THE ADVENTURES OF THE KAWASAKI ZZ-R1200 "BLACK BLITZ"Hello ya ol´ time bikers, male or female, all over the world!
Enticed into the inviting offer of writing a "guest-column" on Jeroen de Roos´ site about two-wheeled beauties of the likes of Kawasaki ZX12R´s, ZZ-R1100´s or ZZ-R1200´s, I enthusiastically seated myself in front of my p.c. in order to start writing this very first column. Accidentally, I also happen to be Jeroen´s "bike-buddy", since we got acquainted via his excellent website about the legendary Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 "Big Zed". As luck would have it, I turned out to be one of the later owners of his former 1993 ZZ-R1100 D1 model (see picture below).
But before I go on, allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Ton Kool, aged 45, and I live in Amsterdam-west, together with my wife Shieda (Aged.... To avoid trouble, I better not mention her age on the Internet!! As we all well know: "A woman can keep one secret: the secret of her age!") and son Kevin (aged 10) and daughter Rania (aged 6). Both my wife and I are civil servants, but alas, the only one who´s ever been infected with the incurable motorcycle-bug is me. Even the youngest member of my family, Rania, announced the other day that in future "she wanted a bicycle and a car, but no moped and absolutely no motorbike". So this for one at least hasn´t apparently inherited the right motorcycle-genes! But let´s pick up the biking story now. During the first 16 years of my life I wasn´t interested in motorcycles at all. I had a younger brother though, who actually breathed motorcycles. He probably must have been born with high octane gas in his veins. As soon as my parents had given him his first two-wheeler (a genuine human muscle-powered scooter, see illustration:) he soon began sharpening the lap record around the neighbouring pond, leaving no stone unturned whilst fighting out many a battle against his lifelong boy next door and friend in the under six (years) class. In doing so, they fanatically imitated bike-racers sounds at the top of their voices, manfully ignoring the many grazes and bruises on their legs and elbows, due to the fact that the road-holding of the scooters at the time weren´t up to today´s standards by far. But no matter how many times their mothers had to play for nurse, those boys had the time of their life, imitating the Dutch T.T.´s topracers.
A couple of years later the "boys from the hood" laid their hands on a very old Solex (a sort of bicycle with clip-on engine on the frontwheel), that was actually meant to be broken up. It was still capable of reaching the frightening top-speed of a genuine 12 mph though, giving me the first chilling experience of acceleration by motorpower.
I wasn´t convinced though and stuck to my own old hobby: aviation, especially World War-II fighters and bombers. By the time the all important teenager´s milestone of reaching the age of sixteen came in sight, my younger brother´s lobby towards my parents and passionate pleas for the purchase of a real moped for his older brother - giving him of course a chance on a fiercely desired place on the buddy-seat as my co-passenger - just increased by every month my birthday came nearer. Finally my parents gave in and asked if I were interested in having a moped for my 16th birthday. Truthfully I said I wasn´t interested actually, for I still had a good bicycle that easily enabled me to cover the 7 miles distance from home to highschool in Meppel. So I left my well-meaning parents in doubt, triggering an even fiercer lobby by my younger brother. Under that relentless pressure my mother finally decided that I needed a brandnew moped, "for all the other boys my age in the village also got a moped". The die was cast.
And so in September ´77 I first kickstarted my brandnew Yamaha FS1-P moped (see picture below).
