Wicked Quick

Sep 26, 2012 View Comments by

I enjoy a good handful of horsepower as much as the next guy, and don’t see any great harm in partaking of it occasionally, so long as it’s done in a responsible manner.

My list of “quick ones” is fairly short, but it includes some heavy hitters: a 1981 Honda CB900F Super Sport, a 1986 Yamaha V-Max, and my current 2007 Ducati S2R 1000 Monster.

But there’s one bike that isn’t on the list; one that I drooled over for years but could never scrape up the money to buy in my college days. The bike was an early-seventies Kawasaki H1 500cc two-stroke triple. The very sight of one of these bikes, especially one fitted with three burbling, smoke-spewing flat black expansion chambers, was enough to send my pulse racing.

I finally got the chance to ride one while attending Bowling Green State University in Kansas. A used one popped up for sale, and I called the owner up and headed out for a ride under the premise that I might buy it. I was riding a 1974 Suzuki GT380 Sebring at the time, which was also a two-stroke triple. It was equipped with straight drag-racing handlebars and a press-on black headlight cover, which complimented the glitter-gold paint job nicely.

I pulled up to the apartment on my Suzuki, and there it sat in the driveway—a two-tone green H1500. I hoped on, fired it up, and rolled onto the road for my long anticipated ride. I meandered around some side streets near campus, and my initial impression of the bike was that it was rather unimpressive. Not much faster than my GT380, I thought. I was feeling pretty smug about my own bike at that point, thinking that those GT380’s must be “sleepers” of sorts, since you never heard much about them in regards to performance.

About that time I pulled onto a more rural road, one without frequent lights or stop signs, although there was one railroad crossing just ahead. The crossing was of the type that rise steeply, level off across the tracks, and drop down onto the road again.

I was probably in third gear as I approached the crossing, and downshifted once for some engine braking. The downshifting, of course, increased the rpms somewhat, and immediately turned the previously docile bike into a rocket sled with a mere touch of the throttle.

The bike stood up faster than aunt Mimi’s pet Chihuahua begging for table scraps, and I crossed the tracks with the front wheel pawing the air, my fingertips somehow maintaining the barest of grips on the bars. This, of course, rolled the throttle on even more. With a combination of sheer luck and perhaps some divine intervention, I got the front wheel back on the ground, pulled over at the next side street, and sat, shaking, for several minutes.

I then rode the bike back to it’s owner, my eyes glued more to the tachometer than the road, thanking him for the ride and telling him that I’d call if I could swing the finances.

Looking back on things, I can’t believe that Kawasaki would unleash a bike like that on the general public. It seems kind of like placing a bunch of rabid wolf pups in a pet store window and placing a “Special of the Week” sign in front of the cage. But fast is what the public wants, and they got it in spades with the H1. As for myself, I think I’ll stick with something more mundane like the Ducati.

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