OPM is very pleased to bring to you the wonderfully thoughtful and evocative writing of Kym. We hope to be able to share more of Kym’s words with you in the future. I think anyone who has ridden bikes for an extended period of time will have their own memories of a bike like “Delilah”.
For years in South Australia, 250cc bikes were far, far cheaper to register and insure than larger capacity bikes. What that meant was that for folks on a budget, even folks who might not normally consider a 250 ideal for various reasons, the 250 was the fiscally wise choice nonetheless. I rode a 250 for ages.
As I grudgingly made the switch from a country upbringing and a love of dirt bikes to a daily commute through the city, my first 250 commuter was a Kawasaki KDX250. Tall, noisy, premix only, it was about as practical as a chocolate teapot, and as socially correct as yelling loud racist jokes in the middle of Chinatown. The KDX had once been my enduro race bike, and it took to road commuting like a duck to a tar pit. It hated the road, I hated it back, and we wound up resenting each other.
I retired the KDX to a quiet life mouldering in my garage, and replaced it with a budget Yamaha SR250. I hated the Yam, too, but for different reasons. Where the KDX had been a rip-snorting wheelie machine, the Yam didn’t have the power to pull the skin off hot milk. It was small, and soft, and it didn’t go, or handle, or stop, or do anything particularly well except keep going. I sold it as soon as I was offered reasonable cash for it.
I replaced the SR with another ‘wrong bike.’ I have always loved two strokes, and I stumbled on a mint 1978 Suzuki GT250 X7 for the right price. A legendary bike with a reputation for being the first 250 to ‘crack the ton’ in its day, it would have been perfect for polishing, covering with an old sheet and occasionally taking out for a sunny day ride in the hills. Not me, of course. I commuted it every day for years. It was okay to start with, but like most two strokes it slowly wore down. The oil pump failed, and I was back to premixing again. Reasonably priced parts weren’t particularly easy to find. But there was a greater problem. A bigger problem. A problem that loomed large.
I was, of course, far too big for the bloody thing.
I’m very tall and thin. The perfect build for dirt bikes. The wrong build for just about every road-going 250 ever made. And I’m pretty sure I was the last person to discover this fact. While everyone else had quite probably (and quite rightly…) pointed and laughed at the big yin hunched over the little 250, I had persevered for years with the farce. But one winter’s day I woke up to three important facts; I was too big for a 250, the X7 was languishing on its last legs, and new legislation meant that the cheaper end of rego now cut off at 600cc, rather than 250. A new world had been opened up to me.
I have always maintained a ‘good bike’ – generally a late model sports bike, alongside what my brother delicately refers to as a ‘shitter.’ The well-tested theory is that the sports bike is kept pristine, and is only ever used on weekend hills rides and track days, The shitter cops the daily commute, with all the wear and tear it brings. So I found myself looking for a 600cc shitter. The perhaps mythical ‘bike that does everything.’
It was a remarkably short search, as I found Delilah right away. I’d been riding the X7 past a local bike dealership every day for months, and for months I’d noticed the same silver Kawasaki ZZR600 sitting out front, not going anywhere. It was an orphan bike, a bike not going anywhere fast. Dealers hate orphan bikes almost as much as I hate buying bikes from dealers, so I decided to walk in and try to talk a deal.
As it happens, yes, the dealer was desperate to get rid of the ZZR. It had been there too long. They made no secret of the fact that they were willing to dump it cheap for cash, but they were also very, very clear with me that I would have no comeback, there was no warranty of any sort, and if the bike stopped as I rode out of the driveway, I shouldn’t bother turning around to talk to them. Great attitude. Bloody dealers, eh?
Nonetheless, they assured me the bike had no problems that they were aware of. The kays were low, the price was right, and ZZR’s have a reputation for being bomb proof. I gritted my teeth, offered even less cash, and a deal was sealed. It was only when I was doing the paperwork five minutes later that I noticed the rego plate began with the letters ‘YYY.’ Needless to say, the ZZR was instantly dubbed Delilah.*
I knew that all ZZR’s are somewhat heavy old boats, but I’d ridden one once before and a quote from a favourite British bike magazine rang in my head as I delved into the upper reaches of the rev range – ‘what an engine as manic as Vlad the Impaler is doing in a chassis like this is beyond us.’ Now, no-one needs lots of power in a bike that’ll be mainly used as a commuter, but let’s face it, we all like power. Delilah had a surprising amount of go up at the top of the rev range – a typical Kawasaki trait – and also had fairly decent brakes, okay suspension and lots of practical touches like folding bungee hooks, great comfort and good fuel range.
Delilah and I settled into an agreeable relationship very quickly. In fact she really grew on me. And just as well, because shortly after she arrived on the scene, my ‘good bike’ was sold to help fund a little business venture of mine. Delilah would be my only bike for awhile.
At the same time, I became part of a small group of mates who regularly met for weekend rides in the hills. The group comprised mostly of newer riders astride LAMS bikes. Drawing on my experience as an instructor, I played mentor and helped keep the newbies alive, a task possibly harder than it sounds. There were regular excursions off road during our rides, and I found myself wishing that my fellow riders’ skills matched their enthusiasm. While the various well-used LAMS bikes broke down, rattled and smoked, Delilah never missed a beat. And when the LAMS crew started to get their skills up to speed, sample rides on Delilah showed them what 90 horsepower felt like compared to 30 or so. New bikes started appearing as LAMS tickets were traded for full licences. A Ducati, a Triumph, a Husky Motard. The group was growing up, the pace slowly increasing.
