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A Motorcycling Odyssey

Sport Touring Corner

By Norm Kern

May 20, 2020- Back on the bike, but only local day rides. Hoping to be doing more by the time you read this. This month we go back in time to when I began riding, look at the bikes I had and how they led to Sport Touring.


When I was 13, Ohio had a “scooter law” where you could get a license when you were 14 to ride a motorcycle or scooter under five horsepower. Most of my friends were older and used paper route money to buy bikes. I couldn’t wait for my 14th birthday, but Ohio ended the scooter law. It expired nine days before my birthday. My parents breathed a big sigh of relief!

When I turned sixteen, my parents made sure I had a decent car to drive and motorcycles were not allowed as long as I lived at home. Fast forward to 1965. I was twenty years old and one of my college friends got a beat up Zundapp 450cc Citation and took me for a ride. This gave me immediate bike fever and I bought a used Honda CB160 for $400. I was still living with parents and they were still against motorcycles so I didn’t tell them about it and kept it in a friend’s garage across town. After two weeks and about 500 miles I wanted something bigger so I went to the Honda shop and traded it for a new 305cc Honda Super hawk. I wasn’t 21 yet so I had a friend cosign the title for me.

The Super hawk had about a thousand miles on it when a friend’s mother ratted me out to my parents. A big fight ensued, but the folks saw that if they threw me out they would have zero control over me and I might drop out of college so they compromised and I brought the bike home.

The next spring, I sold the Honda and bought a 750CC Norton Atlas. Looked cool, sounded great. Lots of power and great handling. The first thing I discovered was that it needed a windshield. My first two bikes didn’t have enough power to overcome headwinds- if the wind was against you it just slowed you down. The Norton didn’t care which way the wind was blowing and would pull hard enough to blow you off the seat. My arms were shot after an hour on a windy day. I was riding back and forth to college so I put a homemade trunk on it to carry books and leave the helmet in.

The Norton had some unpleasant lessons to teach as well. Engine vibration was horrible, causing things to break and vibrate loose. It was always breaking down and required constant work. Time for a change.

The Pure Touring Era

I had several friends in Dayton Motorcycle Club who rode BMWs, and I bought a used 1962 BMW R69 from one of them.. It  had shaft drive and a very smooth motor, very reliable. Mine had a windshield on it and was comfortable to ride hundreds of miles at a time. I really wanted to start touring the country.

In 1969 I got married and my wife and I took our honeymoon on the BMW, but it turned out to be underpowered and not too stable with both of us and our gear. For 1970 we bought a new Moto Guzzi 750 Ambassador.   It had a solid frame and suspension, shaft drive, plenty of power. The Wixom handlebar fairing added wind and weather protection. In 1973 I traded up to a Guzzi 850 Eldorado, which had more power, five speed transmission and Windjammer fairing.

While enjoying long distance touring, I grew to love the hill and curves the most, thinking about what bike the future might hold. Then, on one of our trips we met a couple that was touring on a new Moto Guzzi 750 Sport, which put the Guzzi drive train in a much lighter and stronger sport bike frame. This bike really handled great and I was very impressed.

In 1975 Guzzi dropped the Eldorado and replaced it with the 850T, 2006-07.jpg built on the Sport chassis but with taller bars, bigger gas tank and seat, etc. I adapted one into a touring bike, adding frame mount fairing, saddlebags etc, which worked fairly well. The successor 850-T3 and 1000cc G5 models offered better brakes and more power, making them even more fun in the twisties over the next few years.   Another transition was under way.

Sport Touring Suddenly Arrives
In early 1985, I was riding my well-worn G5 to work when the transmission broke and locked up. There was no longer a Guzzi dealer in Dayton, so it wasn’t getting fixed any time soon. I bought a used Honda V4 750 Sabre. It had a small Vetter Windstar fairing on it. It was my first Japanese liquid cooled bike. I wasn’t too impressed with the handling and suspension, but the V4 shaft drive motor was fantastic! It wasn’t quite big enough for my wife and I but it was a lot of fun.

In the fall of 1986, a mechanic friend of mine offered to trade his 86 Kawasaki Concours for my Sabre, The Concours was a classic sport touring bike- over 100 horsepower, factory full fairing, detachable saddlebags, roomy seat, air adjustable suspension.   The handlebars were too short, but a 3″ set of risers took care of that. My transition to sport touring was complete.

I kept the Kawasaki until 2001, longer than any of my bikes, followed by a Honda ST1100.   The ST1100 was very smooth, very refined. All I had to change was the bars and seat. I crashed it in 2006, and replaced with a used Honda ST1300.

The ST1300 came with a Russell Day-Long saddle, which is one of those things you will then have to have on any future bike you own. The bike itself was a bit on the heavy side and there was a lot of engine heat on hot days, but the smoothness and quietness of the V4 was sublime. I kept it for seven seasons and just over 100,000 trouble-free miles. Since then I’ve done about 115,000 miles on my two Yamaha FJR models.   The 2016 ES is my all time favorite.  

Every once in a while, someone asks, “Don’t you wish you had kept all your bikes?” I have to say no- my memory is still too good.  I can still remember their flaws as well as the good points. That said, I dearly loved every one of them- they carried me on the adventures and life experiences I will carry with me forever.


MSTA breakfasts are still on hold for June but we plan to resume in July next month.

MSTA regional events resume in July-

Kentucky Red River Gorge Rally, July 10-12, Mt Sterling, Kentucky
Register now at http://www.planetreg.com/RedRiverGorgeRally2020.  Any questions please email Pat Mogaveroat kyzrex@aol.comor call him at 859-620-6352.

Big Lynn Lodge Ride, July 16-19, Little Switzerland, North Carolina
Complete information and downloadable pre-registration form available at http://msta-se.com/BLynn/ Register online at http://www.planetreg.com/BigLynn2020  Any questions please email Dave Brickner at dwbrick@gmail.com or call him at 828-448-5429

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