Meeting The Meat Grinder

Seventy-three degrees on a climate-twisted February night in Ohio. On the way out of the burger place I noticed that the light down the street was green so I rolled the throttle lightly in second, relaxing the twist just long enough to kick into third. And again, twist relax kick. And again. It was the work of just a few seconds, never spinning the Kawasaki past five point nothing on your RPM dial, ladies and gentlemen. I rolled through the light. To my left, there was a policeman. He looked startled. Reflexively, I checked the speedometer, which read just a needle’s width beneath the 100 mark. More than double the speed limit, in a suburb where they don’t tolerate that sort of behavior. In my left mirror, I saw him jump-start through the intersection and line up behind me a thousand feet back.

So there was nothing left to do but twist it the rest of the way. Cue the old hyperspace effect. I am forty-six years old, suburban and harmless, battered and broken. But I am also this: gone.


I have now been a ZX-14R owner for a year and a half, although I was a ZX-14R dreamer prior to that. The odometer reads 1,207. Not because I don’t want to ride the bike, mind you. It’s just that this isn’t the kind of motorcycle you ride every day. I don’t take it out in the rain if I can help it, because it’s difficult to clean. I don’t ride it anywhere where it won’t be under some sort of surveillance, because these things are stolen just about as often as Acura Integras. Last but not least, I don’t ride it anywhere that I think it is at risk of getting bumped or damaged.

None of those rules apply to my CB1100, which racks up mileage at the rate of 5,000-plus a year. Truth be told, if I could only own one bike it would have to be the CB or something like it, because the CB is usable. It has plenty of torque, it doesn’t attract the attention of the police or the thieves, it runs like a top from 20 degrees to 110 degrees, it returns 47 miles per gallon.

I am glad that I can have more than one bike. The ZX-14R is a terrible (in the old sense of the word) joy to ride. After more than a decade spent driving every variety of exotic car in every variety of exotic location, I no longer worry too much about them. Even the thousand-horsepower hybrid hypercars seem close to tame. But the big green Kwacker continues to fascinate and frighten me. I don’t roll full throttle in second gear unless I’m awake, alert, and pointed at a quarter-mile of empty space. I don’t roll full throttle in first unless I am crouched and huddled in preparation for the inevitable moment where the front wheel lifts and the handlebars wag lightly back and forth.

Sure, I can quote the numbers just like any other motorcycle magazine racer. Cycle World got through the 1/4 mile at 9.47 sec and 152.83 mph. The LaFerrari is a couple lengths behind at the quarter; the Veyron is a blob in the mirror. Forget the Demon, it’s not close. But the numbers don’t tell the story. I’ve driven a LaFerrari and I’ve driven the Hellcats and I’ve driven the McLaren 720S which is similarly quick. All of them have the sense of tremendous power applied to move nontrivial weight, although the 720S suffers least from that. And there’s always a moment while the pinwheel at the front of the intake path spins up.

The ZX-14R ain’t having any of that shit, man. It accelerates at any time, in any gear, ignorant of inertia, with merciless ferocity. In a 40-120 roll I’m not sure what could even come close. My old pal Tinman used to run an FC RX-7 with an ex-NASCAR V8 between the frame rails; he called it “the literbike killer”. This Kawasaki would leave it for dead, the same way it leaves the literbikes for dead. The new V4 Ducati might give it a run for the money, and it might not. Even if the Duc can match it stock for stock, everybody knows that you can get the Kawasaki into the eights for a few grand. A few years ago, a fellow ran a mildly tuned example to a two-way 205.1 average on the salt flats.

My greatest fear isn’t that I’ll hit something; it’s that one of my hands will slip off the handlebars during max acceleration. If it’s the right hand, I’ll drop the nose and crash the thing; if it’s the left then I’ll probably just fall off backwards. Nothing like that has happened yet. It’s probably just ridiculous paranoia on my part. Yet there was one weekend morning where I accidentally let the front wheel pop too high and I found myself scuttling to keep from doing a reverse half-gainer onto the pavement at triple digits. There’s also the troubling fact that unlike a car, you can’t just hit the brakes nice and hard if somebody pulls out in front of you while you’re filing your flight plan. The front wheel has to have some weight on it before the bike will slow down at all. They say that in that situation you stomp the rear brake then squeeze the right-side lever as soon as your face bounces off the fuel tank. The ZX-14R does have ABS.

