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The Way We Weren’t in ’73

Rediscovered photos evoke stories from a 1973 tour of California aboard a Kawasaki Z-1. No GPS, fancy tank bags or waterproof riding gear.

| May/June 2019

I confidently survey the Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway One. This landmark was featured in the opening sequence to the 1970 television series Then Came Bronson.

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 my old man when he’d share sage advice with me. Moreover, now that I’m on the dole, so to speak, recouping some of my investments, so to speak, via monthly Social Security checks, I find myself perpetuating a tradition that probably has its origins when Adam told Cain to quit picking on his brother Abel.

So what do I have to say to young motorcyclists today? To paraphrase my old man: “Things were a lot different when I was your age.” That’s not an exaggeration, either, and Cain, put down that knife, you might hurt somebody.

I was recently reminded of how things have changed over the years for us bike people 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 back in July 1973 aboard Kawasaki’s new Z-1. This was among the first touring trips taken by anyone on the Z-1, making it somewhat of a milestone adventure. (A group of Kawasaki test riders had taken some pre-production prototypes on a cross-country shakedown run prior to unveiling the bike in mid-1973.)

A stop in Gorda, Calif. The Z-1 (middle) is flanked by a Honda CB450 (left) and a CB750, ridden by friends.

I chronicled my epic ride using my trusty Canon FTb camera, 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. The ol’ prostate got a thumbs up, it did.” 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.

4/16/2020 10:16:49 AM

My first summer after high school graduation me and two buddies left Detroit heading to Denver, on to LA, up the coast to Vancouver and back across Canada to Detroit. All in 30 days on new 1974 Honda 750’s. What a trip and experience. Was scanning a number of instamatic pictures last week of the trip as they are really starting to fade. This trip over the next two summers continued with 30 day trips from the Detroit area to Denver again and on to El Paso Texas one year and another trip to Yellowstone NP, on to Glacier NP, up to the Calgary Stampede, and up to Jasper Park in Canada. Great friends, trips and memories.

5/12/2019 4:36:15 PM

A local wrench that works on my stuff occasionally has a little cache of vintage and “older” bikes he keeps around, including 2 Z1’s. He parries off my requests for a ride with dismissive suggestions that they “belong to a friend, I just store them”. I’ve ridden some of his other treasures so maybe it’s true. My first street bike was an 84 RZ350 that I sadly sold off 6 years ago following a divorce and preceding a move from OH to FL. Only room for one bike on this move so there went the 79 XL75(first bike period), the 78 DT175, 71 R5, 95 CBR1000F, and of course the RZ. 92 ZEPHYR 750 made the trip, retro before retro was a thing. I miss my stash of old bikes, the Z1 was/is on my bucket list but they are getting more pricey and scarce all the time. And dammit, I want to ride a well sorted example before I go spend the money....

5/10/2019 6:21:43 PM

Thanks for a great reminder! My trip around the country (well, I hit all the states west of the Mississippi, two provinces, and made it as far east as Pensacola before heading back home to Chicago, 11,600 miles and some $350 later) was in 1971, on a '69 BMW R69US. At 20, my degree was in the bag and I didn't have a care in the world. That $350 -- over six weeks, spending only two nights in a hotel -- seemed like a lot of money. It was; it took me all summer to save it up. I thought I had retired and gone to heaven. At least until my dad started that talk, the one that begins, "If you plan to live here..."

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