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Backroad Ramblings January 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010
Misleading Classified Ads and Bikes Long Abandoned

Ever walk around a motorcycle dealership and gaze longingly at the dozens upon dozens of shiny new machines all around and think that in some capacity, this was once the scenario for nearly every single motorcycle on the globe? It really puts the whole “circle of life” concept into perspective when you stop to consider that the rusty hulk of weed-ridden frame-on-rims behind the farmer’s barn was once shiny and new, probably lusted after by its original owner, and the spread of a glossy product brochure from around the time you were born. The trend doesn’t end with motorcycles either. I recall happening upon the near-fully decomposed remains of abandoned snowmobiles and 3-wheels deep in the woods alongside trails nearly as overrun with foliage as the vehicles themselves.
2009 Kawasaki Super Sherpa
The Kawasaki KE100 was replaced by the KL250 Super Sherpa and the KLR250 in 2002.

And then there are cars. If the term “field car” means anything to you, then surely you don’t need an explanation as to the eventual deterioration of a once proud and road-worthy automobile into a collection of duct tape, bungee cords, safety wire and broken glass scheduled to meet its ultimate demise pulling donuts in the middle of an old potato field. I remember one riding area I frequented in my youth had actually gained notoriety due to the overturned Buick in the middle of all of the trails that had some-time earlier been relegated to target practice duty for the locals and their .22 rifles. The few areas that hadn’t rusted clean through were so riddled with bullet holes that it looked conspicuously like the get-away car in some black and white mobster flick.

I bring all of this up because it just baffles the mind to think that any machine, no matter how unfaithful in its service record, could reach a point where its owner simply decides that full-out abandonment is a more sensible alternative than even attempting to repair it. In all my twenty-odd years (some odder than others) of playing around with motorized vehicles, I’ve never once been along on a ride where a snapped axel or torn fuel line resulted in the vehicle’s owner simply stepping off the side of the disabled machine, shrugging his shoulders in defeat, then walking back to home base for dinner and a movie. I mean if nothing else, there’s always the prospect of towing the basket case back home in the hope of selling it off as a parts vehicle. There’s almost always some sucker out there with the determination, budget, time, or lack of common sense to attempt a restoration. And that’s exactly where I come in.

Take this past weekend for example, when one of the oddest little bikes of all time just so happened to show up in the local classifieds. The specimen in question was one 1996 Kawasaki KE100. Yes, folks, I’ve been on the lookout for a nice example of this particular motorcycle since around when this one happened to be coming off the assembly line. While it isn’t much to look at, the KE has the distinction of being one of, if not the last road-legal production 2-stroke on the planet. Well the last one exported to the United States anyway.

Though classified as a dual-sport bike and remaining in Kawasaki’s line until 2001, the KE100 was essentially a throwback to the mid 1970s in terms of technology and style (note the twin rear shocks and unnaturally bulbous seat foam). Since solid examples of this particular model are few and far between, owners typically demand a pretty hefty asking price for the air-cooled, oil-injected time traveler of a motorcycle. Imagine my surprise when the unit in question wore a very reasonable $350 or best offer price tag.

As so many spontaneous road trips before it, I found myself heading east on the I-90 with a borrowed pickup truck and a pair of tie-downs just in case the term “needs nothing” coincided with my own definition of the concept. I arrived to the bike’s current owner’s establishment a little after dusk, using the truck’s headlights for the mandatory inspection process right there in the driveway.

“How’s she run?” I asked after the usual meet and greet small talk.

“Well that’s the thing,” he said with scrunched up eyebrows to indicate severe puzzlement. “It ran before I put it away two summers ago but now it seems a little reluctant.”

“Maybe the carb could use a cleaning,” I offered optimistically.

“No, no. It’s not a fuel thing that I know of. It’s just not making spark.”

Hmm, sounded more severe than “a little reluctant” to me.

“I’ve got it narrowed down to a problem within the electrical system,” he continued. “It’s either a short in a wire, a bad kill switch, or the CDI box is shot.”

“Yeah, that pretty much covers the electrical system,” I replied in agreement.

“It’s got a new sparkplug though,” he added as if the $1.99 would offset the electrical malady he had just revealed.

“Gee, I don’t know,” I said, “I was kind of looking to pick-up a bike in running condition and if there’s one thing I despise diagnosing, it’s electrical snafus.”

“Well you really don’t see too many of these around anymore,” he countered. “They’re pretty nice commuter bikes so people tend to snatch them up quickly. I was getting close to 70 miles per gallon with this bike just before I parked it three summer’s ago.”

These days, I’m not sure there’s any sales technique more potent than high miles per gallon. I quickly did some calculations. If I had even $400 total invested to get it running properly, 70 miles per gallon could have had the bike pay for itself in a little over a full summer’s worth of commuting.