I would like to get a little better at riding the bike, but I don’t want to become tiresomely proficient the way I am behind the wheel of, say, a modern Corvette. I’d like to retain some of the mystery, some of the intimidation factor. It makes things fun.

When Hunter rode the Ducati 900SS, he waxed famously lyrical about the speed and power:

I never got to sixth gear, and I didn’t get deep into fifth. This is a shameful admission for a full-bore Cafe Racer, but let me tell you something, old sport: This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you’re ready to go straight down the centerline with your nuts on fire and a silent scream in your throat…
A fool couldn’t ride the Vincent Black Shadow more than once, but a fool can ride a Ducati 900 many times, and it will always be a bloodcurdling kind of fun. That is the Curse of Speed which has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. On my tombstone they will carve, “IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME.”

Hunter’s Ducati put down about 73 horses at the rear wheel. The average ZX-14R built before the 2016 model year* will ring the bell for 208.1. Not quite three times the power. I wonder if Mr. Thompson would have revised his tombstone quote after running one into the 186mph limiter from a dead start. Which is not something I’ve done. I’ve briefly seen the high side of 160 on it. But then I think about my son growing up without the kind of sage advice I give him. You know. Stuff along the lines of “Men age like wine; women age like milk.” I’d hate to deprive the boy of that wisdom just because I wanted to tempt fate. So forget the Sausage Creature. The ZX-14R is a rolling meat grinder, civilized to some degree with ABS and a singularly lackadaisical traction control system but nonetheless ready to instantly render your skull into a pulped mess behind your mirrored visor.

Ah, but there are moments that sell it, moments where the smile on my face is genuine and not a rictus of panicked closing-speed concern. On the way home from work I was on a four-lane road going up a hill with traffic in a sort of staggered mess ahead — and in a flash I saw the way through, the sendero luminoso that would put me ahead of the whole thing. I was lugging in third at about 30mph. Didn’t bother to shift. Just twist. Left, right, roll briefly towards the 100 mark then clip the brake and dip back, then left and right again. I’d covered a linear half-mile of moving cars in just seconds.

The traffic light ahead flickered into a three-second yellow. By this point I was at 6000rpm in third so I cranked it the rest of the way. Cue the hyperspace effect, again.

Ya get out on your own
And you
Take all that you own
And you
Forget about your home
And then you’re
Just fuckin’ gone

* In 2016 Kawasaki crippled the bike, dropping power to 189 RWHP via some intake and computer trickery. The reason? Without those changes, it would have outpaced the new supercharged H2 — at sixty percent of the price. When Danger Girl found me a ZX-14R, she made sure to find a new 2015. God bless her, for this reason and many others.

29 Replies to “Meeting The Meat Grinder”

  1. arbuckle

    So what is the fastest motorcycle that doesn’t look like it dropped out of a Super Sentai series and doesn’t look like I have an opinion on mustache waxes?

    Reply
  2. -Nate

    “Men age like wine; women age like milk.”

    You _do_ like to live dangerously Jack .

    Not that it’s not true…..

    A good peice, and reminds me of why I don’t ever ride fast Motos ~ I know I’d kill my self in a mile or three .

    You neglected to finish the first part of the story…..

    -Nate

    Reply
      • -Nate

        Right ~

        One of my less intelligent acquaintances did this and his snoopy wife of course had key loggers and so on on his computer .

        I’m sure you know how that all turned out .

        He wanted out, she had him by the shot hairs and refused to let go knowing no one else would ever want her ill tempered, nasty hygiene fat ass .

        -Nate

        Reply
  3. Mental

    Its formal stablemate finally got its GA plates today.

    Last year I dropped my RV off at Barber Motorsports Park and unloaded the VFR to ride home that Thursday. I had to be at school the next day and would return Friday afternoon. I needed to make sure I had access to power for the weekend, which required a Thursday camp setup.

    Door to door is 131 miles. VFR Annie made it in under 90 minutes. She did, however, suck down an entire tank.

    This is a 10-year-old bike that can’t even hold your ZX 14s water. But it is not only the truly mind-warping speed these things run. Its the fact that they will do it all day.

    I had that original article pulled from the Cycle World under the plexiglass cover of my desk when I was stationed in Germany. Embarrassingly it was my first introduction to the Great Gonzo. But it did lead me to a lot of his work. To this day, whenever my inner 14-year old pulls a similar stunt to yours on 2 wheels, I hear the song of the sausage creature.

    Reply
    • Economist

      Did you get that beautiful RWB VFR that Jack had? Nice!

