A British Appreciation for Industrial History & Hands-On Restoration

There is an element of British television that revels in the industrial history that many generations of us lot lived through, and I’m hooked on it.  My favourite is Henry Cole & Sam Lovegrove’s Shed & Buried which follows the two as they dig up hidden treasures found in some of the more eccentric sheds in the U.K., including a lot of older motorbikes:

They find all sorts of old machines in people’s sheds which often leads to impromtu history lessons on brands I’ve never heard of or hidden bits of industrial history I hadn’t heard of before.  From seed fiddles to motor memorabilia to the esoteric history of British motorbike production, it’s never dull and usually enlightening.
They don’t just rummage around in other people’s sheds.  The show also casts a light on the ‘car boot sale‘ and the used sales trade in the UK.  This culture of reverance for past technology is completely foreign in Canada.
It’s tough to find anything motorbikey in Ontario to begin with let alone anything old and interesting, yet Henry & Sam seem to be able to find any number of interesting old bikes for around £1000 ($1700CAD).  In a country like Canada that prefers to hide its history under a modern marketing blanket, throwing stuff away is a cultural imperative.  This (very colonial) approach means there simply isn’t an ecosystem of old machinery to explore.  This is exacerbated by Canada’s history as a resource extractor rather than an industrially focused manufacturer; we don’t make much here so there is no home-grown pride in any vehicle.
These cultural differences in background prompt media and awareness that is distinctly different in both countries.  The British produce a plethora of programs that explore industrial history and mechanics.  Shows like this would never fly in consumerist focused Canada.
Here’s a case in point:  Shed & Buried started out with a ’69 Triumph Daytona project, sorta like the one below described as ‘an excellent buy’ in Ottawa right now for $4650 Canadian .  Henry paid £600 ($1000CAD) for his old Daytona in similar condition.
If they exist at all, older bikes in Canada are prohibitively expensive.
What got me thinking about this was someone else on FB Marketplace offering disorganized boxes of old Triumph parts for $3600 without even a clear idea of what’s in there.  Henry and Sam picked up a 1950s BSA for £400 they found in pieces in a caravan.  Canada’s disinterest in and lack of history around industrial manufacturing make it a very difficult place to find old project bikes – unless you want to go into massive debt for an incomplete box of shit.
If, like me, you find living in this vacuous, consumerist wasteland frustrating, there are a lot of British TV programs that will remind you that finding old things and getting your hands dirty restoring them is a viable thing to do.  Here’s a list of what to watch if you’re looking for some proof that you’re not crazy:
Find It, Fix It, Drive It: if you’re crafty with VPNs you can stream this on Channel4.

Guy Martin’s How Britain WorkedGuy’s background as a mechanic comes up in most of his shows

Car SOS: one of my favourites – restoration leading to catharsis

Wheeler Dealers: started in the UK, went to the US and lost its way, now back to UK


Even Top Gear makes a point of mechanics, though often in jest:

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Kawasaki Concours 14 GTR1400 ZG1400 Tires & Suspension Setup

I finally got around to adjusting the Concours’ suspension.  It was pretty unsettled on uneven pavement so I went with the list shared online and aimed everything at ‘right on the money’ which works out to front spring preload of 14mm and rebound dampening of 3 clicks out from all the way in.  The rear got set to 20 clicks in on spring preload and 1 and 1/4 turns out on rebound dampening. 

It’s a significant improvement over what the bike was set at before.  On uneven pavement it feels much less likely to bounce and wander.  On smooth pavement it now tracks much better and isn’t such a struggle to hold a line with, though it still feels heavy.  That might be my own fault coming off a Honda Fireblade to the Kawasaki though.

The existing tires on the bike are Michelin Pilot Road 4s which people in the know swear transforms the bike’s handling.  I had a look around and the rear tire’s 2715 stamp means it was built in the 27th month of 2015.  My best guess on the front is that it was 1918 or 2019 in the 18th month.  If that was the case then Declan, the guy I purchased the bike from, put these tires on it in or around 2019 so they’re not only lightly used but also recent!

