With a history of planes, trains and boats it’s not surprising that Kawasaki soon got a name for strong performance engines. The bikes originally developed to give Kawasaki more brand recognition soon became a serious competitor in the world of motorcycles with some record breaking power machines
A huge company which produces boats, trains, planes and (o yes) motorcycles. The motorcycle division is actually quite small compared to the other huge segments and was only really started to increase the value & awareness of the brand among the people. In 1960 their first motorcycle rolled of the line – a 125cc two stroke.
Helped by the knowledge of the Meguro company, which Kawasaki had taken over (Meguro was the oldest motorcycle company in Japan), the company moved into the production of big bikes around 1966. The model was called the W1 (650cc)
The W1 wasn’t such a success because all the rival bikes were still faster, lighter and better steering. So Kawasaki developed two lighter versions A1 Samurai (250cc) and the A7 Avenger (350cc). Which ended up being a little more successful.
In 1969 Kawasaki started to develop a name for itself with bikes with very high performance, the start was the H1 model (500cc) also known as the Mach III. However the H1 was excellent for wheelies due to its backward weight layout. It gulped a lot of fuel and had a hard core reputation. Two smaller versions were also released the S1 (250cc) and the S2 (350cc). In 1972 a bigger version of the original was produced called (surprise..) h1 or Mach IV (748cc). The production stopped when emission rules got too strict in the mid 70s.
Even if the H models didn’t handle well, Kawasaki developed a super bike which no other manufacturer could compete with at the time. The Z1 from 1973 was a 903cc engine but it was first planned as a 750cc engine. Kawasaki waited and improved the engine because of the Honda CB750 introduction in 1968. Z1 had a great reputation and was very popular due to the price and performance ratio. The name ‘king’ was its alias. In 1976 the Z1 became the Z900 and the engine was improved. Later the Z1000 was launched with more engine power.
Towards the end of the 1970s Kawasaki developed a few smaller ‘zed’ bikes like the Z650 which was introduced in 1977. The big ‘zed’ Z1300 which was also partly engineered to out-perform the other Japanese companies with a bigger, stronger, heavier bike. But Japan still had to learn that bigger wasn’t always better and the Z1300 wasn’t a big success for the company.
Kawasaki built a nice, full fairing bike with a strong engine and an outrageous performance called the GPZ900R (908cc). It was very popular both on the race track and on the road. It was a comfortable ride.
The beginning of the 1990s all the Japanese manufacturers were competing very hard in the super bike models and any advantage above the other would bring credit and success. Kawasaki stepped right up and took that credit with the development of the ZZR-R1100 (1052cc) which was launched in 1990 and became the fastest production bike for 5 years .
The ZZR-R1100 was popular not only for its speed and power. The strong frame and good suspension made it a good tour motorcycle… but also very fast. In 2002 Kawasaki replaced it with the ZZR-1200, designed for more middle end power and better handling. And a smaller ZZR 600 had also joined the lineup of ZZRs earlier on in the production.
In 2000 Kawasaki had already launched an ultra super bike called the ZX-12R (1199cc). Its pure weight, unique frame and 176 bhp was enough to blast most bikes away.
Kawasaki had lost some of the reputation for performance by 2000 but Kawasaki president Shinichi Morita had promised that Kawasaki would be back. With the arrival of the ZX-12R and the ZX-6R Kawasaki did make a nice comeback.
The ZX-6R was already launched in 1995 but the 2003 new ZX-6R (636cc) had been truly redesigned and engineered to a new aggressive, fast, racing machine. Kawasaki has taken many aspects from the racing technology and integrated them into this new bike. In 2003 Kawasaki launched a street bike model called the Z1000 with a funky styling and a flexible powerful engine. Kawasaki was / is winning its power name back.