(first posted 7/22/2012) Around 1969, Kawasaki started developing a reputation for bikes that would pull up alongside you and then quickly leave you in a cloud of blue smoke. The fact that they sounded like a herd of chainsaws while doing so did not diminish this well-deserved reputation–nor did it matter what you were riding or driving, since they came sized for any competition.
Kawasaki did not come by its reputation by accident. Their constant goal was to build world’s fastest-accelerating production motorcycle; when the competition started catching up, Kawasaki would then build a bigger one. They eventually produced a family of four, ranging from 250cc to 750cc. Let’s take a ride on the wild side.
Sometime during the 1960s, Kawasaki realized they could make more money with large-capacity motorcycles. While they didn’t cost significantly more to build than smaller models, they did carry a much larger price tag. Their first effort was the W1. It essentially was a 650 copy of the BSA-A10, and it didn’t sell well. Perhaps since it was a first effort, potential buyers simply decided to purchase the real thing (unlike today, there were quite a few new and competitive BSAs on the market).
Kawasaki had already started making a name for itself as a producer of small-capacity, two-stroke twins when they decided to up the ante by building a world-beater 500cc twin. Using the very competitive 350cc A7 (above) as a starting point, Kawasaki began work on both a 500cc two-stroke twin and a three-cylinder design.
Supposedly, the big problem with making a triple was dealing with middle-cylinder overheating. The A7 depended on a rotary disc, but the difficulty in feeding the center cylinder demanded that Kawasaki go with a standard piston-port, two-stroke design. Instead of feeding behind the crank, its carburetors attached to the bottom of the cylinder. (Ultimately, Kawasaki determined that the center cylinder never did present any sort of cooling issue.)
Another problem, spark plug fouling, was solved by boosting the voltage of the Capacitor Discharge Ignition to zap the plugs with 25,000-30,000 volts.
Judging by the A7, the 500cc rotary-valve twin could have been a world beater. However, Kawasaki was developing the twin and the triple side-by-side and the Suzuki T500 was a big reason they went with the triple: After all, why compete when you can build something new and totally your own? It must be noted that Honda’s CB750 was released very shortly after Kawasaki’s first try at a four-stroke DOHC 750; at the time, Japan was a hotbed of motorcycle development and Suzuki and Honda released first. Sometimes you have to wonder how different things might have been had Kawasaki beaten them to the punch.
In June 1967, Kawasaki announced the quickest production bike in existence, at least in terms of acceleration: The 500cc Kawasaki Mach I. Selling for $995, it was aimed directly at the T500. However, speed had better be what you were after, because the bike didn’t offer much over its competition.
Kawasaki had to be pretty happy with their pilot model. We were told that they’d set out to build the fastest-accelerating bike in the world, and in just about everyone’s opinion they had. In September 1968, the production bike was ready to be revealed to the world. Kawasaki had already made it available to the motorcycle press, whose reviews invariably praised the lightning-quick acceleration.
The bike was an air-cooled, two-troke triple of 498cc. At 7500 rpm it made 60 hp (you can compare the models in the chart below), but not the kind of power band we’re used to today. Power turned on suddenly at about 6000 rpm. When you reached the rated 7500, you had only about 500 rpm left before there was an abrupt shut-off. Peaky bastard.
With fuel economy in the twenties, the 3.3 gallon tank didn’t take you far; still, only 383 lbs of dry weight meant you could reach the next gas stop very quickly.
A standard H1 would turn a quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds, at maybe 100 mph, but straight-line performance was its true strong suit. While the H1 was never praised for good handling, it soon became known as the fastest thing on the road, provided the rider could hold on. There actually were some supermen who road-raced this bike successfully.
In the European Championships, Ginger Malloy took second place behind Giacomo Agostini.
I discovered a most entertaining story about a road racer learning to deal with the big Kaw. It involves a South African (now Aussie) named Kork Ballington and can be found here: http://www.kawasakisa.co.za/news_details.php?news_id=70.
The transmission’s neutral position sat below first gear and the bike handled like it was hinged in the middle. It acquired plenty of names not assigned by the Kawasaki factory; some of the more popular were Widowmaker, Flexiflyer, Kamikaze 500 and Grenade Launcher.
A friend had one of these while I was stationed at Ft. Bliss. We met at the drag races one day, would spend time in the pits with him and his bike. The highlight was when when he ran against an MGB with a small block Chevy–and won. I’ll not forget the look on his face when I asked him if he might go faster with a hotter cam. Well, we live and learn. Or learn and live.
The Kawasaki had tremendous acceleration. It was, literally, a moving target, and other bikes began to catch up. The reason the story doesn’t stop there is because Kawasaki copied Honda by turning a successful bike into a product line.
Honda offered a range of bikes that were similar in appearance, but different in size and performance. At one point they were producing seven models, from the CB100 through the CB750. Kawasaki apparently decided to emulate Honda’s approach; considering how little it took to differentiate the Hondas, I think Kawasaki did just fine.
