Creating a reputation for a factory with just one machine isn’t easy, yet Steve Cooper shows just how Kawasaki managed it.
Whether you like two-strokes or loathe them, you need to give thanks to Kawasaki’s launching of their mad-as-cheese 500cc triple.
This bike, above all others, marks a line in the sand whereby motorcycles cease to be simply methods of transportation and become overtly leisure devices, toys for adults, recreational artefacts and so on.
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This was THE MOTORCYCLE that changed how the trade, the public and the media at large perceived motorised two-wheelers.
In the early 1960s, Kawasaki was an industrial giant that found its aeronautical wing at a loose end. They’d previously acquired Meguro, which brought with it a heavily reworked 500cc BSA A7 clone that Kawasaki latterly hogged out to 650.
The machine was supposed to be the company’s first serious foray into larger capacity motorcycles, yet the W series failed to make strong inroads into the all-important American market. The company had done reasonably well with its A1 Samurai and A7 Avenger two-stroke twins, yet these bikes alone weren’t sufficient to give Kawasaki the credibility it required.
This hiatus catalysed a research programme that sought to deliver a fast, relatively lightweight, 500cc machine that, crucially, would score on performance.
While Europe measured a bike’s kudos and worth via top speeds, Kawasaki had noted that in America it was standing start quarter mile times that impressed both the press and the bike-buying public. Whatever machine the company were going to deliver, it had to be hot off the line and focused on that all-important 440 yards of tarmac.
Read more and view more images in the May 2019 issue of Old Bike Mart – on sale now!