Now that I’m as old as my father was when I used to think that he was old, I’m even beginning to sound like him. So what do I have to say to young motorcyclists today? “Things were a lot different when I was your age.”
I was recently reminded of that while sifting through my photo archives. Among the dog-eared manila envelopes were some long-lost black-and-white negatives of a motorcycle trip I took in July 1973 aboard Kawasaki’s then-new Z-1. This might have been the first long-distance ride on a Z-1 by somebody other than a Big K employee, making it somewhat of a milestone adventure.
I chronicled my epic ride using my trusty Canon FTb, shooting Tri-X 35mm film to document places that the Kaw and I had been. We didn’t have digital cameras in those days, and in fact, the word digital was rather foreign to young bucks like me. Occasionally old men used digital in conversation, most commonly as, “Well, sonny, I had my 50th birthday physical today and the doc gave me a digital rectal exam.” But as a 24-year-old with other matters on my mind, I just couldn’t put my finger on what they were talking about…
But back in ’73 I was a hot-shot motorcycle magazine editor in the thick of motorcycling. So I had my finger on the pulse of the industry, and I can tell you that our touring gear didn’t compare to what we have today. We didn’t have the fancy multicompartment tail and tank bags, high-output audio systems, flashy waterproof riding gear, and flow-through ventilated jackets and helmets that we enjoy today. No GPS, either. We used folding paper road maps that the gasoline companies handed out for free to find our way to becoming lost over the horizon. Even the nomenclature for bikes was different back then. Sport-touring bikes, adventure-tourers, trackday bikes and naked bikes had yet to be developed; they were as distant to us as the words Internet, Facebook and reality TV.
My Z-1 tour actually had its origins two years before Kawasaki launched its landmark model. It began in June of ’71, to be precise. That’s when, fresh out of college, I was hired on as Hot Bike magazine’s tech editor. The publisher worked our small staff like rented mules, and within 2 years I had been promoted (if you can call it that) to the editor’s desk at Hot Bike’s sister publication, Street Chopper. That meant even more work for me. I was in need of a vacation, so I borrowed one of the new four-cylinder 900s from Kawasaki’s press pool to ride north to watch the second-annual AMA National Roadrace at Laguna Seca raceway. Dark and early Friday morning I met my friend Tyson and his girlfriend, Kathy, and another couple for the ride to Monterey, CA. Tyson and his friend rode Honda 750s, so they were naturally curious about the Z-1. I gave them a few minutes to examine the bike before we saddled up.
Packing for rides was easy back then. I simply rolled a spare pair of jeans and some T-shirts into my sleeping bag, stuffed that into an old raincoat to help keep it dry if I encountered rain, and then bungeed the lot onto the passenger seat. I strapped my camera bag directly behind me, so it doubled as a backrest. To help protect my camera from dishonest Charlies’ sticky fingers when I stopped for food and such during the day, I strategically placed my skivvies and socks inside the bag directly over the coveted camera. We lacked sophisticated antitheft devices back in the day, so I figured if somebody really wanted to steal my camera, they’d have to deal with my BVDs first!