Double-Nickel Rocket: 1981 Kawasaki GPz550

The Kawasaki GPz550: An old school canyon carver for the Racer Roy set.

| November/December 2012

  • GPz550 Plate
    The GPz550 was an improvement on the Kawasaki Z1 for 1981.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Kawasaki GPz550
    The red and black Kawasaki GPz550 was the bike of choice for the Racer Roys of the early 1980s.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Left Side
    Though major adjustments stopped in 1982, continued minor adjustments to the GPz550 led many owners to feel that the 1983 version had the best handling.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Right Side
    One magazine cautioned that the bright red fairing of the GPz550 was just as likely to be noticed by the police as fellow riders.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Rear Disc Brakes
    Though rear disc brakes are common today, they were the high-performance ticket in 1981.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Original Seat
    With just more than 4,000 original miles, this bike still wears its original seat and adjustable-rebound rear shocks.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Odometer
    One contemporary motorcycle publication warned riders that while the GPz was fast, the red paint-job would be readily noticed by local law enforcement.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Zeki Abed Riding
    Owner Zeki Abed enjoys riding all of his bikes, but the GPz550 is one of his favorites for riding in the canyons near his home.
    Photo By Nick Cedar
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Front
    According to owner Zeki Abed, once it's warmed up, the GPz550 is pure bliss to ride, flickable, tractable and sane.
    Photo By Nick Cedar

  • GPz550 Plate
  • Kawasaki GPz550
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Left Side
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Right Side
  • Rear Disc Brakes
  • Original Seat
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Odometer
  • Zeki Abed Riding
  • Kawasaki GPz550 Front

1981 Kawasaki GPz550 
Claimed power: 54hp@ 10,000rpm (period test)
Top speed: 119mpg (period test)
Engine: 553cc air-cooled DOHC inline four, 58mm x 52.4mm bore and stroke, 10:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 464lb (210.5kg)
MPG/Fuel capacity: 45-60mpg/3.8gal (15ltr)
Price then/now: $2,599/$700-$2,500

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in late spring, a wonderful day to be riding your trusty two-wheeler down your favorite road. You’re about to lean into the best line around the next turn when a low hum announces a rider coming up behind you. In the blink of an eye he shoots past you, disappearing around the next bend. He’s gone, and somehow, the beautiful morning isn’t quite as beautiful any more.

Most of us know, or have known, a Racer Roy. Maybe you were, or still are, that envied SOB in scuffed leathers and duct taped boots who danced through back road corners like Eddie Lawson or Kevin Schwantz. And if you were a Racer Roy in the early 1980s, chances are good you were doing your canyon carving — or wishing you were — on a bright red and black Kawasaki GPz550.

Getting up to speed

Kawasaki’s first 4-stroke was the 1972 Z1, a sport-touring machine powered by a 900cc dual overhead-cam engine. It made serious waves, but as the Seventies wore on, each year’s version of the Z1 became less and less sporting. Kawasaki, like the rest of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, was convinced that the average American rider liked cruisers and “custom” machines, and they built what they thought their public wanted.



The Racer Roys of the 1970s bought used bikes and worked them over until they ran fast and handled well. But having to be a reasonably good mechanic and “in the loop” as to what worked and what didn’t left a lot of people out of the “racing” game. Even the guys who were good at wrenching often wished that they could be working on their cornering technique rather than a gearbox.

Someone at Kawasaki noticed that Yamaha was selling a lot of RD350s, and BMW and Ducati were getting good notice with their sport twins. In 1980, Kawasaki put a toe in the high performance waters with the KZ550 and KZ750, both inline fours with a stiff chassis and a strong engine. The 550 version in particular was light, quick and responsive.






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