I can’t be the only motorcycle rider who discovers he has calculated when some family event occurred by remembering what motorcycle he was riding at the time. Such, as my wife and I married shortly after I purchased my first motorcycle. My wife rode this little Honda from the curb in front of her parents home all the way across the street to brake and stop along the opposite curb. Without falling down or wobbling madly.
Our first Christmas together, more than 45 years ago, we were riding a different motorcycle. Our Unapproachable Norton.
A summer or so later, we had a sad little Ducati come to stay for a few weeks. I almost forget about that time I almost went road racing. My wife actually rode this motorcycle around the parking lot at our apartment. Turning, braking and stopping. No tip over.
Yet another summer later when we moved from Colorado to Orange County California, we had added to the stable. A BMW R90/6.
The Norton was sold for no good reason, after changing to cafe style and the big BMW after a year was sold and replaced with a little R65 for a short time. Only a summer and into the Fall. We bought the R65 after moving into our first purchased home. A small, but just the right size townhouse with a huge garage and this patio we built between.
Before the big BMW went away we’d bought a cat and six months later adopted another. We were motorcycles and cats. None in the yard. Motorcycles or cats. Life was not hard. Not everything was easy.
The R65 was sold and the hunt was on for the next motorcycle. That search took me nearly a year and covered more than twenty bikes. All the same model, yet spread across three different states.
Our R100RS came to live with us just as we were beginning to think about expanding our family. Nine years after that Honda was bought, our first daughter was born.
Marking family and life events relative to what motorcycle was in the garage I suppose would be odd for the casual rider.
We sold the RS and bought a second car. I was a daddy now and needed a car to haul baby and all the stuff a baby needs. Our bikelessness lasted about a year when a deal too good to pass up, appeared in the local want ads. Another Honda, a leftover 1979 CB650. Less than 200 miles on the clock and about a thousand dollars. I rode it across Denver in the snow to the BMW shop were I worked.
This bike was dead stock but, didn’t stay that way. Forks and shocks were modified and changed. Bars were changed and in winter it wore the included SlipStreamer fairing. Come summer the bikini fairing and short bars. BMW bags were eventually added.
The Honda was a steal. I really enjoyed that bike. Smooth as butter and with upgraded shocks and fork internals combined with good tires, it handled well. I swapped the OEM output sprocket for one tooth larger. This dropped the rpm into purring mode at the then 55 mph limit. Fuel economy was into the 70’s. The OEM saddle was firm and well proportioned for me. One of my all time favorite bikes. It even looked pretty nice, though I didn’t really like the colors. But, not enough to consider some repaint. The tangerine metal flake of the early CB750’s was always lingering at the back of my mind for this bike. I think it would have looked nice.
Working as a motorcycle mechanic, even through the winters in Denver, meant we had plenty to do and a good stable of used bikes to ride and keep up with. Those factors put the Honda in the shed with the battery on a tender for the winter, then as we got busy with Spring fever prep riding of customers, the Honda sat idle into the late Spring. In a weak moment I sold it.
By this time we had built a shop race bike from salvage.
We built a few of these for customers as well, then I built one for myself.
This bike was built from a 1982 R100 motor coupled with a 1985 R80 RT frame. We added factory high compression pistons, aftermarket lightened valves and wrist pins and keepers. Suspension and brakes were upgraded. The front rotors were converted to full floating cast iron mated to dual custom over braided brake lines to an oversized master cylinder. One finger stoppies were now possible with sticky vintage race rubber in place. The final drive was changed to the tallest available single sided swing arm ratio of 3.0. A custom rear shock from Fox was the final solution for controlling the rear.
The bike had lived a long life after being resurrected from the two bikes, one a frame snapping crash, the other a garage fire that had served as the sources for this salvage build. The resulting R100S was such a perfect bike. I would ride to the race track, tape up the lights, pull the mirrors off and go play track day hero. I was always the only person to show up like that. Comfortable for touring and great fun at the track. I’d taken my daughters for their first motorcycle rides aboard it too.
I’d traveled through several states on this motorcycle. It became one of my all time favorite bikes. It did everything I needed it to ever do, until I tucked the front wheel on pine needles and destroyed it.
