Let's talk about motorcycles. Growing up, motorcycles were a big focus for my family. My dad raced motocross as a young man. My mom raced enduros when she was pregnant with me. To provide a little bit of knowledge, Enduros are one of the oldest forms of motorcycle competition. Run on a challenging route that includes wooded and desert terrain, more difficult “test” sections are connected with roads, fire roads or easy two-track trail.
For whatever reason, I never raced. It wasn't from a lack of desire. I think, more likely, it was from a lack of finances. My parents wanted different things for us. All the same, I grew up riding motorcycles as a passenger with my dad. I loved going for rides with him.
As I got older, the rides got longer and I always loved the opportunity to get on the bike with my dad and go places. One of my funniest memories was on a group ride were the front bike hit a chicken. That chicken flew up into the air and proceeded to take out its revenge for its death on all of the bikes in the row. It bounced of each motorcycle or rider's helmet, covering everyone in feathers and other chicken "parts".
My dad taught me the basics of riding a motorcycle on my mother's 1988 Honda Shadow. I learned the shifting process while driving it from the driveway into the garage. Fast forward a few years and I felt ready to get my own motorcycle. I was living in Prescott, Arizona and needed a way to pay for the year of school. I sold my car, paid for classes, and decided a motorcycle would be my preferred mode of transportation.
Before I go any further, I need to put in a disclaimer.
*** DISCLAIMER: I am describing an event that occurred back in my early adult years. I am not recommending, suggesting, or implying that any of my children or any other young adults should follow in my footsteps. END DISCLAIMER ***
I called up a buddy who had a car and asked him to drive me to the Department of Motor Vehicles on a Saturday morning, where I proceeded to take the written test and obtained my motorcycle permit. I then conned the same buddy into driving me to Phoenix, where I had found a Suzuki GS500E for sale at a price that I liked. I saw the bike, liked the bike, and gave the owner a check for the bike. He gave me the title and told me I was welcome to drive the bike around the neighborhood for a while before I drove back up to the Prescott area. I took him up on his offer, sat on the bike, started it up, and then thought about my 15 minute driving lesson that I had from my Dad back in my early high school years. I then drove around the neighborhood loop a couple of times, practicing my shifting, breaking, and turning. Then I told my buddy I was ready and followed him out of the neighborhood and drove through the city of Phoenix, up I-17 and eventually back to Prescott. I should say, it wasn't without mishap though. One thing I learned from this trip was to check the gas tank. Driving northbound through Phoenix on I-17, I ran out of gas. I remembered that I have a reserve and I went to switch the reserve switch and found it was already on the reserve selection. I literally ran out of gas. My buddy realized I wasn't behind him any more and had to get off at the next exit, work his way back to me, and eventually found me pushing the bike up an off ramp and then to a gas station. My second lesson of the day, after I filled up my tank, was when pulling out into traffic, remember to release the clutch slowly as you start to turn the throttle. DON'T turn the throttle, realize you are not moving, remember you are holding the clutch in and then just let go of the clutch. This is how wheelies happen. A wheelie out into traffic of a busy Phoenix street on a Saturday afternoon is a good way to get killed. For whatever reason, most likely divine intervention, I managed to recover from my accidental wheelie into heavy traffic without getting killed, injured, or arrested. We drove the rest of the way up to Prescott without further incident. So, my first real solo motorcycle ride, I bought the bike and for my first ride drove 120 miles back up to Prescott from Phoenix and did not die.
The above picture is of my Suzuki GS500E (it isn't the actual bike but the same model and color).
I had the bike for a while and then disaster struck.... No, I didn't crash. I got married and sold the motorcycle because, "we needed the money". While I sold it under duress, I was promised I would get another motorcycle. Fast forward many years, I had been a Marine, a cop, graduated with my Bachelor's degree, my first Master's degree, went to Kosovo as a contractor, and gotten hired by the State Department but still, no motorcycle in the garage. I were assigned to the Residence Office in Portsmouth New Hampshire. I meet my new boss at the front door of the National Passport Center, where our office was located and one of the very first questions he asked me was, "Do you ride?". I told him that I had my motorcycle endorsement but did not currently have a motorcycle. He gave me a very serious look and said, "Well, you had better get one or it will reflect poorly on your employee evaluation report". I think he was joking but as I tried to explain to Melissa, I wasn't willing to take chances. Melissa did not find me humorous and made it clear that we did not have the money for me to buy a motorcycle.
The fact that I did not have money to buy a motorcycle did not stop the guys I worked with from taking me to look at motorcycles and test drive motorcycles, and let me ride their motorcycles and generally work on convincing me that it was the right thing to do. Melissa and I argued a lot about motorcycles during that first year of my assignment.
Bobby (my boss), Jon, (my coworker), and I had to go to the federal courthouse in New Hampshire to meet with the U.S. Attorney and some of the assistant U.S. Attorneys for a meeting. After the meeting, we started our drive back up to Portsmouth and stopped at a Yamaha dealership on the way back to the office. I discovered that Yamaha had a promotional program in place where you buy a bike and not pay interest for two years. Additionally, they had a brand new 2005 FZ1 for sale that was a two year leftover. I negotiated with them and got them to agree to selling me the bike, a helmet, and a few other needed items with a very reasonable out the door cost that was almost $2000 less than the retail price of the bike. I called Melissa and explained the situation. We talked through the details of the plan and Melissa said, "Chris, I will leave it up to you, I know you will make the right decision".
