Kawasaki 1985

By Paul Berglund

Were you around in the mid eighties when the world went nuts? Suddenly bikes got smaller, lighter, liquid cooling and radial tires. I was there and I was amazed. It was 1985 and I was standing in the show room of Bristow’s Kawasaki. I was confident that the 1100cc GPz I had parked outside was about as good as any of the new bikes on the show floor. The 900 Ninja was getting rave reviews from the motorcycle magazines, but how much better could it be than my bike?

I was thinking about this when I came upon a strange motorcycle. It was in the cruiser food group, but it had shaft drive like a touring bike and the liquid cooled motor was directly out of the new Ninja sport bike. It didn’t try to look like a Harley, instead it was styled to look like a drag race bike. I was intrigued. One of the salesmen handed me the key and told me to take it for a ride. It was mind-bending. Clearly, I had ridden fast motorcycles before, but the 1985 Kawasaki ZL900 Eliminator redefined my perception of fast. I came back from that test ride a changed man.

I wasn’t in the position to buy another bike especially a new bike. Plus, I’m not a cruiser kind of guy. So I went on with my life and made my way in the world. As the years passed, I still thought about the thrill of that test ride. One fall I sold all my motorcycles and used the money as part of the down payment on my first house. I didn’t need to sell them, it just seemed like it was the mature thing to do.

I thought I had out-grown motorcycles and was ready to be an adult. That lasted till spring. My neighbor down the street was selling a brown KZ 1000 for $300, so I bought it.  I was still a home-owning adult, but now I had a motorcycle again. I was back baby!

It took me to mid summer to figure out that as a job-having, home-owning adult, I could afford a better motorcycle. One that wasn’t brown, or ratty looking. And, (I know you’re way ahead of me here, but it’s called drama or pacing so just read along.) that’s when I remembered the test ride on the 900 Eliminator again. HOWEVER, the internet and Craig’s List and Ebay didn’t exist yet in 1992. So what was a poor boy to do? We had paper. And the paper of choice was Cycle Trader. If you lived by a major city someone would print a paper version of (what would one day become) the motorcycle portion of Craig’s List and it was called Cycle Trader. It came out once a week and it only covered the local area.

In the summer of 1992 there were no 900 Eliminators for sale in Minnesota. But you could send a paper check to the publisher of Cycle Trader and subscribe to a different town. My sister lived in southern Florida, so I got a subscription to the Miami Cycle Trader. It turns out that there were many 900 Eliminators for sale in Florida. So that fall I drove down there. The first one I looked at was the winner, and I bought it. I hauled it home and 7 years after that test ride, I owned an Eliminator. I only had a few weeks left to ride it before winter came, but I was happy.

Spring came and I found, if you had a dream bike in college, put the poster of it on your wall, thought about it for years, looked for one for months and then drove across the country to buy one, it can be difficult to live up to those expectations. It still was as ridiculously fast as I remembered it. That was a stupid amount of fun. For a while. Then I noticed that a 2 gallon gas tank just wasn’t any fun at all. Not being a cruiser guy, I just couldn’t get comfortable slouching down the road looking for gas stations. I didn’t go to bars so I couldn’t even enjoy going bar hopping on a bike designed to be the ultimate bar hopping bike. I was torn.

I ended up selling my dream bike just short of one year of ownership. I bought another KZ 1000 to cheer me up. It was another in a long line of KZ 1000s that I had owned, but this one was a 1979 KZ1000P police bike. I was back on a very familiar bike with the added benefit that when I was riding on the freeway, people would actually pull out of the fast lane and let me pass. Think about that for a moment, Minnesotan drivers would pull out of the fast (left) lane and into the right lane just to let me pass. That was enough to take my mind off having a dream bike. For a while.

I moped down the roads on my police bike wishing I looked more like Erik Estrada for another year. Then I got passed by my next dream bike. So it turns out Kawasaki didn’t quit making bikes after 1985. I had overlooked that fact. The 900 Ninja begot the 1000 Ninja and the 1000 Ninja begot the 1100 Ninja. I picked up the most recent Cycle Trader and there it was, in Minnetonka. So I drove over there. It was a black beast of a bike with the word “Ninja” written across the fairing in purple letters. The bike was owned by an old guy. He had the money, so he would buy what ever bike the motorcycle magazines said was the best motorcycle of that year. He owned two bikes at a time and staggered buying and selling them so each year he would buy a new bike.

The 1100 Ninja would have ruled the world in 1985. But by the mid nineties it was no longer considered a sport bike. Sport bikes were smaller, lighter and faster around a race track. The 1100 Ninja was a great all around motorcycle, it just couldn’t win on the race track. On the street it was brutally fast. The moneyed elderly gentleman that stood before me now was nether brutal or fast. He didn’t get attached to his bikes, it wasn’t about the owning. When it came to selling, he wasn’t worried about losing money. He just loved the feeling of buying the best. If I had a thin mustache I would have been twirling it about then. So I bought it. That dream lasted ten years, till the next dream bike came along.


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