Thursday, 22 September 2016

Kawasaki Zephyr 1100

Sometimes. things take on a momentum of their own. A mate working in Rome phoned up and demanded I buy him a newish Kawasaki 1100 Zephyr and ride it down to him. It was February at the time and I decided he hadn't a chance in hell of my granting such a request. However, he said he'd let me off a debt I owed him and would locate a nice Ducati vee twin that I could buy to sell at a profit in the UK.

Throw in a distinct lack of DR work in the UK and a strong case of wanderlust (not to mention lust tor Italian frails), and it only took me a few minutes to acquesce, although I demurred just long enough to have free board and as much wine as I could drink thrown in.

The biggest Zephyr hadn't been around long enough to be in great abundance but there were a couple in MCN at what seemed very low prices. The first one I saw, I bought. No point pissing around when a good 'un falls right into your lap — 7000 miles and less than six months old.

The ride home was such fun that l was tempted to keep it for myself. Great gobs of torque that squirmed the back wheel and pushed the massive beast forward so wildly it left my stomach way behind. A couple of times I screamed with the joy of the acceleration and turned up home with a disgustingly large grin. However. reality closed in when I realised there was no way I could raise the cash.

For a week I hurled the 1100 around the English countryside despite frozen feet and hands. or a groin full of water from the occasional fierce rainstorms. The more I rode the bike the more impressed I became. Despite its huge weight, the relative tautness of its frame and suspension stopped it from indulging in the massive weaves and wobbles so beloved of earlier Kawasaki fours.

Even when one of the old Z1000s have been modified with better shocks, stiffer forks and all the rest of it, I doubt that it would be able to match the combination of stability and comfort with which the big Z is blessed.

Mind you, with its most crazed acceleration and 140mph top speed it's not a bike that I would recommend a 125 graduate leaps onto. Ultimately. there is too much mass for the inexperienced to control when putting down excessive amounts of the power.

Even someone used to the older fours could get caught out my the way the back wheel would twitch off line if you were silly with the throttle in the lower gears in tight corners. The 1100 isn't the kind of bike that can be saved with a quick dab down of the boot; more likely to break a leg than stop the machine falling over.

I never actually came off as I was always aware that it wasn't my machine and l doubted if my friend would have appreciated delivery in the form of a crate full of busted parts. With this in mind, I headed for the Continent, both the UK and France awash with enough water to convince me that this lark about global warming was a total myth.

Both the Kawa and myself were soaked before we hit the ferry, my wrecked footwear deciding to fall apart just as l was trying to slip the Zephyr into an ever so narrow gap in the ferry hold. Only some prompt action by one of the sailors saved the Kawa taking out a whole line of pristine bikes.

My spare footwear was ideal for the disco but once on the road in France proceeded to soak up masses of water in a record lack of time. l cursed all the way to Paris where I had a free bed for the night, but made the journey in record time. rather surprised at the high speed stability of the 1100 (on Metz's) and my own strength at being able to hold on with more than the ton on the clock for most of the time.

Just as we neared the outskirts of Paris the engine started cutting on to three cylinders intermittently. I needed some fuel, anyway (about 30mpgl), so pulled over and emptied a can of WD40 over the top end, which worked OK. This never recurred, and it should be borne in mind that the rain was so fierce that when I got to Paris my underpants were absolutely sodden with water despite two layers of waterproofs and l had to throw my shoes away! i borrowed some boots off my friend.

Early the next morning the sun was shining brightly, which persuaded me of the rightness of doing the 500 miles to Milan in one shot. About 50 miles into the journey the rain fell again, but I decided no way I was going to back off, keeping the speedo on 110 to 120mph for most of the time.

I shot past one cop car like it was standing still, the huge plume spray off the back wheel hopefully obscuring my numberplate. Full throttle, down on the tank madness followed, with the speedo hitting a doubtless inaccurate 150mph at one point. The vibes were fierce and l could see damn all in the mirrors. The back end waltzed a little and the bars felt kind of loose in my hands.

I thanked heaven for the powerful discs, hauling ass and getting off the motorway in one hell of a dangerous manoeuvre that had the cagers playing interesting tunes on their horns. Ended up in Macon at a hotel where the proprietor winked when I asked if I could stash the bike round back.

Took another two days of hard riding to get down to Rome. The Zephyr ran tirelessly flat out most of the way, apart from the poor fuel economy, which worked out at 33mpg, and finishing off the rear Metz, I could find little to complain about. These big fours have come a hell of a long way since the seventies.

I was less than amused to find that the promised vee-twin was a rat 600 Pantah. It felt pathetic after the brutal Kawasaki, but my so-called mate was quick to point out that it only cost a couple of hundred quid and would sell easily in the UK. The ride home is for another, not so happy story.


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