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Satan’s Weed Whacker: The Twisted Tale of the Kawasaki Triples

Satan’s Weed Whacker: The Twisted Tale of the Kawasaki Triples

“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.

Kawasaki triple ad 

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69 thoughts on “Satan’s Weed Whacker: The Twisted Tale of the Kawasaki Triples

  1. studemax

    My Dad drag raced a 750 Triple back in the day. He ran it stock for awhile, then had the local Jap bike shop jazz it up with some speed parts from Byron Hines, bigger cam, new carbs, headers, and a wheelie bar. Suddenly it was a stone killer from the green light to the stripe!

  2. Ron Ward


    It is great to have you on board with BangShift.com. Fantastic writeup! I look forward to more in the future.

  3. Beagle

    Studemax – Two strokes don’t have cams. Headers are Expansion Chambers.:)

    Nice write up Tony. Welcome to the asylum.

  4. PatricksDad

    Having sampled one or two of these anti-social monsters, I’ve still yet to figure out how they made a frame with a hinge in the middle. It’s the only explanation we could come up with for how frighteningly unpredictable they were. Plus I think my moped had better brakes.

  5. Higgy

    My second vehicle purchase was a 75 H-1 500 and what a blast! It would take off at 6000 rpm. I beat the snot out of the thing and wound up buying it back after I sold it due to getting run over by a senior driver who ran a red light. Learned how to ride wheelies pretty good. The funniest part was how Kawasaki said it got 60 mpg – was more like 30. Nice write up Tony.

  6. Rajunz

    Awesome story, and great memories, thanks.

    I remember these bikes very well, most people who rode the 750 ended up on their backsides. They were dangerous as hell for an inexperienced rider. The sound of one with triple expansion chambers was so awesome.

    I also remember the really cool magazine ads with the riders in space suits, very cool stuff for the time.

    How about a triple Chopper, you gotta know this is a hand full.

  7. studemax

    Beagle –
    It was a long time ago, and I’m getting old.
    The HEADERS said Hooker on them, so stick your vernacular in your pipe and smoke it.

  8. Anonymous

    I had a Paul Gast built h1 (H2 lil sister ) fun ride leave the line at 9k shift at 8 fun ride just hated the sound lol

  9. don

    1973 I bought a 1970 CB750, 2nd fastest bike at the time, raced a few KAW 750s beat most of them in a 1/4 mile, You had to be a good rider to get the most out of them in 1/4 mile keeping the front down.
    Then they came out with the 900 my bike did not stand a chance against them.

  10. RealSteelFreak

    Nice write up on the Kawasaki.

    Never had any Kaw triples but I did mess with the Suzuki gt380 and 550. Also had a 74 Yamaha RD350A ,it was a fairly light bike but tons of fun.

  11. Monk

    Man it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a write up on the triple.
    I remember them well…….those damn things were quick.

    Makes me wanna go shop for one on Ebay.

  12. rebeldryver

    Dad had one when I was little. Grandma used to send him newspaper clippings of motorcycle fatalities as a subtle hint to him about the bike.

  13. Wideglid80

    Friend of mine had a H1 500 back in the early 70’s. I can relate to the comment about never does the same thing twice. Wicked ride for those days. And nobody complained about them smoking a little, because there were a lot.

  14. Edd

    I had the ’63 Sportster and ruled the streets in Stillwater, OK until late ’69 when my friend called me to go pick up his new Mach III. He had 6 miles showing on the odometer when we left the light on 6th St. My reign as king was over!

  15. Anonymous

    Geez, I had forgotten about that bike, couldn’t tell ya what happened to it either now, it was just the 400cc but it screamed I’n a straight line. Didn’t do much else well. I still remember the paint though, awesome shade of brown metallic.

  16. 428FE

    I had the 350cc Kaw triple when I was stationed in Coronado Ca back in 1973. It was a rocket! Nothing below 3500 rpm but the sledgehammer kicked in after that and it would pull through 10 grand. Sheesh, what a memory.

  17. 2strokefreak

    I am glad bikes like this, and the Yamaha YD-1 came along or we may never have gotten the thrill of a high performance 2 stroke street/race bike. I love the thrill of riding my RZ350 down the street knowing the race history that went along with the model.

