Classic Motorcycles – Kawasaki Z1


The powerhouse of the Japanese motorcycle industry was already starting to dominate the small to mid capacity range by the mid 1960s.

Despite famously believing that the Japanese would never enter the last area of motorcycle manufacture they did not already almost dominate, the 500cc+ class, the British motorcycle industry suffered a body blow in 1968.

Triumph had just released their new big bike, the Trident, a 750cc in line triple, which they hoped would open up a new era in motorcycling, moving as it did away from the popular and accepted twins of the day.

In one sense they were right, bikes were set to get bigger. Where they got it spectacularly wrong however, was in underestimating their Japanese competition, to their supreme cost.

Indeed, just a few months after the launch of the Trident, in October 1968, Honda launched their CB750 at the Tokyo Motorcycle show.

To cut a long story short, this absolutely trounced everything else in its class, and is often regarded as the first true superbike.

But it wasn’t just Triumph who suffered. Honda just beat Kawasaki in the race to lead the 750cc class.

Since early 1967, Kawasaki had been working on a 750cc machine of their own, for a 1968 launch. The launch of the Honda however beat them to the mark, and the Kawasaki was dropped without going into full production. Kawasaki retreated into their lair, bruised, disappointed, but far from broken. They had a plan.

The CB750 was the bike to beat in the early 1970s, and Kawasaki was absolutely determined not just to beat it, but to outclass it. And they did.

In fact, what they did was introduce a new class to the general motorcycling public, the 900cc class in the form of its Z1.

Kawasaki wanted this machine to be perfect from the start. The Honda CB750 had moved bikes away from the “character” of oil leaks and broken seals. Reliability was no longer an afterthought, but a basic entry point.

Now the goal was added power, performance and handling with everything else as standard. Test riders riding under complete secrecy, rode the bikes flat out until the fuel ran out to check reliability; testing was lengthy and without compromise.

When the Z1 was launched in late 1972, it was the horsepower and handling that was to capture the bike riding community. 15bhp more than the Honda CB750 at 88bhp, made this machine capable of cruising all day at 90mph, and with a top speed of 130, a revelation for the time.

This bike not only became the new king, but also gave birth to the “unburstable” label given to this and subsequent Kawasaki engines.

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    Reply | Quote | #1

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    Reply | Quote | #2

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