Lovely little bike, innit, said the back street dealer. He went into a story about some old chap bringing in it, saying it wouldn’t start any more. A change of spark plug and coil, it was ready for sale rather than being split into a million pieces. At 350 notes it seemed a steal, even the alloy still shone as if lovingly polished every day.
The Z200 is a small bike but one with nice proportions and a proper motorcycle look. If it had BSA on the tank it would’ve been declared a classic rather than a bag of old nails, as my mate reckoned. That comment was down to the rattling engine, a result of 31000 miles under the tender hands of just one elderly owner. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
The engine was a gem of OHC thumper technology, at least when new. Lacking any kind of balancer system, the 200cc’s were the kind of pure engineering that the Japanese did so well in the sixties. By the time it fell into my hands there were minor rumblings at all revs with a heavy frenzy coming in when flat out at an indicated 85mph (probably 75mph in harsh reality). This wasn’t a speed I’d like to hold for very long because the shining chassis hid the fact that all the suspension damping had a long time ago completely disappeared.
The result, the front end needed a very firm grip to stop the bike leaping out of its lane whilst the back end went into a pogo-stick routine even on the smoothest of roads. Being an optimistic and persistent soul, I actually went back to the breaker to complain. He was so shocked by this effrontery that he threw some shocks and fork springs at me before coming to his senses. After almost taking my nose off when the forks came apart with a bang and almost having an heart attack when I found the upper shock stud on the right-hand side was about to fail due to internal corrosion, I began to think about dumping the bike in the nearest canal. However, a mate with a welding torch fixed up the frame and a bit of brute force had the front forks reassembled.
Gods knows their source. My 200lb neighbour was instructed to leap up and down on the saddle, with about a millimetre’s worth of suspension travel resulting. Fed with copious supplies of beer and allowed to watch my porno video’s in the garage (you’ve got to find somewhere for a bit of peace and quiet, haven’t you) he spent the day bedding in the suspension by bouncing up and down on the bike. Eventually, a couple of inches of travel were gained and I felt the bike was safe to take out into the world.
A right weird sensation it was too. Added to the engine’s vibration, the stiff suspension allowed every minor road imperfection into my backside, feet and hands. It took a couple of weeks for all this to fade into the background, as it invariably does, and before I really began to enjoy the machine. At least the front end now had an unknown precision, even if the back still weaved around a touch. Further investigation revealed swinging arm bearings that were on the way out – some plastic rubbish that as soon as a little wear gets into them begin to rapidly go down. Figure a life of less than 5000 miles.
Wanting to pop along at 70mph, I decided to whack them out, upgrade them with some phosphor-bronze replacements. That sounds nice and easy but the swinging arm spindle was corroded in and destroyed the swinging arm by the time it popped out! The breaker charged me a reasonable fiver for a replacement and then lost my custom for life by calling me a shirt-lifter! Don’t know why, as he was twice my size I let it go.
With all that fixed the Z finally handled as well as it looked but I was soon dismayed by the lack of top end go. It would top out at a reasonable 85mph but getting there proved a tiresome business. It’d buzz up to 60mph at a reasonable rate but after that it took ages to wind itself up. Torque seemed to peak at 60mph, it’d plod up hills and into head-winds at this velocity but either of these could knock any extra speed right off.
As could be imagined, 60mph on the modern roads was asking to be knocked off by speeding cagers. To make matters even more interesting, all I could see in the blurred mirrors was the vaguest of images. The only way around this potential death scenario was to take to the country lanes. Here, the Z made some kind of sense, plodding away at 50 to 60mph with a heavy blast out of what was left of the silencer. Smiles all the way, except that the brakes faded when used heavily in the corners and the bumpier roads threw me around in the saddle – it’s quite easy to catch a very sensitive piece of the anatomy on the back of the tank.
The bike would’ve been brilliant for slicing through traffic had not the motor liked to stall at low revs if the throttle wasn’t continuously blipped at junctions. The gearbox didn’t like low revs either, and it was dead easy for the clutch to overheat – sometimes fading and sometimes slipping! Didn’t know if I was coming or going. Apart from these minor imperfections, the bike could be weaved through the narrowest of gaps and even taken up on the pavement.
Low speed running was improved by fresh oil – I wouldn’t want to leave the oil changes longer than 500 miles. The valves stayed resolutely within tolerances whilst the camchain needed a tweak every few hundred miles to keep the chainsaw blues at bay. The ignition system seemed a bit marginal, wet weather making the bike burp and backfire – you don’t want to lose power when there’s only one cylinder. In the wet, the tyres seemed like they were on a knife-edge but didn’t actually slide down the road.
After approximately 6000 miles I began to tire of the Z. It lacked sufficient top end go for me to take it too seriously, and was becoming an increasing pain during the commuting chores. On the good side, 80mpg was regularly turned in and, once sorted out, consumables wore slowly, although the chain needed constant attention and the odd link removed (it could have been there from new for all I know, the sprockets certainly looked like they had been).
The bike was polished to a mirror shine and put on the market at 600 quid. The machine refused to start when the first punter turned up, only revived by a new spark plug – I nearly stripped the thread putting it in; crap Jap alloy doesn’t age at all well. I had some fun hustling dealers for part-ex, getting test rides on an XJ600N, CB500S and CBR400. The most offered for the Z was 400 notes.
An old geezer in waders turned up with a mate who was on a Panther with huge sidecar. This dynamic duo looked upset when I refused to let them take the spark plug out as a prelude to whipping the head off. There were enough tools in the sidecar to make it a rolling workshop. After several test rides, lots of pushing and pulling, I was offered 500 notes in dirty fifties and grabbed it with both hands. I felt the Z wasn’t far off going expensively terminal. They tottered off with the poor old Kwak sticking out of the sidecar – some people!
So there you go. A venerable little thumper but worn examples aren’t really up to modern road speeds. Cue for someone to write in with tales of world travel on a Z200…