1978-1981 Kawasaki KZ650SR

Call it the semi-chopper, or maybe the almost-custom

| September/October 2007

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    Editor Hall bombs down our favorite local backroad, working the cobwebs out of the KZ650SR.
  • hondacontender1
    The 1980 Honda CB650 Custom.

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  • hondacontender1

Years produced: 1978-1981
Claimed power: 62hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 115mph
Engine type: 652cc double-overhead cam, air-cooled inline four
Transmission: Five-speed  
Weight (dry): 493lb (224kg)
MPG: 40-50 (period test)
Price then: $2,395 (1978)
Price now: $1,000-$2,000

Call it the semi-chopper, or maybe the almost-custom. No matter how you slice it, Kawasaki’s KZ650SR was, in many respects, little more than a mildly-altered KZ650. And, believe it or not, that’s what made it great.

By the time 1980 rolled around, “factory specials” were all the rage. They were the perfect motorcycles for riders who wanted something with style and panache, yet weren’t mechanically inclined enough to build their own custom ride.

Like the factory customs offered by a variety of other manufacturers, Kawasaki created the SR by taking a bike they were already building (the KZ650) and dressing it up a bit to turn it into a boulevard cruiser. It was hardly an original idea, and in fact, Kawasaki had already applied the same recipe in 1976 with the KZ900 LTD. But most of these factory specials turned out to be lousy bikes in some regards. They often had uncomfortable seats that were stepped in the wrong spot or that swooped at some unfathomable angle. Most had handlebars that made the bike hard to push around corners, and pint-sized gas tanks that, while shapely, didn’t hold much fuel. Combine these “features” and you were often left with a bike that wasn’t good for riding very fast or very long. But somehow, by some great stroke of luck (or, possibly, real engineering) the SR came away as something stylish and fully rideable. In fact, some of the modifications made in turning the KZ into the SR actually made the bike better.

In converting the KZ to the SR, Kawasaki gave it cast wheels, dual-disc front brakes, a single-disc rear brake, a 4-into-2 exhaust system, a 16in rear wheel (instead of the 18in wheel on the KZ), fatter front and rear tires, a longer, deeper seat, higher handlebars, a smaller, almost coffin-shaped fuel tank, chrome covers for the tachometer and speedometer, a chrome chain guard, and painted fenders instead of chrome. It also received 22mm carbs, down from 24mm.

Ergonomically correct“Straddle the bike on the showroom floor and it feels just right. The bars and seat and pegs put you in a posture that can only be described as Swagger Sitting Down.” That’s what Cycle World had to say when they first threw a leg over the SR in their August 1978 issue. Riding one today, the seating position, though comfortable, feels a bit odd compared with modern motorcycles. The bars are fairly wide with a good amount of pullback, and the thick, flat seat allows a variety of riding positions. The foam on the seat of our test bike was in good condition and it proved a comfortable perch, good for at least a couple of hours riding, if not more, depending on the build of the rider. The pegs are just slightly forward of the seat, offering plenty of room for those long of inseam. At 31.5in the seat height is not as low as some customs of the day, but it’s manageable for most.

4/11/2019 8:08:21 AM

I owned one of these great bikes in 1980. Fast and comfortable. Believe it or not, I struck and killed a young steer on that bike and rode away. Perhaps the best Kawasaki I've owned.

7/27/2015 12:12:50 PM

Hello, I have an opportunity to purchase a 1981 Kawasaki CSR 650 for about $1,200 and the bike is in all original mint condition with about 31,000 miles on it. I also have the opportunity to get a 1986 Honda Shadow for the same price. Honestly I'm leaning toward the Kawasaki, but the Shadow is 5 years younger and 10,000 less miles. Some of my biker friends are split between the two. What do any of you think if you don't mind? All I've ever rode was an early 80's model Suzuki GS550. Appreciate your input. John

6/11/2015 8:01:36 AM

Hi l'm interested in trading my harley chopper for a older Kawasaki Honda trike in good running condition lmk plz 813)786-1886

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