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Almost Perfect: 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR

Mike Vandertie’s 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR is a well-ridden machine.

| January/February 2015

  • 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • The Mac 4-into-1 exhaust system is sharp and crisp at low rpm, but strong and throaty at high rpm.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • The Mac 4-into-1 exhaust system is sharp and crisp at low rpm, but strong and throaty at high rpm.
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • Mike Vandertie’s Rickman
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR
    Photo by Jeff Barger
  • A well-loved machine, Mike’s Rickman still gets ridden fairly hard. “That’s what makes the bike fun to ride,” Mike says.
    Photo by Jeff Barger

1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR
Claimed power: 83hp @ 8,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 130mph (period test)
Engine: 1,016cc air-cooled DOHC inline four, 70mm x 66mm bore and stroke, 8.7:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet/approx.): 479lb (217kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.8gal (18.2ltr)/35-50mpg
Price then/now: $1,335 (kit only)/$8,000-$18,000 (complete bike)

Nothing’s ever perfect, even though it sure might look cool. At least, that’s how Mike Vandertie feels about his 1976 Rickman Kawasaki CR.

Depending on what you read, the CR denotes either Competition Replica or Café Racer. Although most famous for their offroad Metisse scrambler, English duo Derek and Don Rickman of Rickman Bros. Ltd. also built special road-going frames for a series of engines, beginning with powerplants from Triumph and Royal Enfield. As the motorcycle market shifted to embrace inline 4-cylinder Japanese machines, the Rickmans turned to creating frames for Honda’s wildly successful CB750 and Kawasaki’s even bigger Z1 900. Their goal, ostensibly, was to improve the handling of a select few machines of the mid-1970s.

There is no question the Rickmans were successful in their bid to improve the handling characteristics of the big Japanese fours, but, as Mike explains, the end results might have been a little less than ideal. “It’s a motorcycle that’s comfortable to ride at speed on a smooth, twisty highway,” he says, adding, “but it’s a pain in the ass around town or in parking lot traffic. I’d wager anyone over 5-foot 8-inches isn’t going to enjoy a ride more than 100 miles long. The bike is just cramped.” But that doesn’t spoil the thrill for Mike, who’s quick to add: “That said, when the road is good, the machine makes you feel like you’re a café racer — and I’m not!”

It’s in the handling

In the mid-1960s, the Rickman brothers branched into the world of road racing, constructing frames for AJS 7R and Matchless G50 engines. Just as they were successful with dirt bikes (we covered the early days of Rickman Bros. Ltd. and their start in the offroad motorcycle business in the November/December 2014 issue), they repeated their winning ways with competition road frames and street-oriented specials.

By the mid-1970s, Honda and Kawasaki were building what were considered the two best inline 4-cylinder engines on the market. Superbly designed, they were strong, reliable, leak-free powerplants that could rack up the miles with ease and be hot-rodded fairly easily. But they didn’t always handle as well as they went, and many enthusiasts felt chassis development in the Japanese-built products was left wanting, a sentiment backed up in a July 1974 article in Cycle World magazine about Rickman, where the writer compared a Japanese-made frame to something that “wiggles like a wounded snake” when it’s flung into a corner.

11/3/2015 1:46:49 PM

Dear sir Jeff Barger, what a wonderfull bike this is! Is it possible that you can give me the original pictures? I want to make a poster of it for on the wall. The resolution of those pics is to small. I would be most grateful if you could give me the original pictures. Kind regards, Sebastian

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