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.

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.

10/24/2020 10:09:40 PM

Just wanted to express my appreciation for such a wonderful article. It made me laugh at times and sometime sad, only because I sold my bike a few decades ago. Wish I did not do that, for now I would love to ride and feel the air in my hair and face. My first bike was one that came in a box from all places, Gambles. Yes I said Gambles, it was a store in our town but my dad ordered it threw a catalog for a high price of $200.00. When it finally came we had to actually build it from directions, it was a Benelli 49cc. I had my first accident with that darn bike, broke my middle finger and my childhood friend broke his rib. Ended up in the hospital for emergency services back when, and the story favorite ride was a Norton 750 Commando boy talk about a ride and fast. But like I said, that's another great story. Be safe my friends and keep riding. God Bless.

10/22/2020 9:29:08 PM

You will hear a lot of young folks say that a Harley Davidson WL is only good for 50 Mph. But I spent a couple of summers riding from El Paso to Dallas every other weekend to help my Mom set up her new house. I had a job where I worked 3 days a week, 14 hour days. I'd get off work on Thursday night, sleep till noon. Then head for Dallas. Just over 700 miles at 70-80 Mph on that old 45. They would call it a bobber now, we just called them rat bikes. I'd be there by midnight and crash on the couch. Spent Saturday and most of Sunday taking care of projects. Then would sleep a couple of hours and head back to El Paso about midnight. Bike was bullet proof for each of the 6 rides I did that summer. The next summer I tried one trip on a 1000cc Sportster and it was a nightmare. I'd stop and not be able to feel my hands or feet from the vibration. It was insane that a flathead hard tail could be that much more comfortable on the road, but it was. I miss that old bike to this day.

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.

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