Little did my parents know that this tiny 2,5 hp 25 mph moped would infect me with the incurable "motorcycle bug", leading straight to the purchase of my first real motorcycle; the infamous Suzuki T500 "Titan" (later dubbed "the Vibrator" by my friends, because of its horrible vibrations...). Within a mere six months I had converted completely from airplanes to motorised two-wheelers, the faster and the more powerful the merrier. No matter how impressed I was by the Yamaha´s torque while changing up into 3rd gear, I soon got used to the "horrendous" topspeed of 25 mph and quickly found out that my "mount" was badly undergeared, because I was overtaken continuously by pretty young girls on Puch Maxi´s (at the time the "standard-moped" for fashion-conscious teenage girls, as was the Yamaha for the "man-in-the-street´s" children and Kreidlers and Zündapps were for the "happy few"). Within months after my 16th birthday I had the FS1-P tuned up a little by my dealer - illegally and against the explicit will of my father - to a more usuable topspeed of 33 mph, enabling me to avoid the humiliation of being overtaken by the nimble Puch Maxis. Because of my parents and the many policepatrols trying to hunt down youngsters with tuned up mopeds, I never had the guts to tune up the Yam to the possible topspeed of over 75 mph - some of my friend´s Yamahas did almost 80 mph on the tachometer! - and I stuck at a reasonable 45 mph. Flat out on the tank in raceposition that is! One of my oldest friends, Jack Bol from Meppel (the later builder of the exceptionnally beautiful many awards winning Honda CBX 1000 sixcylinder special, dubbed "Sixuality") (see picture)
is a year older than I am and so the law allowed him to buy a second-hand motorbike one full year before I reached the coveted age of 18. One day in ´77 he traded in his fast 75 mph Kreidler moped against a ´70 350 cc Yamaha R5 (see picture),
at a stroke becoming the "fastest boy on the block". The previous owner had drastically modified his mount, bearing a close resemblance to the then very popular Yamaha TZ350 production-racers for privateers. (See picture).
Queensdag, April 30th 1977, would turn out to be a milestone in my motorcycle "career", because on that day Jack allowed me to make my first ride aboard a genuine motorcycle, as his co-passenger on the narrow buddy-seat of his TZ350 look-a-like R5. The passenger´s footrests lacked, so I had to place my feet on the two - standard - exhaust pipes, solidly melting down my rubber boots! But... it was an experience I´ll never forget in my entire life! Used to the modest acceleration of my own FS1-P moped, I felt rocket launched when Jack opened the throttle. The mind-boggling dragsterlike speed really frightened me and by the time the first corner came in sight, the adrenaline-level in my veins reached new recordheights! It was just a short ride around the village, but I still see all those trees flashing by alongside me as in a fast-forward videomovie. I was excited though and from then on I kept on beg- ging him to allow me a ride alone at the clip-ons of his wanna-be racer. A couple of months later, he finally gave in and on a parking lot amidst a dark forest he handed me over the bike. "Don´t forget: it´s not your moped, so don´t fully open the throttle!!" he strongly advised me. I nodded, carefully dropped the clutch, opened the throttle the way I used to do it on my own Yamaha... and much to my own horror was regaled on a fierce wheely! Shocked and bewildered by this unexpected violence, in a reflex I changed up into second gear, only to be treated to a second wheely!! That díd it; even when the frontwheel was still airborne, I grabbed the clutch- and brakelevers as hard as I could to come to a sudden standstill, a mere 1,5 m away from a big tree.... "G-g-g-g-goodness me! That´s a hell of a lot motorcycle!!" I faltered to a white- faced Jack. "You fool! You silly old daffer!! I tóóóóóld you not to fully open the throttle!" he grumbled at me, relieved that his bike was still in one piece. But practice makes perfect, and a couple of weeks later I was already able to make a more normal ride on the awesome R5. Alas, it wasn´t to last long, for Jack´s bike was stolen some months later... It would cost him more than half a year of moneysaving, before he could afford himself a successor to the R5. That would be his first ever "superbike" (by early seventies standards that is): the powerful Yamaha TX750, or "roomklopper" (= cream whipper, so called for it´s counterbalancer´s nasty habit to whisk up the sump´s oil into foam...) as we dubbed it. (See picture).
Jack´s forced "bikelessnes" enabled me to become "the fastest boy-on-the-block", by purchasing my first ever real motorcycle: a ´72 Suzuki T500 "Titan" (see picture below).
Alas, blinded by youthful enthusiasm and lack of experience, I failed to see that the Titan wasn´t worth its money, and as a matter of fact was just good enough to be brought to the scrap dealer.... Immediately after the purchase all sorts of things went wrong; mufflers were fired out of the exhaust pipes, the battery refused to recharge, the tank leaked, the carbs flooded the engine etc. etc. On one occasion at the dealer´s repairshop, the bike caught fire spontaneously! My friends soon dubbed the machine "the vibrator" and for good reasons!: the vibrations were almost unbearable. Then came the 1978 Dutch T.T. In despite of a badly slipping clutch, the T500 only just managed to make the 30 miles way back home, but on my way to Meppel it seized and was internally ruined. So much for the Titan. Exit Suzuki!
