When the good trail times rolled for Kawasaki

Steve Cooper unravels the complex history of Kawasaki’s trail bike models

When it comes to trail bikes, Kawasaki never figured largely in the UK until the likes of the KDX and KMX 125/200s of the late 1980s and early 90s arrived. Sure, we’d had the KL250 in the late 1970s, but it was never Kawasaki’s finest off-road machine, and never came close to making the same impact as Honda’s seminal XL250 Motorsport.

Outside a much earlier vast range of commuter machinery cleverly reworked into off-roaders, Kawasaki had excelled with both model proliferation and nomenclature. Most of the early, purpose-built, trail machinery owed more than a nod towards some of the smaller road bikes in terms of both styling and transmission.

Kawasaki seriously imported its KE125 and KE175 trail bikes to the UK. This is the 175 version.

Almost exclusively configured around disc-valve, single-cylinder two-strokes, the machines had a distinctly road-biased look complete with tyre-hugging front guards and
not especially trail-orientated exhaust systems.

Perhaps the largest deficit in the bikes’ portfolios was the use of just four ratios in the gearbox. Some models came with twin rear sprockets offering high and low ratios that could be swapped by using an extra short length of drive chain that riders could patch in, and the use of two split links didn’t cause any reported issues.

By the end of the 1960s, though, five-speed gearboxes became the norm, styling was much more in keeping with the bikes’ intended purposes and satin black, high level, trail specific exhausts replaced the older chrome units.

Kawasaki offered a range of trail bikes from 125cc to 350cc, and they were all named specifically for the US market. Suzuki carried out a similar exercise, but for some reason it’s the Kawasaki names that riders of the period most readily recall.

The 125cc F6 doesn’t seem to have been assigned a moniker, but its 175cc F3 brother was forever known as the Bushwacker or Bushmaster. The early 250cc F4 was known as the Sidewinder, and its 350cc stablemate the Bighorn after a well-known off-road race. For some reason, the 250cc F8 was named the Bison.

Read more in the April 2018 issue of OBM – on sale now!

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