If Bill had been from anywhere in California he’d have been widely celebrated as an innovator and pioneer in motorcycle racing. However, he was from Illinois; so, of course, no dubious gold jacket fame or AMA Hall of Fame nod. Frankly, Bill probably didn’t care how they did it in California. Cool guy. He was working on a project bike up until he passed at 84.
If the motorcycle industry ever collected items to be shot into space so that they might later hopefully found by martians–a la the Voyager record–an audio file of the snarling crackle from a Kawasaki H2 750 with expansion chambers would undoubtedly be included in the cask. Maybe it was the era or maybe it was the beer, or maybe the beer and the era but here we are in 2017 and the sound from the Kawasaki H2 still makes heads snap to attention.
Okay, sure, any post-2009 Craigslist roach R6 will humble an H2 in just about any contest of performance. However, for a generation of riders the exhaust note of a “Kawi-triple” is the be-all and end-all of magnificent exhaust notes. MotoGP team owner Herve Poncharal, who has had multiple V4 500cc two stroke GP bikes and thundering MotoGP four-strokes in his team’s garage, still says the Kawasaki triple remains his favorite race bike. It was, he says now, “The bike that made me dream.”
Bill Wirges and his company “Bill Wirges Inc” rode the wave of 1970s Kawasaki two stroke performance parts. His tuner pipes were fitted to tens of thousands of H2s at an time when two stroke hop-up was more black magic than any kind of loose or applied science.
While nearly all of his competitors and on-track rivals have folded or gone to the big flow bench in the sky, Wirges—in his 80s now—still goes to his shop most days and is a great proctor of what it took and takes to make a Kawasaki two-stroke sing.
In the mid-1970s a group of Wirges enthusiasts from a Kawasaki dealership in Minnesota made the pilgrimage to Bill’s shop in Illinois, all of them on different flavors of Kawasaki triples. Showing up unannounced, the Kawi triple riders found that Mr. Wirges was kind, friendly and patient, giving them a tour of his operation, looking each of their bike over and giving free tuning advice. One of the Minnesota triples was well on its way to the inevitable burn down and Wirges sent the rider north with a set of used pistons, rings and a new head gasket in case it did self-immolate en route.
Wirges was a legend then—he’d set land speed records at Bonneville on a triple—and remains a legend today. That he is not in the AMA Hall of Fame is a travesty.
Two stroke street bikes are now so seldom seen that young people who were not alive yet in the 1970s-1980s-1990s refuse to believe such a vehicle was ever mass-produced. Last year we had to talk a young highway patrol officer off the ledge after he pulled us over for, well, riding a triple.
“That sound is illegal,” he sputtered after we’d touched the kill switch. “You made it sound that way and … you can’t ride that bike on the street. That sound will scare people if they don’t expect it.”
Gently, we tried to reason with him, telling him that the Kawasaki H2 was a production motorcycle and that’s the way they ALL sound (forgetting to mention the set of Wirges stinger exhaust on it).
After we’d deescalated the situation and were confident that we were not going to have to tow the bike back to Wisconsin, that we were only going to get a warning ticket for loud exhaust, we asked the trooper, Dude, what year were you born?
1993, he said, still refusing to believe that an engine that sounded like that could have ever been made for street use.
The trooper then drove off to hopefully more productive responsibilities.
After he was long gone we kicked the triple over and on the second kick it shrieked to life. I throttle-whipped it to get it to warm up—ostensibly—the sound was as shocking to humans as it might be to martians. People stopped walking, drivers kept a wide line when passing by the parked H2.
That sound …