Around about this time, Scott showed up. A friend of another group member, Scott was experienced, confident, and rode a late model Triumph 1050 Speed Triple…mostly on the rear wheel. And that’s where the testing began.
I’d grown used to riding at the relaxed pace of the original group. Nobody rode as quickly as I usually would when riding on my own, but of course I was only quicker through my greater depth of experience, and I knew better than to go fast and invite crashes as the newbies tried to keep up. So I rode at the pace of the group, and generally wound things up a couple of notches after we’d waved our goodbyes and I turned for home at the end of a group ride.
Scott wasn’t like that. Scott is easily bored. He’d hang with us for 20 minutes or so, then inevitably wheelie off into the distance and meet us later at a café. I behaved myself and stayed behind, but I could hear Delilah the whole time egging me on to tap down a gear or two and chase the Triumph down. Nonetheless, I kept everything bottled up.
We were all at a café one afternoon when Scott started working on my Achilles heel. He knew exactly what he was doing.
“How long you had that fat old boat for, then?”
“A bit under a year.”
“How long you been riding?”
“Since I was eight. Started out riding dirt bikes, moved to the city, got into road bikes, the usual story.”
“Still getting your head around road riding then?”
“Hanging around with these guys. Easing into it, I suppose. It’s different to dirt riding, after all.”
(Hackles rising now…)
“I can hold my own. Old Delilah’s got a few surprises up her sleeve.”
“Hold your own? On that thing? I reckon you really ARE holding your own, mate!”
With that, Scott strode off into the café to order, while my blood gently simmered. The nerve of that guy! Never mind the fact that he’d played me like a trout…Delilah was about to have her cobwebs cleared out, that was for sure.
We left the café and I hung around mid-pack as always. Predictably, Scott lost patience after ten minutes, and I watched as he shot away up a long, winding hill. But this time I tapped Delilah down two cogs and cranked it. It was good to hear her howl as we hit the sweet spot in her power band and shot forward with a surging rush. I had to take great care; Delilah’s power was at odds with her weight and handling, but we closed the gap fast. It didn’t take Scott long to notice, and he worked the loud handle hard on the Trumpy. What he didn’t know was that I’d dropped a tooth on the countershaft sprocket on Delilah months ago. She was geared shorter than standard, and had acceleration on par with a decent 600cc sports bike as a result. Scott tried. I tried harder. The Trumpy wheelied, bellowed and roared. Delilah slithered, bucked, weaved and howled. It was stupid, irresponsible riding, but the Trumpy didn’t shake us. It may have been an exercise in ego-driven idiocy, but I promise you that Delilah and I bonded like never before on that day.
My hands were shaking as we parked the bikes at the next stop and waited for the other blokes to show up, but I could tell from Scott’s opening remark that I’d achieved what I’d set out to. “Fuck me, you must have been riding the wheels off that thing just then!” With this said, he doffed his helmet and lay down under a nearby tree to stretch his back. A man of few words, our Scott.
From that day forward, it became tradition that our leisurely group ride would always include five minutes or so of madness where Scott and I would take off and chase after each other hammer and tongs. We had a great time, but in retrospect, rode like idiots. I think we both knew it, too. Scott sold his Trumpy one day completely out of the blue and started riding dirt bikes again. Shortly thereafter I started road racing out at the track, and today I don’t even own a road bike anymore. Scott and I are bad influences on each other when it comes to riding. I think we’re both safer enjoying separate riding lives, although Scott has admitted lately toying with the idea of coming out to the track to road race with me. That could get interesting.
Before Delilah was finally sold, she and I had plenty of great times together. There was commuting, of course, but there were leisurely rides through the hills, too, and even a couple of trips to Phillip Island to watch the MotoGP. Delilah took it all in her stride. I’m not sure there’s ever been a bike I’ve subjected to a wider variety of rides. From manic hills chases to mundane traffic battles to slicing through a hailstorm outside Horsham, she shone through it all, always doing the minimum required without fuss, and often punching well above her weight.
Life moves ahead, however, and eventually Delilah was sold to a stocky little Brit guy in his 50’s who lived just around the corner from me. She was to be his first ‘big’ bike, and he was looking for a ‘do everything’ bike with a low seat height. I assured him that Delilah could do everything, but low seat height is a relative thing. I’m well over six feet tall, this bloke might possibly have been five feet four first thing in the morning. When I ran into him a few weeks later at a corner deli, he sheepishly admitted that he’d dropped her at walking pace while turning around in his driveway. Poor Delilah.
“She’s a big, ‘eavy old bus, after all, isn’t she?”
I replied “Yeah, but she’s full of surprises. Just wait until you really get to know her.”
He looked at me with a puzzled expression, and we went our separate ways.
Lately I seem to have about half a dozen old interstate friends waving offers under my nose. You know the type – “Come on up and we’ll talk some bullshit, catch up again after all this time, that sort of thing. There’s always a bed for you up here, mate.” Yet flying interstate on a plane holds no appeal for me…it’s about as interesting as a cardboard sandwich. I’ve pondered once or twice whether I could maybe buy another ZZR. I’d never tear through the hills like an idiot on it, of course, but I could use it simply to get around on, and I know from experience that they are perfect bikes for long, interstate trips.
And besides…you never know when you’ll need an engine more manic than Vlad the Impaler…
* For the younger ones out there, an old, old Tom Jones song (actually released even before my time) had a chorus something along the lines of ‘Why, why, why, Delilah?’ Happy now?
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