Without a rider or other visual reference point, it takes a highly trained eye to differentiate these five Kawasaki models. Actually, the S1, S2 and S3 are the same frame size with different displacements.
|Model||Size||1st yr.||Last yr||HP||Wt (dry)|
The H1’s task was establishing a reputation, and it performed it very well. In 1972 Kawasaki released their full line of two-stroke triples. I have broken them down in the graph above to clarify their individual places in the lineup. Also, I tried to get the same view of each bike to show their great similarity–one so great that I almost loaded a mislabeled picture of the 750 into the 400 slot.
The S1 Kawasaki was created primarily to capture the notice of younger riders. According to Wikipedia, limiting its displacement to 250cc provided cost advantages regarding insurance, licensing and operator permits, especially in England.
Mostly, the 350cc S2 was sized to fit within a particular racing class in Europe (that of the A7 Avenger) that had become outdated.
You’d think that the whole idea behind the 400cc S3 would be more horsepower, but as the graph shows, it has less power than the S2. Actually, this bike was created to provide ample torque at lower rpm than the S2 and was intended for street use, much like the T500.
H1: This is the trendsetter, created to provide the most acceleration of any production bike in existence. Kawasaki’s problem was that the competition rose to the occasion, which led them to build the 750cc H2. The H1 found itself limited to street duty and racing, where its 500cc provided a class advantage.
I cannot think of a bigger two-stroke motorcycle in modern times than the 750cc H2. This bike inherited most of the quirks of its H1 predecessor. It did not handle as well as several of its contemporaries, it was terrifying to ride and its gas mileage was worse than many cars of the day.
Yvon Duhamel, Gary Nixon, and Art Baumann raced these bikes. They had mixed results but won several AMA national events with the H2. Nixon and Duhamel are pictured above. What definitely wasn’t mixed was the reputation these bikes enjoyed on the streets and on the strip.
Straight out of the box, the H1 would post a 12-second ET. The H2 was even hotter. Duhamel is pictured above, exiting the pavement for the dirt at about 100 mph. Tony Nicosia was one who both dragged the bike and went to Bonneville. Personally speaking, when I think of these bikes I think of the good old days, even though I was terrified of them and do not long for their return. They did what they came to do, and now they are gone.
Still, there are a couple of madmen out there who not only long for the old days but want to improve on them.
A man from England, Allen Millyard, made this five-cylinder Kawasaki (S3 Barrels). Both this bike and his KZ1300 V12 are all over the web. Google him.
But the big boy is this bike with 48 S1 cylinders. http://www.bigbikeriders.com/48cyl.htm At around 4200cc, I cannot imagine how one would keep this thing in rear tires, or even hang on–but what I can imagine is the plethora of homemade bikes out there, some of which I encountered while chasing Syke’s clue for Millyard’s bike. Yes, it will take a while, but I do feel a story coming on.
Part of my lack of interest in motorcycles is because I never knew anything about them. I had an ‘oh no’ moment when I saw your first entry on this site but dang. Every one has been a great read & I actually look forward to learning a little more about these wrong wheeled 🙂 machines.
If your articles were compiled into a “book” it would be a perfect “Motorcycles for Dummies”. I appreciate you opening my mind with your contributions.
Wow on the 48-cylinder bike — makes the Boss Hoss look like a sissy ride.
+1 I first thought “Ugh- this is a CAR site” but now I look forward to these write ups and now keep an eye out for interesting bikes on the road. Thanks, Lee!
Me too. An enjoyable read.
yea but you can actually ride a boss hoss.This is really just an engineering accomplishment done real cool.The same guy has done several different versions of five cyl.h1’s and h2’s.They are, as stated above also on the web and easy to find.
You would think the 750 up there would have three times the horsepower of the 250 (minus a few ponies for greater rotating mass and bearing friction and who knows what else) but then I realized they probably tuned it for as much torque as they could. What;s ironic is that my Kawasaki Ninja 250 was rated at 36 hp and that was a high revving four stroke with a 13,000 rpm redline. They’ve only recently caught up to the two strokes. In it’s defense, it was a very nice commuting bike that regularly got 70 mpg at legal interstate speeds and had enough power to get me out of danger without getting me into danger!
Kawasakii still makes very fast bikes. Somewhere I read the zx-14 has 190 horsepower, which is just an insane number for something “I” can legally buy. I have no doubt that it can go 1 mph for each HP in that rating.
IIRC, the Kaw Ninja 250 is just a little more powerful than the famous Honda 350. It get better fuel economy too. BTW the reason the big Kaw and the Hayabusa (probably more than I’m not thinking of) stop at the speeds they do. The manufacturers with a little nudging from various governments have rev limiters that are really meant to be top speed limiters. They cheat on each other a little bit but none of the advertised top speeds are really their top speeds.
well stated.I shouldn’t be able to walk in a dealer and purchase a 190 mph machine and register it and drive it out the door with out a raining course or proof of the ability to ride a rocket ship like that.I have a couple dozen triples.Some i will keep forever and pass down to my kids.I hope they don’t ride them.It is a miracle that i have been riding an h1 and then an h2 at the age of 16 and still ride and still ain’t dead.I am 53 now.Those triples scare the hell out of me.That is why i don’t get hurt on them any longer.I have alot of respect for that power band and as much as i love the rush when that front wheel comes off the ground i have cut back on that also.We do not heal as easy as we used to.I had alot of friends that i grew up with that never made it to their 21,st birthday.At least five guys off the top of my head that got themselves killed on h1’s or h2’s.They were all racing on the street or speeding when killed.You can’t really blame the bike.It was the popularity of the triples speed that had them owning that particular bike.Had kawasaki never built them they would of died on a different kind of bike.Gotta respect the machine!!