Thanks to the fierce protests from my parents, the dealer agreed in giving back some 75% from the purchase price, which suited me well! A couple of months later I had earned enough money to trade in my Yamaha moped against my next motorbike, the unsurpassed Honda CB 500 "Four", my first four-stroke:
With this four-cylinder I scored a bull´s-eye. It was a magnificent machine with hardly any vices. It was just a pity that a previous owner had perforated the silencers in order to get a nicer sound from the four exhaust pipes, thus reducing both power and topspeed. From 1978 to 1980 I rode the neat Honda with great pleasure, but then I decided I had gained enough driving experience to buy something heavier and faster. So, my next fourcyclinder would be the Honda CB750KZ (see picture):
That was my first "superbike" capable of reaching topspeeds above 200 kph, but alas, it wasn´t to stay long in my "scuderia". Only one year after I had bought that bike, my brother crashed it under a baker´s car whose driver failed to notice him in time, effectively ending my brother´s appetite for motorbiking as well as his "motorcycle- career". The fact that the insurance-company gave me back more money for the bike than I had originally paid for, was scant consolation.
Came spring 1982 and a new mount in the garage; the Suzuki GS750E (below):
I had bought the 750 E from a good friend´s younger brother, but after a mere two months I already decided to sell the bike again. I found it lacked "motorcyclesoul", a feeling I can´t adequately describe. Someway it didn´t hit off between the two of us, despite the fact that it was an excellent motorcycle. But it was no "love-at-first- sight-affair", nor was it at second sight, so the "Soes" had to go. Life´s hard, even for motorbikes...
The Suzuki was succeeded by my third Honda, the Honda CB900FZ "Bol d´Or":
That machine was equipped with a big Vetter Windjammer full-fairing and a handy topbox to put luggage in. It soon proved to be one of the finest bikes I ever had and one of it´s heroic feats was a high speed non-stop trip from the Dutch village Havelte to San Giorgio, lake Garda, northern Italy (1200 km (745 miles) in 13,5 hours) in 1982. Although I was very content driving this biggest Honda so far (I felt like driving in a Rolls-Royce behind the huge Windjammer fairing), there was no virtue too in my relation with this much beloved Honda "longdistancegun". A year later I crashed it under a farmer´s tractor, due to the fact that the tractor´s indicators weren´t working properly. I got away with it with just a couple of bruises and a broken Vetter fairing. The bike appeared to be still okay, but then a friend of mine drew my attention to... a genuine Honda CBX sixcylinder hyperbike that was for sale. And indeed, that was to be my next superbike:
I traded in the "Bol d´Or" against the then fastest hyperbike on the market (112 bhp, top ± 140 mph), a decision I would never regret. It received it´s baptism of fire by being driven some 2200 miles through six countries during the 1983 holiday to Spain. Alas again, my love-affair between me and the howling sixcylinder was to last no longer than a mere six months. Due to financial problems at the time, I made one of the biggest and most inexcusable mistakes of my life: instead of waiting for better times, I sold the then biggest Honda ever built at the beginning of the 1984 season. I reckoned I would buy me another motorcycle after a while, when the good times would have returned again. Alas..... that "while" was to last some 14 lonely bikeless years before I finally could start my second motorcycle period.
And so started my second motorcycle episode in 1992. I had always been a fan of the legendary Kawasaki 900 Z1 "Pilot" and instead of buying a state-of-the-art new bike, I imported a 1973 Kawasaki 900 Z1 from Germany (where it arrived freshly from the States) for a very reasonable price. (See picture below)
It really was in mint showroom condition, making me a very proud new owner. But appearances are deceiving... On my maiden trip with the "new" Kawasaki it already let me down, due to polluted petrol. Fitting a fuel-pipe filter solved that problem. But the worst problem though were the fierce vibrations: after a 10 mile ride your hands felt like being amputed... It really was unbearable. Then the clutch started slipping. A mechanic of the local Kawasaki dealer thought the machine needed a complete overhaul and that did it: I immediately traded in the old "Kwacker" against my second Honda CB900F "Bol d´Or" (see picture), a 1982 model this time.
