The Widowmaker and the Idiot

Anders Carlson restores a 1975 Kawasaki H1 with little back story and takes it racing. Yes, it’s a bad idea.

| September/October 2018

  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Dragging pegs at Road America, Turn 6.
    Photo by etchphoto.com
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Anders Carlson’s 1975 Kawasaki H1.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    First picture with the bike, before noticing the lack of front brake.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    An hour wrenching for every minute you get on the track.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Anders Carlson’s 1975 Kawasaki H1.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Slightly "repaired" right-side metal side cover.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Piston No. 3, "customized" by Road America.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Things you're not meant to rebuild, like the speedometer.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Black scuffs show heat damage. Shift fork was replaced.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Crazy Kawi side stand lean is part of the charm.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Sometimes white whales come in brown and yellow: author and motorcycle.
    Photo by Anders Carlson

  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1

It makes sense that a motorcycle designed to stimulate adrenaline and invite bad decisions has the same power when broken down and parked in a barn. My first glimpse of a Kawasaki triple came in A Century of Japanese Motorcycles by Didier Ganneau and Francoise-Marie Dumas. The triple shown on Page 96 disengaged my frontal lobe and raised hairs on my arm just looking at it. The third pipe was a middle finger to the EPA, your parents, Ralph Nader or anybody else trying to keep you down.

While Honda wanted to grow the U.S. market with easy-riding bikes with push-button starting, Kawasaki just wanted to dominate anything unlucky enough to line up next to it. Before anyone cared about emissions standards or product liability, a large 2-stroke street bike was a fine marketing idea. Kickstart-only with a 500cc 2-stroke 3-cylinder engine, the H1 was extremely wheelie-prone. Old Hondas got parked in a barn and forgotten. Kawasakis got wrapped around telephone poles. Dangerous and crude, the H1 gave Kawasaki a reputation that makes money to this day.

Result and causation

My 2-stroke obsession stems from the belief that they run on magic. The kind of magic that finds your card in a deck or produces a quarter behind your ear. Sleight of hand and misdirection. Result and causation. The power-stroke itself inducts fresh fuel to feed the next satisfyingly smoky bang. Fresh fuel passes uneasily next to spent charges, helped by chamber exhaust pipes that use sound and air pulses to keep them distinct. The alchemy of guesswork and intuition that goes into optimizing transfer ports hints at divinity. Religion is a touchy subject, so magic it is.

Today, the danger from power surges and poor handling has been replaced by threats to sanity when hunting down unobtainable oil lines, exhaust baffles and stators. You could buy Honda OEM pipes until about 15 years ago. But Kawasaki considered its work largely done after assembling the motorcycle. Some 40 years later, the current aftermarket craze for CB café, tracker or brat styles actually make OEM Kawasaki parts seem affordable — if you can find them.



So when a poop-brown/caution-tape-yellow 1975 H1F appeared, I jumped at the chance to offer too much money with zero thoughts as to why it didn't run. It had been recently purchased in Wisconsin from a deceased hoarder by 6-Volt Cycles owner Jason Koschnitzke, who's forgotten more than I'll ever known about motorcycles. It came with no further backstory. Seemed like a safe bet.

Almost complete except for a front brake and showing 5,009 miles on the clock, it seemed a steal. Theft is right. Knowing nothing about H1 restoration, getting a runner would involve stolen luck and favors in equal measure. With the wife out of town, I plunked down $1,500, took delivery and began figuring out what I'd gotten myself into.

richard langley
10/9/2018 1:35:12 AM

Hi Triple Fans, it's hard to sort out a "short" tale for ya'all, in a lifetime of 50 triples, but here goes;. I bought my first 1973 H1D 500 Brand New. I went into the Triumph/Kawasaki Dealer in Tucson, Az, to buy a 650 Bonneville "TT Special", but I couldn't qualify for the $1700 cost of that New Trumpet. The salesman said; "Try that little Green Kawasaki, You'll Like it". After a dozen "Rheostat Wheelies", I sure did, and qualified for the $1300 out the door cost of it!! I learned my road riding "Craft" on Mt Lemon near Tucson. I then decided, after a high speed, late night, uuuuhhhh "episode", with the Tucson "Gendarmes" (do you know that a stock 73 H1 could indicate 118mph for 10 miles WFO?), to drive to, then sell my 1962 413/426 Plymouth Sport Fury, Stage I, "Golden Commando" (which I had been drag racing for 3 years), here in San Diego and take my H1 roadracing. As you may know, So. Cal. was the hotbed of roadracing in the mid/late 70's. I started in the Production Class, racing it at Carlsbad Intl Raceway, Riverside, Willow Springs and Ontario Motor Speedway. I worked on it for 5 years and finally built it (with advice for Don Vesco, Paul Dahmen and Rob North) to race in the 500GP Class. In the summer of 1978, I put it on the Podium (2nd) in 500GP, at Ontario Motor Speedway. A month later, I chewed my own leg off in a crash on Palomar Mt (on a Honda CB550F). So, somewhat lighter, I healed up for a few months while I rebuilt the Honda. I went Willow Springs in Feb 79 and took x2 5th place finishes with it. Those results "made me" put the H1 back on the track for a few races, to finish out the rest of the year (the bike's long gone but I still have the freshened up 500GP motor and Spec II roadrace chambers custom built for it). In 1980, I roadraced a Blue 1972 H2 750 for 18 races, against bikes 8 years newer. It could out top end DOHC CB750F's and GS750 Suzuki's. Only the well ridden KZ750's could best it. I finished in the Top Ten (7th) in the Modified Production Class, with x2 Podiums. But that's another story! ;-) Ride safe and have fun. cheers Boots Langley La Mesa, Ca


Flushot
9/27/2018 5:14:02 PM

It was 1972, I was stationed in San Francisco (Alameda) CA aboard the USS Ranger CVA 61. We were getting ready to go on another WestPac cruise to the South China Sea along the Viet Nam coast. A shipmate that lived in Huntington beach owned a Kawasaki H1. I had a 650 Triumph TR6. We were able to get them onboard the ship as we cruised the CA coast before deploying to Viet Nam. So we decided to swap bikes and take a run up through Walnut Creek. He mentioned the H1 pulled pretty strong when " it came on the pipe". I was getting comfortable on the bike heading up the 580 early Sunday AM...no one around. Just me and my pal ( on my 650) on an early morning rip. I decided to take it up to redline in 3rd and shited to 4th coming over rise in the middle on a wide left to righter. The H1 front end lifted, floating me over the rise and as i eased off the throttle to regain control, the bike shuttered in to a high speed front wheel wobble. As I let off the throttle even more it got worse, ....I saw my life pass before my eyes; instead of slowing more; I decided to reach for the fork tensioner with my left hand and crank down on it to calm the wobble. Somehow my hand found the knob. It actually worked and I regained control of the bike. I'm 67 now and still ride. Finally moved to a V-Twin Cruiser and a BMW Sport touring bike. That was a memorable lucky day in 1972 on the H1 Widowmaker.


Gary
9/27/2018 11:50:07 AM

Ah, The trials and tribulations of restoring an old bike. Awesome story, well told!




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