Tag Archives: KZ400

W.D. & Me On Our First Long Motorcycle Ride 36 Years Ago!

Dallas -Dumas 411 miles, motorcycle, route, ride

My route to/from Dallas, Texas/Dumas, Texas (411 miles)

Several weeks ago I met my cousin W. D. (aka Dub) in Lagrange, Texas (of “Chicken Ranch” fame). Dub recently bought a new camper for his retirement travels and was setup at “Colorado Landing” RV park. He and I lived close by growing up and have been like brothers since we were kids. Dub is 18 months older, so like any little brother I wanted to do everything Dub did. Cousins are your first and best friends. We have a long history so we spent the day visiting and talking about old times.

My KZ400

My KZ400 that I rode on the trip.

Dub and I rode our first long motorcycle ride together. He lived in Eastlake, Colorado just north of Denver, Colorado and I lived in Dallas, Texas. We were young and rode the trip “on a wing and a prayer”. The only thing we planned was the date of travel and our destinations.  We met each other in Dumas, Texas which was about midway for each of us. Back then there were no cell phones to communicate with each other as our trip progressed. Dub devised a crazy way for us to communicate on our trip without having expensive long distances charges. When we stopped for gas or to eat etc. we would call Dub’s wife Barb “person to person”. If everything was okay we would ask to speak to ourselves. Barb would reject the call if everything was okay. If either one of us had any problems we would call and ask to speak with Barb. Barb would accept the call and we could tell her what our problem was. This worked very well. As the day progressed we kept checking in and knew the other rider was having a good ride. Fortunately, we did not have any problems that needed to be relayed during the trip.

That first day the weather was great… not too hot or too cold. We both made good time and arrived in Dumas about 5 or 10 minutes apart. I was riding a 1974 Kawasaki KZ400 and Dub was riding a 1974 Yamaha 500. Seats on our bikes were not made for staying in the saddle for hours on end.  As the hours became longer and longer it seemed as though we were sitting on 2×4’s turned edge ways. When we met up, we both shared similar stories about how hard the seats were. I had passed many riders that day who were standing while riding. It wasn’t long before I understood why they were riding that way. I was soon doing the same. If I remember correctly I could only travel about 100 miles before stopping for gas. It was a welcome break from the saddle. I also had to stop occasionally to oil and make adjustments on the chain. Because of that trip I decided my next bike would not have a chain drive.

motorcycle, route, ride

Our route from Dumas to Clovis (182 miles)

We were a bit paranoid about parking our bikes outside the motel room, so we pushed them into our room for safekeeping. Nothing like the smell oil and gas as you sleep. The following day we got an early start and headed to Clovis, New Mexico. Dub’s brother John was stationed at the Air Force base in Clovis. It was a short ride relative to the day before. We stayed with John a couple of nights. John had a bike so we spent the following day riding around Clovis. Dub had a minor mishap the first day. Shortly after starting his ride he broke his windshield and had ridden with half a windshield. We checked with the local Yamaha dealer there in Clovis to get a replacement windshield. They had a windshield that was the same size and shape but the mounting holes did not match. We solved the problem by drilling a couple of holes to make it work. Later on the trip, Dub would find replacing the windshield to be a good decision.

Clovis - Eastlake 511 miles

Our route from Clovis to Eastlake (511 miles)

After a good visit and rest we rode to Eastlake the next day. It was a long ride of 511 miles. As we started out that day it began to warm up. We noticed there were hundreds of tarantulas sunning themselves on the road that day. We entertained ourselves by holding our boots just above the pavement and when our boot hit a tarantula; it would go flying down the road. Please remember this was 30 plus years ago and our youth was showing.

