Published on October 18th, 2013 | by Bedlam
THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS OF EXHILARATING KAWASAKI OWNERSHIP
My introduction to roadbikery had thus far been underwhelming. My much-anticipated first bike had been a donkey, when I committed the beginner’s mistake of buying a Yamaha XS250 that was almost 20 years old. That bike and I suffered each others’ company for a brief week, before I found a better alternative – a Kawasaki GPz250, which was a belt-driven four-stroke. I can’t recall what model it was, but it was either a 1983 or 1985 unit. The bike wore no badges to identify make or model, and had been repainted in light blue, presumably by Stevie Wonder. The little GPz was an unloved and unwanted trade-in at the local bike shop, but I was a poor 19-year-old who’d held a learner’s permit for a week, and it was irresistible to me. Especially beside the obstinate, non-steering pig I was on.
A week after laying down a deposit on the GPz, I returned and symbolically wiped my hands of the XS. I was confident we’d meet in Hell at some point, but until then I intended to spend my time on a bike that triggered adrenaline, not my temper. I tore open my pay envelope and handed over the last few hundred dollars that made the GPz mine. And as I launched straight out in front of oncoming traffic I didn’t even spare a look back at the miserable Yammy. I was moving forward.
As vivid as that experience remains in my mind, it is virtually impossible to describe my feelings on that first ride. By an objective comparison with every bike I’ve owned since, the GPz250 is as exciting as a bar of soap. But to a young bloke who’d grown up riding on the farm and had long aspired to get two wheels on the road, it was nothing short of magical. It felt fast and it was nimble. Its responsiveness was light years ahead of XS and all the soft-sprung dirtbikes I’d ridden. Suddenly I was a GP rider. In less than 10 minutes I’d transformed from a struggling L-plater on a 20-year-old bomb to a shit-hot 500cc racer in the back streets of Tamworth.
There were only two throttle positions familiar to me, open and closed. For a couple of hours I rode those streets mostly with the throttle wide open, with no direction other than preparing for the next corner. I rode the way as I had through childhood on the farm – as fast as I could, whipping the bike and only slowing down when it started to splutter and I had to lean down to switch to the reserve tank. For those glorious few hours I was Mick Doohan, lapping Tamworth at full noise. I was flat out everywhere on that little blue machine, overtaking everything on those suburban roads. Every set of traffic lights became the front row of a Grand Prix grid, and I won every start.
Then suddenly it dawned on me that I should be at the lookout. The narrow, twisting road that snaked its way up the biggest hill in the area was the perfect test track. Where a round of the New South Wales hillclimb championship was held, the ideal place to put the GPz through its paces, and for maybe half an hour I left Doohan behind and became Joey Dunlop, skimming off the rock walls, fearlessly hitting apexes on both sides of the road as I slapped the bike from side to side while the road folded back on itself and wound up the side of the hill. Each time I reached the summit I eased off the throttle just long enough to catch my breath, then pointed the bike back down the hill and did it again.
I lapped up and down that stretch of bitumen for much longer than it takes most people to become bored with such things, with only the occasional slow-moving tourist car obstructing my track session. There was no clock to race, just a test of the bike’s ability, pushed a little harder on each run as my confidence grew. It was nothing short of exhilarating. I was invincible.
With the sun fading, I cruised back down into town, smug at my successful transition to the world of roadbikery. The XS was a mere blip that had slowed that transition, but it was now complete. I now had a bike that was great fun to ride and confirmed that my ability to ride a bike on dirt had transferred to the road after the XS had made me question whether I should confine my motorcycle escapades to sheep paddocks and the bush.
I went home long enough to catch my breath and babble to my flatmate about the sheer awesomeness of the blue beast compared to the shitpile I’d been cursing the whole week prior. He too was a petrolhead, though of the misguided four-wheeled variety. He observed that I was perhaps trying too hard to be Troy Corser, who was big in WSB at the time, and was destined to visit hospital before long.
Conversation turned to dinner, and as there was typically nothing in the fridge but beer, we agreed to one of our regular low-budget options, Chinese from the shopping centre food court on the other side of town. After four pm they spooned whatever fetid remnants were in the warmers into plastic containers and flogged it off cheap, as many Chinese take-aways do. Logic dictated we drive over in has car, but the novelty of the GPz was still fresh with me, so I insisted on flying over on the bike and bringing the food back in a backpack.
So I did, getting to the other side of town as fast as the GPz was capable. Getting food was a mere pitstop, and I swung the backpack on, followed by helmet, and fired up the GPz for the blast home. That was the point I deviated from the plan. I launched the bike across the underground carpark towards the exit ramp, and threw it at the left hand corner the way I’d been throwing it at corners all afternoon. To my surprise, the shiny concrete surface did not offer the same adhesive properties as bitumen. The bike dropped away as it started to slide on the concrete, then something gripped and it highsided, flicking me into the air across the exit ramp. It happened so quick I was just stunned. There wasn’t even time for fear to set in. I’d just parted company with the bike when my flight was interrupted by one of the concrete posts dotted through the carpark. I hit that sideways, not far off the ground, and wore the impact on the right side of my ribcage and stomach. The bike finished its highside alone and crashed to the ground also on its right side, coming to a stop in a decorative shower of shattered blinker and headlight lenses.
