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Kawasaki ZX-10

What ride today?

Travels with Guido series #363, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Feb 2021

Pics: Ben Galli, Ellen Dewar & GA


Sport scalpel, touring lump, or sports tourer?

It’s a fantastic problem to have, and frustrating beyond belief: What bike to take for the trip you have in mind?

Here’s the thing: If you’re heading off into the wide green yonder (or brown, if there’s been a drought), with a plan to take a decent chunk out of a map and explore it, no one motorcycle really does the job, does it?

suzuki gsx1100e

Roll back a few decades, and muggins took the CB750, GSX1100, or whatever, and that was your lot. It was the only choice, because that’s what was in the shed. Grinding highway, a fabulous set of twisties, or the odd dirt road (with a bit of sand to wake you up) and you made do. Sometimes you’d bin it, but most times not, and you had an epic if occasionally painful time.

However there were wrinkles in the plot. Think back four-ish decades and there was a culture in Australia to hold bike rallies in a remote bush plot, and it was a matter of pride for some organisers that they had a track into the site that would test the skills of Gaston Rahier (look him up). Motorcyclists being what they are (mad) would love the challenge and the stupidity of the idea, until it went pineapple-shaped. Then, not so much.

Getting in without trashing the bike, or requiring an ambulance, was a matter of pride. An achievement. Maybe even worth a badge. And rally badges adorned many a vest, like military honours.

There are times when I miss those days and the events. They were a reminder that you were young and up for anything.

But here’s the problem: No matter how young and fit, you would look at the trip on a map (then in a spiral-bound book) and agonise over how to prepare. If it was 500km-plus trip to the joyous event (and it usually was), 95 per cent of it would be sealed road. Albeit full of corners because back then in Oz interstate freeways were non-existent and, well, the road culture was different.

So all but the last few kays of the trip were no real problem. Work out your fuel stops, dodge the kangaroos and that was about it. Then you had the last 10-plus kays of dirt and track to deal with. I always hated that - because to survive the experience, you had to concentrate your preparation, and maybe even choice of motorcycle, on that last few per cent. It seemed mad at the time, and remains so even today.

Which is a very round-about way to get to the point: We (or yours etc) still face a similar problem, though the proverbial goal posts have shifted a little. Motorcycling and what’s available have changed. Far more specialisation has developed in your local showroom across the decades and, to some extent, that has been reflected in my shed.

Recently Muggins decided to do a quick overnight trip to sunny Omeo, a mere 400km from base. The first quarter is just traffic and freeways, the next half is a mix of freeway and good dual-lane highway, some of which is actually enjoyable. Then there is the final quarter, which starts out as a wander through a few country towns and then turns into one of the best flowing sets of curves you could hope for.

What bike do you take? Particularly given the weather turned from Summer to a rogue Winter, with patchy rain and temps plummeting?

ducati 916

When I discussed this with a friend, he half-jokingly suggested he’d put the Ducati 916 on a trailer and cut it loose for the last quarter. Problem solved. He had a point. Warm and dry in the tow-car for the boring bits, then go nuts. Great plan.

Riding it the whole way was not an option. As much as I love the thing, droning down 300km of highway would be cruel to everyone concerned. As I’m no longer 20, I’d need a physiotherapist and maybe a psychiatrist by the end of the experience. Oh, and the bike (now with a flat section in the centre of the tyres) might be for sale on the side of the road in exchange for a train ticket home. Nup.

bmw k1100lt

Option B: Take the old BMW K1100LT tourer. This is actually workable. It will do the first 300 easy, would keep the rain and cold at bay, and everything is fine, yes? Again, nup.

That last 100km, with all those lovely curves, would be a constant reminder of failure. Capable though the Kay is, there would be that constant frustration over tipping in the luxo-barge, wishing for more cornering clearance, precision, a nice howling engine instead of the typical Kay drone, and more fun factor.

kawasaki zx-10

Looking across the toy box, another candidate stood out: The 1989 Kawasaki ZX-10. Reviews from back in the day hammered it for not being terribly nimble, but it was seriously quick in a straight line, comfortable, and perfectly capable of being flicked about by a willing rider. It’s a whale compared to a 916 Ducati, and a sports bike compared to the luxo-barge. Perfect. I guess that’s why they were called sports tourers.

I own several motorcycles of that approximate genre. That’s because they’re quick if a little clumsy, comfortable over a longer ride, and get the job done with no stress or fuss. Okay, so the ZX-10 is no 916, but there is still satisfaction in rolling it into a turn, getting the timing right and nailing it on the exit (with the accompanying engine howl) while lining up the next.

That would work.

bmw s 1000 xr

At the last minute the plan changed and I was offered a new BMW S 1000 XR for the trip - arguably representative of the current (and very different) generation of sports tourers. It would have been silly not to accept and it worked a treat. Though it didn’t quite have the ZX-10’s glam-rock charm.

I still want to get the Kawasaki out for a proper ride, something it was actually designed for, and have something in mind. Watch this space...

Kawasaki zx-10


See more Travels with Guido here



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