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.

SILVERBULLET
8/27/2018 6:41:03 PM

I rode an H1 to work and back on the interstate, 35 miles in the Atlanta traffic maze. Was pretty damn exciting ride. At WOT the front wheel settled down at about 110. I weighed 165 pounds at the time. Only one crash. Was approaching a red light about to turn green and I needed to make a left turn. Had a dozen donuts under my jacket. At some above medium rpms Im laid over on my left side. Shifted gears and the pin had vibrated itself out of the shift lever. My hand had already started releasing the clutch when I realize what was up. WAS LIKE PUTTING ON REAR BRAKES IN AN EXTREME LEAN! I went down, spun around several times and my ass slammed against the curb. An old guy had backed out of his driveway almost into the street and he looked down at me and he said, "Are you hurt son?" I remember saying, "Hell yes Im hurt!" So with a sore back for months and months, I kept on riding with a new mirror and clutch lever. Many miles later on other bikes. Im still alive.


RickBrett
8/12/2018 8:38:22 AM

GREAT Read! But, Sadly, the comment about the Ignition is incorrect, the CDI was withdrawn only on units sold to Europe, where it was found to cause TVI on the televisions, they then replaced the spark plug caps which lessened the problem, but basically a whole new range of engine numbers were fitted with points ignition and supplied to European bikes, the U.S. Meanwhile carried on with the same problematic ignition system with its constant overheating and failures until mid 1971 where they reverted back to points (off the European model) as a temporary measure, until coming back to CDI in August 1972.


RickBrett
8/12/2018 8:12:24 AM

GREAT Read! But, Sadly, the comment about the Ignition is incorrect, the CDI was withdrawn only on units sold to Europe, where it was found to cause TVI on the televisions, they then replaced the spark plug caps which lessened the problem, but basically a whole new range of engine numbers were fitted with points ignition and supplied to European bikes, the U.S. Meanwhile carried on with the same problematic ignition system with its constant overheating and failures until mid 1971 where they reverted back to points (off the European model) as a temporary measure, until coming back to CDI in August 1972.







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