My first instinct was to make sure I wasn’t going to be run over by an oncoming car. Then I stood the bike up and took stock. I’d crashed a zillion times at home on the dirt, with and without helmets, so the process of regathering wasn’t unfamiliar. But this was different. As the adrenaline wore off I started to identify that some parts of me really fucking hurt. I couldn’t breathe, so I set about the process of keeping myself calm and trying to restart my lungs. For what seemed like an hour, but would’ve been nearer 10 seconds I walked in circles holding my ribs, consciously telling myself, “It’s OK, I’m just winded. Focus on breathing. It’s OK, I’m just winded. Everything is fine. Just breathe. I’m just winded…”
Then suddenly I couldn’t convince myself any longer and panic set in. The calm voice in my head now started screaming: “I can’t breathe! I’ve got a collapsed lung! I’m gonna die!”
I threw my helmet off and staggered around the fallen bike holding my ribs and gasping like a goldfish on the carpet.
“I’m gonna fucking die! I can’t breathe!”
I pulled my backpack off and threw it across the carpark for some reason.
Sanity began to restore itself as my breath came back in small gasps. Then I felt like a fool for panicking. Then shit started to hurt again. My right shoulder started to hurt, and the right side of my ribcage felt like I’d had a decent kicking. It also dawned on me at some point that I felt a bit dazed, and was possibly concussed. I began to examine the situation, and work on a plan to address it. But that was overshadowed by the overwhelming sense of knowing that I had just well and truly fucked up.
The bike I’d taken delivery of less than three hours ago was fucked. What wasn’t smashed was twisted. The right handlebar had snapped off and was dangling on the end of the throttle cable. The bikini fairing was smashed, the headlight was cracked with shards of glass missing from it, the right hand blinker was snapped at the stem, and there was a gouge along the side of the petrol tank. Financially, there wasn’t much to be upset about because it was a cheap bike, but the sense of having completely and utterly fucked up was palpable, and it was almost overwhelming.
I went upstairs and phoned my flatmate, who offered a sympathetic: “You fucking idiot”, then I went back downstairs to wait for him to turn up. I picked up my backpack and sat on the kerb pondering the damaged bike. After a minute the waft of beef and black bean reached my nostrils, and I realised the Chinese dinner was still in the backpack. The two containers had fared reasonably well, considering they’d highsided and hit the post with me, then been thrown across the carpark, but black bean sauced was smeared all through the inside of the bag.
Waste not, want not. I scoffed the first container and was halfway through the second when my flatmate arrived. “You fucking idiot” he reiterated as he looked at the bike, clearly more concerned with its condition than mine. Rather than leave it there to be knocked off, I managed to ride the bike home while he followed in the car. It was dark enough for me to skulk home the back way, jamming the dangling right handlebar into the headstock or against my thigh so I could get leverage to twist the throttle. I had to rely on the rear brake because there was no way off applying the front. I made it home, and parked the busted machine in the backyard where it’d stay for a while.
My mate Steve was a motorcycle mechanic and came over the next day to inspect the damage. He walked around it slowly, shaking his head. “You fucking idiot” he chuckled. It seemed to be a theme. “Slow down. You’re trying to ride it like a dirtbike. You keep reefing the throttle and throwing the bike around like that, you’re gonna get fucked up.” That turned out to be the best advice I received as a novice rider, and contributed to me surviving through my twenties.
After sitting through more abuse from my supposed mates, the pain in my side got to the point that I decided to go to hospital. I ate soggy hospital sandwiches left over from lunch while I waited for a busy and quite unsympathetic doctor to tell me there was a hairline crack in one rib, but the pain was caused mainly by cartilage damage, which would heal itself over time. His only advice for treatment was to avoid activities that made the ribs hurt, and sell the bike. The first part I could work out for myself, the second part I wasn’t interested in hearing.
In time there were plenty of other adventures on the mighty GPz. The handlebar was welded, and I was back on the bike in a week. The broken headlight and blinker lasted until rego time, and the gouged petrol tank remained until the day I sold the bike. In terms of value, it was the best $1500 I ever spent, and it fulfilled the criteria of a young learner’s bike perfectly. There was no tarred road within a hundred mile radius that bike and I did not travel. It could carry shopping bags home on the handlebars and still have room for a carton of beer balanced between knees and petrol tank.
It served as both commuter and recreational vehicle. I even gave it a crack as a dirtbike at the farm. Surprisingly, the front brake proved too grabby, and the front tyre not suited to dirt riding, and it all ended in a pile of dust. I got my Ps on it. I even crashed it on the way to the farm for my 21st and had to summon a trailer. In fact I crashed it more than anything I’ve ever owned, but mainly through over-exuberance than incompetence. I developed a love of riding on a wet road as soon as rain has stopped. The bike was forgiving, its power was modest, and riding it with reduced grip was sensational fun.
At one stage the GPz was even taken hostage by an acquaintance of the female variety, who had become angry at me for something I still don’t understand. Apparently it was something I said or did, or didn’t say or do. I’d left the bike at her place, and when I came back to pick it up I found it locked in her backyard with the number plate and rego label removed. I came back at three am, cut the padlock, wheeled the bike out, took her dog’s collar off her mutt and kicked it out into the street. Later that day I reported the number plate stolen, then rang the council to report a stray dog in my street threatening schoolchildren. Nobody would stand between me and the GPz.
It was ultimately this bike that allowed my interest in roadbikes to flourish. That horrible, hand painted, smashed up 250 was my pride and joy, and is largely responsible for the bike addiction I have today. It was a glorious relationship, notwithstanding the inglorious first three-and-a-half hours.