My Long Journey on a Kawasaki W2SS

Few people go on a 40-year-long journey with the same motorcycle, but the author and his Kawasaki W2SS have.

| September/October 2011

  • Kevin Lemire then and now on the long journey with his Kawasaki W2SS
    Kevin Lemire with his 1969 Kawasaki W2SS back in 1972 (after equipping it with the world's tallest sissy bar!), and today, at the 40-plus year mark of their long journey.
    Photo courtesy of Kevin Lemire

  • Kevin Lemire then and now on the long journey with his Kawasaki W2SS

In 1970, I was a 15-year-old with five years of dirt riding experience under my belt. My Harley-riding uncle bought a Honda CT-90 trail bike that four of us shared, and we learned to slide, jump, skid and wheelie on that little yellow bike. It had the heart of a lion, forgiving the many mistakes we made, surviving on little more than the gas and oil we fed it. I moved on to a Bultaco 200 Metralla, then a Suzuki 200 Scrambler and 250 OSSA Stiletto, and finally a fast-as-greased-lightening Suzuki 250 X-6 Hustler. Black and chrome with high pipes, that bike earned me broken ribs, feet and fingers. It was scary fast and could knock off every bike I rode against, at least over the short haul.

However, I was dreaming big, fast, sexy English dreams! Every week I saved $5 toward a green Triumph Trophy, picturing the day I would blast up the long hill leading from Main Street to my high school, with all eyes and ears on me, marveling at my skill and bravado. And every day on my way home from school, I stopped at the local Kawasaki/Triumph dealer to lust over the latest and greatest from Britain and Japan. There were rows and rows of two strokes in one, two and three cylinders, and four-stroke twins and triples. I remember marveling over that $999 1969 Kawasaki Mach III in its white and blue colors. That thing was long, lean and spooky fast.

But what ultimately supplanted my Trophy dream was the Kawasaki W. Specifically, the appearance of a red and silver 1969 Kawasaki W2SS 650 with only 3,000 miles on it. In the years since I’ve been as loyal to my W as I was feckless with its predecessors. We’ve been on a long journey that has farther to go … but I’m getting ahead of my story.

To my teenaged eye the W2SS was a brute, and I was just the one to tame it! Only a little more than a year old, it had been ridden hard and put away wet, and needed attention. I bought it for $550, borrowing half from my cousin, and brought it home. A new head gasket, muffler, oil change, battery cover, high-rise handlebars and a couple of cables later it was ready to go. It was bigger than anything I had ever ridden, a fistful of fury and power begging to be ridden hard and sure to draw the envy of every man and capture the heart of every woman who saw it, or so I thought.

Thus began 40 years of adventures, trials, challenges and pleasure, and the ride continues. Shortly after buying my W2, the head gasket blew again for no apparent reason. A Kawasaki service bulletin noted that the original head bolts were too soft, and could lead to a loss of torque and head gaskets blowing. I installed new hardened bolts and the problem was solved. A short time later, at about 65mph, I heard a noise like a rifle shot from the left side of the bike. The engine revved up to a million RPM and the bike coasted to a stop. A chain case mounting bolt had worked loose and found its way between the primary chain and the clutch sprocket, snapping the chain.

I rode the wheels off that bike throughout high school, earning the ire of my girlfriend's parents, the scrutiny of the local cops and the admiration of other riders. I rode it until the snow was too deep, and got it out again as soon as the mud in the driveway would allow. I survived 100 mph rides to Vermont and back, gale force winds and rain, near collisions with large animals, and rides back from parties involving far too much alcohol. We camped along the side of the road at Loudon during bike week, which was still allowed.

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