The 200,000-mile Sportbike


If you think sportbikes are just low-mileage “toys” ridden on the occasional sunny day, then meet Willard Huedepohl and his 200,000-mile Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R. This bike’s just now getting broken in.

One of Willard Huedepohl’s favorite restaurants lies on the outskirts of Chicago. Every now and then he’ll throw a leg over his old reliable 1998 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R and ride there for a meal. No big deal. Except that Huedepohl lives more than 200 miles away in Iowa.

And now you understand how Huedepohl has racked up more than 200,000 miles on his Ninja. That’s right; in a world where many sportbikes sit parked for much of their lives, waiting for a sunny weekend day, Huedepohl’s ZX-9R has traveled the distance of eight trips around the world. Despite that, nearly all of the parts on the bike are the same ones it had when Huedepohl bought it off the Struthers Bros. Kawasaki showroom floor when it was brand new.

“We’ve never touched the engine. We’ve never touched the transmission. It still has the original clutch,” Huedepohl says. “I wouldn’t be afraid to take off anywhere on it.”

“It’s definitely the highest-mileage sportbike we’ve seen,” says Eric Lundstrom, service manager at Struthers Bros. Kawasaki in Des Moines, where Huedepohl bought the bike and has had it serviced ever since. The next contender for high-mileage awards among Struthers Bros. customers is the owner of a W650 with about 160,000 miles on the odometer, Lundstrom says.

Huedepohl racked up most of the mileage just with everyday riding. “I know about every road in the state of Iowa,” he says. But he also took trips to places such as Virginia and the famous Deals Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, loading the bike with soft saddlebags, a duffle on the rear seat and his ever-present tank bag. His longest day on the ZX-9R was a 900-mile day on the way home from Virginia.When Huedepohl and his ZX-9R hit the 200,000-mile mark, the Struthers crew threw a little celebration for him, ordering up a specially designed cake to commemorate the milestone when he brought the bike in for its latest service.

“I like this one the best of all the bikes I ever rode,” says Huedepohl. “Everything just fits right on it.”Huedepohl has owned more than a dozen motorcycles since he began riding in 1971, but none of them were with him for more miles than the ZX-9R. His achievement in reaching the 200,000-mile mark is even more impressive when you consider that Huedepohl has always had other motorcycles in the stable, so the ZX-9R has had to share his riding time. A few years ago, he bought a new ZX-10R that he enjoyed and rode for thousands of miles, but it never fit him quite as well as the old glove. Aside from the bulletproof nature of the ZX-9R, the main reason for this lasting relationship has been the sporty, but not extreme, riding position that has often been cited as one of that model’s great traits as a streetbike. Huedepohl, now retired and age 71, has some arthritis in his hips. Lundstrom’s crew lowered the footpegs on the ZX-9R and that made the ergonomics perfect for Huedepohl, allowing him to ride all day.

Huedepohl’s impressions as an owner match up with the opinions of professional motorcycle writers. Among sportbikes, the ZX-9R has a reputation for being able to go the distance. Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke, who has worked in the motorcycle media for 16 years and ridden more than 500 different motorcycles, calls the late-90s ZX-9R “the most versatile open-class sportbike of its era.” Unlike more one-dimensional sportbikes, “its more upright riding position and relatively generous wind protection resulted in a credible sport-touring machine,” Duke adds.

The proof is in the odometer.

So what if you want to get 200,000 miles out of your bike? What advice can we glean from Huedepohl’s success? Actually, the ZX-9R has been so reliable, that only minor repairs have ever been needed, such as replacing the ignition coils and the thermostat in the cooling system. Huedepohl followed the maintenance schedule, but he admits that as the bike got older, he stretched out the schedule to longer intervals because it rarely needed much attention. So, maybe the key to getting high mileage out of your bike is starting with a bulletproof bike.

Now that the cake has been eaten, the celebrating is over and the latest service has been done, where does Huedepohl’s Ninja go from here? Back on the road and heading for its next hundred thousand miles. “I’m going to keep riding it,” he says.

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