Mid life purchase, first ride and initial thoughts

It is 2017, my 40th year and the midlife crisis is well and truly upon me. A great excuse then to fulfil some of those life wishes.

Since I first started riding on the road at 16, I have lusted after a ZXR750. It was one of those ‘one day’ bikes. I came close many times, but something always brought me back from the edge. Not this time though, because I finally found my dream bike, in my dream colours and it’s new.

Yes, never even been previously registered. I am the first owner, of what is effectively a brand new bike.

Kawasaki ZXR750R

I haven’t just bought a bike, but the ownership experience from day one. Supplied by the Bike Specialists who sourced this from Italy.

With 24 miles on the clock, I have to run in this time warp 1993 twenty four year old homologation beast from scratch. The only modifications are fitment of sticky new Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres and subtle black Goodrich braided brake and clutch hoses to retain the stock look.

So after having it in the garage for a week admiring it and half debating the wisdom of actually using such a rare beast and the impact it may have on its value, I resort to plan A, which was always to enjoy it, and that means putting miles under those tyres. The insurance policy is deliberately limited to 2,000 miles a year to keep it as a special occasion bike! The stock silencer makes way for a period correct new old stock silencer, so the original unobtanium one can be retained and preserved in it’s unused state.

First though, there’s a 1000 mile break in procedure. No more than 4k rpm for 500 miles then 6k for the next 500 miles. With its notorious flat slide carbs and close ratio gearbox, and remembering the magazine reviews in the ’90’s complaining of the R’s tractability at low revs, I’m frankly too excited to care. I’ve been looking forward to this my whole life. They say never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed…time to find out then…

With 42kms on the odo (by the time she has been mot’d and delivered to me), she bursts into life after having required minimal recommissioning in the form of fuel and a battery plus an oil change with suitable Millers competition running in oil to replace the 24 year old mineral oil. We’re back to the days of chokes and carbs, memories come flooding back. The last carbed bike I had was 20+ years ago, the last bike I ran in was also my first bike ever, a similarly styled twin headlight Aprilia AF1 50 race rep which too read in Kph. I’m 16 again as I regulate the choke and wait for a stable idle.

Off we go, not over 4k…I’m down low, the riding position is very different from my middle age friendly Tuono, I replay the critics moaning of pressure on the wrists and rock hard suspension as I zip through the box. Wow, how close are these gears?? Seems to be dropping 250rpm between changes! Some change ups drop the revs more than this but boy are the gears close. Curiously the R’s also have a long first gear. With my 4k limit I max out at just under 60mph however first gear at 4k rpm incredibly takes me to half of my top speed! This means 30mph out of first then an average of 7mph per gear thereafter!!

It sounds intoxicating even at these rpm’s, and so smooth. You realise what the magazines meant about pulling away in a hurry being tricky, you need to be very delicate with the throttle to avoid dumping too much fuel too soon into those carbs and bogging down. Realistically once over 2.5k rpm this quirk is a non issue so plenty easy to ride around. However I’m in no hurry as I drink in the experience. So this is what it’s like to ride a homologation special, the base bike built to enable Scott Russell to take Kawasaki’s first world title in the same year, 1993. The bike that beat off Carl Fogarty’s Ducati and the uber expensive RC45, the good old modest underdog that put both of these prima donna’s in their place. I like that I’m reminded of this heritage every time I pull out of a junction. Executing a precise clean getaway rewards rider finesse and sets the tone for the rest of the bike.

I find the riding position perfect, putting my weight over the front end reminds me of the close connection to the bike that these race reps provide, with laser guided precision you can aim the bike at corners and rely on a faithful trajectory. I remember the ZXR fondly hailed as having the best front end in the business and I see why. You can lean on it heavily as it turns very deliberately. The brakes are wooden, the suspension firm, fortunately being a heavier rider I don’t find the rear end too heavily sprung. After my V twin Tuono, this super smooth four is a revelation, it sounds incredible and so smooth. The gears feel intuitive as they change ratios quick as lightning, who needs a quickshifter. There is no jerkiness from the throttle, smooth power as I modulate the throttle and gears to keep within my 4k limit. Feels like riding a small bike as you go back to reading the road ahead, conserving momentum and pre planning your next move. This is fun. Rather than be a chore, I’m enjoying this break in, new tyres, new brakes and a graceful pace to learn the finer characteristics of this bike that do not require speed to appreciate, instead, savouring the finer nuances of how rewarding getting it right feels, when you have such a characterful steed.

35kms later I’m parked by the sea. Radiant after such a long build up to this moment. Yes, I’m so pleased, this is exactly the bike for me, everything about it feels so familiar to my younger self. The layout typically 90’s like my bikes of the time. Thankfully the Tuono is a raw agricultural machine so I haven’t been ruined by modern machinery nor do I particularly want to be.