They passed the safety easily and aren’t flat spottted or low on tread so a couple of very low mileage years is likely, which means I’m not in any rush to replace them.  That didn’t stop me from having a look at what new tires for it would cost anyway just so I’m ready (end of 2022 riding season?) to replace them.
Going to a 190/55/R17 rear tire (stock is 190/50 ZR17) raises the back end a bit with a marginally thicker sidewall and stops the bike from feeling so vague.  Bike Magazine describes the handling of the GTR1400 as ‘not good’ and I think this dropin vagueness is what they’re referring to.
Another nice surprise on this used bike purchase is that the former owner put new tires on only a couple of years ago and then barely used them, but now I’ve got some ideas about where to go next.

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Sail Away: First Long Ride on The Kawasaki Concours 14

First long ride with Big Blue/Nami-Chan (not sure what its name is yet) today up to Georgian Bay to listen to the water.  For a kid who grew up by the sea, living in landlocked Southern Ontario wears on me, so sitting by the shore listening to the water lapping on the rocks calms my permanent sense of dislocation.

Thornbury Harbour, Geogian Bay, Ontario – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA


What’s the Concours 14 like to ride over distance?  It’s a very comfortable long distance machine. Compared to the Tiger it’s smoother, significantly less vibey and quieter.  This isn’t necessarily a good think because riding a motorbike isn’t always about comfort – sometimes you want it to beat the shit out of you.  What is good is that the 1400GTR is a significantly different bike to ride than the old Triumph Tiger, so both fill a different need in the bike stable.

The Tiger (when it works perfectly which isn’t often recently) is a capable off roader on trails and fire roads and lets the wind pass through you since it’s practically naked, which is both exhausting and exhilarating.  After the long ride today the abilities of the Kawasaki are much more clear.  The only nagging issue is that my backside has gotten used to Corbin seat engineering and the Kawasaki stock saddle just isn’t up to the job, but otherwise the bike is a revelation.  Effortlessly quick, smooth and surprisingly agile in the corners, though you can still feel the weight carries but it carries it low.

Windshield down, lots of airflow, a great view
and the bike feels more likes sports-bike.

For the first time I adjusted the X-screen modular MCA Windshield to its maximum length and it did an astonishing job of protecting me at highway speeds.  So much so that I barely closed the Roof helmet on the ride.  The pocket of air it creates is stable and the wind noise so much less that it’s just another aspect of this bike that’ll let you do long miles without exhausting yourself.

Ergonomically, the windscreen also does something smart for airflow.  If it gets hot you can lower it to the point where it almost vanishes.  This pushes a lot of air through your upper body and supports your chest from leaning on your wrists.  I hadn’t put much stock in an adjustable windshield but it not only changes the look of the bike, it also changes its functionality too.  On long rides changes in airflow keep you comfortable and focused.

Windshield up while you’re making tracks
on less demanding roads and you’re in a
quiet bubble of air that lets you go for miles.

The bike itself seems to manage heat well which the old ZG1000 previous generation Concours 10 I had did not (it used to get stupid hot!).  If stuck in traffic, even over 30°C pavement, the temperature gauge never went above half way and the fans haven’t needed to come on yet.  The lack of wind-flow over my legs on hot summer rides may yet be an issue though, the fairings are too good.

The other complexity piece of the C14 that I wasn’t sure I was interested in was the digital dash but that too is proving valuable.  I’m no longer guessing what gear I’m in based on revs and road speed so I’m no longer trying to shift into a non-existent 7th gear, which happens often on the Tiger.  Though the 1400GTR revs so low while in 6th/overdrive (3200rpm @ 110kms/hr) that you wouldn’t be looking for another gear anyway.
Mileage has been a concern on this smaller-tank/worse mileage than the Tiger bike.  The Kawasaki’s 22 litre tank is 2 litres smaller than the Tiger’s which also gets 10+ more miles to the gallon.  I’m going to fill up a spare 2 litre gas canister and run the Kawasaki for maximum range a few times to see what this C14 can actually do.  When I fill it up it cheerfully states it’ll do 360km to a 22 litre tank which works out to 38.5mpg or 6.1 litres per 100 kms.  The display shows when you’re maximizing mileage so a long ride without wringing its neck to see what mileage it can achieve is in order.  If I can get 400kms out of a tank that’ll put me up into the mid-40s miles per gallon, which would be a good return on such a heavy, powerful machine.  The range indicator jumps around to the point of being meaningless and then cuts out when the bike gets low and you need it most – not the best user interface there, Kawasaki, but I’ve heard there may be a wiring hack to stop that from happening.

