Riding the Straightest Roads in Central Minnesota
When you need to be somewhere you tend to take the modern highway. A purpose designed and built concrete runway connecting large cities and states. There are no intersections crossing this massive path. No speed limits below fifty five miles per hour. Outside the metro areas you can set your cruise control at a speed within the range of the general rate of flowing traffic and just roll along. The Superslab.
In many cases you will find a series of roads running parallel to the superhighways. Here in the midwest we call them frontage roads. They have lower speed limits. They have stop signs and take you to the little towns which the main arteries have been built to bypass. Towns with family owned businesses slowly being displaced by box stores and convenience style gas stations. Generally there's a core community you'll recognize by the homes built in earlier eras. Like a wagon wheel whose spokes are naturally spreading outward, the centers of these town show patches of new homes on the outlying hillsides where farming families took the opportunity of lots of money to give up the family agribusiness. I've known people who became millionaires with a single signature.
So the other morning, I got the idea in my head to take a succession of these roads to a town a bit of a distance away. I hopped on the Vespa and took off. It could not have been a better morning to ride.
I passed through one town and decided to visit a friend whose got a knack for building his own bikes. He'll take old machines which have been put to pasture and restores them to reliable running condition. And then he rides the heck out of em. Sometimes he does a little custom work to suit his interests or chase a direction a particular model seems to have been headed. Before some corporate accounting dept. told the designers they had to stay within a certain budget. You know the story. A concept is built, redesigns happen, things get added, others removed, and you end up with a bland machine which looks not too much different than all the other similar models. Then an aftermarket company creates bolt-on kits to "customize" these machines. It's good marketing and most of what aftermarket companies come up with is useful. Often necessary. Some is for show and that's alright too. You probably realized I'm kind of a utility type of person a while ago.
Anyway, the latest machine my friend has been running and building is a...'79 I think it is(?) KZ650. He bought the Kawasaki from my neighbor and had to bring it home on a trailer. The engine needed minor work but turned out to have good compression. Other bits were time worn and replaced. The bike, good as they were in their day, was your basic Universal Japaese Motorcycle (UJM). They were very good machines, really. Mid sized with enough pep and torque to handle the 55mph gas crunch superslabs of their day. Even now, despite their age and given their deserved concessions, they're still capable mid displacement light tourers.
He was laying fiberglass over a mold for a cafe style seat when I got there. If you remember old Nortons and Guzzis, you'll recall a single seat racing inspired tailpiece.
He found straight, downturned handlebars and added a bar and mirror to the left side. The bike, in mid design stage if you will, is still primer grey. The frame is a deep red which really offsets the polished aluminum of the engine and flat primer grey of the tank.
He stripped out whatever it was Kawasaki hung beneath the seat, giving the whole machine an all business attitude. The fenders are long gone. And the orignal pipes have been replaced by a set donated by a Ninja and gathered into a Jardine cannister. It's a bike you'd have to see. One you'd want to ride.
Oh, and this Kaw' is kick start only.
"Lead the way," he told me. So I did.
We headed north along the first frontage road and followed it through one small town after another.
I kept thinking, man I didn't realize this road was so straight!
We stopped for a bite at a Subway in one of those convenience style gas stations.
"Man, what a perfect day to ride," he said.
" Boy am I glad you showed up this morning. I would not have taken the time to do this if you didn't ride up," he said.
I felt better. I was worried he'd be annoyed all the roads we'd been on were arrow stright.
"Man, I'm just sorry I took us on all these boring straight roads."
"No worries. We'll find the twisties another time." He popped the last two or three bites worth into his mouth in one shot, chewed them down into manageable swallows and smiled.
We got back onto the road and headed toward our lives' responsibilities.
Even though time constraints put us on the same road back, it felt a lot better.
I guess I'd forgotten being on any road on a bike is better than the alternative.