      I am eagerly awaiting getting my VFR out of the garage to try out my newly installed heated grips. Just gotta wait for the ice to clear from the roads.

      Reply
      • Mental

        Yes, the sneaky fellow “loaned” it to me for a year knowing I’d want it. I think it took a month before I asked him how much. I never thought I’d love a bike as much as my Bimmer R1100RS, but it’s so damm good in every fashion.

        Reply
  4. Pat

    I’ve only got a handful of years on you, and I don’t feel “old”, but I am way too old for this. I’ll enjoy reading about you doing it though

    Reply
    • Michael B

      I felt that way about a Suzuki GS550 when I was 17. Then again about an R6 when I was 21. Never rode an R1, switched to dirt bikes before I could do anything too stupid, and mostly stuck to four wheels. But reading this made me feel like a not fully recovered junkie on the edge of doing something regrettable… like buying another crotch rocket.

      Reply
    • Ken

      Yeah, that was my question / comment as well. I pulled a similar stunt, years ago. I was on a main highway, commuting into work, doing about 25 over the limit and 10 – 15 over everyone else. Just enough to get noticed going past a cop on the shoulder. So I buried it.

      I was paranoid for weeks going past that section. And my bike was a very non-recognizable black Suzuki Bandit, with plain black gear.

      How a bright green monster w/personalized plates and a lions mane flying in the wind aren’t going to get seen around town again is beyond me.

      Reply
      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        The key is plausible deniability. You have to be able to say that you didn’t see the cop.

        I have a story related to that and I’ll tell it as soon as I’ve quit autowriting for good…

        Reply
        • Ronnie Schreiber

          I’m just wondering what kind of ticket you could have been issued if you had just slowed down. He didn’t likely get a radar reading on you, so what’s he going to cite you for, reckless driving? Driving in a racelike manner? Of course he could lie and give a “visual estimate” of your speed.

          Reply
          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            Hard to say. I had a cop pull me over a while back on this bike. Said he clocked me at 78 in a 45. After we established I was a middle aged white guy with insurance, he waved me away.

          • yamahog

            It’s been my experience that the police are willing to cut you a break if you pull over on a crotch rocket and they don’t have you radar’d.

            I had a LEO reel me in – I hit a few redlines on an SV650s entering the freeway and he heard me and gave chase. I was doing about 95, all he knew was that he had to do >100 to catch me.

            He was pretty serious when he got out of the car – gun drawn, “hands up!”, etc. But when he mentioned something about me not running, I said I knew I couldn’t out run his radio and that changed the situation completely – I’m infinitely respectful and honest with the police. E.g “I was going faster than I should have been and it’s stupid and now that we’re talking, I’m realizing how terrible it’d be for my next of kin if you had to notify them that something worse happened”.

            He wrote the ticket for 70 in a 60 and I was able to pay the city extra money to keep it off my record.

          • JustPassinThru

            My experience, cars and bikes both: He’ll write you whatever he feels like; whatever he thinks he can make the court believe. High enough to put a nice price on it; but not high enough that he has to bother arresting you.

            In most states the arrest threshold is either 20 mph over, or 25.

            I don’t much like messing around with cops or speed laws, anymore; but that doesn’t mean I have anything regarding respect for the enforcers. It’s the system: Cops have a tough job and don’t get the respect due, in most regards. Traffic-law enforcement is an exception. The court that will hear his summonses, will receive the fine money…that’s a conflict of interest right there. A traffic cop running a speed trap is anything BUT impartial.

            So, no. Once he has you he’s going to ticket you, unless you can establish some sort of rapport. And once he’s ticketed you, only getting a lawyer – meaning the local judge may honor professional friendship with the lawyer – or having some other sympathetic or other appeal to the judge…only those will have the court reduce or drop the citation.

        • Ken

          “I have a story related to that and I’ll tell it as soon as I’ve quit autowriting for good…”

          ….Stop with that. We’ll never get to hear it!

          Reply
          • Will

            “I have a story related to that and I’ll tell it as soon as I’ve quit autowriting for good…”

            “….Stop with that. We’ll never get to hear it!”

            Alternatively, start autowriting for EVIL so we can know the story! 😉

          • -Nate

            Naw ;

            Just write it with a beginning : “I knew a guy once who….” .

            That’ll cover your butt Jack .

            BTW: no one has mentioned the shitstorm the original Hunter S. Thompson article created when it was originally published .

