Folk always go on about what your first proper bike was, as if there is some magical cut off point between what is or is not worthy of being called a motorbike. For me, my first proper bike was the CB100n. My next bike, the one you need a full licence to ride, the one which everyone in my family remembers, was a Kawasaki GT550. Actually, according to the log book it was a Z550GT but the side panel said GT550 and that’s what everyone calls it.
I remember it just as fondly as everyone else. Thanks to its shaft drive, huge range and comfy seat, it was the perfect touring bike for a young mechanic in the army who hadn’t yet seen the light when it came to faired motorcycles. Between us, we traipsed around Germany and the Netherlands, usually wet through and every so completely lost. The air cooled, four cylinder, detuned Z750 motor was a peach, just as long as it got decent petrol. As I remember it, the GT550 loved to carry weight too. Ang and I went two up camping where it was just as happy as it was carrying just me. In fact, I’ve never found a mule like it, though my Vstrom comes close.
Again, it wasn’t perfect. Being naked, hanging on, on the autobahn, was hard work, especially in the inevitable rain. We fell out with each other when it left me stranded when the CDI unit blew out somewhere outside of Amsterdam. There were problems with condensation in the winter thus you felt compelled to change the engine and shaft oil much more often as it quickly turned an unpleasant shade of cream.
But I loved it and admonished myself for selling it. Leaving the army to be a poor student, I’d assumed I’d not have the money to keep it. As it turned out, I quickly found a reasonable part time wage driving coaches so could have kept running it. If I had, who knows, the rest of history would probably have been very different. I’d happily have one again, for old time’s sake and sunny days, even if it does come with too many cylinders to be a real bike.