Wednesday, May 6, 2009


So I sold my motorcycle a couple of weeks ago for considerably less than I could have a year ago. I would miss it more, except a friend let me borrow his bike for a month while he is in Jersey for a month.

I am currently riding a 2002 Kawasaki ZX-7R 750cc bullet bike. The thing is capable of being a monster, but it can also be quite benign. Theoretically, it is capable of 171 mph, but I have not yet topped 100. It was once a bright, iridescent orange with tinges of yellow from certain angles. Now it largely still is the same, but with some sun-faded salmony-pink spots.

I will be posting pictures at some point, but I will just share some impressions now. The thing is fast. It flat scoots. I don't exactly know how to launch a bike properly, and I don't want to do that to my friend's bike he is so generously lending to me, so I just take off slowly from a standstill and roll on the throttle once underway. And then the magic happens.

Riding the Zx-7R down the street is rather like how I would imagine puttering a full-blown racing car around town. It handles plenty sweetly at normal, sane speeds, and the engine works great at low revs and small throttle openings. The on-off throttle transition, sometimes snatchy on fuel-injected bikes, is smooth as silk thanks to the old, tried and tested carburetion. This of course means that mornings after chilly nights requiring pulling the choke lever, but it gets warm enough for low-speed operation quickly.

With the bike in a relatively high gear and with relatively low revs, the engine pulls hard when the time comes to pass someone. It accelerates in exactly the same way I would ideally want a car to do in normal traffic. If I want to get around someone, I just get past them with no shifting - regardless of whether some ego trip sees them wanting me to not pass them. If I let the revs climb, acceleration goes from quick to manic.

A few times, I have let the revs zoom past 10,000, and it gets scary. My vision goes tunnel-ly, adrenaline pumps, and I split my vision between the road and making sure the revs don't pass the 12,500 rpm redline. The engine peaks at 126 hp somewhere in the upper reaches there, and I can feel every one of them ponies. The chassis is solid and comfortable, but it is rather heavy by today's standards which all but disappears at speed.

Shifting gears is beautiful on the Kawi. The gearbox feels accurate and positive, although when it warms up, I sometimes shift into neutral instead of 1st or 2nd. I haven't done much fun turning, but I hope to hit up Squaw Peak Road this weekend with some buddies. What I have done has shown me that the bike likes to turn and likes leaning. If I was more of a rider with real riding pants on my own bike, the width of the bike would probably prove a liability. This is easily the widest bike I have ridden yet. That said, I don't expect to scratch the peg feelers anytime too soon.

It has an almost bizarre feeling in the turns; it feels comfortable and yet unstable at the same time. It feels good to turn, but it always feels ready for something different like it doesn't want to do steady-state cornering. The steering is a little heavy, but so am I, and I don't mind applying a little heft to the bars to get the machine cranked over.

It is fun to put some work into a little ride and get some adrenaline pumping, and then come back down to earth. I like to get a little scared at the intimidating acceleration, and come home and have a neighbor casually ask how things are going. In my mind, I am thinking about the intensity of the experience I just had, but it can't be related. I say, "I'm good," kind of chuckling to myself about how excited I feel or felt. I didn't really have any idea what kind of performance was actually available for any old punk with the jonesing to go fast.

I know some gullible, trusting people who let me ride some intense machinery. The irony is that the bikes people don't let me ride are generally far tamer than the ones I can borrow for an extended time. I can't fault anybody for not wanting a still relatively inexperienced yahoo on their baby, but the paradox is startling. That said, having friends who let me ride extreme near-race bikes for a month at a time more than makes up for it.

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