When I crashed the BMW, I still had a bike I’d rescued from a long slow death in the back of a garage. That poor bike had been battered by ham-fisted owners and riders. All the turn signals were broken, poorly taped back to function using yards of cheap electrical tape. It was a 1983 Kawasaki GPz550. I’d been toying with building it into a trackday bike, heavy and underpowered it would make for good fun. A friend had bought the GPz, used from someone who had not bothered to keep the registration or title current. He skipped that step as well. That works for a while. I rescued the bike from the next owner who also had not bothered with registration or learning to operate the bike. It was upon his purchase, almost immediately crashed into the nearest parked car from the garage. The parked car happened to be his friend’s who was the one also doing the crashing. They pushed the bike into the back of the garage where it sat another two years. They I got an email asking if I wanted the GPz. I asked how much? The answer came quickly as “Free”, come get it quickly. When the bike had sold it looked about like it does in this photo, (Second from the left).
When I walked to the back of that garage, I was faced with a challenge.
I got the title and registration straightened out after some registered letters were sent and returned. The kindly lady at the DMV got me sorted and a fresh plate, title and registration all in good order. Now, it was time to tear into the bike. Luckily I still had the BMW to ride. As this took a long time to sort. I bought the last OEM carburetor parts in the country. I sourced new turn signals from Italy the very same as were OEM on Ducati’s in the late 90’s. Fresh battery, over braided brake lines freshened fork internals and oil. And a new custom shock for the rear from Progressive. Gaskets and clutch plates and filters and oil changes. The motor was soon sorted and cosmetics became the focus.
I got as close as I could for reasonable money. Respraying the tank and mask were left for later after some fiddling on my own. The tank had dents a plenty.
Plenty of elbow grease in cleaning and scrubbing returned good results.
In the end it didn’t look half bad for by then a fifteen year old bike that had seen more than its share of abuse and neglect.
Better mirrors, suspension and tires. The Control cables were all replaced as were all chassis bearings. Now, I had two motorcycles. Then the BMW was crashed and I was back to one.
Then I noticed the little Kawasaki was burning a bit more oil than I would like. Not enough to be overly worrisome, but enough to warrant a look at the top end. I suspected valve guides, seals and maybe rings. I was not too excited about pouring more money into this bike. In this condition it was an easy $1,000.00 bike. I’d spent that and about half as much more just on parts to get it to where it was.
I’d had an eye out for another big bike. I toyed with the idea of a Ducati 998, 996 or 916. The trouble was I still sometimes needed to carry a pillion. That ruled out solo seat bikes. If I went Ducati it would have to be a Biposto. I thought long and hard. Found a few I was willing to go with. One was perfect. I could not bring myself to pull out my checkbook and scribble away the money. Instead I found what appeared to be a lightly used 1997 CBR900RR at a local dealer/used to be, might still be a breaker. I suspected after life with the CBR that it had been a recovered bike with the title cleaned. Both wheels had small dents, not easily seen when on the ground, but easily felt when changing tires by hand. The first hints were the poorly positioned and adjusted foot controls when I picked the bike up one soaking wet evening.
RKA made a set of custom soft saddlebags for me which got daily use commuting and fit everything I required for light travel and track days.
The CBR was and remains the least expensive bike to ride to one hundred thousand miles, I’ve ever owned. Two things wore out or broke on the bike in that time, the first was the speedometer pickup that rendered the odometer and speedometer inoperable for about three months while the part remained on back-order. The second part/parts were these odd little chrome cup things that were screwed inside the headlight housing and covered the nose of the H4 lamps. Both of these parts failed at the sharp bend, exactly where an engineer would expect. I removed both parts and never had any problem with seeing at night or being seen. The loss of those parts did not visibly affect the light pattern as far as I could tell. I changed the front wheel to a 17″ from the 16″ by using the front wheel from a 1997 CBR600 which fit exactly, using the same axel size and spacers. I ordered the wheel online and the swap was as simple as unbolting the brake rotors from my stock wheel and bolting them up to the new then unmounting and remounting the tire and balancing the new completed wheel. Now, I had access to better tire combinations. I also changed the front brake rotors to Braking cast iron full floating rotors and the OEM rubber brake line that was a single split to two at the wheel, became two steel over braided lines from the master cylinder. Some carburetor tuning and swapping the OEM exhaust for an Akrapovic full titanium system.