So, after a 290ish km run up to Georgian Bay and back I’m very happy with the bike’s power, which is otherworldly, it’s comfort is good but I’m looking at seat improvements.  I’ve heard other larger riders put peg extenders on so there is a bit less flex in the legs, which might eventually happen.  Many people also put bar risers on them so the bars come towards you a bit more, but I’m finding that I’m able to move myself on the seat to get a more vertical or more sporty riding position depending on what I’m doing, so bar risers aren’t on the radar.
I did pick up a spare fuel bottle that fits nicely in the panniers (which take a bit of getting used to for all the keying in and out but are huge and don’t affect the bike at speed at all).  Next time I’m on a long ride I’ll top the spare bottle up when I top up the bike and then see how far I can push the range.

It was an uneventful ride except for one incident.  Leaving Thornbury harbour the 360 camera fell out of my pocket onto the road.  I pulled over quickly and safely and then ran back to scoop it up off the road.  There was traffic back at the lights in town just starting to move and 3 cyclists riding on the side of the road coming towards me but still some way away.  I ran out to the camera, scooped it up and ran back to the curb and almost took out one of the cyclists who had elected to accelerate towards me rather than giving me space to get off the road.
She yelled, “bike!” and I made a dexterity check that had me dodging around her rather than taking her off the bike.  They kept going but I was left standing there wondering what the thinking was.  You see a guy duck out into the road to pick something up so surely you would ease up a bit and let him do what he needs to do to get out of the way – but not in this case.  From what I’ve seen of cyclist’s approach to sharing the road, I imagine that I’m entirely at fault for that.  It left me shaking my head at their thought processes.

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What’s a Kawasaki GTR1400/Concours14 like to ride? NUCLEAR SHINKANSEN!

I picked up this Concours14 (or 1400GTR or ZG1400 depending on what market you’re in) back in April for $5500CAD.  It had been sitting for some time and was full of spider nests.  I got the safety sorted yesterday and got the bike licensed and on the road today so we’re ready to finally make some tracks with this thing.

What’s it like to ride?  I’ve owned more Kawasakis than any other kind of bike and their engines have always been what makes them special, and this bike is no different.  The 1352cc inline four at the heart of the Connie was identical to the ZR1400 hyperbike’s motor back in the day, and it shows.

On my first ride I pulled out to pass a truck and it was behind me almost too quickly to process.  I’m coming off owning a late 90s Fireblade so it’s not like I’m inexperienced with quick bikes, but the 1400GTR not only has the horsepower but also has the torque to back it up.  Where the ‘Blade was staggeringly quick (and light), you had to wind it up to make it go.  It felt like a light but not overpowered machine at sub 6000rpm engine speeds.  At 6k it became seriously quick and if you were brave enough to chase the 13,000rpm redline the bike turned into a total head case.

You don’t need to wring the Kawasaki’s neck to make astonishingly rapid progress.  It weighs over 100 kilos more than the Fireblade but makes over 30 more horsepowers and pound-feets of torque; it doesn’t feel heavy, which is an amazing accomplishment for a bike that can carry over 500lbs, has shaft drive and feels like it’s ready for five hundred mile days.

It’s not telepathic in corners like the ‘Blade was, but that bike’s focus was so singular that it made everything else difficult.  The 1400GTR does a good job of cutting up corners, hiding its 300 kilo weight well, but then it can also ride all day, still hit 40mpg and carry two up with luggage.

Ontario makes you buy a vehicle history when you buy a new bike but I don’t mind because it offers you insight into the machine’s history.  This bike is a 2010 model but it wasn’t first licensed for the road until 2014 (!) meaning it’s only been rolling for seven years rather than eleven.  The first owner had it two years and then sold it on to the guy I got it from.  He rode it for a couple of years and then parked it after it tipped over on him in a parking lot (hence all the spider nests).

The prolonged park is what shrank the seal in the clutch that I’ve since replaced.  The drop also stopped the windshield from moving but both things have been solved now and this Concours, with only 32k on the odometer, is finally ready to do what these bikes do best:  make big miles.  One of the guys at our local dealership is a Concours fan and got his over 400,000kms, so these things have staying power as well as horsepower.

I’m looking forward to getting to know this nuclear shinkansen (Kawasaki Heavy Industries makes bullet trains too!) better this summer.

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