But alas.... the start of my second motorcycle-episode was apparently born under an unlucky star... The second "Bol" ´s oilconsumption almost exceeded it´s fuelconsumption, so I quickly brought it back to the dealer, who overhauled the pistons for free. That did solve the oilconsumptionproblem, but not another big threat to the real biker´s fun: it´s horrible handling and road- holding. Just like in the roadtest of the Dutch motorcyclemagazine Moto ´73, the bike had the very nasty habit to try to throw one out of the saddle once you exceeded 100 mph.... Then it would start such a terrifying speedwobble, that one began to fear for his life. Trying to reach the topspeed was a sheer suicide-attempt, so bitterly disappointed I managed to sell the Honda a couple of months later. Then more demanding matters than motorsports claimed most of my attention and money, so it was not until the Autumn of 1998, when I saw my next opportunity to get back in the saddle again. This time I didn´t hesitate and I laid hands on a beautiful ´93 Yamaha XJ900F (see picture):
With this bike I had scored another bull´s-eye, for it turned out to be one of the finest and most satis- fying bikes to ride I´ve ever had. It had a good roadholding, plenty of power, was maintenance- friendly and very fueleconomical. This machine was my first Yamaha-motorcycle and my first bike equipped with shaft-transmission, a highly appreciated feature indeed. The small sportsfairing though was not as protective against the elements as the huge Vetter Windjammer on my first Bol d´Or. But deep in my motorcycle-archives I still had the address of the last man in Holland to sell the original Vetter Windjammers and I was probably the last customer he sold one. The Vetter increased comfort just as good as it had done on the Bol d´Or, becoming about the best allrounder I ever had. But.... it remained a "U.J.M." (a Universal Japanese Motorcycle) that could be seen by the dozens on the highways. And I still had not forgotten the beautiful good old Kawasaki 900 Z1´s from my youth in the seventies. I couldn´t get them out of my mind and in 1999 I luckily found an almost brandnew ´75 900 Z1B, with a genuine mileage of just 8700 miles. It was in such a mintcondition that I quickly decided to buy it (see picture below):
The machine was a real beauty, but no more successful than my first 900 Z1. Vibrations were not as bad as the ´73 Z1´s, but still far from absent. And.... by now I had gotten used to the excellent Yamaha that in almost every sense outclassed the big Kawa completely. After one year and just 2800 miles I sold the Kawasaki again, determined never to buy an oldtimer again.
For some 2,5 years I enjoyed riding the loyal Yamaha, but then, realising that I had been riding all too many aircooled in-line fourcylinders, I wanted something else. By then Kawasaki´s ZZ- R1100, or "Big Zed" as it was dubbed by the international motorbikepress, had already earned it self a big reputation as the fastest bike ever produced by a Japanese factory, turning in an astonish- ing topspeed of ca. 174 mph (280 km/h). Even Honda´s CBR1100 XX "Black Bird" didn´t manage to rob it´s title of fastest bike in the world, until the awesome 178 bhp Suzuki GSX1300R "Hayabusa" appeared on the scene. All over the world Kawasaki´s big 1100 was a best-seller, so by 2000 it was already ten years on the market and that meant they had become affordable to me. So, in Spring 2001, I started looking for a cheap ZZ-R1100 and there were lots of second-hand bikes for the taking. But, as luck would have it, I chose another Kawasaki that pleased me very much, especially because of it´s price; the ZZ-R1100´s predecessor, the ZX10 "Tomcat".