The CBR was a ball at the track. I did almost one track day every month or so the whole time I owned that bike. I only trailered it to the track a few times with friends. The above photo was from my last track day weekend in Pahrump with friends. I’d not ridden the bike in three months owing to buying my first adventure bike, a 2004 BMW 1150 GS Adventure. That weekend I would spend the first half of Saturday re-learning how to ride a super bike on a race track. The BMW was no match for the speed or the brakes. I sold the Honda a few months later since it sat under a cover in the front of my garage all that time. I had by this point graduated from sporty street tires to full Supersport tires, basically slicks with some mostly cosmetic grooving to meet regulation. That made track riding an expensive undertaking. I had also removed the lights and replaced the panels with plastics and number masks of a sort. No horn, no lights, or mirrors, only the speedometer, ignition key remained as street worthy relics. The Speedometer was blanked with black vinyl wrap with only the odometer and trip meter visible.
For more than a year prior to that track day, I had been searching for an adventure bike. I had initially shied away from the BMW GS Adventure because it was so tall and heavy. Then a friend forced me to take his standard GS for a weekend while he was out of town. I burned two tanks of gas through the bike riding paved roads, and even taking my wife on a ride. She liked it much better than pillion on the CBR. The chase was on. These bikes were hot items in 2003 and I’d no sooner find one online and it would be sold while I was on the phone with the salesman at one after another dealership. Even new bikes were sold before I could even get to the shop. My busy work schedule of more than twelve hour days plus a long commute was not helping me. I finally found a used bike in Kansas, and bought it physically sight unseen. I’d actually not even seen a recent photo, such were the state of things in 2004. I sent a check by registered mail, we got things sorted and I boarded a oneway flight to Kansas City. The original owner and I met at the airport, we went to the DMV, swapped the title and I got a temporary registration from the friendly folks there, then back to the former owners house and my first in person sight of the bike, I’d just bought. I loaded it up pointed myself to the nearest fuel and took off. Smart phones not being a thing yet.
And so it was I began learning how to ride on roads that weren’t there, but mostly on roads and paths that were not paved or even firmly packed, simply deep soft sand.
By now, our daughters were out of high school, off to college and I was at times traveling far from home for work assignments. My first long work commute was aboard the big BMW Adventure, riding all the way to Everett Washington for a month of work in 2006 and would repeat that in 2010. The BMW Adventure was ridden on my daily commute. I was assigned work in Arizona for seven months and the big BMW was my travel tool. As I closed that assignment the 1150 neared clocking 200,000 miles. I’d spent a lot of money maintaining the bike thanks in large part to working too many hours and not having the time to deal with it at times when it ended up costing me the most to repair.
I’d decided a change was due. The BMW was sold quickly for a low price. And my search was on for what was next. I toyed with finally buying an Italian super bike, rode a few which clarified to me my body had aged out of that riding position. Then I thought about those KTM 990’s I’d test ridden a few years prior. I had considered them back when looking at the 1150 Adventures. I liked the lighter weight, but was unsure about pretty much all else. Now was the time since it was 2013 and the last of the 990’s were being sold new. I searched and searched for the perfect used bike. Found none and resolved to buy the new Baja edition. Walking into the local dealer, I was asked how much I wanted that Baja. My first thought was, “Oh, no, the price has an added premium, or they are all gone, or what’s next?”…
It turned out there was a lightly used 2010 990R coming in on consignment. I took a look, and a short ride and bought the bike.
Home the bike came and off came the top box once I got the Touratech Zega Pro bags. Several modifications later and tens of thousands of miles I blew the motor in Arizona at very high speed such that it ate itself. That ended a long five weeks on the road. The long drive home with the bike in the back of a rental truck gave me time to decide what to do.
Rebuilt, run in and full service with a few more upgrades I rode back to Colorado for the 2019 KTM Adventure Rally in Breckenridge. That had to be a quick trip due to family and other commitments. Which was when I decided to never ever ride more than 300 miles in a day and to avoid all interstates during travel whenever possible.
That trip even with the high speeds on interstates across Utah I enjoyed the best fuel economy I’d ever experienced with this motorcycle and any motorcycle since my old CBR900RR. I regularly got better than 55 mpg on that trip. The weather varied from 109°F in Vegas at noon to 20°F riding to Breckenridge from Frisco before sunup. Summer gloves do not work at that temperature even with heated grips set to stun. And once unplugged my phone was too cold to turn on.
The KTM 990R is my last motorcycle. I’ve not seen anything that ticks the boxes it does. Plans for one more great big ride are tentative at best given we are still in the throws of the Covid-19 pandemic as I write this. I figure maybe in 2022. Maybe.
So, the KTM sits in the shed read for action. And every once in a while our grandson Ogden sits on it and plays with the buttons, levers and switches.