I have to agree with you Dave wish I still had my H1, it was a lot of fun but I came close to not surviving the experience on a few occasions ” can u say tank slapper”
Last time I checked, there wasn’t a single cam grinder for two-stroke bikes. Do I smell opportunity here?
I test rode a used S2 350cc one time and seriously though of buying it. However, the nickname for all the Kawasaki Triples was, “spaghetti-framed death machine” and one attempt to hustle even the 350 led me to believe that assertion whole-heartedly.
Len, I buy your reason for passing. I have ridden one of these kwakers but I sure never bought one. Seems like every bike I bought handled well. A necessity for staying alive.
Kevin, good shot. I knew the A7 had a rotary disc valve and otherwise knew nothing about two strokes (yet). Not so many others did either. The sales there always seemed to be down because of the ringading sound. I think the Yamaha DT1 probably did as much to change the U.S. perception of two strokes as anyone else. Anyway, I think I miss them now. Cheap is good.
Thanks for the good comments everyone.
Awesome series Lee makes waking up on Mondays worth while, these thing really were a rocket ship scary fast in a straight line and terrifying on a corner the lack of a frame was a misstake most were crashed seriously very early on and Ive not seen a H1/H2 for many years. I had a brief go on a H1 and scared myself out of the idea just staying aboard when the power band kicked in was a mission in itself, no thanx. Probably why Im still around now.
Bryce, you are amazing. Expect a visit some time!
Yeah .. only now, all these years later can you get that sort of power for the same reasonable money ..ie: for less than 20k now you can go out and buy an E55K AMG which will take you down the road just as quickly as the H1 did back in ’69 ..469 horsepower (350KWs) dead stock standard, and a 12 second standing quarter …and SAFETY !
and if that isn’t enough . .
550.. even 600 horsepower plus is available just by changing two of the front drive pulleys
Haven’t done bikes for a long while but seriously doubt that the handling isn’t vastly improved. If you were Art Baumann, Gary Nixon, or a DuHamel it’s one thing. The rest of had no business on the 750 or really the 500. Racing bikes with this sort of horsepower has led to the development of frames and suspension that would handle it. In fact, I once had a chain go on a 250 Aeremacchi (HD) that scared me silly for a moment. Everything has improved.
Bikes used to improve the gene pool on a regular basis. Right now there is a guy in Houston who rides up to police cars, kicks their door in, and takes off at speeds over 200mph according to the news. 40 years ago I expect he would have taken a trip to the morgue, not the slammer. Today they haven’t yet caught him.
It was certainly much harder to play tag with the police back then, for a few reasons. First, the sheer power of the modern bikes really is far beyond even the 750 triple. It takes a fair bit of massaging for a Mach IV to run with an R6 on top end, and you’ll never get one to run with a Hayabusa or S1000RR on the freeway. And, some of the police cars back then had some pretty serious meat under the hood. I much prefer my chances running from an 09 Crown Victoria than from a 440 Plymouth Fury with non-emissions “police only” heads and cam. Also, there were fewer rules for police to follow back then. Nowadays, they realize that chasing a bike will result in the rider either getting away or dying, so once the chase escalates past a certain point, they let him get away. This was not the case in the 70s or 80s, which my dad discovered when he tried to escape on his 750 in the rain, and they chased him through residential streets and on peoples’ lawns until one of the cars ended the chase with a PITT maneuver. Wild shit, they just can’t do anymore. Thank God.
Kawasaki, of all the Japanese, understood the American rider the best back in the ’60’s and ’70’s: A guy who wanted a shiny bike, lots of instant street cred, fast acceleration, and handling was optional because he wasn’t about to take the time to learn how to get the bike around curves properly anyway. He wanted to show off, NOW! Not go into a long term learning experience.
My first motorcycle was a Kawasaki, one that started under the lineup that Lee has shown here, because it had only one cylinder. A 1975 G3-SS, 100cc two stroke street bike, paint job almost identical to the 400 above (a slightly lighter shade of red – incidentally the 400 and 500 are ’75’s, the others are something like ’71-72 – never could keep the color schemes straight).
I rode a H-2 three weeks into my apprenticeship with the 100, it was the second motorcycle I ever rode. For all of five feet, all on the back wheel before it fell over on me. The owner of the bike thought that was hilarious (asshole!). I’ve been terrified of wheelies ever since, and have only done the other in the intervening 35 years.
As to the horsepower figures: A 1969 BSA A50R Royal Star 500 put out 22hp. The same year Triumph Bonneville 650 (or BSA Lightning 650) put out 44hp. Those earlier Avenger 350’s were making life rough for the Brits. When the 500’s came out, game over.
