Sunday, December 19, 2010

1986 Kawasaki KX125

On my long list of bikes I've owned (look to the right side of this blog in case you haven't noticed) there is only one Kawasaki. It's no reflection on the brand, they are good bikes. I flirted with getting a KX125 back in 1978 when I was shopping around that year. The 1978 bike was very fast. It had a case-induction motor that used a side-mounted impeller to induct gas directly into the bottom end and made some great low-end power (for a 125).

Most of the 125 we were used to riding and racing were woefully deficient of any low-end power. The Hondas we had grown up racing had a sort of insistent, albeit weak, winding powerband that started off with literally nothing on bottom (the clutch was the prime motivator if you ever fell off the power), a noticable rush of power in the midrange and steadily ascending into what amounted to a shreik at the very top.

The Kawasakis were known for making good power at the lower reaches of the powerband. This style of power paid off for the brand for a few great years, and by 1984 or so they were competitive, if not dominant, players in 125 racing.

This particular 1986 Kawasaki entered my life during a long, non-current, and financially broke period of my young adult life. I believe at the time the only motorcycle I owned was my old 1978 Maico which was hopelessly outdated and, frankly, embarassing to be seen on. I had no money for more current iron, but I did have a desire—and was also ambitious and clever, having developed some keen motorcycle-acquiring skills that were honed over the years of dreaming from one bike to the next.

I was able to work out a trade for some design work with a man named John Maughan who's son Corky was the number 1 pro in 1986. I think this bike was given to Corky from some kind of shop sponsorship and since he was now on something newer and certainly better, this unloved, slightly dog-eared, and wrung-out machine was, at least to John, expendable. John owned the local motocross paper, Utah Cycle News, at the time and was looking to upgrade the look. I was looking to upgrade my mode of recreation, so a deal was struck.

Corky was a fast rider and had won the number 1 plate against the best Utah (and regional) competition at the time. The bike, as mentioned, was well-used but must have been well broken in because it seemed that all the parts, while loose and slapping against each other, all moved in an easy, slick and free revving manner. It was as if the moving parts all wore out at the same rate, creating a harmony of function that made a lot of noise but got that green bike moving in a hurry.

One thing that certainly contributed to the speed of the motor was the fact that John was a big engine tuner, and the cylinder on that bike contained some amazing boost ports that were cut into the cases at the induction. As I recall, the cylinder was ported to the extent that there was as much hole as cylinder wall, normally a recipe for disaster. I think the basic engine design was reliable, and also the Maughan's were sponsored by a shop, so replacement parts were plentiful, and since Corky was racing every weekend they had plenty of opportunity to break and replace parts. But nonetheless, this bike was well wrung out by the time I got it. In fact, every part moved in ways not originally intended.

I got many hours of riding this bike at tracks like "56" (shown) and one thing I remember was how insanely fast it was and that it handled very well if you knew how to ride it. The Kawasakis from 1986 were very advanced bikes at the time. The 1985 bike was a "factory works" replica that came to the public in a very advanced design, and the 1986 bikes had built on that design. I think the handling and steering were a little unorthodox, at lease as compared to the other 125s at that time. The Hondas and Suzukis had very quick steering and were a little busy at speed as a consequence. The Yamahas had always been "rear end" handlers that you would slide through the corners. The Kawasaki had a slightly "unhinged" feel to it in the corners with the bike able to turn a fairly tight line, but also posessed good stability on the fast sections. It was a little unusual to get used to, but actually worked very well once you forgot about it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

1984 Suzuki RM125

The RM125s of the early 1980s had terrific rear suspension, cleverly named the Full Floater because the shock was isolated from solid connection to any hard frame parts by a linkage and a "dog bone" strut that was attached to the forward part of the swingarm. The strut pushed up on a pivot which transferred the forces down to the shock and toward the ground. This was one ground-hugging set up at a time when the motorcycle companies were still experimenting with different suspension systems.

I had been watching these bikes in races over the last couple of years, and even though their motors were not the fastest 125s at the time (I believe the Yamahas were king) the handling and suspension were great. I remember seeing Doug Dubach racing his 1981 Full Floater at Manning in a pro race. He was known for using his 1981 bike for several years after it was introduced, even though there were newer bikes out. Dubach was a journeyman pro paying his dues, and would go on to become a successful Yamaha factory rider, and would eventually reach the pinnacle of the sport with his win of an AMA supercross.

I had been admiring the Full Floaters from afar, and riding my Maico. I had a soft spot for the little yellow bikes, and wanted to get back to riding 125 after several years of riding 250s. So I went out and bought a new 1984 RM125 from Jack Overfield at State Sport. Excited for the maiden voyage on my new sled, I went up to one of my favorite tracks at point of the mountain, down below Widowmaker in the foothills. I was happy and pumped but I had no idea what I was in for with this bike.

It was trouble from the very beginning. I think it was the first ride, to be fair, that set the course for many mechanical problems that totally drove me crazy—riding was my thing, not wrenching.

What transpired on that first ride was I was just getting going around the rolling track and liking the killer rear suspension. Yes it worked with controlled precision just like I imagined. But, as I went through one particular G-out on the course, a dip with a small jump after, the back wheel suddenly stopped solid. Skidding to a stop, I saw that the chain had wrapped itself around the countershaft sprocket and doubled up in front, the dreaded chain suck. It was wedged tightly between the engine cases and the countershaft, so much that I had to pry it out with a large screwdriver, praying I would not crack the pretty magnesium cases.

Shortly after this first mechanical glitch, the transmission started acting up, missing gears and generally causing headaches and grief. I had the transmission rebuilt, but right after that work was done I experienced a heartbreaker of a blow up when I was going through the gears and suddenly the entire gearbox just completely lunched. I could feel the metal grinding and grating

between my feet... what a sad m

There were short periods where the bike would run fine, and tease me with the fun factor of slamming through whatever bumps might be on the track. I had some fun races on the bike, including racing at a cool track at Mt. Carmel Utah (shown). But the motor never ran well, and the bike was never fast. I have had some bikes that were just naturally good running and some that were faster than others of the same model and year, but I would say that this one was not happy from the start. Probably had something to do with the maiden voyage and that chain suck incident.

The last time I rode this bike was at the same track at Widowmaker I started the whole sad affair at. It was not running well and as I rode it just started to get slower and slower. I was having to use the clutch to keep it cooking enough to even make it up some of the small hills on the track, but I was having fun riding and I was disgusted at the same time. I should have had some mercy and stopped, but I just didn't care. Any amount of affection or pity I would usually feel for one of my beloved motorcycles was not there that day as I just rode her into the ground. The motor eventually lost all compression and I was forced to push it back to the truck. A sad ending to what was probably a better bike than it ever got credit for being.