Kawasaki History

Apr 28 08:33 2009 Alan Liptrot Print This Article

Their motorcycle heritage is relatively short, but Kawasaki have ensured that it is also sweet.

As with the story of many other motorcycle manufacturing companies,Guest Posting Kawasaki’s history began on entirely different lines. Although by 1949 they were producing engines that could be adapted for motorcycle use, the first real motorbike didn’t appear until 1954. Historically, the company had been involved in heavy industry, including the manufacture of aircraft, ships and trains. 

The company’s first offerings were a 60cc two-stroke, and a150cc and 250cc four-stroke respectively, which were developed using German technology. Kawasaki and BMW had enjoyed a close relationship that stemmed from their days as aircraft builders. Meihatsu, a subsidiary of the Kawasaki Aircraft Company, gave its name to the first complete motorbike produced by the company. Around this time, an unsuccessful attempt was made to break into the scooter sector; the Fuji Rabbit and the Mitsubishi Silver Penguin proving too strong an opposition.

In 1960, the company signed a deal with the oldest motorcycle company in Japan, Meguro Motorcycles, whose fortunes had declined since being a major motorcycle manufacturer from their birth in 1937.  Having once been regarded as ‘the senior make and king of four-strokes’, Meguro turned away from their British influence with disastrous results. By 1962, their name had disappeared.

Having initially produced low powered machines, Kawasaki, using the knowledge acquired from Meguro, turned their attention towards bigger bikes, and in 1966 produced the W1, a 650cc machine that was heavier and slower than its rivals, so enjoyed limited success. Lighter versions were developed in the shape of the 250cc Samurai and the 350cc A7 Avenger, but again, these machines didn’t capture the imagination of the public.

By 1969, Kawasaki were beginning to get things right, and the introduction of the 500cc H1 kick-started the company’s reputation of quality, high performance machines. Smaller versions were released; the 250cc and 350cc S1’s. A 748cc H2 became available in 1972 and stayed in production until the mid 70’s, when emission laws drew a curtain on the project.

The introduction of the Z1 in 1973, proved a milestone for Kawasaki. At first intended to have a 750cc power unit, the company eventually settled on a 903cc engine, after they had seen Honda reveal their CB750. The Z1, having  great performance and a good price, became an instant success and soon became the Z900, with the Z1000 following hot on its heels.

In 1984, the introduction of the GPz900r caused quite a stir. This was in line with the company’s development of liquid cooled, DOHC, 16 valve, four cylinder engines. This power unit combined with a light, compact chassis would carry you across the first 400 metres of your journey in just over ten and a half seconds. It had a top speed of 250km/h and took the title of ‘The World’s Fastest Bike’. It was also named ‘Bike of the Year’ in 1984.

1984 also saw the introduction of Kawasaki’s first Cruiser, the Vulcan 750, whilst the 900cc Eliminator came along a year later, using the engine from the GPz900r. The CS250 (Casual Sports) appeared in the same year, featuring a liquid cooled, DOHC, single cylinder motor.

During the90’s, Japanese motorcycle manufacturers were in serious competition in the Superbike sector, and Kawasaki’s contribution was the 1052cc, ZZR-1100, a motorcycle that was to remain the fastest production bike for the next five years. Its power, combined with a strong frame and good suspension, made it a popular touring machine. In 2002, it was replaced by the ZZR-1200, which offered better handling. A ZZR-600 also entered the fray.

2002 saw the Ninja ZX-12R arrive with an aluminium, monocoque frame, and a 16 valve in line, four cylinder engine.

In 2003, the 638cc, ZX-6R replaced the 1995 version. This completely redesigned machine was all that a fast bike should be; quick and aggressive. The Z1000 appeared as a street bike in this same year. It seemed that Kawasaki was top of the tree.

Their motorcycle history has been relatively short, but Kawasaki have achieved more in that time than some manufacturers have done in a hundred years. It’s no surprise then, that owners stay loyal to the company and the product, as we all wait eagerly for the next exciting development o come along and blow our minds.

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Alan Liptrot
Alan Liptrot

Alan Liptrot is the founder of  www.motorbike-tours.co.uk Visit the website to claim your free motorcycle e-book www.motorbike-tours.co.uk/12%20motorbike%20stories.htm  

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