Kenny Augustine‎ > ‎

A few words...

When I first met Ken in 1991 I was riding an RD400 and while Ken and I never got around to working on my RD400, we did work on some porting work for a friend of mine.  I later purchased an RD500, which Ken advised me against doing, but we still worked on it together with some success.  It spent more time apart than together, as many RDs do, but I enjoyed working on it with Ken as much as I enjoyed riding.  The years went by.  I married and my marriage went horribly south.  I won't go in to details, but I will say that the only way I managed to keep my sanity was to be at Ken's shop.  At Ken's shop the most hopelessly designed motorcycle could be fixed even if my marriage could not.  I didn't do modifications to my motorcycle to keep it running, I started doing them to keep me in Kenny's shop.
The thing you have to understand about Kenny is that he wasn't just smart, he wasn't just insightful, he's was so smart and so insightful that it was almost a handicap.  Because of this he saw every flaw in everything, and that included my marriage.  He knew that things weren't right, but he was also the most kind hearted and caring person I ever met.  Because of that he sat beside me, and worked on my motorcycle with me, helping me endlessly, charging me only enough to keep himself and his shop alive.  In the year it took for my marriage to go from bad to it's painful conclusion he only ever hinted that maybe something was wrong.  But when it ended he was there for me and he made one suggestion: get another motorcycle, a new one. Put this one away for now.  Get something with two seats.  You're going to need that extra seat soon.
As the ink dried on my divorce papers I bought a brand new 1995 Ducati 900SS/SP from Pat Munroe (may he rest in peace) at Munroe motors.  His brother Jim oversaw the final inspection and first service, which Nick Hayman performed.  I loved the bike as did all my passengers.  But Ken rode it and just shrugged his shoulders.  'It's good, but it could be better'  For the record Ken's suggestion was that I buy a used CBR600 and sell it each year to buy a newer used 600.  Later that year I met Mark Duncan through Nick at Munroe motors.  Mark was just starting Club Desmo, a local Ducati owner's group and he invited me to come ride with him up on skyline.  Through that I met pretty much everybody else I know in the motorcycle community and I started riding all the time.
Of course, I couldn't possibly be this passionate about Ducati sport bikes and not end up at the track.  You'll forgive me if I can't remember the exact year, but I ended up at Sears Point a lot, riding with Club Desmo and became even better friends with Mark.  That lead to a little problem.  If you know anything about the Ducati 900s you'll know that while Hunter S. Thompson may have heard the sound of the 'Sausage Creature' while riding one, Kenny was pretty much right.  A Ducati 900 can be better, and all of my new friend's bikes _were_ better.  So where did the bike and I end up?  At Ken's shop, Kinetic Analysis.
Kenny's first suggestion was again that I get a CBR600.  I promised him that I would, soon, do exactly that, but it was winter and I wanted to start working on motorcycles again, so we started on my 900.  I could go in to detail at this point.
I could recount all the modifications to the bike that were made over the years.  Modifications that included all but 6 parts on the entire motorcycle.
I could tell you how we endlessly flow tested the heads.  I could tell you how Kenny applied all of what he learned from making heads for Todd Henning's Hondas and Udo Gietl's BMWs to my lowly street born 900.  I could tell you how we raised the exhaust ports by machining them down and then screwing blocks of aluminum in to place so that we could port them without sawing the head in half.  I could tell you that the bike never needed closing springs after that because the valves closed at a 'tight 0' as Kenny would say.  I could tell you how we made pistons by welding on an existing set of pistons to add material and then machining them to have the dome we wanted. Everybody will tell you is impossible, but Kenny did it and the pistons are still serviceable after 10 seasons.  I could even tell you how Ken managed to do the welding, which is quite possibly, the best kept secret in motorcycle tuning.
I could tell you that all of my girl friends and my (2nd and current) wife wondered if I might, in fact, be cheating on them. I could tell you all that, but I won't.  I'll just tell you the important part: the motor started at 75 bhp, and when it was done it made 98 bhp running on pump gas.
In the 10+ years that it spent on the track it had only three issues.  The first was that I forgot to gap the rings which lead to a catastrophic piston failure which Ken and I repaired.
The second was that I didn't loctite the throttle cable adjusters and one of them came loose causing me to go down between turn one and turn two at Laguna. Gary Jaehne (may he also rest in peace) was just coming on to the straight when I went down. Because of the time it took the flagger at start finish to bend down and change the flag from green to red, Gary came over turn one at full pace on his GSXR750 to find me counting fingers and toes after going down at over 120 MPH.  Gary said that it was the closest he had ever come to dying.  Since, at that point, he had bisected one or maybe two deer and a microbus I'll say that he was an authority on almost dying on a motorcycle.  I'm quite sure that it's only because of his talent as a rider that I lived.  I don't know how close we came and neither did he, but as I lurched up to get out of his way I felt the wind from his front wheel on the back of my neck.  When I brought the bike in to Kenny's shop he just smiled and said "That's racing," before proceeding to cut away the bent sub-frame and re-enforce the rider seat, saving another few pounds.