            -Nate

  5. Dirty Dingus McGee

    Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.

    Last summer I had occasion to “hide” from a county revenue collector. Rolling home at 2am in the HOV lane (legal in GA for motorcycles) running at about 90-95. Sitting to the left around a corner is parked said revenue collector. Having had interactions with this particular county before, I knew nothing would go my way at that speed. Now what I was riding has about 1/2 the power of your Kawi, but it’s adequate for me(HD Roadglide, 103″ with cams, pipe, tuner, 104hp, 96 lb/ft on a dyno). Dropped it down to 5th gear, full throttle to 115 mph, back to 6th gear to around 130 mph. Got off the highway 2 exits down, backed off a good bit (75ish) and eased on home.

    Different outcome a few years ago; I was on my “hot rod” (HD FXR with 124″ motor 135hp) running back roads at about 80-85 mph, when I seen a county cop coming up fast behind me, but didn’t have his blues on yet. I decided I didn’t really feel like interacting with him at that time, so dropped a gear and hauled ass. Only problem was, I noticed I was extremely low on gas, and that big motor drinks it at a prodigious rate (riding “normal” returns approx 25 mpg, riding hard, maybe 18-20). I knew if I made a couple of turns, I could hit a station. Hoping I was far enough ahead, I made those turns. Unfortunately for me, he had radioed in and another cop seen me at the gas pump. I avoided an eluding charge, after initially getting “cuffed and stuffed”, claiming I had never seen him behind me, but did get a ticket for 30 over (his estimate, but I knew I was well over that). The good thing that happened was my lawyer got the judge to drop it to 20 over so I only had to pay a fine and not lose my license.

    Reply
  6. JustPassinThru

    There was a time when I’d have been tempted to outrun the law.

    Those days, I was new on two wheels, and my mount of the time was a Yamaha SR500. Which can still be had, shorter stroke now and fuel injection, as the SR 400. It is sweet and solid and simple; but it is no performance bike. It is what a Jeep CJ is to a Corvette.

    Today, with the used-market flooded with performance bikes; and the loan rates on new equipment at rates that would have been dope-dream, 1985…I could afford one. But I’ve lost the will…to say nothing of what the bent-over riding posture would do to my back.

    For a short time, I had a meeting of wealth, health, power and opportunity. I had, for two years, a BMW R1200 GS. Crotch-rocket fans will sneer at the bloated, outsized enduro – but underneath the beak and the knobbies, is that classic BMW Boxer.

    Taking temporary work in South Dakota, the summer of 2010, I opted to take two wheels.

    And I had plenty of time off. And plenty to see; as well as work-related appearances in Minneapolis. So I was well acquainted with the desolate stretches of US 10 and US 14; and more than once I got well into three figures.

    Adulthood, when it meets old-farthood, worries. About deer. About dogs. About trash on the road.

    About cops, who don’t have the jolly good humor of an itenerant working for a few months in a desolate, declining town with double-digit unemployment.

    About the heightened alert those cops had, west of Pierre, coming close to Bike Week in Sturgis.

    I did it – hit the 140. Check it off my bucket list. To me, it’s a scary place to be – your vision narrows; and what’s coming up on the sides, beyond the tubular visage…how many ways can you say, “Death?”

    The BMW went away. A year later, an attack of phlebitis, while passing through Joplin, Missouri…a week after that tornado, unbeknownst to me. NO medical care for non-critical patients. My goal was Dallas; and I had no choice but to get on that 600-pound monster and aim that way, or die trying.

    I have scaled back, now, My “big bike” is a Kawasaki Versys 650. It will do Interstate speeds, and that’s all I really need.

    Reply
  7. St1100boy

    Jack, if you’re in the greater St Louis area some time and want to try a different flavor of madness (1290 Super Duke), look me up.

    Reply
  8. Mark

    You reminded me that I test drove a friend’s CBR 900 who was failing out of college in the early to mid 90s. I was promptly pulled over for speeding and not having my motorcycle license. The officer admired the bike and told me to get the owner to legally retrieve his bike. He also urged me to get the proper license, so I could maim myself in a legal fashion, especially if I completed the purchase.

    I can’t imagine a machine having more power, similar weight, owning it and having made it to 40+. Congratulations and I’m jealous.

    This speed freak gets by on a souped up C5Z because he is determined to see his kids grow up.

    Please do the same as Peter Egan isn’t prolific enough now to stoke my interest in all things mechanical.

    Reply

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