic is always a challenge. I can certainly see in rural areas, it would have been a different experience.
BTW, since it’s now 20 years old, and you plan on keeping it forever, you may want to consider picking up some spares in case they become not avail. for a myriad of future reasons. Maybe just a complete gasket kit (engine/carb), and maybe fork/shock seals? Cheap insurance.
I just renovated a 50 year old Honda CT70, and I was surprised that most OEM stuff was not avail anymore from Honda. There was an aftermarket presence for almost everything I needed, but not everything (some clutch/engine/body parts not avail. at all anywhere).
My dad had a KZ1000 in the late 70s / early 80s to commute to work. When Reagan finally got the price of gas under control he switched back to driving his truck.
At or about the same time I graduated from HS, one could buy a new Kawasaki 400 for $1000 dollars, or less. Of course in 1972 $1000 dollars was more than $10,000 is now. But oh how tempting it was. And I had no affinity for motorcycles at the time, and have had none since. I’ve been known to push 4 wheels a bit past their margin of safety. I probably would not be writing this if I had delved into 2 wheels.