When Ken and I got that version of the bike back together and got it on the track it was running fantastically well, but it wasn't at all cosmetically appealing.  Mark told me it the other riders were scared of me when I pulled up next to them on the starting grid at his track days, and that I couldn't instruct if I was going to ride something that looked like such a P.O.S.  I decided to let one of Kenny's painter buddies who normally does choppers paint it.  He did an awesome job, but candy apple read on a bike with a gold frame is.  Err.  Pimping.  At least that's what Brian Catterson told me.  Brian wrote an article about Club Desmo for CycleWorld and the bike was so pimp, and so un-Ducati like that they had to leave it out of the photo.
After that the bike and I were hit twice by cars while riding on the street.  The first time was leaving Kenny's shop.  It was low speed and I was wearing full Helimot leathers so I walked away ok, but the bike had some damaged external parts.  The car owner's insurance company was good enough to pay for full repairs and Kenny and I smiled as we put the entirety of the money back in to the bike.  This time we went with black and the bike was finally starting to look as good as it ran.

I sold the RD500 to one of Kenny's friends and used that money to buy a set of BST rims.  I didn't even get close to getting the amount of money out of the RD500 that I'd put in to it, but Kenny pointed out that it was far less expensive that therapy and should I need more therapy and run out of things to do to the Ducati, there was still the RD400 to work on.  In order to get the rims to fit I had to use a different front end off a 798, so I found one on eBay and bought it.  I had it shipped to Kenny's shop and the weekend that it came in I drove up there excited to finally get the 900SS back together again with a brand new front end and some dead sexy BST's on it.  It was finally going to look and handle as well as it ran.  I got there and Ken handed me the box and said 'lets get started', as usual.  I opened the box and pulled out what had to be the most totally and completely mangled front end I'd ever seen.  The fork tubes were bent waaaay back and the triple clamp had been literally cut from the frame with a hacksaw.  My jaw dropped and my blood pressure went totally non-linear.  Then Kenny started laughing and he couldn't stop.  The smile on his face was wide as he pointed to the back of the shop where the forks I'd bought were sitting, straight and perfect.  It turned out that the person I'd bought the forks from on eBay was a friend of Kenny's and he'd delivered them personally along with the mangled set.  The two of them boxed them up, just so they could see my face when I opened the box.
The second accident was a head on, hit and run on the street.  I got a collapsed lung and a broken collar bone out of that one and it's hard to say if I came closer to dying that I did with Gary, but it wasn't good.  The bike was pretty badly damaged, but like me, not a total loss and again Kenny and I smiled as we put the entirety of insurance money back in to the bike again.  This time it really came out nice and it's what you see in the attached picture.  No more pimp bike.  No more cobby race bike.  This one was dead sexy and it ran as good as it looked.

The final problem happened at a track day a little over a year ago.  I was at Thunder Hill going up the back hill under full throttle when the bike started hiccuping and stalled.  When Kenny and I pulled it apart we discovered that after nearly 15 years of riding at the track the bike had made so much power that it had finally weakened the cases and literally ripped off the upper cylinder.
Kenny's suggestion was that I buy a 1000DS, move the parts that fit over to that and call it a day.  I pointed out that his wonderful heads wouldn't fit, but he shrugged and said 'Put them on something else, like your desk. They did their job.'  I thought about it, but I decided that I didn't want a 1000DS, I wanted a 900SS.  I wanted my 900SS and I wanted to work on it again with Kenny.
We found a donor 1000DS engine on eBay which I purchased, thinking this would be a good replacement for the bottom end on my 900SS.  Unfortunately because of changes to the design of the motor there was no way to make the bottom end work with my older top end.  On closer inspection the case was simply missing a hole and the crank was different, so off to Kenny's shop I went.  We split both cases, took measurements and came up with a plan to mate the two engines together.  There were 3 separate orders for parts from Munroe any of which probably would have covered the balance of the cost of a 1000DS.  There were endless calls back and forth between me and Kenny.
By now this had become a normal part of my life, since Ken not only called me to talk about my bike, and to rant about the Federal Reserve, he also called to complain endlessly about the tyranny that is our connected life.  Over the years since I had met him the internet and computers had taken over and the endless change of software and services drove Ken crazy.  In exchange for work on my motorcycle I helped Ken deal with the hopeless imperfection that goes with the progress of the internet.
My last call to Ken was to report that Munroe Motors had finally received the parts that we were waiting on and I would be at his shop the following weekend.  I would have gone the weekend before, but Kenny had had a minor heart attack and had to go in to the hospital to have a stint replaced.  They had done the surgery and in typical Kenny fashion he had gone back to his shop after the discharge and continued his routine.  This included producing magic out of blocks of aluminum and the piles of scrap that filled the shop he lived in, and going to the YMCA to shower and swim with friends.  It was just after a trip to the Y that he began not feeling right.  He was going to return to the hospital to make sure everything was still Ok and he walked in to his shop to get a clean T-Shirt while his friend Newcomb waited for him in his car.  When he didn't come back Newcomb went in to the shop and found that he had suddenly slipped his mortal there on the shop floor.
I can't say for sure how Kenny wanted to die because like most of us that die suddenly he wasn't ready. I can say that he died in the place that made him happy just after saying hi to all his friends. I think if I were to die suddenly it's how I would want it to happen.

My 900SS motor is still there in his shop, ready to be assembled and I can't say for sure what will happen to it next.  Maybe I'll find someone new to work on motors with and I'll get it back together.  Maybe I'll take Ken's original suggestion and get a 1000DS and put the useable parts on that, and give up on that motor.  Either way my life isn't going to be quite the same.  I miss you Kenny.  In life you never stopped.  In death may you finally come to rest, in peace.

Comments