Kawasaki celebrates 40 years of the Z1


April 18, 2012

The original Z1 Kawasaki - 82 bhp and 903cc

The original Z1 Kawasaki - 82 bhp and 903cc

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It's forty years since Kawasaki astonished the motorcycling world by showing the 903cc Z1 superbike at the 1972 Cologne Show. Some special activities are being planned for the 2012 Cologne Intermot show to commemorate the event.

The 82 bhp 903cc four-cylinder machine changed the world of motorcycling, beginning the horsepower war between the leading sports bike manufacturers that has seen horsepower increase by 150% and weight fall by 20% in the ensuing four decades.

Whatsmore, it did so at a very affordable US$1895 and was one of the key motorcycles which established the reputation of reliability and performance for Japanese motorcycles.

The Kawasaki 900 was originally developed as a 750 by Kawasaki designer Gyoichi Inamura and his team in the late sixties, but the surprise appearance of the Honda CB750 in 1969 meant that Kawasaki elected to wait and further develop its motorcycle as it did not wish to be seen doing a "me too", and the engine was subsequently enlarged to 900cc.

A decade after the Z1 was launched, I attended the launch of the "next" Kawasaki 900, the GPZ900R at Laguna Seca in California, and I was able to ride the original Z1 back-to-back with the GPZ900R - the contrast was stark, with the Z1 having so much low down torque that it felt like it had a truck engine in comparison to the high revving GPZ.

Kawasaki intends to tour an exhibit of historic motorcycles from the Z series around Europe over the coming year, culminating in a special exhibition in October during the Intermot show in Germany.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

Ahhhhh the memories of BAD design.... the Legendary Z1 Kwaka..... went like sh#t off a stick in a straight line, and it's bendy frame and forks, made it NOT go around corners.

Lots of people died as a result of it's bad handling.

Mr Stiffy

First rode one as a young lad in about 1977-that engine was an eye openner for sure. Had the use of the first Z1R(KZ1R to the Yanks),then the fastest proddie bike-and still had to be wrestled through corners,but still awsome...and fun in the wet if you were young enough to have no fear. Ross Hannan was good at getting the best out those beasts,both horsepower and frame tamed-just ask Graeme Crosby.


As a 18 year old immortal,I owned both a 72 H2 750 Kawasaki and a 73 Z-1.This was in 73 thru 76 and how I survived their handling quirks amazes me.You couldnt keep the front wheel of the H2 on the ground and the rear tire of the Z-1 from spinning constantly in 1st thru 3rd gears.I learned a great deal about how NOT to ride a big bore bike and managed to never have a accident either.Dumb luck is all I can fiqure is what kept me alive.I did quite a bit of street racing back then and always beat the cars and any Harley who thought that giant 2 stroke was a toy.Cant believe its been 40 years already!


Funny you should say that Flashiepoos, I never could get the Z1R's front wheel in the air because of lack of traction. No wonder it had RIM LOCKS for the rear dunlop rim protectors. Hey,an old riding buddy of mine had a H500/3 in the late 70's-went to overtake a car one day,snicked down a cog and wheelstood straight into the back of the car before he could flick it over. Ah,those were the days......big bikes,young women and road rash.

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