1973 Kawasaki Z1: King of the Road

The Kawasaki Z1 was 900cc of pure power and precision


| May/June 2006



ki1

Honda's legendary four-cylinder CB750 may have started the fire, but when Kawasaki's twin-cam Z1 came on the scene the Japanese Superbike wars heated up fast.

Photo by Shellia Bailey

Kawasaki Z1
Years produced:
1973-75
Total production: 85,000 (est.)
Claimed power: 82hp @ 8,500rpm (factory)
Top speed: 120mph (period test)
Engine type: 903cc air-cooled, in-line four-cylinder
Weight (wet): 246kg (542lb)
Price Then: $1,895
Price Now: $1,700 to $8,500
MPG: 43 (average)

Troyce Walls is generally a nice guy, but he’s always getting into trouble with British motorcycle enthusiasts.

Arguments start when he compares the handling of his 1973 Kawasaki Z1 to that of a Norton Commando. “The Z1 handles as good as a Norton. I've been arguing about the Z1's handling with Norton people for years,” Troyce says. He also tees off Honda Four fanatics when he says, “The Z1 also handles much better than a 750 Honda of the same period.”

But Troyce figures he has the right to his opinions. After all, he has owned, worked on or ridden most of the better known motorcycles of the last 30 years — including Nortons, Hondas and Kawasaki Z1s.

Troyce grew up around mopeds and scooters — one of his early scoots was a leaky Cushman Eagle. “It used a quart of oil every eight to 10 miles, but the wind was in my hair, even if the oil was on my leg,” he remembers. The motorcycle bug bit, and Troyce spent his summers working at a local Honda shop. Soon enough he found himself in college, and after graduating Troyce spent several years in serious party mode, a motorcycle always at hand.

In the mid-1970s, Troyce was running around on a clapped-out Norton. “My ex-roommate called from Birmingham, and said he was going to ride his new Kawasaki Z1 to California. Naturally, I jumped on the idea and quit my job. I was supposed to meet him halfway between where he lived and where I was staying, about 100 miles — I had to spend six hours working on the Norton before it would even go that far. I finally met up with him and he let me ride his bike. I was impressed beyond words.”

jestocost
4/1/2014 9:19:41 AM

I had a friend that would disagree - He regularly experienced tank slappers on his until ultimately it broke his leg in a high speed crash. He used the bike daily to commute to work and thought he was in control of the its vices but it caught him out in the end.


Trublu
4/26/2010 12:07:30 PM

Lindy, I had a '74 Z1 and I never experienced any instability like that.Loss of traction would have been far more likely if you got on it a tad hard leaned over in that sweeper, or possibly you high centered a bit and werent set up quite right for the turn causing that to happen. Not putting your riding skills down by any means, that Z1 was a heavy bike and had to be almost thrown over into a tight turn,heck Ive done it myself a time or two on other bikes and it IS scary as heck! I hadnt previously and havent ever since that Z1 ever ridden a bike that was sooo brutally fast, or accelerated as hard as that Z1. Yet..it was completely at home cruising 55-75 all day long even when riding 2 up.Handling was never an issue for me even when pushed pretty hard thru the twisties, you just had to be sure and not twist real hard on the GO grip or you WOULD get woken up REALLY fast! Acceleration when you wanted it was THERE..NOW, and it pulled haaaaaard from about 4500 all the waay up. I mean...REALLY hard! It's the only bike that has ever scared me on acceleration, it was THAT hard..BRUTAL is the word that comes to mind when thinking back about the way the bike came on the power. There was NOTHING that could touch it back in the day...NOTHING. Other than a mid 80's KZ750 it was the only big Kawasaki this confirmed and biased Honda rider ever owned,and to this day...Im still impressed, and miss THAT bike. WHAT a bike. It WAS indeed "the King of the Road" Bar NONE! Randy


Lindy
12/11/2008 6:48:11 PM

This is one of the rare times where I have the first hand experience regarding an article published here. I currently own a 1975 Norton Interstate and have been both grateful and impressed with its good road manners. It remains composed during unexpected situations such as a surprise pothole while substantially leaned over in a tight left hand turn. Although I expected pain I maintained by line through the hole with no road rash, no bobble not even a wiggle. During a Kawasaki Z1 test ride many years earlier, I was applying moderate throttle from a stop sign making a right turn when the rear tire began steering the bike. There was no lose of grip, but the direction of travel and balance were very scary causing me to back off the throttle. I did not dump the new Z1, but was glad to return it to the Dealership. I have enjoyed numerous other makes since then, loved the Suzuki 750 Four in a test ride in heavy traffic on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in California. Wish I had bought that one. Has no else experienced this handling issue on a Z1?






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