“Yeah, okay,” I announced after a brief pause. “I brought cash with me if you want to run in and grab the title, we could load it up and…”

“Well that’s the thing,” he said with the scrunched up eyebrows again. “I don’t actually have the title for it. But the guy I bought it from seven years ago assured me that it wasn’t stolen. I was going to apply for a new title but never got around to it before parking it four years ago.”

I found myself rubbing my own brow on the ride home next to the unused tie downs in bewilderment as to how someone’s definition of “needs nothing” could potentially omit diagnosis, electrical repair, title application and who-knows-what else.

Later that evening when my fiancé wondered why I was lacing up my hiking boots to take a stroll through the woods in the dark, I answered honestly when I told her to hopefully trip over a long abandoned KE100 in better shape.
Recent Backroad Ramblings
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Backroad Ramblings: Moto Decision Overload
Our Backroad Rambler considers the countless decisions modern motorcycle customers face and decides to trim his stock-pile of toys in a quest for simplicity.
Backroad Ramblings: Singletrack State of Mind
Distracted by the summer heat and other obligations, our Rambling Man shakes off the rust with an update on his balmy backroads adventures.
Backroad Ramblings: The Racers Almanac
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Backroad Ramblings: Conflict on a Grand Scale
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Backroad Ramblings: The Acrobatic Carport
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KawBoy -Not bad!  February 10, 2010 09:42 PM
Brandon, Not a bad find actually. I would consider that one myself if only I wasn't hundreds of miles away.
Brandon -KE100  February 9, 2010 09:12 PM
Hey there's one here in San Antonio, Tx for sale on craigslist: http://sanantonio.craigslist.org/mcy/1594072813.html
Andrew O -Buffalo  February 3, 2010 04:11 PM
I think this article is great symbolism for the WNY/Buffalo, which I currently live in. It's old, it's rusted. People say it's great! But it actually needs work, fixing, and legality of its condition might be an issue too. Sadly, this is the state of most bikes sold privately up here for people to make a quick dime off some fool's mistake of buying their heap. Also, once it gets warm if you're looking for a moto-companion in WNY - look me up!
lucas9 -Sherpa  February 3, 2010 11:18 AM
I have owned a Super Sherpa since new in 2000. What a great bike. With a few mods it's a great trail bike.
BaldKnob -Worst bike experience ever  January 31, 2010 01:21 PM
My 7 year love/ hate relationship with an '83 XR 350 ended with a broken valve, fragged piston and a broken (2nd)crank. I refused to put a 3rd crank in and gave it to a neighbor. Done. I don't miss it one bit.
John -Sometimes the Seller is the 'Time-Waster'  January 30, 2010 12:43 PM
You can save a lot of hassle by contacting the seller via email or phone and asking questions about the bike's condition. If they won't answer the questions or are evasive, 'bye-bye!' I'd sure as hell do that before going to the trouble of borrowing a truck and wasting your fuel and time.

Kane Toad -Solid  January 29, 2010 08:07 PM
Anyone notice how the number of years since it was last ridden kept increasing? That's funny stuff, man. Great work.
Devil Machine -the ability to walk away  January 29, 2010 06:09 PM
I have to give you credit for being able to walk away.

I happened across a 1979 Honda CM400 last April. A friend at work told me that it was "the best bike in his dad's classic bike collection" and that I'd be able to take it off his hands for free. The CM400 isn't really my style, but I figured I could put a couple of hundred dollars into it and sell it for a couple hundred more.

So, I took him up on the offer. When I got to the old guy's house to look at it, I should have walked away. When I noticed the state of disrepair, I should have walked away. When I saw that the bike was idling on one cylinder at 3000 rpm, I should have walked away. When the old guy told me that he wanted 40 bucks for the new battery he put in, I should have walked away. But for some stupid reason, I didn't.

Although the bike had a clear title, and I was eventually able to sell it for $1000, it took me until October and cost me every penny of that $1000 to make it remotely rideable for my friend. The voltage regulator was dead. The tires were the original 1979 Dunlops. What I drained out of the carbs was more like vaseline than gasoline. It took $200 worth of carb parts alone just to make it run right. The stupid fuse block MELTED. The seat was covered in duct tape, but I left that one for my friend to fix at his convenience since it didn't affect the ridability and I was sick of being nickled and dimed to death.

All in all, I felt ripped off even though I got a free bike with $40 purchase of new battery. Next time I'll know better and walk away.
PC -Picture?  January 29, 2010 04:17 PM
Great article, but where's the photo? That sure looks like the Super Sherpa to me? Can you guys dig up an appropriate photo? They're all over the place in Google Images....
Rich -reader  January 29, 2010 04:06 PM
Umm, that pic of of a Super Sherpa, not a KE100.