And, at least in the area where I lived (western PA) the H-1 500 had a much greater effect on the marketplace in the short run than the Honda CB750. Honda’s reputation was gained in the long term. That Kawasaki had every 16 year old kid talking, not the Honda. That bike was for the adults. High school kids did stoplight drags, not long haul trips.
Side note: Kawasaki was formed by the melding of Meguro and Meihatsu, both companies which ended up being owned by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. The British-influenced big four strokes came from the Meguro side of the ledger. And the first Kawasaki’s brought over here were sold under the nameplate American Eagle.
I’ve always thought Kawasaki and Mazda had a kinship at the time in the US market, even if they had no corporate connection. They both knew how to make vehicles that uniquely appealed to Americans in the early 70s. Kawasaki with their two strokes, Mazda with their rotary engines.
A friend had a Kawasaki 500 back in the early seventies. When I rode it, I discovered that the height of the front wheel above the pavement depended on how far you twisted your wrist. The bike definitely was a poor handler. Once while street racing, Rick got into a speed wobble. The bike spit him off at something over one twenty. The next time I saw him, he looked like the mummy. Most of his wrecks were just from being stupid. Once he had a girl on the back, they were going to do more drinking. Heading up an exit ramp from I-10, Rick saw the bar he was going to. He just aimed straight at the sign. Unfortunately, the road did not lead straight to the bar. The bike hit the guard rail and Rick and Lolane went over the guard rail down to the railroad track below. Both survived with injuries ranging from minor to severe. Rick lost the bike when he managed to run into a moving train on it. In the city where we lived, there was a road that ran between warehouses with a grade crossing just beyond the warehouses. One rainy day, Rick was heading out at a high rate of speed. As he came out from between the warehouses, he saw the train. Braking hard he slid the front tire and went down. He and the bike slid into the train. The bike went between the wheels and was destroyed. Rick hit the end of an axle, with the three cornered cap. Rick showed me the bruise on his right ass cheek. A nice triangle with a bolt head at each corner. This was back in our young and totally crazy days, but I was never as crazy as Rick. It is amazing to me, but Rick is still around. He no longer rides and nagged at me about having a crotch rocket, until I had to get rid of it due to illness. Double vision and vertigo are not conducive to safe riding.
One evening i was outside Laurie Summers Kawasaki on Mt Eden Road during the summer of ’72
Parked there was another H1 rider ..his was the earlier blue model
To this day i am still uncertain ..but ..i think he wanted to show me how ‘quick’ his bike was……
He just hopped on it, started it, and took off straight down the road at full throttle, the engine note rising to a scream at max revs at each full throttle gear change . .
B A N G ! ! ! !
we could see several hundred metres down the road that he had impacted the front of a car
it was a Morris Oxford sedan, with a deep ‘V’ shaped indentation bang in the middle, right through the radiator and up to the front of the engine block…
the Kawasaki was still upright
it was sitting about 3 metres further back from the front of the car, compressed horizontally somewhere between a half to two thirds of it’s original length
the cause of the accident was still holding the bike upright
One of the most deadly hazards on the H1 was the side-stand, which did not auto-retract when weight was taken off it. If the rider forgot about the side-stand the H1 would not turn left. It would go straight ahead, and would turn right, but there was turning left because the side-stand would just dig into the road and project the H1 straight ahead . .
I owned an S3 for a few years..it would pull wheel stands on wet tram tracks in pouring rain…a heart stopper..even with the skinny tires…the 350 had more horsepower per 1000 cc’s with 129.6 hp and the 500 at 120 hp and the 750 at 98.8 hp…interesting…..
Paul Smart BIL of Barry Sheene was so fed up of his Kawasaki 750s evil handling he had Colin Seeley build a frame for it and won the big race at Ontario.Bob Hansen Kawasaki race team boss wasn’t amused and fired him.
These bikes were beasts,a friend of my brothers and his girlfriend were killed on a 750 and another had a badly broken leg when he was spat off a 500.The 500 scared the life out of my brother when it hit the power band exiting a corner in the wet.
Well, mine nearly killed me TWICE, and as mentioned just now i witnessed the death of another H1 rider right in front of my eyes one night in ’72
They to me are a thing of fascination for the engineering simplicity of the 2-stroke triple ..the gob-smacking power and torque they produced ..and the efficiency with which they killed
So, the H1 is best kept as a reminder of what once was
A thing of utter fascination for a petrolhead rider
And of lethality unequalled
I’m sorry you had to see such a horrible accident.H1s could be made to handle better,they cleaned up in 500cc production bike racing until the Yamaha RD 400 came out.Better tyres,rear shocks and steering damper tamed them though it was still not as good as British or Italian bikes
Yes, there is a similarly treated S2 like that sitting in my room right now ..a little cafe racer with dual front discs, spoked mags, braced frame tubing, steering damper, and tuned cans ! (still just a slightly ‘scary-looking’ little thing tho’..lol)
ps.. i know a guy my age in Akld who has a later disc-braked H1 in his garage and every 18 months i text him and ask when he is going to sell it to me.. he is due another text later this year..lol
Seeley made a few Kawasaki solo bikes back in the day the amount of box tube reinforcement to the frame is quite impressive, Had a good look at a used 900 Seeley at Taupo Honda decades ago the difference to the stock 900 frame and sxwingarm is very obvious as is the handling.