  18. Mr. Obvious

    Not a great idea to glorify Japanese products during this terrible economy, this article does nothing to build a patriotic following on all things American, namely HD bikes and domestic vehicles.

    Whoever this highly-hyped new writer is, try to be like a good American and learn what to promote and what to dismiss as a bad idea.

    A bad idea is to purchase imported products, now or in 1969.

  19. john

    I think Mr Obvious misses the obvious point that Kawasaki employs thousands of North Americans.

    There’s some cars here in Ontario, with bumper stickers that say “Out of job yet? Keep buying foreign!” and I just have to laugh, considering Toyota and Honda employ as many or more people in this province than GM or Ford does.

    It’s this type of bleeding heart sabre-rattling “patriotism” that got America into the trouble it’s in in the first place. You can be a Harley Davidson fan all you want, for the whole “biker image” thing, but HD makes crap bikes, always have and always will. So why would you want someone to promote a crap bike just because it’s made in America? Completely illogical.

    Not only that, but the Kawasaki he’s talking about is a friggin’ museum piece! Should you tell an American historian not talk to about, say, the British involvement in World War 2, and to only focus on what America did? Grow the hell up.

    Very cool article and great writing. I have almost no interest in bikes and I still found it interesting.

  20. machIII

    Buy american? HD hasn’t made anything considered sporty since WWII. O wait- is this 1945? Are we still at war with japan? Didn’t think so.

  21. ford141

    Wow, great article on a very significant and infamous bike. This is EXACTLY what this site needs more of – entertaining AND informative articles about machines that have influenced American culture. I’m a “buy american” type guy, but you cannot ignore machines that have had such on impact on American culture as the Kawi triples have had, regardless of where it was made. I own 9 American vehicles (all Fords), but I also own a Honda motorcycle. The economy of MY wallet cannot afford the H-D…

  22. JA-Moo

    The Kawi triple still have a very large “following” around the world. They were really the first ‘true” sperbike, in the raw “go fast in a straight line” kind of way.

    40 years of “enthusiastic” owners, has truely “improved the breed”. It is really not difficult at all to get the H series to handle very well. (the S series always did) And with newer pipe designs, porting and reed conversions, they are very “streetable” and make great power with a wide power band. They still sound like “thrashing machines”, but that the aura of “rawness” that we fell in love with. There are many forums/message boards just for the triples, With many great examples of restorations, cool cafed out bikes, and totally modded ones with modern suspension.

    If anyone wants to take a look, here is the American board: kawi2strokes.com/forums.


    No matter if imports are manufactured here, import meaning Toyota, BMW, whatever, THINK, the profits go to the mother country. Not USA.

    You people need to learn about basic economics, that is why so many of the people that post on here are out of work.

    Again, T H I N K before you type.

  24. Jerry

    entertaining AND informative articles about this article is that it thankfully didn’t have the worn-out “Bangshift approved” and sappy-ass “Epic” words in it, the place needs some fresh talent that is for sure. But the focus needs to be inline with what will but our country back on track, not to glorify products from rival countries. Could not care less where it’s from, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Poland, wherever, support AMERICAN companies. You lifestyle will depend on it trust me.


  25. Anonymous

    Anyone who would say to put on straight pipes on a 2-stroke. Oh and wait, WTF was that dude talking about racing cams on a Mach III? I think that is the talk of a posier.

  26. Trackside hanger-on

    Don’t see a lot of Kawasaki bike part advertisers here. I’d think the space would be better served.
    US 30 rocks

  27. 343sharpstick

    GREAT READ! BangShift is about variety in machines, for crazy 2-strike street bikes to tractors to Huge dump trucks..
    Variety is the spice of life:)

  28. Grippo

    Yeah how ’bout it. I can’t believe the total fail of this formerly epic website posting an apparently Bangshift approved piece about an insane, imported 2 wheeler from 40years ago penned by that Commie-Pink-o DeFeo.

    Sheesh what’s next, an article about Hamster Drag Racing?

  29. Anonymous

    I can speak as a guy who owned 2 of ’em – a red and white ’69 (I wanted a charcoal one but none were available) and a two tone blue ’72. The ’72 was never as quick as the ’69 but both were a blast to ride. Tony’s description of the riding experience is spot-on.

