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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/996741-The-Kawasaki-Bighorn-Adventure
Rated: 18+ · Book · Writing · #1677545
"Putting on the Game Face"
#996741 added October 25, 2020 at 9:22pm
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The Kawasaki Bighorn Adventure
I have twenty-five vintage 1970s motorcycles in my possession. Some run and some don't. Right now I'm focused on four. They are a Kawasaki Bison and three Kawasaki Bighorns. For the past month, sandwiched between all the other demands on my time I have been working to develop a more transparent understanding of how they operate and put into motion a rehabilitation project for the four.

I use the term "Rehabilitation" rather than "Restoration" for a purpose. A restoration I define as returning the bike to its former showroom quality. This is a "Concours" motorcycle that is authentic down to the last detail. A rehabilitation gives the owner/operation more latitude. By latitude I mean being able to upgrade to more modern components as well as make design improvements that make the bike look "better." As one can imagine the two types of bringing a vintage motorcycle back from the grave require different mindsets and while advocates debate one method over the other, the end product is a machine, often a half century old, emerging as an awesome expression of creative effort.

If you could see the four bikes today you'd wonder why bother? That is a question I often ask myself. The answer is that as a younger man, in my twenties I rode these bikes and spend many enjoyable hours on the road and in the dirt. Now that I am in my mid seventies, I have the time and resources to take on a rehabilitation project. Back in the 1970s I knew only the barest of how to maintain a bike and spent my time riding them. Now, in order to enjoy these machines once more, I have to take these surviving dual purpose bikes, ridden hard and put away wet, and left to languish for long periods of neglect and exposure to the elements. I'd been looking for a Bighorn and finally in 2019 had the chance to acquire the four bikes.

The first of these was an F8 Bison, a 250cc which was a smaller variation of the 350 cc Bighorn I was looking for. It came in a three bike deal along with another 250cc Kawasaki and a Honda. They had all been abused and left to languish in a shed.

The bike I had my eye on was the Bison. The data plate read F-8 10/71 #12249. It was red and had been molested, but all the pieces seemed to come with it and it turned over when it was kickstarted. Since I had not been able to find a Bighorn at a reasonable price, these three seemed a deal worth considering. I bought the lot for $700. Those three bikes remain today in the condition I found them. The reason I didn't turn the Bison into a project was three other bikes were to come my way in 2020 and as fortune would have it, they were all Kawasaki 350 cc Bighorns.

The first of these was F-5 2/70 92733. It was brown, just like the one I purchased for $1000 when I came back from my first tour in Vietnam. It was a handful for me, weighting about 150 pounds at the time (me not the bike). It wasn't my first purchase of a dual purpose bike but it provided many fond memories. This motorcycle came from a small town in Northern Wisconsin. After talking with the owner over the phone we tentatively agreed on a purchase price. This price was one of those... If it lives up to the picture sort of agreements. Obviously if I was willing to drive six hours up and back I was interested and I told the guy to call me if he changed his mind. I really hate it when I drive a long way only to discover the seller has changed their mind. Anyway I arrived at this little town and the owner was an old motocrosser out in his shed working on his latest ride. He dug the bike out of a dusty corner and pushed it into the light of day. The first thing I noticed was the left hand side cover had been removed. Looking beneath the bell crank that the stator coils were missing. He handed me the backplate to which they had been once attached, gave the polish salute and said how sorry he was but that was the way he got the bike over thirty years ago. The agreed to price of $1000 dropped to $900 and firmed up when I kicked it over and realized there was good compression. This would not be the last time I'd find ignition issues with a Kawasaki Bighorn.

Several weeks later I found another bighorn down in Rockford Illinois. It was a green F-5 2/71 07614. It was in the corner of the shop at a Maw and Pa dealership currently being run by the Son. There were two bikes sitting side by side. One was for sale and this became the best of the three I'd ultimately acquire. When I asked if it was "Running" he assured me it did and rolled his eyes when I asked him to fire it up. He did, and in fairly short order, and the shop filled with belching smoke. Slowly the motor began to clear and he drove it up and down the access road in front of his shop. It didn't run all that well but it was still fairly lively.

The next week, another Bighorn popped up. It was in Fargo, North Dakota. It was an up in the morning early, drive all day, overnight and come home the next day. I knew in advance pretty much what to expect. It too was a green F5, 12/70 and the motor was seized. When I took the crank cover off it was filled with brown mud like it had drowned out in a stream and never started again. The deal went smoothly and I returned home with a third Bighorn. Regarding the latest acquisition I have yet to discover if the seizure is the result of corrosion and neglect or a mechanical issue. The good news was that the ignition coils are still in it, waiting to be tested.

So this is as far as I intend to go tonight. I'm thinking about writing a book on my experiences. I'll be taking some pictures and using this blog to document the adventure.

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