I rode. A 500 triple from Portland ore.to la Calif. Back in a1981
You sir, are a glutton for punishment.
Power band can be mitigated with a smaller rear sprocket, on the cheap; and a little more expensively with chamber shape… i.e. custom pipes.
Maybe less aggressive cam to, Hahaha.
Kawasaki triples seemed to be the rage when growing up so with a herd mentality at 16 (’74) my 1st motorcycle was a ’72 gold Kawa 250 with 13k miles on it. Supposedly it would out run a Honda 350 twin but mine never seemed to make that happen. I had more enthusiasm than talent back then & the bike was probably out of tune. Sold it off long ago, wish I still had it. My second bike was a ’75 brown Kawa 500 around 1978. It too, lacked from talent, and though festooned with expansion chambers, it ran poorly when compared to some better tuned competition. My friends newly minted ’76 green Kawa 650 four had no problem with it. I do remember some 90 mph speed wobbles.
It too, was sold, before I was out of my teens.
Last August I bought a 1974 S3 400 as my first street bike. After reading all the stories of wild powerbands and wobbly handlung, I was a bit nervous about it, but the sound was so incredible I just had to have it. My main bike for the dirt is a 1982 Husqvarna 250CR, and compared to that, this Kawasaki is silky smooth, extremely civilized, and a bit slow. It does run a bit lean on top-end (ethanol gas and K&N filters) so we’ll see if bigger main jets help out the power, but so far it’s not scary at all. The shocks on mine are pretty worn, so by rights the handling should be terrible, but it doesn’t wobble at all until the footpegs are almost scraping pavement. I haven’t ridden a 500 or 750, so I can’t speak to them, but I’m very happy with the handling on my 400. If this is supposed to be an unstable and ill-handling death machine, then a modern bike better allow me to drag knee while making a sandwich.
..by ’74 they had been tamed as to handling AND power . .
..so you need to get a ’69 H1A to experience those two extreme features, if you are brave enough
Though cars were always my first love I had a lot of bikes. I had one of those W1s. It was a beautiful torquey bike with a low center of gravity and a tractable power band. I taught a buddy of mine to ride on that bike in one hour. Japanese 2 strokes were quite outstanding. I had a Suzuki X6 250 twin which was the hot bike before Kaw came out with the Avenger. That X6 could run from the Triumph 500s and give the 650s a good run. I had a 70 Mach Three and it was a great bike. The guys at Coliseum Cycle in Oakland showed me how to recalibrate the oil feed which cut down considerably on smoke. I used that bike for everything, commuting and even long range touring. Drove it on the California 1000 road rally in 1973, to Tahoe,up the coast and all over. Used to play race it in the Oakland hills and had ,a couple of close calls. Yeah it didn’t handle that well, none of the Japanese bikes did at that time. Loved that frenzied sound and incredible acceleration when it “came on the Pipe”. Two strokes came on the pipe while four strokes “come on the cam”. Still, my brother and I later traded up to The CB750. This was much better overall bike. I had a couple before I got the Harley bug. I never had a Z-1 900cc four, but ran through several KZ1000 police specials. Those were good tough bikes.
A friend of a friend had a 750 triple in the mid ’70’s which had seized it’s middle cylinder for the 3rd time. He was repairing it when we stopped by and the piston and cylinder were badly scuffed. The owner said anytime you tried to hold freeway speeds for an hour or so in the summer heat, the problem was in fact that the front wheel blocked the airflow to the middle cylinder. They were not good for road trips in the summer heat. But they were super fast for the day.
That bike probably had other issues. If the oil pump is working properly and the bike is jetted correctly, seizing the center piston isn’t an issue on the highway. My dad had a 750 in the 80s which he used as his only vehicle (until he got arrested on it!) He would take it over the Cascade mountains and into the desert on long Summer road trips and it never seized or scored a piston. If the oiling and jetting are right, it takes a good hard abusive full-throttle pull even to seize a triple on 91-octane gas, let alone the rocket fuel they had in the 70s. Taking off the front fender or using an aftermarket one can affect airflow to the middle cylinder, because the stock fender is extra low and smooth for that very reason.
This guy was known to be a crazy rider. I would guess his hour “run” was at insane speeds. He had done some exhaust mods and jetting as well, could be it was set up wrong, maybe too lean, as you say.
…they used to say the middle cylinder was ‘raw petrol-cooled’, hence 25mpg if you were lucky!! heeh heeh
A semi CC effect!
Yesterday I was talking to Dad about my 500 Triple (traded it for a Maico 490 like a dummy) and not long after that Sebastian Vettel popped up on my Twitter feed riding a nice Black and Green 750 Trip!
490 Maicos are worth a ton of money, especially if it’s an 81. A flawless 490 will cost you very close to what a showroom 500 triple will (unless it’s a 69 H1, those are worth their weight in diamonds).
Red 1981 Maico 490.
We had a garage fire in 1986 that took it out along with Dad’s Grady White and a 69 El Camino.
Kawasaki has now revived the H2 moniker. Of course it is a 4 stroke. The street version H2 is around 200 hp and the track only H2R (see picture) is over 300 hp. It has a 2 speed supercharger with a miniature planetary gearset to vary the boost over the rpm range.