The weather was great when we started but then turned to light snow and eventually rain. When we started up Raton pass (7834 feet or 2388 meters elevation) the clouds started to roll in. As we reached the top of the pass snow started falling. To add to the situation both of our bikes were carbureted and ran really rough in the higher altitude. I think at one point I may have downshifted to second gear climbing the pass. On the other side of the pass it was all downhill to coin a phrase. A short while later, I thought I had a major engine problem. It was as though I turned off the key. No power… it was a dead engine. I watched as Dub’s tail light became smaller and smaller as he rode farther away. Dub had not realized I was falling behind. I was in a bit of a panic not knowing if he would realize I was not behind him any longer. About a mile down the road Dub turned around and came back to see what the problem was. I had taken my hand off the handlebar to wipe my nose and in the process I inadvertently hit the kill switch. Because of the gloves I was wearing I did not feel my hand hitting the switch. It took a few minutes to realize what had actually happened. What a relief to know there was no problem. After having a good laugh we continued on our way. The snow eventually stopped and we thought we were out of the worst of it but then it started to rain rather heavily. I was wearing a cheap rain suit. It worked well until the pants started to come apart from the knee down. I was getting soaking wet from the knee down. Being wet is one thing… being wet and cold is another… As we were riding through Pueblo Colorado we were passed by a car full of kids. They rolled down their window and were laughing and shouting at us riding in the rain. We had the last laugh. They ran off the road while trying to make fun of our situation. Dub and I smiled and rode on.

Later, we stopped at a rest stop to call Barb and let her know our ETA. While Dub was talking to Barb I decided to put on some dry socks. Sitting on the curb by my bike I thought the warm engine would feel good on my cold wet feet. I was right. I was lying on my back with my feet on the engine when Dub came looking for me. Because I was lying down he could not see me. He was walking around wondering where the heck I had gotten off to. We had another good laugh when he saw me laying on the ground. The engine heat did feel really good on my cold wet feet.

It was still raining when we got to Eastlake after sunset. Dub’s driveway was long and was two strips of concrete made just for a car. Because the concrete was narrow, wet and slick, we both slipped off the runners and dropped our bikes.  We just let them lay and went in the house to clean up and warm up. Later that night we got the bikes up to the house and cleaned them up the next day. We learned a lot that day…

I stayed several days visiting, site seeing and resting up before riding back to Dallas alone. I missed having my cousin riding along. For the most part the ride was uneventful. I had good weather, a bit cold and partly overcast the first day but not bad considering it was October. When riding that time of the year in Colorado the weather could have been really bad. I was lucky.

Eastlake - Dumas 401 miles

My route from Eastlake to Dumas (401 miles)

I stopped at Capulin Volcano to take a break and play tourist. On the way up to the top of Capulin one of the supports broke on my windshield. I was in a bit of a panic until I figured out a fix. It held together the rest of the trip.

I spent the night in Dumas again. I got an early start back to Dallas. Somewhere along the way I lost my Air Force fatigue shirt I had strapped to the luggage rack. I rode a ways back looking for it but had no luck finding it. I paid 4 years of my life for it and didn’t like losing it. Your fatigue shirt was like a “badge of honor” back in those days.

Until this ride, the longest ride I had been on was a 610 mile round trip. This ride of 1858 miles round trip ignited my love of motorcycle touring. It took me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot from this trip. After this ride I knew I needed better gear and a bike better suited for long trips. I started a family shortly after that trip and I had to put my riding on hold for 23 years. Now I am trying to make up for lost time. My posts here will attest to that.

Dub & Me

Dub and me 30+ years later…

Dub still rides but has downsized to a Yamaha scooter. We hope to do some riding together again. We have tried to get together to ride but life has gotten in the way. I’m going to try to get him to ride with me in May. I plan to ride the “Texas Independence Trail Region”. Stay tuned for that post…

My Best Friend and Motorcycle Riding Buddy

Larry is my best friend and riding buddy. My best friend after my wife that is…

I don’t know of many friendships that have lasted as long as Larry’s and mine. Many, many years and miles and miles apart.

Larry and I met when we were stationed at Brooks AFB in San Antonio, Texas in 1969. Yes, we are older than dirt. He and I both worked at the base dispensary. Larry worked in the flight surgeon’s office just down the hall and I worked as an x-ray technician. We soon became good friends when he became my roommate after his divorce from his first wife. We were two kindred spirits. While in the Air Force we spent our time spelunking (exploring caves), exploring the Texas Hill Country, camping, cliff diving, swimming daily, chasing girls (didn’t catch any thank goodness) and meeting some of the greatest people on and off base. It was a fun time with a lot of good memories.