As I set off from the beach, disaster!! The tickover was around 800rpm once settled when I got it which sounded strained. After perhaps not allowing the revs to stabilise before setting off I pull up to the first junction and she dies. Too much fuel I suspect and it would appear I’ve managed to flood it. I push her into a car park and try restarting. She cranks well but its not starting. I try push starting with no joy. Eventually I call Carole Nash assistance, who will send someone within 90 mins. I clock up nearly 1km in the car park trying to clear out some fuel, I turn the tap off etc. Sure enough backup arrives. My tiring battery is pleased to have some fresh juice hooked up to it. After a short period of cranking she crackles into life. As the revs stabilise I discover the tickover screw, I adjust the idle to around 1200rpm, instead of sounding like she’s going to stall at any moment she now sounds happy, firing away joyfully. Back on the road there are no stalling issues and its back home with no further dramas.

For the next week I take advantage of the good weather and ride to work everyday. What a privilege to commute on one of these, fortunately my commute takes in some lovely windy country roads. After my first week of riding to work and back every day I have no aches, 350kms on the clock the tyres are starting to scuff up nicely and I’ve gone through my first tank of SUL and onto my second. Bang on 40mpg so far.

I can now appreciate some of the criticism of the rising rate of the linkage which goes from firm to smack your testicles into the fuel tank thud on unexpected bumps as the rear shock goes through the arc of it’s travel. A later model linkage can provide a more linear rising rate but it’s not something that has me overly bothered at the moment as I seemed to have learnt very quickly where the bumpy sections in the road are, besides; this isn’t a road bike, it’s a racing homologation special, it’s natural habitat is the track. Every molecule of its DNA is reminding you of this and every characterful quirk is an intrinsic part of the greater whole, to modify some better road manners might be to detract from this wonderful experience.

Kawasaki ZXR 750R M1 Homologation

My 90’s dream bike. A ZXR750R M1 which was effectively the homologation special of the bike that took Scott Russell to Kawasaki’s first and only superbike championship world title (last century). Scott Russell and his ZXR were the underdog that triumphed over Carl Fogarty beating him to the riders championship and seeing off the other homologation specials such as the more expensive Honda RC45’s and Ducati’s in the process.

It has spent it’s life in a collection in Italy and never been registered. 39km only. It’s waiting to be registered and then fully recomissioned. I’ll have new tyres fitted to it (Pirelli Diablo Rosso III) and Goodrich braided brake and clutch hoses (probably with black teflon coat so they look stock). I’ll keep all the original parts safe. The rear shock was always criticised for being too hard, I’ll try it as is, if it is back breaking then Nitron do a 3 way shock and that would likely be it. Then I’ll just enjoy it for 200-300 miles a year on sunny Sundays.

I’ve always hankered after one since seeing my first ZXR in 1992, the first time I nearly bought one was in 2002. Since then I’ve come close a few times with an R but always talked myself out of them because of condition and what have you, every year they are getting scarcer and the condition is generally getting worse. With this, it’s a case of now or never because the way modern classics are going it won’t be long before it becomes totally out of reach. I figured I’ll be very unlikely to ever see an example like this again so time to bite the bullet. It’s not cheap but it looks like perfection to me, in my favourite colour too and it was one of the last of the ZXR750R’s!

Maiden voyage…first dead fly!

 

Suzuki Katana GSX750SE Pop Up

So there I was, an innocent kid around 1985, Street Hawk had aired recently and I’d ride my Raleigh Striker bicycle around wearing some massive elasticated black tinted visor I’d bought from a beach shop, must have been fashionable beach wear in the 80’s lol, right up until some teenage yoofs laughed at me and said, “ha look, he thinks he’s Street Hawk”.

It must have been a convincing enough impression then, I should have taken it as a compliment, instead I engaged hyperthrust and high tailed it out of there!

Anyway, it must have been the ’86 Tamiya catalogue, around the time I was bought a Tamiya Hornet RC car for my 10th Birthday, a time when I would longingly spent hours poring over the Tamiya catalogues, I fell properly in love with my first motorbike. The Suzuki Katana 750S (thank you Tamiya 🙂 )

It’s not hard to see why, I thought it was the most awesome looking motorbike I had ever seen! Just like Street Hawk (which must have been inspired by the Katana) it had a pop up panel (housing a headlight though, not a laser!) I spent ages staring at it.

Anyway, fast forward 31 years to be precise and I turned a childhood dream into a reality…placing a deposit on this little beauty…a 1986 Katana 750SE. It has a lovely story behind it;

These were never originally made for the UK market. They were originally made for the Japanese market, where they were restricted by Japanese law to 77bhp. Some were made for export to Canada and Australia too. The Australian bikes, courtesy of the Bathurst 6 hour endurance racing (where they came in third with this bike in 1984 after a Yamaha RZ500 and Honda VF1000) were endowed with a larger 18″ rear wheel because it enabled a wider choice of race rubber at the time, along with the full power engine which the domestic bikes had to do without, raising power to 90bhp with wilder cams and bigger carbs.

Fortunately, a logistical error meant that 25 bikes destined for Australia, missed the boat. As a result, Heron Suzuki, the UK Suzuki distributor were offered these 25 orphan bikes which they took in.