It’s good to see Kawasaki still carrying the torch. I ride a ZRX1100.
While I am big Honda fan, and have owned several, I always liked these Kawasaki’s. The only 2 stroke bike I have ever owned was a 79 KD175 Kawi. And with the help of E.C Birt’s tech articles in the motocross mags I read I made it wicked fast. Fun to take a wheezer and make it run
Leno has 3 or 4 videos on the new H2. Two facts: (1) The supercharger has a planetary drive that multiplies the supercharger impeller to an inconceivable 130,000 rpm. (2) At that speed, you hear little sonic booms coming out of the induction system.
Here’s the video where he rides original ’70s and new H2s.
Personally, I’m satisfied with the 57hp on my ’98 Honda Pacific Coast (on a 600 lb bike, that’s still arithmetically equivalent to a 360 hp/3800 lb car). There’s a whole lot of pleasure in just riding outside a cage and feeling a bike in the curves… and enjoying the scenery.
I remember these very well. While in highschool, I showed a buddy how to use a boring bar to bore out his H2 triple. Then I helped him install hi compression pistons, and expansion chambers, and flat slide carbs on it and tune it…
When it was all done, he let me ride it once for payment for my help.
THAT BIKE WAS NOT FOR SANE PEOPLE
It was essentially unridable. One ride on it was all I needed to know I did not need to ride it again. Poor handling, skinny tires, wobbly handlebars, and a throttle that was impossible to modulate smoothly. The throttle essentially had only two positions…
1) dog slow
2) blast off
when I say “blast off” I mean there was no such thing as controlling it. It was like Wile E Coyote sitting on a rocket and lighting the fuse. Its a good thing it did not have good traction or it would wheelie over and leave you on your back on the pavement evertime the RPM hit a certain number.
Hahaha .. I really like this !! :)))
Hey, even an early H1A or H1B felt like that ! ..I did a similar thing to a ‘red’ drum braked, non-CDI H1 although not to the same degree of modification you describe, and it too was an unrideable machine to all intents and purposes
My parents had a short steepish driveway that I could just push the H1 up to the road with the engine not running … but do you think the bike could do the same unless it was turning at 5,000rpm? No! It could not . . there was that little torque under 5,000rpm that it would just bog down and ‘cut-out’ on that little hill
So, every time I rode it up the driveway I had to hope the Apollo 11 blast of thrust at 5,000rpm and over wouldn’t deposit me instantaneously in the middle of the busy road outside my parents’ house ..just insane …but exciting …you bet ..there will never be a deathtrap like that ever again
I want one
I want one
As I remember, he never owned those flat slide carbs because they were too expensive. He merely borrowed them for a period of time from a guy who raced super carts with Rotax motors and had a huge carb collection. You want to talk about insane…those old super carts were in-freaking-sane! I don’t know if they are still around. It would not surprise me if the sport has been outlawed by now. Seems like they would do zero to 100 in something like 3 seconds and braking from 100 to zero in half that time, and a top speed of 150+mph.
I’m glad you survived it though. Some didn’t. I remember when explaining how to ride that bike, we used to say “point and squirt”.
..thanks ..had my ‘frights’ though ..only actually hit a car once and survived it because took the impact sliding flat on the road and taking the impact against both of the bike’s road wheels simultaneously
..but did see a guy killing himself on his blue H1A just down the road from where I had been talking to him a few seconds earlier
..after that I sold my H1 and got into a Guzzi V7 (slow..slow bike, but felt very solid and ‘safe’)
I must be your doppelganger, I also owned a H1, either a 69 or 70, it was black with black decals. I purchased a 73 Moto Guzzi V& Sport, still have it. Had to sell the the H1 as shifting and braking was on opposite sides and that screwed up my reaction times. That 500 was a fun machine.
Ah, the Kawasaki. My first motorcycle was a 69 500, which I learned to ride on the grass behind my parents house. Applied the front brake too hard and went down, jamming the throttle open in the grass when in first gear. Fortunately, held the clutch in while reaching across to turn off the ignition. I hate to think what might have happened otherwise.
Moved on to a 73 750. Much better, used it all over Maine and sometimes New Hampshire, always with synthetic oil to avoid blue smoke. Sometimes unwisely fueled with alcohol (me, not the bike), but mercifully survived.
Still have my MC license, but no interest–except perhaps a 900 or Police 1000.
Shit handling bikes and 250/350 had no power .
500-750 bikes seriously fast.
I was “given” a 500 registered drag racing bike , pig but lined up against a top prepared Kwaka GPZ1100 with Bi cams and mods it would eat it to about 120kph.
However many people died on theses bikes .
Rear wheel was factory off-set about 3/4″ on one bike that passed through my hands.
Early A1-Avenger was a better bike.
How did I miss this one the first time around? Nice history.
Even as a kid I knew these were danger, a friend’s Dad had a blue S2, just like the one shown but with clip ons. He had several brothers and each one in turn owned the triple, it would bite them hard, then the next brother would fix it and await his turn to crash. The Kawi wreck was in their garage for a few months. After the Dad was done with his crutches, I think he got a Mercedes Pagoda after that..
