Trouble With My Motorcycle, Or Is It?

Kawasakis have a reputation for being bullet-proof, meaning you just don’t have a lot of mechanical issues with them. You can confidently buy a new Concours 14 and ride it for years with routine maintenance your only expense.

I’ve had the same kind of excellent experience with my 1999 Concours and so it was very disturbing in May when I was headed southeast of Flagstaff on my way to the Overland Expo and my Connie started acting up. I bought that bike new in 1999 and have about 50,000 miles on it. To this point, the only issue I’ve had was when an O-ring failed and it started leaking coolant. That put my annual non-routine maintenance expense at about $7.

I had somehow missed my turn coming out of Cortez, CO, and instead of passing by the Four Corners monument I found myself headed due south to Shiprock, NM, and Gallup. That added about 50 miles to my day’s ride but by the time I figured it out it wouldn’t have saved me anything to go back, so I pressed on. Made a quick stop in Gallup for gas and then jumped on I-40 headed west.

About 100 miles later I reached Holbrook and was ready to stop for lunch. I coasted down the long off-ramp and slowed at the bottom for the sharp right-hander that would put me on the town’s main street and the bike died. Now why in the world would it do that?

Worse, it didn’t want to start again. I was about 450 miles from home and still 100 miles from my destination and the Arizona sun was blazing down on me. This did not give me a good feeling.

I finally got it started again but the only way it would keep running was if I revved the engine a lot. There was a fast food joint just about 150 yards away so I limped over there and figured I’d eat and see if it ran better after lunch. When I tried it the bike did fire right up, but again it did not want to continue running.

I had inquired as to a motorcycle shop in town and so I headed in that direction. I found Frank’s Route 66 Garage right where I had been told and Frank was super helpful. First he suggested I go to a gas station and top off because he felt the problem was probably bad gas and putting good gas in would solve everything. My Connie holds 7.5 gallons, however, and I had only burned 2 gallons since I filled it. Topping it off didn’t help.

Next Frank tried spraying carb cleaner down the intakes while I revved the motor. After several minutes that seemed to fix things, I thanked Frank profusely and asked what I owed him and he refused to take a cent. I put the bodywork back on the bike, loaded it up again, and put on my gear. When I started the bike up again, it was the same problem as before. So I took off and hoped I wouldn’t be standing broiling in the sun alongside the highway just 30 miles or so down the road.

In Flagstaff I found another shop and the guy there told me he was confident he could solve the problem but be was swamped and would not be able to get to it until Saturday. This was Thursday. Since that wasn’t going to work for me, he just twisted the idle dial all the way up and though it ran rough, the engine did not die. I pushed on.

I reached the Overland Expo, down by Mormon Lake, and for the next three days left the bike parked while I hung out with all these adventure-riding folks who have or are planning to do amazing things like riding their motorcycles around the world. It was a good time but in the back of my mind the whole three days was the dread of what would happen when I pushed the starter button again.

Sunday arrived and it was time to leave. I gave the bike full choke and pushed the starter button and it fired to life, though continuing to run rough. I kept on the throttle a long time, letting it warm up, and then took off. Back in Flagstaff I shouldn’t have needed gas as it was only 160 miles since I had last filled it, but the needle was pushing empty. And an amazing thing happened as I pulled into the station and stopped: My engine started racing! I had to crank the idle dial way down again.

Bottom line, I figure I must have gotten some bad gas in Gallup, as Frank had suspected, or else there was something clogging my fuel line that had now been cleared away. Either way it ran fine all the way home and continues to run fine. Kawasaki really does make great motorcycles. My annual maintenance expense is still $7.