The Last Samurai: 1965 Kawasaki SG250

An early model, the Kawasaki SG250 was one of the first bikes to wear the Kawasaki badge in the U.S.

| May/June 2017

  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • This completely original 1965 SG250 was a gift to the Kawasaki Heritage Hall museum, located in Foothill Ranch, California.
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • The meaning of the “170” molded into the gas tank knee pad is unclear, but appeared on most Meguro motorcycles, often on the engine cover.
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 was the first year for the Kawasaki badge in the U.S.
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • 1965 Kawasaki SG250
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli
  • Solenoid on valve cover pushes exhaust valve to ease compression on starting.
    Photo by Dain Gingerelli

1965 Kawasaki SG250
248cc air-cooled OHV single, 66mm x 72.6mm bore and stroke, 8.7:1 compression ratio, 18hp @ 7,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed:
78mph (claimed)
Single Mikuni with tickler
4-speed w/rotary shift pattern, chain final drive
12v, coil and breaker points ignition
Single downtube steel cradle/53.5 inches (1,359mm)
Telescopic forks front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
7-3/4in (197mm) SLS drum front and rear
2.75 x 18in front, 3 x 18in rear
Weight (dry):
364lb (164kg)
Seat height:
32in (813mm)
Fuel capacity:
3.2gal (14.6ltr)
Price then/now:

Try to pinpoint the greatest Kawasaki 4-stroke motorcycle to ever roll on American pavement, and you’d be hard pressed to name just one model. But you couldn’t blame diehards from the 1970s for suggesting that we give the nod to the fabled Z1, the inline four-banger that, in 1973, elevated the Superbike game to a whole new level.

Enthusiasts today might say “no way,” insisting that we leap-frog back to the present, touting the 2016 Ninja H2R with its rollicking 326-supercharged-horsepower engine as the top 4-stroker from the Big K. Calmer heads might point us back in time, say to 1966, so they could coolly explain that the W1 and its 624cc vertical-twin 4-stroke engine was the bike responsible for setting the company’s 4-cycle movement into motion in the first place here in America.

Or not. See, before any of those models ever so much as rotated a camshaft on these shores, Kawasaki had the SG250 in its American model lineup. The SG250 (some early documents describe it as the SG1, others suggest 250SG) had a single-cylinder, overhead valve 4-stroke engine that produced a claimed 18 horsepower at 7,000rpm. Records are sketchy, but by all indications the SG250 first appeared on these shores in late 1964 or sometime in 1965 when Fred Masek, owner of Masek Auto Supply in Gering, Nebraska, received what are believed to be the first samples for U.S. consumption.

Act One

By the mid 1960s, Kawasaki had awarded Masek the Midwest distributorship in America, and some of the first bikes ever to wear the Kawasaki tank badge were sold by his company. The SG250 featured here was, in fact, owned by Masek himself, and the all-original bike shows only 344 miles on its odometer.

Before considering the history leading up to this bike, though, you should know that this part of Kawasaki’s history is where its lineage in America can be sketchy, if not downright confusing. To better understand that we should look deeper into Kawasaki’s past.

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