I lived in Guatemala City in 1976 (? IIRC) and the kid down the road brought home an H2 , had me do some minor works on it then told me to ride it to test it out ~ this was a dirt road full off pot holes , I knew these things were widow makers and so wasn’t surprised when it went on the pipe and took off , my 160 # (back then) self holding on for dear life .
Never again although in the 1990’s I had and enjoyed the six speed Suzuki 250 twin .
Not many exist today because too many got wrapped around trees.
I love ring-dings. Something very savage about their razor thin powerbands. If you like thrills, a ring-ding will keep you entertained.
For contrast: I rode the ’77 two-stroke Suzuki GT500 for several years in my youth in the ’80’s and found it to be an excellent handling and quite fast machine. Toured with it too in my late teens riding from toronto to upper ny state and vermont. Loved it. My buddy had the Kowee triple which also scared him to death and sold it before either of us got killed. Now I ride a Honda Big Ruckus 250. Slowest machine I ever rode and i like it!
interesting faring on that scooter…does it come that way?
Reminds me of Kansas where I grew up. I could be really happy riding that scooter. I have grown very slow.
Had a blue H1a 1971 blue model in 1972 at High school I was 16 years old in New Zealand, yup it was fast, loved having it at that age
Summer of 73 I was 17 when I purchased a fire engine red S-2 from aforementioned Coliseum Cycles in Oakland. Having safely owned a 100cc Kawasaki what could go wrong right? Being 6ft3 and 145lbs I could get low on it (with clip-ons) I would run Redwood Rd in Castro Valley to Oakland at incredible speeds. Somehow I lived to be 60. Passed CHP on hwy 1 doing over 105mph, he did not bother. Drug those pegs on the asphalt countless times. Had a. Alameda County Sheriff race me once on Crow Canyon rd. No contest. Though not an h-1 or 2 the bike screamed. The Yamaha RD’s were an improvement. Survived over 100,000 miles on those death ships, have not rode since 1980. Damn they were fun.
Purchased a ’72 H2 750 “Blue Meany” new, and then had it ported and re-jetted to “production” racing specs. This bumped the redline from 7200 to 9000 rpm. I ran the bike to over 120 mph on a couple of occasions, and it ran straight and true. If you respected the bike and it’s handling shortcomings, it wasn’t scary. This may have been due to the fact I had already been riding for a number of years. Handled better than the early H1’s, and nearly as well as my Suzuki T500. Contrary to other reports, I averaged around 40 miles to imperial gallon, or around 32 mpg US, similar to the T500.. Took the bike on a trip from Toronto to Quebec City and back. Bike was trouble free, and when i sold it at 13K miles, still had excellent compression with original pistons and rings. Biggest downside was high frequency vibration at highway speeds. A few years ago purchased a 400 triple, still love that unique sound 🙂
Family of FIVE! 250(S1), 350(S2), 400(S3), 500(H1) and the 750H2.
at 18 i got the H2 Mach IV Pearlesnt Blue 1972 first 6000 had a bit more performance I put on expansion chambers don’t know the horse power but it was a big jump. I put on steel swing arm bushings and a stiff fork dampener it was good to almost 130 mph with out the wobble unless I was cornering over 100mph which was dangerous. It would ride a wheelie at 75mph and ate the dirt bikers on the dirt with so much more power. Insane bike it was stolen by a cousin while I was in Vietnam had they my aged confused grand pa sign over the title, I never forgave them. I now ride a 84 honda v65 saber a real beast in it’s own right.
A lot of people pulled the air cleaner assembly off and ran sock filters or velocity stacks on their H1’s, led to a lot of seized engines if they didn’t rejet the carbs. With individual carbs and piston porting a lot of fuel bounces back out the mouth of the carbs, the air box contained this “fog” of fuel for the engine to ingest. If you had velocity stacks or individual air cleaners some or all of this was swept away and now your running lean. My bike when jetted properly for the velocity stacks and expansion chambers got about 15 mpg. I drove a 68 Cougar at the time that had a 428 Cobra Jet in it and if you babied it you got about 15 mpg with it. I realized that the fuel use wasn’t worth it and went back to stock. The old H1 was still fast and now it was back up to around 35 mpg. This was back during the original gas crisis when gas jumped from around .33 a gallon to about a buck a gallon. I was making about $5.00 an hour then so it was a bit of a crunch on the the wallet. Now I’m making $45 an hour and because of some crap between the Russians and Saudi’s, throw in the Corona Virus and its down to 1.49 a gallon.
I never owned or even rode any of these Kaw 2 strokes, but they all certainly have a reputation…….particularly the one about less than desirable handling!
