Thursday, 21 January 2016

Kawasaki Z250: More fun than a rattlesnake


The old dear who claimed to own the Kawasaki Z250 kept bending down to point things out on the bike, flashing a large pair of knockers that looked like they would flop all over the shop unless restrained by a bra. Took all my effort to stop myself going beetroot red, had to concentrate on the motorcycle! One of the first models, with twin rear shocks and chain final drive instead of the later Uni-trak and belt drive. Both of which were fine when new but potentially troublesome and expensive on anything more than half a decade old.

The Z was nearly 20 years old but in remarkable cosmetic shape and only had 17000 miles on the clock and two owners in the registration document. Knowing my luck, the engine was just about ready to blow its top end! I asked the lady if she did the oil regularly and she told me she always liked to keep well lubed up, giving me a wicked wink that only served to emphasize the deep wrinkles in her fifty year old face. The engine ran, didn't knock, didn't smoke and revved up without any hesitation. No test ride allowed but she'd take me pillion.

Quite an experience, given that she was wearing a flimsy mini-skirt, low cut blouse and black stockings. The only way to hold on was way too intimate. I was so overcome with embarrassment that all I noted about the ride was that it seemed to take forever! I said the bike needed new silencers, chain and sprocket set and a back tyre (they were actually okay for a few more months!). She accepted my four hundred quid offer straight off. The only hassle was getting out of there, she seemed to think a quick shag was part of the deal! In the end I gave in, ended up well bruised!

The Z250 proved to have a knackered seat that didn't have much foam left, causing some mighty twitches in some intimate places. I soon replaced it with an item from the breakers, off some other Kawasaki model. Ah, bliss! The bars and pegs were reasonably matched to my average height and weight frame, equally comfortable whether pottering through town or holding a steady 85mph on the motorway. The Z would go a bit faster than that but I didn't want to push a twenty year old bike to its limits.

If smoothness was any indication of the level of internal engine wear, then the Kawasaki was in fine shape. The pistons move up and down alternatively, no balancer, making it smoother than a higher mileage Superdream I'd had the brief pleasure of. No, it didn't blow up but was nicked by someone of little taste, ended up in the local river, no-one bothering to recover it. The Z really smoothed out between 5000 and 10,000 revs, good power pouring out - I actually had to restrain my wrist, otherwise it would've dived right into the red zone. At least in the first four gears. I never had much impression of power on the CB250N, more a case of the engine fighting through the godawful balancer system.

Handling was also better than the Superdream, though the Z had stock suspension against R and R shocks on the Dream. There wasn't that much in it, both relatively light and low powered, but the Kawasaki was easier to flick through curves and felt more stable on motorways. The front end sometimes felt a bit lost when hitting bumps on the exit of corners but it could hardly be called dangerous.

Only the brakes were a touch naff. The discs quite heavily scored and the calipers gummed up. There was a disc at each end but they didn't really seem to want to work together - perhaps it was just me. A Z500 I bought next had similar problems, the same kind of calipers that self-destructed when I attempted to take them down. The local breaker made derisory comments about my mechanical ability but matched all the components up with stuff in reasonable condition. The braking was still too remote but about two times more powerful - I still preferred the Dream's combination of rear drum and front disc, mind!

This was the start of a series of visits to the breakers to replace various components that fell apart or wore out. Silencers, tyres, chain and sprockets, disc pads, cracked mudguards, rectifier, battery, bits of the wiring harness, handlebar switches, etc. He even stopped insulting me; easy money!

These fun and games went down over a three month period, 21,400 miles on the clock at the end of it. Satisfied with my offerings, the bike then ran like a Swiss watch for the next 7500 miles. Did loads of UK riding, including an End-to-End epic journey in the company of some much bigger machines. Laughably, it was the BMW R80 that broke down.

Its owner had explained at length, as if to a moron, that the Z's top end must be only minutes off dying. He didn't realise that I knew the weakness all too well, changed the oil every 500 miles and didn't rev the bike until it'd had a chance to warm up for a few minutes. Once fresh lube got to the cam there wasn't a problem!

Some good stuff. Fuel ranged from 55 to 75mpg. Worn examples thrashed to the limit do way worse. Although I kept checking things like valves, carbs and ignition, worrying about the motor blowing up if they were neglected, they were always okay!

The bad side of the bike was the way it was eaten alive by the corrosion - frame, tank, engine and wheel alloy, the replacement calipers, and the exhaust. The swinging arm bearings were remarkably short-lived - 5000 miles or less! Their demise marked by some violent back wheel shuffling - replace immediately or visit the nearest ditch.

The bearings were a relatively easy job (as long as the swinging arm's spindle is given a good greasing, if not it won't want to come out again - I could work in a joke about the previous owner there, better not!), keeping the finish up to spec a daily chore involving much polishing and touching up of paint.

It went so deep that when starting became difficult and running awkward, I worked out straight away that it was probably crud in the fuel line from the petrol tank rusting away internally. Spot on. An in-line fuel filter was added and cleaned out on a daily basis. The tank not so far gone that it would actually give when caressed tightly with my knees.

As 29000 miles were approached, my attention was distracted from the fast disappearing finish by the engine rattling, nay, knocking. No effect on performance or frugality. Gave it another couple of hundred miles to see what would happen... was told by my neighbour, some kind of car mechanic, that it sounded like the small-ends were dying a death. I went along to the smart Kawasaki dealer who seemed annoyed by the thought of such an old hack still running; their mechanic reckoned it was the big-ends.

My more experienced mate helped with the strip. All the crank's bearings were loose! You just can't buy secondhand Z250 cranks and new ones were more than the whole machine was worth. Secondhand engines were rare but I tracked down one on offer from a private ad. Sixty quid, told the top end had gone. So combine the two motors, see what happens...

This was more like the typical Z250/GPz305 horror story. Loads of rattles, lots of vibes and not much performance - almost as slow as a Superdream 250! At this point I decided to let the finish have its way, use the bike for however long it lasted through the winter. I'd already bought a running Z500 as the next step up the motorcycle ladder.

The recombined Z250 made it through to April, 34,700 miles on the clock when it failed terminally. The engine was on its last legs - as in a 65mph top speed and 30mpg - but it was the rusted through rear subframe that really stopped me in my tracks. Literally but luckily at a set of traffic lights. For a moment I wondered why I was sitting on a bike with a 20 inch seat height; then I just laughed and legged it!

H.C.

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