After successfully selling them, they asked if they could get some more. The only remaining bikes were of the domestic variety and were the restricted versions, subsequently approximately 50 of those made their way here. So only 75 of these came to the uk of which this is one of the coveted 25. All of the ones I have rarely seen over the years had aftermarket pipes on. This one has its original pipes. The previous owner had another UK GSX750SE from new which he tuned fitting a GSX1100 lump in it, he was one of the first in the uk to carry out that conversion many years ago and removed his system at the time and put it carefully in storage as they were redundant on his higher powered version. Fortunately they got to see the light of day once more and why the pipes look so mint. The bike has covered an average of 2k miles a year so it’s no museum piece, but it’s an authentic piece of history and I couldn’t wait to get it. They say never meet your heroes in case they turn out a disappointment but to be honest, I’d be as happy just to stare at it again!!

The GSX750SE pièce de résistance…the pop up headlight! Earning these rare models the name Katana Pop-up or Pop Kat.

In keeping with the Pop up theme, and in honour of legendary Suzuki tuner Pop Yoshimura…an original Pop Yoshimura key ring is the finishing touch.

What’s it like to ride; This particular example runs faultlessly and is in beautiful condition, riding a bike designed and made in the early 80’s is an experience as you recalibrate your brain to weaker brakes, skinnier tyres and long throw throttle tubes requiring two twists of the wrist to hit the stop. Skinnier tyres make it a pleasure in town with quick steering and agility while remaining sure footed past legal speeds. The experience is always a sense of occasion, the GSX750 on carbs still a wonderful engine today, transporting one back in time back to the 80’s…what’s not to love?

Full Metal Jacket!!

What’s any self respecting Adventure Bike without it’s battle armour? The mighty Capo gets it’s war cry on…along with a suite of new Hepco and Becker boxes.

After scouring the internet for pictures of a similar setup, I simply couldn’t find any photos of the latest Hepco Xplorer panniers fitted to a Caponord. I knew that I wanted metal top opening panniers and top box.

I was torn between 30 or 40 litre side panniers, the top box was an easy 45L unit. I opted for 40 litre panniers in the end, if a job’s worth doing…no half measures here. I don’t need to filter and ultimately I’d rather have the extra capacity when on tour.

The Hepco frame is the perfect item for the Caponord, since Aprilia used this exact frame on their Rally Raid special edition.

Fitment was spot on as one would imagine for what is in effect an oem piece. The boxes are stunning and the whole setup fits the Capo as though it were made exclusively for this bike. Equal size panniers left and right and a total capacity with the top box of 125 litres, this is before strapping any additional items on top of them if required.

My only gripe is that although the body is metal, the corners and bases are a hard plastic which makes me question their longevity. I would have preferred to have seen more metal however I’m not venturing off road so this should be fine.

All of the boxes are securely latched and locked onto the frames and easily removable in moments with the bright red key, one of which is conveniently suited to fit all three boxes.

I can report that they have been trialled at triple figure speeds and remain perfectly secure at up to 120-130 Leptons.

Aprilia Caponord ETV 1000

Earlier this year, I visited our local Aprilia showroom, after a 16 year absence from biking. Sat there was the new Caponord model. After sitting on it, I surprised myself as to how at home I felt on it. As a youngster I had a race rep and a trail bike for messing about on. I’ve always liked the adventure bike genre and so started looking at the earlier Caponord ETV. In all truth, I prefer the bulkier Paris Dakar styled look of it to the newer slender model.

After lots of research I ended up going for this one owner gem, complete with full supplying main dealer history and a few extras.

On the day of collection the weather couldn’t have been any worse. Howling winds, driving rain and flooded muddy roads. It was a baptism of fire for me having not ridden in these conditions since the age of 16. The Capo handled it perfectly, inspiring confidence from the outset with its stable and perfectly balanced chassis and smooth engine delivery, attributes which I have grown to appreciate all the more during my ownership.

This is the bike that seemingly does it all, long distance touring, country lane hacking, it’s sporty chassis and thumping low down torque combined with long travel suspension and smooth power delivery bestows it with a surprising turn of pace and agility, which in the real world makes for a highly competent and versatile steed, without much in the way of compromise.

Aprilia Tuono RSV-R Limited

This is my first foray back into biking after a 16 year absence of ownership.

This particular Tuono is number 35 of a limited worldwide edition run of 200 bikes. Only 20 were imported into the UK and this is the second ever Tuono to enter the UK.

The 2002 Tuono RSV R Limited was the limited production prototype run introducing the Tuono to the market. It was manufactured with many hand made components to test the market for a Mille RSV derived Streetfighter class motorcycle. A Top Secret manufacturer mission to create “Street Hawk” –an all-terrain attack motorcycle designed to fight urban crime, capable of incredible speeds of up to three hundred miles an hour…and immense firepower. 😉

Among the list of components for this special are handmade Kevlar and all Carbon bodywork components, Ergal aluminium, lightweight OZ wheels, Ohlins front forks, rear damper and steering damper, the full power 130bhp Mille engine with Aprilia Racing Titanium silencer and ECU Racing chip, aluminium hand made oil tank, kevlar material seats and the Diablo matt black overpaint on the carbon bodywork, limited edition engraved top yoke as well as other goodies.