I have owned four 4 stroke Kaws over the years and did like them. I purchased a used ZX-12R years ago and found it to be reasonably good handling given its size. wt. and POWER. While only the second fastest street bike at the time, I certainly found it to be MORE than fast enough for my needs!! 🙂 Curiously I traded it for probably the second SLOWEST large bike of the time: a 1200 Sportster!! Despite trading the big ZX-12R, it remains a very memorable bike of the 72 I’ve owned….. 🙂
When I had my GpZ 750 I tried out a GpZ 1100 for a possible trade. A BRIEF ride on it revealed a limp, cooked noodle chassis that simply could not handle the power and pounds the 1100 had. Conversely my 2 GpZ 550s were sweethearts: good power, brakes and handling given their vintage! The first of the 2 550s remains among my top 5 favorites of the motorcycles I’ve owned. DFO
Back in the 70s these bikes were the ultima ratio, nothing else compared to them. On German roads seized center pistons were common, but dedicated owners got used to frequent repairs and would rather buy a 6th repair kit in a year than switch to any four stroke bike.
Go to the 90s: One of my sons bought a 125cc Aprilia two stroke 34 hp @ 11,000 rpm. Nice sound and very quick! Yes, some more cc were desirable but the handling and brake system was much better than the old Kawa’s!
I never had a problem with piston’s, the quirk I had with mine was every once in awhile the center cylinder carb throttle cable would pop of the slide. One cylinder at idle was a very effective engine brake.
The one thing that has not been mentioned was the ignition system and oil injection. Oil use was greatly reduced and you didn’t have to carry oil with you to add a splash when you gassed up. The CDI system gave a nice hot spark to keep things burning.
I always road with a spare set of plugs and the tool kit because when the plugs did finally give up and surrender it usually was a pretty abrupt lack of power when it happened.
Another problem with these bikes was the baffles in the mufflers. The carbon would build up on them and you would have to soak the whole muffler in some whole made concoction to get the baffles out. Then you bead blasted the carbon off of them.
I used cotter pins rather then the screws to retain them. The cotter pins allowed the baffles to jiggle around in the muffler this kept the carbon from locking the baffle in place. Now the baffles slipped out easily to be cleaned. The downside was maintaining the cotter pins. All that jiggling would eventually mean at some point the pin would wear thru and fall out. This resulted in a suddenly loud exhaust and a baffle that was spit out onto the road. Now you hope no one ran over it and hopefully you can find it followed by “there it is” s*** that things HOT.
One other interesting ride was the time the master link failed at around 60 mph. One end of the chain p[led up between the trans drive sprocket and the engine case, luckily it did not damage the case. That was a fairly common wreck on dirt bikes. The other end of the chain slapped my riders leg on its way to wrapping around the passenger hand grip. Good thing her arms were around my waist.
Lastly there was the slow motion crash in my backyard. My mom was short so the clothes line was a little low so she could reach them. I decided one day to short cut thru the yard on the Kawi. I had a fairly tall sissy bar on the back and at the top I had repurposed a mirror arm to use a a flag staff. Well that flag staff was just high enough to snag the clothesline. As I was crossing underneath at an angle going from right to left suddenly the bike flipped to the right and over I went. Teenage fun!
Yes, still running the smoker around. Like the H1/H2 in that slight period modifications make them twice as fun as OE when riding hard. Actually, the word riding denotes a passive reactive approach. Driving them is more accurate. One must dynamically use their legs and upper body for best results.
A company out of California, IIRC, called Monotrack was building an aluminum monocoque chassis for the H1’s. Instant cure for the wobbles and probably some weight savings. I was all set to build one and then the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport dropped and That was the end of the Kawi for me. The Guzzi didn’t have the acceleration but it’s handling was in a whole new Might not have got to 120-130 mph as fast as the Kawi but it would cruise all day at 120.
I actually got a chance to ride an H2 once. Admittedly, I’m more of a putt-putt guy, so it was beyond my comfort zone and capabilities… think I never wound it beyond 5000rpm or so. Still was fun to hear three cylinders ringdinging at one time.
I’m pretty used to finding neutral all the way down, as I’ve owned a 1976 KV100 since I was 11. That’s one of the nifty little bikes with a dual range transmission, and also where the putt-putt comes in. I’m quite capable of handling all 11.5 horsepower, and it’s not a peaky little bastard with its rotary valve. Actually a bit heavy and slow…
“It must be noted that Honda’s CB750 was released very shortly after Kawasaki’s first try at a four-stroke DOHC 750”
Could you say more about this? The Kawasaki 900cc DOHC came out after the Honda 750cc SOHC.
“The A7 depended on a rotary disc, but the difficulty in feeding the center cylinder demanded that Kawasaki go with a standard piston-port, two-stroke design. Instead of feeding behind the crank, its carburetors attached to the bottom of the cylinder. ”
To be clear, the rotary valves attach to the crank ends and feed directly into the crankcases. Since each crankshaft only has two ends, a twin is the most cylinders possible with rotary valves per crankshaft that I know of. All the triples (and the TZ700, TZ750 etc) were piston ported and then reed valved. I believe reed valves have completely supplanted rotary valves, probably 3 decades ago.
No reed valves in my 1970 Kawasaki Mach III 500cc triple
When I was 16 I graduated from a 3 hp. Trail horse mini bike to the H1 500 cc. IT was as terrifying as you say. BUT I ended up buying several of these triples and even experimenting with different fuel and oil injectors . I am looking to buy one now (750)but I’m finding they are hard to locate a nice one that does not cost as much as a car.
Does anybody know the cost of a Mach III in 1972? I know the cost in 1969 was $999. thanks