My wife Janet thinks we could be brothers because we are so much alike. We like the same things, even think alike about most nearly everything and we have the same weird sense of humor.

Larry’s tour of duty was up in November of 1971 and mine was up in August 1972. Larry returned to his home in Georgia and I moved to Dallas, Texas to resume my job with Geophysical Service, Inc.  Larry remarried and I married the love of my life in 1978. We kept in contact over the years but because we each had families and we lived so far apart it was difficult to get together.

 

Our first motorcycle ride in July 1978.

Our first motorcycle trip together was in July 1978. I rode a KZ400 and Larry rode a KZ900. I rode from Houston, Texas and met him and our other friend Larry T. midway. From there we rode back to Larry’s home in Bryant Alabama. The Larry’s have been friends since their childhood. It is fun introducing them…  “Hello, this is my friend Larry and this is my other friend Larry…” I know it is confusing having two friends named Larry.

Soon after that first ride in 1978 we both stopped riding to start our families. In 2000 we both renewed our love of riding. We were both empty nesters, so we had more time and money to do the things we have longed to do for so long. We both bought 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomads. Our first trip together after laying off so long was the first leg of the “Trail of Tears Remembrance Motorcycle Ride” in 2001.  The following year we rode to the Big Bend area of Texas. Over the years we have done many rides together.  You can read about many of those rides here. I haven’t added all of those rides to this blog yet. It is a work in progress so keep checking back for new post.

Many years later 2010 Larry T, Larry C & me

To date (2012), we have been friends for 43 years. Considering we live so far apart and have families it is amazing that we have been able to continue our friendship over the years. Our wives are good friends as well which has helped to keep the friendship going strong. I am very thankful for our friendship and look forward to more of our adventures riding motorcycles or otherwise…

What Motorcycle I Ride and Why

Someone is always asking me what motorcycle I ride and why. I’ve owned only 5 two-wheeled vehicles (1 scooter & 4 motorcycles). My first was a 1963 Cushman Super Silver Eagle motor scooter. I loved that scooter and had a blast riding it and it ignited my love of riding. Later in my late 20’s I bought a Kawasaki 250 and rode it for a few months. I soon wanted something bigger. A friend was riding a Honda 450 and I wanted something like that. I bought a new 1975 Kawasaki KZ400. I rode the wheels off of it. I took two long trips (Dallas, Texas to Denver, Colorado – 1837 miles & Houston, Texas to Bryant, Alabama – 1650 miles) on the KZ400. From those two trips I was hooked on motorcycle touring. But… not long afterward I got married and sold my KZ400 when our first daughter was born (the sale helped with the hospital bill). It wasn’t until 2000 that I was able to renew my passion for riding and touring. I told my wife I would like to get another motorcycle and she said “You should… You never buy anything for yourself”… And the rest is history.

Cushman Super Eagle

Me and my Cushman Super Eagle

What I Ride and Why

What I Ride and Why

Not my Kawasaki 250 but one like it…

What I Ride and Why

My KZ400 ready to go to Alabama…

What I Ride and Why

My 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad.

Seat Height

It was then I started looking for the perfect touring motorcycle. There were many bikes to choose from but there were a lot of things to consider. As a vertically challenged person (5’ 6”) there are issues. There are advantages to being short but not very many and when it comes to motorcycle riding there aren’t any… So I am jealous of you taller riders… In order to handle the bigger touring bikes you as a rider need to be able to get your feet solidly on the ground.

  1. A must for balance.
  2. A must to pushing the bike backward.
  3. A must for passenger mounting and dismounting.
  4. A must for stopping on uneven ground.

At this time seat height was my main concern and thus a limitation for several of the bikes I looked at. The weight of the bike was not an issue for me as long as I had my feet firmly planted. I decided that a seat height of 29” was a maximum height for me and that was pushing it.

I learned this from riding larger bikes of friends and checking out the different bikes in showrooms. My best friend an old Air Force buddy bought a 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad. I had ridden his bike and it was a good fit. I had looked at other bikes… mainly the Yamaha’s and the Kawasaki Voyager. I had thought about the Honda Goldwing also but the Nomad had everything I wanted and was reasonably priced. I purchased a 2000 Nomad in July of 2000.