The ZX10 quickly filled me with great enthusiasm, because of it´s fantastic power output, shattering performance and more than excellent roadholding, giving one the impression as if it was glued to the asphalt when cornering. A couple of weeks after the purchase it got a stiff baptism of fire when it was subdued to a heavy roadtest in the German "Schwarzwald" (Black Forest), among others on the dangerous "Kansel" mountainroads and racing down the former "Schauinsland" racetrack near the suburbs of Freiburg. The mighty blue-white ZX10 never gave away an inch and on many occasions while taking the tortuous left- and righthanders of the former "Rennstrecke" (racetrack) knee-down, I was singing over the moon with joy! On at least five occasions the ultrastrong brakes saved my life while going up and down the notorious "Kansel" mountainroads, sometimes coming to a standstill at inches away from a plumbless abyss... This five-day "privat Grand Prix" in south- west Germany was followed by a non-stop highspeed Autobahn-trip from Lossburg, Germany, to the 24 Hours of Le Mans at la Sarthe, France. The average speed from 9.00 A.M. to 19.00 P.M. was ca. 120 mph on the tachometer and most of the trip was run in torrential rains. The fantastic ZX10 sure had passed it´s examination! All the worse was it, that I was already forced to say goodbye to the ZX10 in July 2003... One early morning I was on my way to work, when I overtook two cars on a rural two-lane road. When I opened full throttle to overtake the cars, all of a sudden a big Ford left the parking lot of a nearby swimming bath, jumping right into my path and completely blocking the way. In a split second I realised that I had only one chance left to survive; I braked as hard as I could and in the very last moment I dropped the bike against the car´s radiator, thus absorbing the crash´s impact. I did the right thing, for I just got away with it with just some bruises, but the bike... was a goner. It went to a scrap dealer and I immediately started looking for another mount. That was to be the Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 as shown below:
As it turned out later, one Jeroen de Roos from Nieuwegein, Utrecht, used to be one of the previous owners of my new "Big Zed"!! It´s a small world indeed! The man whom I bought it from, had gradually grown afraid of biking, especially since his wife and kids crashed heavily somewhere in Germany, badly injuring his wife and killing one of his children... In the ensuing visit to a local hospital, he spotted a number of very seriously wounded and dying bikers, next to their beds medical equipment being stand-by, ready to preserve their vital organs as soon as they would have blown out their last breath.... This frightened him só much, that he dared not motorbiking anymore, thus offering the "Big Zed" for sale on the Internet. Undeterred by his horrorstory, I bought the Kawasaki and would spend almost the next two years to come in the saddle of "thé Speed King of the nineties". The new big "Kwacker" pleased me as much as it´s predecessor had done. In trying to get as much information as possible about the Big Zed from the Internet, I got acquainted with Jeroen de Roos who ran a very professional looking site on the Inter- net about his experiences with the Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 and later ZX-12R´s. As mentioned above, as luck would have it he happened to be one of the previous owners of my Big Zed. Among others, the two of us made a fantastic trip to the river Moesel in Germany on Queen´s Day 2004, April 30th. But then trouble set in once more.... Shortly after that fine trip to the Moesel I realised that the oilconsumption of my beloved Big Zed was rapidly increasing, until by March 2005 it had gone up to 1 : 700 (1000 cc oil for every 400 miles!). So, years earlier than I had planned, I decided to trade it in again.
By 2002 Kawasaki had introduced the successor to the ZZ-R1100, not surprisingly called ZZ-R1200:
It was a real beauty and in Spring 2004 I had two occasions to testride the new machine at local Kawasaki-dealers. Both times I was véry pleased and very impressed by the 1200´s performance, roadholding and windprotection, so I immediately decided to buy me one as soon as I saw a good opportunity. Due to the unacceptable oilconsumption of the Big Zed that moment would come much sooner than expected. I found a very nice 2003 ZZ-R1200 at a local dealer, and we soon came to an agreement. The very next day I intended to go back to sign the contract of sale, but again.... it was nót to be.... The very day I was to go to the dealer´s.... I managed to crash my ZZ-R1100 some 300 yards away from my house. Leaving home for work, the frontwheel hit a pot-hole, went airborn and tank-slapped me out of the saddle, parting company with the Big Zed. The bike slid some 30 yards over the road surface, heavily damaging it´s left side, while I got up unhurt. Being very pissed about this stupid incident, I acted very promptly indeed. The very same day I called the Kawasaki-dealer to tell him the deal was over, sold the remains of the 1100 to a scrap dealer and started looking on the Internet for another nice 1200. Then Dame Fortuna smiled at me once more; on the Internet I found an almost brandnew 2002 ZZ-R1200 with a mileage of just 1900 miles! The price was reasonable too, so the very next day I treated myself on one of the finest superbikes I´ve ever ridden. A week later I became the proud new owner and right now I´m enjoying every fast mile on this Kawasaki beauty, hopefully awaiting new fine motorcycle adventures in the near future to tell you about!