The above pictures are of a stock 2005 Yamaha FZ1 that matches my bike when I bought it. There were a lot of changes that I made to my bike because there were several things I wasn't a fan of. One of the guys that worked at the National Passport Center lent me his garage, tools, and knowledge and we basically tore the bike apart and made it into something different. Some of the modifications we did to the bike included;
Undertail kit with integrated lights and blinkers -- This removed the large black plastic section hanging off of the bike in the rear. This involved using a dremel tool and cutting up the motorcycle, which was nerve racking experience because once I started the cut, there was no changing my mind. I am very glad I did it but it was one of the more difficult parts that I did myself on the bike.
Removed the front blinker stalks and replaced with flush mounted blinkers
Removed all of the chrome or silver bike parts (minus the exhaust), sandblasted them, and powder coated them black or blue to match the bike.
Removed the mirrors, modified the handle bar ends and installed handlebar mirrors: This was done for a couple of reasons. The factory located mirrors created a lot of buffeting at highway speeds and were nearly impossible to see out of due to vibrations. I had a friend who made me some custom mirror hole covers that covered the spots the mirrors connected to, adding a bit of "blue bling". My dad modified the bar-ends so that I could slip on the bar end mirrors onto the bar ends. A not on the bar end mirrors, I am honestly not a fan of them either but the ones I have on the bike now are high quality, don't vibrate, and look really good. They are just hard to see out of and I have to turn my head and look away from the road in front of me in order to see what is behind me.
I purchased some other modifications, such as different sized front and rear sprockets to change the gearing a bit and a new spring for the rear shock that was more suitable for us "bigger" people. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the State Department told me I would be going to Iraq and prior to that, 6 months of training so I put the bike back together and drove it up to Maine and parked it in my Dad's garage. Other than a short ride in 2010, the bike sat in the garage from 2008 until 2017, when I loaded up into the back of a UHAUL and moved it to Arizona, where it sat in my garage virtually untouched for another 2 years.
The bike wasn't running. Sitting for as long as it did, the carbs were in need of a rebuild, there was a possibility the fuel tank would need to be stripped, relined, and sealed due to the gas sitting in it for as long as it did. It needed new tires (it was still wearing the original tires made in 2004), and it would need a plethora of other things. I had gotten a quote to get it up and running and it was in the neighborhood of $3500, which unfortunately, with the bike being almost 15 years old, is about the actual value of the bike. I was talking about the situation with a coworker in October of 2019 and he told me he had a friend that lived in Sahuarita who was a mechanic for UPS but was also a certified motorcycle mechanic who did work on the side out of his garage. I gave Justin a call and he was happy to help so I loaded the bike into the back of a rickety trailer and dropped it off at his house. I eventually learned that his daughter and my daughter were good friends, which made it a small world.
The motorcycle experienced all kinds of indignities. The wheels came off, the fuel tank came off, the carbs came out. Fortunately, the internals of the fuel tank were perfectly fine, which was rather shocking but also due to my father making sure it was filled with stuff that counteracts the rusting process. There was no rust in the fuel lines or the tank which saved me about $500 right off the bat.
Justin rebuilt the carbs, switched out the front and rear sprockets. He flushed all the lines, changed filters, refilled fluids, and put everything back together again. We hit a few occasional snags but managed to work through them (Most of the time). He got the bike back together again and after a bit of riding it went back to Justin's garage and we switched out the front and rear brake lines, putting in stainless steel lines that were blue and looked good with the bike. I also added a riser, which raised the handlebars an inch and moved them back (closer to the rider) by 1 1/4 inch, which made a huge difference in comfort.
Finally, I ditched the stock exhaust pipe, dropping 9 pounds from the bike and put on an aftermarket slip on that looks better than stock and sounds way different. It was also super inexpensive and not much different than having no exhaust pipe on the bike so I am not sure it will last too long.
So the above pictures are of my bike, as it sits now. It runs well and while I have been struggling with the electrical system for a bit, it is running really well right now brings a smile to my face every time I get on it and start a ride. It may not be the nicest first generation FZ1 out there but I think you will be hard pressed to find one nicer than this.
My current plan is to drive the bike to DC in July to start my almost year of training but that plan is currently in flux as COVID-19 hates me and is making my classes all virtual. Granted, if they end up being virtual, I will get to stay home and spend almost an extra year with the family, which is a nice touch. As of right now, my first course has been cancelled, the second (6 week course) is supposed to be live, and my 10 month language training is currently scheduled to be virtual. If language training stays virtual, I may skip the 3000 mile drive to DC, take a flight, stay in a hotel, and do the 6 week course and then fly back, instead of driving 3000 miles back. It is all up in the air but if I do drive, I will try to blog daily about my adventure.
Until next time.....