The Kawasaki GPz550 set the standard for middleweight sport bikes of the early Eighties
Introduced in 1981, the GPz550 could outperform most 650s in its day. The bikini fairing offered little protection but added to the bike's European flavor.
Photo by Ric Anderson
1981 Kawasaki GPz550
Years produced: 1981-85
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 57bhp @ 9,500rpm
Top speed: 119mph
Engine type: Four-stroke, in-line four-cylinder, twin overhead cams
Weight (wet): 211kg (469lb)
Price then: $2,599
Price now: $800-$1,500
For Brian Goodwin, it was the motorcycle equivalent of the woman who left Roy Orbison growling and saying, “Mercy.’’
Goodwin was 14 years old when he swung a leg over a Kawasaki GPz550 for the first time in 1984. A Firecracker Red sport bike in a sea of black and maroon factory custom cruisers, the bike was designed to make testosterone flow and checkbooks fly open. Goodwin would never forget it.
"The first thing that caught my eye was the red color," Goodwin says. "Then I sat on one and it fit me, so that really put the thought in my head that I wanted to have one someday. I just loved the look of it: It was so ahead of its time."
From its twin front disc brakes to the tips of its gloss-black mufflers, the GPz was a pacesetter in style and function during the early Eighties. The motorcycle press called it a wrist rocket or a pocket rocket; later, it would be recognized as the godfather of the crotch rocket.
Introduced in 1981, the GPz was an upgrade of the KZ550 street bike, with a hot-rodded version of the old machine’s four-cylinder engine, an air-charged fork, adjustable shocks and a bikini fairing.
The new engine generated a claimed 57bhp at 9,500rpm, 4bhp more than the KZ’s power plant, and propelled the 469lb machine to a quarter-mile time of 12.65 seconds — a class record — in a test by Cycle World.
"750s Beware! Here Comes the GPz550," blared the cover of Motorcyclist in February 1981.
Similar praise flowed like Cutty Sark at a Shriner convention. Reviewers found that the bike worked well on twisty roads and on longer hauls, thanks to comfortable ergonomics and 51mph highway mileage, a 3.8gal tank and a reasonably wide and supportive seat.
The GPz was hailed as a bike that could be used as a commuter during the week and raced on weekends, an all-around thrill ride that would demolish other bikes in its class and even leave most 650s in its mirrors.
Scott Pratt, owner of a 1984 Kawasaki GPz550, says the bike remains potent. He’s clocked quarter-mile times as low as 12.80 seconds on a bike virtually all stock except for a K&N air filter and a Stage 1 carb kit.
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