    We have a guy who brings one out to Maxton from time to time. I’m not sure of his speeds but it has expansion chambers and is the most annoying bike we have at the track. I’m thinking it’s pretty fast but not sure.

    All this talk about American vs foreign sort of misses the point. No one in the US made anything like this and Japan did so we humans got to experience this wonderful bike.

    I had a friend who was an AMA racer and was pretty successful. He took my ’69 MachIII out for a road run and came back saying that the poor handling was WAY overstated. I know that I wasn’t a good enough rider to find it’s limits – which is not to say it didn’t have any. IIRC, the ’69 had front drum brakes and the ’72 had a disc, but I thought both had adequate brakes, at least within the limits of my skills.

    Great article, Tony – and thanks for the memories.


  30. Jerry

    There needs to be a focus on automobiles on this site, and make sure the writers are pro-American. Our economy depends of patriotic citizens.


  31. chryco63

    An article on a Japanese bike doesn’t mean the writer is anti-American.

    On a positive note, very neat article about a bike I had no idea existed. It sent me on a YouTube search — who knew that something so ancient-looking could pull the front wheel so easily?

  32. b3m

    american knows one of a kind. else it gets taken over by ricer.
    the patriot comment is ridiculous. I never heard of the triple until my own liquid 2 stroke in a polaris snowmobile…and this article. It is a crazy fast engine to run. Runted today there in snowmobiles too. The sprite of letting these fly is something to talk of.

  33. Trackside hanger-on

    Now that’s a fine American manufacturer. Imports have ruined the USA, are you aware of what is going on today with the economy? Wake up and smell the Starbucks, we need to focus on American vehicles, snowmobiles, bikes, cars and trucks. Now take something that is really EPIC, the name is J-E-E-P and it helped win the war, still popular today. That is worthy of an article and inline with patriotic motorheads.

    American needs to get back to its roots.

  34. Beagle

    Right! The only decent sportbike we had? You know…Buell? People stayed away from them in droves. So much so they are out of business. What does that have to do with an article on wicked evil two strokes?

    Nevermind that crap, did anybody notice the Kawasaki chick was nowhere near as hot as a Norton chick? Nobody bitched about importing Nortons I noticed.

    Oh – the Kawasaki chick, I think it’s that Flo lady from Progressive.

    I still dug the write up, and I enjoy the diversity. Thanks Tony. 🙂

  35. 428FE

    Quit complaining. I owned one of these back in the day and believe me they certainly are note worthy on any hot rod board. A real rocket in their day.

  36. crazy canuck

    patriotisim is one of the great isms, but some people are missing the point of the article.real geraheads care about the experience of the machinery the scream of an f1 motor a nascar pack at full song a rolls royce merlin a nitro motor a insane 2stroke ricer a cummins at full smoke. and bangshift caters to true gear heads, not wannabes.

  37. 428FE

    Hey Anonymous post 47, there was a cam in the Kaw triples. It ran the 3 sets of ignition points . The points needed to be adjusted on a regular basis and a matchbook cover worked just fine as a feeler gauge. The Kaw triples were possibly the FIRST true “super bike”. Anybody got ideas for other possible candidates to claim that “first” title?

  38. 343sharpstick

    I believe the first superbike was a Vincent Black Shadow.

    The Kaw triples were possibly the FIRST true “super bike”. Anybody got ideas for other possible candidates to claim that “first” title?

  39. KenJ

    my best friend had a 69 H1 that wasn’t fast enuf so he added bigger carbs and expansion chamber exhausts. as nasty as the stock pipes were, the expansion chambers were better(worse). the biggest problem with the H1 is that the transmission isn’t strong enough for the rush of power. since my friend owned his in 80-81 timeframe, he decided to try a trans from an early H2 and that solved the problems. I only rode the bike a few times, once when it was new to him and stock & it was a blast. then i rode it after he modded it and it scared the he!! out of me. it was and is to this day one of the fastest bikes i have ridden, but given the chance to ride a simularly modified one there’s no way………..but they are fantastic bikes and a great historical item.

  40. KenJ

    i didn’t think a historical article about a motorcycle would turn political, but something to think about for those who talk about profits going to the motherland, the money earned by the american workers making foreign cars is spent in america, to americans needing to earn a living too

  41. Dave

    Import or not, these things are sort of cool, imo. I saw an old Honda CBX 6 a couple weeks ago. I had completely forgotten about their existence, but now I want one!