Nice and Necessary

I loved the Nomad and over time found all those things I thought to be “nice but not necessary” were “necessary and not nice to not have them”.

Namely…

  1. A large comfortable seat and backrest for my wife. Nobody’s happy if the wife is not happy… Just kidding… I realized long ago as a rider you need a good seat if you are in the saddle very long. I like having my wife ride with me and I would do anything to insure that she continued riding.
  2. A trunk. Duh, you can never have too much storage space especially when traveling with the love of you life.
  3. An intercom for rider & passenger. It wasn’t long that Janet & I bought an intercom to solve the problem of communicating.
  4. A CB. When riding in a group and everyone but you has a CB radio it doesn’t take long to figure out a CB is essential.
  5. A weather radio. This is a “duh” after riding very long. Not knowing for sure what those dark clouds up ahead have in store for you. With the weather band you can find out and take action if needed.
  6. A GPS. I thought this was stupid even in a car but after Janet got me one for Christmas, it didn’t take long to realize the need. Especially when riding through large cities and towns you aren’t familiar with. It also helps find gas stations, motels… etc.
  7. AM/FM radio & CD player. Sometimes it is just nice to listen to music.  You can also get local weather information. Don’t get me wrong, riding with nothing but the hum of the engine and wind is nice too.
  8. A larger gas tank. When riding in remote areas like West Texas where gas stations are few and far between and sometime not open when you need them, a larger tank for longer cruising range is a must.

Having realize all of the above, I began looking for solutions. I loved the Nomad but it was lacking. My solution was to add after market products. The products I added are…

  1. Radio Caddy Batwing Fairing.
  2. AM/FM/CD Marine radio.
  3. CB radio with intercom and ability to integrate other audio equipment. (AM/FM/CD radio & GPS)
  4. GPS.
  5. Tour Pack Style trunk with Mustang backrest.

What I Ride and Why, 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad

My customized Nomad

What I Ride and Why, 2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad

My customized Nomad in Big Bend

These addition served us well but what I really wanted was something more like a Honda Goldwing. These additions were invaluable but only delayed me buying a new bike with “all of the above”.

Center of Gravity

Over time I realized another consideration was the bike’s center of gravity. When stopped a high center of gravity means the point where you lean and drop the bike is slight. Dropping a bike is no fun… 1) You have to pick it up and… 2) IT IS EMBARRASSING! The center of gravity also affects how the bike handles at slow speeds. Like when maneuvering through parking lots and tight places. The lower the center of gravity the better it handles…

The Solution

My search for a solution, to all of the above issues, kept bringing me back to the Honda Goldwing. It had everything. All the “Nice and necessary” things mentioned above plus heated seats and grips and a reverse ( no more issues with pushing the bike backwards out of a parking spot)! My biggest issue with the Wing was the seat height of 29.1”. Before buying a wing, I looked at ways of lowering the bike or reducing the seat height. I could stand straddle of the bike flat-footed with my boots on but there wasn’t a lot of room for error. Lowering the seat or bike seemed the solution. The other issue was the price vs. some of the other bike offerings. On returning from one of our trips we stopped a the local Honda dealer here. My friends from Alabama and Georgia told me I could get a good deal from the Honda dealer (Southern Honda) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Later I check their prices online and they were a lot cheaper. Thousands cheaper. Thus the wheels were turning and I looked at ways to make it happen. In October 2009 I bought a new 2008 Honda Goldwing from the dealer in Chattanooga. I will probably never own a better bike.

After I bought the Wing, I found the seat height hasn’t been that big of a problem. The seat height is still stock. It would be nice if the seat was lower but I am fine with the way it is. The Wing has a very low center of gravity that translates into amazing handling. The “horizontal six” is the smoothest ever and it has lots of power for mountain riding. My wife loves her seat and we both love the heated seats. I thought I would miss the floorboards or the heel/toe shifter but I don’t. I did raise and bring back the handlebars a bit which fits me better. I added the CB and a MP3 player and other things for touring. The Wing is one great bike for traveling and we look forward to making many long trips on it.

What I Ride and Why

My baby…

We have done many long rides on the Nomad and Wing. You can read about them here. Ride safe… I hope we see you somewhere on the road…