“But it’s only 60 horsepower…How wild a ride could this possibly be?….” Ya, in this age of storebought 9 second uber bikes, the H-2 Kawasaki looks almost silly on paper. 12 second quarter mile times? Right, I know, your kid sister’s scooter does that….
But the pure, sudden, violence that occurs when that mere 60 horsepower turn on…ALL AT ONCE, guarantees those who underestimate the beast Kawasaki hath wroth will at best, spend some time on crutches. They don’t call these things Widow Makers for nothing.
When street going Japanese two strokes started getting popular in the middle 60’s, their selling point was light, nimble, perky performance. They were happy little creatures, buzzing around town, carrying happy, pimple face teenagers off to happy little adventures. But then, toward the later part of the decade, the horsepower frenzy of the musclecar scene bled over to the bike world, and suddenly, quarter mile performance was the only thing that really mattered.
The HD Sportster had long held title as the bike to beat. The 900cc Ironheads were good for low 13 second quarters clear back to the late 50’s. In fact, the Sporty could be considered the grandfather of all modern superbikes. Going into 1969, all of the players in the musclebike game, HD, Triumph, BSA and Norton featured big, vibrating, four stroke twins, all clumped into that mid 13 second range, and it seemed the Japanese manufacturers were content to leave the drag racing thing to the Americans and Brits.
But then came Honda with the revolutionary CB750. It was big, smooth, powerful…able to leave the conventional musclebikes of the era in its dust with nary an evil vibe. Surgical efficiency, brutal performance. The CB was not aimed directly at the dragstrip, but once you got it there, nothing else stood a chance…that is until Kawasaki stepped up with its kamakazi quarter mile assault weapon. The H-1.
Three big cylinders, no cams, no valves, no other purpose than to dominate the quarter mile…a power pulse every 120 degrees of crankshaft rotation. Lightweight engine, lightweight frame, an insane and violent powerband that had even the most experienced rider gritting their teeth and hoping for the best every time they twisted the throttle…pure deadly fun. You only need to ride the Kawasaki Triple once to wear its evil on your psyche forever.
The sounds a Triple makes alone, will tell the timid or weak this is not the ride for them. At idle, the clacking and whir of loosly fitted rods, snore of multiple power pulses and random popping from the exhaust combine for the most unique noise in the world of internal combustion. Twist the throttle as it sits there, and there’s a pause as the induction system takes a deep, loud breath, then suddenly the snore becomes a violent shreaking scream. Even as you let off the throttle, the R’s keep climbing out of sheer momentum.
If all the audio chaos doesn’t tell you that you’re not dealing with the average motorcycle, and you decide to toss a leg and go for a romp, the dual nature of the Triple is what will get you into the most trouble.
Rolling around slowly, the Trip is a total pussycat…it’s happy, peppy, responsive, smooooth…the throttle feels like it’s attached to the carbs with a rubberband, and you tell yourself, meat grinder sounds aside, that this is just a really nice little motorcycle. Haha…it’s lulls you into thinking you’re in control of things…so you drop a gear and roll on the throttle…and it responds by getting a little louder, gathering up a little speed…you twist a little more, and THEN, out of the blue, she comes on the pipe …. YYYEEEEEENNNNGGG!!!! The front end jerks up and ratchets skyward as your ass slides back on the slab seat. You can’t throw your body weight on the handlebars quickly enough, cant unwind the throttle fast enough cause you’re holding on with the tips of your fingers…the pure lunging violence of the Triple is beautifully terrifying…the only reason you don’t backflip is becuse the two stroke turns off just about as quick as it turns on.
But here’s what gets you in trouble with the Widow Maker…it never does the same thing the same way TWICE! Sometimes it just rushes forward…sometimes it explodes upward, sometimes it just dogs and nothing happens at all. It’s a machine that posesses all the qualities of an actual, living, wild animal, and mostly, all you can do is react to whatever it decides to dish out. Let your guard down and turn your back to this thing for just a minute, and it will simply flat out kill you. To master the Triple, a rider needs to be part psychic and always, always on.
There were many versions and stages of Kawasaki Triple produced from 1969 through 1977. While the big 750cc H-2 is the bike most remembered and sought after, it can be argued that the original incarnation of the Triple, the 500cc 1969 H-1, with it’s high compression, uncompromised port timing and free flowing exhaust was the most potent of the bunch. In fact, Kawasaki only went to the larger size to compensate for the for the damage sound and emission regulations did to the original version. Both the 500 and 750 were produced side by side from ’72 until the end, but each bike lost a little something with each new year and every tightened regulation.
There was also a smaller S series produced in 250 (S-1) 350 (S-2) and 400 (S-3 & KH) sizes. While the big bikes were all about drag racing, the smaller versions made excellent town bikes, road and cafe racers, and to this day, can be bought for a song. Suzuki also produced a line of triple cylinder two strokes, the largest being the 750cc Water Buffalo…which rather than being a weapon for massive and sudden acceleration like the Kawasaki, was marketed as a soft, cushy touring bike…something it did surprisingly well. The liquid cooled Suzuki was eerily smooth and quiet…and huge, and heavy. They enjoy a small following today, but not nearly the level of fanaticism the Kaw Triple cult exhibits.
The Kawasaki Triple sat at the top of the heap for just a small period of time.
In fact, it was Kawasaki itself that sealed the fate of the Triple long before the government had a chance to completely castrate the beast, with it’s own Z900 and later KZ1000 four cylinder four stroke superbikes. The new bikes were fast, efficient and safe(r), but just never had the charisma of three smoking pipes and an explosive powerband. In fact, no other motorcycle ever has, or ever will again. The Kawasaki Triple was the Dark Master, the Antichrist of Motorcycles.