  42. BluLightning

    The Kawi 500 was the first street bike that I ever rode. What great time that was. I was kind of used to that type of power coming off of dirtbikes but man what a rush.

  43. Matt

    Do not glorify the overseas industries that have killed American lifestyle.

    Can’t fix STUPID. Support USA and Harley-Davidson.


  44. camfree

    Nice article, True, and accurate!! As for Matt, Please take a good look at your accessory packaging next time your in your H-D store….. Then calmly repost your findings.

  45. Tyrone

    What? Oh yeah chump, I really care about that, I’m all about where the profits go on the f-ing BIKE.

    Go back to school and learn basic economics 101. Bro.

  46. Dave

    Hey “Tyrone” or “matt”, Name calling isn’t a very good way to win people over to your way of thinking.

    “profits” may go to the owner of the company, but the wages that pay the people who assemble things are something to consider, too.
    Lots of US products are assembled out of country and lots if Japanese cars are assembled in the US by Americans.
    Which one is better for the economy? 1 American owner making profits or thousands of American employees making wages?
    And let’s not go into foreign trade policies…
    It’s not cut and dry… but go on insulting people – that sure makes ME want to run out and get a Harley.

  47. Nick

    You fail to realize the factories from the overseas invaders are setting up shop here in USA NOT to help us out but to make it MORE profitable for THEM.

    What part of this don’t you get?

  48. Anonymous

    First off Lameshift promotes the writer White Punk as if he’s some sort of literary god and over-hypes how great a piece it’s going to be, then it’s a lame story about glorifying anti-American product and in case you people don’t see it, Lameshift is a car site not a bike site, as if you notice all the advertising is based on cars/truck markets.

    Bottom line the story was O/T and weak.

    Lameshift needs to focus on SOMETHING and not non-automotive random crap. But this is what happens when it is filled with folks such as PeeWeeWee, a self-admitted non-car guy.

  49. Dave

    The part I don’t get is Americans needing jobs because American business owners moved production out of the country. Can we blame Americans for wanting to provide for their families? I think not.
    Should we blame the American companies who moved production away or the government for making it more profitable for them to do so? Do we blame wal-mart for making Americans eager to buy only the cheapest product available <- that one's a stretch, but you see how this isn't a simple subject. As a small business owner, I do try to support my local economy and buy American, but I DONT need to be ridiculed or harassed by people who feel their way is the only way; people who may or may not see the big picture any more than I do. OH, and Anonymous- the operator and the members of this site enjoy anything mechanical from guns to tractors to bikes...and of course cars and trucks. It's not your job to say what subjects or topics can be brought up and/or enjoyed. You are, however, more than welcome to find a forum more suited to what you are looking for.

  50. Anonymous

    FYI I decide what I like on the net and what I comment on, you can take your attention elsewhere if you don’t like/ approve of my posts.

    sorry but I tell it like it is. The people running this site can deal with it or shut the f-ing thing down.

    Piss off Dave. You must be an Amway salesman with your “small business.” Congrats.

  51. Dave

    The people running the site undoubtedly have better things to do than worry about the peanut gallery’s comments.

    And no, “anonymous”, I neither like nor approve of your posts, so if you all will excuse me, I have to go piss off.

  52. Nicky

    It appears “Anonymous” put “Dave” away with that, brown-nosing the people that put on this site is no excuse to post anti-American remarks.

  53. fast eddie

    why so much fighting for a stupid bike? Nobody seems to care, the Mach III was a POS then and now. Even the girl in the ad is butt ugly.

  54. TC

    the bottom line on this, the article and theme sucks for a car website. Maybe whitepunk has something up his sleeve that would be of interest.

  55. Terrace

    Blue lightning: the only rob with your thinking is one doesn’t go to a bike website and see chit on it about muscle cars, or for the matter, f-ing tractors.

    This is ‘posed to be geared at the “car junkie” scene, if you don’t get that I don’t know what to tell ya.

  56. Anonymous

    One of my friends had a 500 and this article is spot on. You’d crank the throttle wide open and it was a dog until about 4 or 5 grand (memory is failing me) and then church was out. My friend was an above average rider and he laid it down more than once.

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