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Memorable Motorcycles Kawasaki H1

Thursday, September 4, 2003
The Kawasaki H1 was the giant-killer of the early-70s.
The Kawasaki H1 was the giant-killer of the early-70s.
If the H1 were a lad, it would be the sort of boy you desperately hoped your daughter wouldn't bring home. Fast, noisy, dangerous - and such brilliant fun to be with. In the late 1960s, Kawasaki realized that the big returns on investment were to be gained from large capacity machines which cost almost the same as little bikes to make but carried a much higher price tag. The company's first stab at big bikes was the W1, a clone of the old BSA A10. It sold in modest numbers and didn't set the world on fire in terms of sales.

Kawasaki was already making a name for themselves with light, fast, small capacity two-stroke twins and so the first idea was to make a 500 twin. A prototype twin was actually produced but unfortunately, Suzuki beat them to the punch with the legendary T500. And Kawasaki wanted to upstage the opposition - not follow it!

Thirteen months after the launch of Suzuki's twin, Kawasaki hit the world with the fastest accelerating production motorcycle ever made.

Viewed logically, the Kawasaki H1 had many flaws. The gearbox was odd, with neutral below first, the brakes very questionable and the handling decidedly marginal in every situation - except when the bike was stopped with the engine switched off. Not for nothing was the H1 known as, "The triple with the ripple."

But the motor was dramatic. 60bhp - that was 10bhp more than the Manx Nortons and Seelys which were still being raced in Grands Prix at the time - was available right out of the box. No tuning, no speed kits, no careful preparation. Simply out, 120mph was available to anyone and everyone who owned an H1.
1970 Kawasaki H1

Quarter mile times were stunning. A standard H1 would turn in a standing quarter time of 12.4 seconds and slaughter anything else on two or four wheels away from the traffic lights. The Americans, who valued acceleration above all else, fell in love with the H1 and bought it in bulk. In Europe, everyone had a tale of being scared witless on the bike which offered the ultimate in road bike thrills and/or a trip to casualty, on every ride.

Kawasaki also raced the H1 and when it finished a race, or didn't throw its pilot down the track, the H1 enjoyed great success. Ginger Molloy mastered the beast and took the "Green Meanie" to second place behind Giacomo Agostini's MV in the 1970 500cc World Championship. Eventually, Kawasaki bowed to the pressure of consumer groups and environmentalists and made the H1 grow up, wear a tie and get its hair cut. The result was the 1976 H1 - technically the best ever H1 made but now a thoroughly sensible motorcycle. Like petulant teenage daughters, we all hated it.
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Comments
SteveS   August 15, 2013 11:26 AM
I owned a 1971 Mach III. I put low bar on is and added spacers to preload the forks along with heavier hydraulic oil and 1 inch longer rear shocks made the bike "handle" somewhat stable . I added heavy clutch springs which stopped the clutch slipping but broke the actuator . Finally Jack Dyer of Jacks Go shop" a most wonderful man " staked the plastic part to the metal part and that was the end of the breakage. 17,000 trouble w.o.t. miles makes the Mach III the bike I judge all others by. I loved the motor!.
geoff   June 20, 2013 12:22 AM
Kawasaki's in the late 60's got me a warning from my Prudential Assurance company uncle who was an agent. Not to buy any Kawa bike as his insurance company wouldn't touch them, any Kawasaki. Reasons were as we all might know after reading FM's accounts of triples frightening the pants off it's riders. Us Brits had not seen anything like it, when I rode my mates H2 750 triple, I'm sure my arms were elongated an extra 2 inches after the ride. Ferocious I classed it, and found another F word for my collection. Wouldn't like to by the fuel for it these days in the UK. I'll stick to my Kawa W650, this is what I wanted in 68 when I had my TR6P, what a waste of time and money. No wonder the Meriden site is a housing estate and marked with a big rock by the roadside !
Cheap Tickets to Manila -Cheap Tickets to Manila  January 27, 2011 02:23 AM
Thanks for providing such useful information. I really appreciate your professional approach.
Steve -71 Kawasaki 500 mach lll  October 22, 2010 05:35 PM
My first bike was a Honda CB 350 bought new. I quickly became bored with it and bought my blue 500 new at the end of summer in 71 for right at $1000. I was warned about the narrow power band and didn't attempt to open it up in first gear for several hundred miles. It was definitely tricky keeping the front tire down pulling a hole shot but was it fast. The clutch started slipping after 1k miles on it and the dealer gave me a hard time about repairing it under waurranty. He said I was racing it, I told him what do you think any body who buys this bike is going to do with it. He finally did fix it. About a year later I seized the center cylinder running at 85 - 90 mph at freeway speed. After I repaired the engine I sold it and bought a used 750 Honda, not quite as fast but much smoother. I am glad I had the opportunity to own the classic 500 mach lll when I was young because now I probably wouldn't have the balls to ride that machine like it was intended to to be ridden now that I almost 60.
John Bentler -1970 Red Kawasaki Mach III  September 2, 2010 09:00 AM
I was a Vietnam combat veteran attending the University of Iowa in 1970 apparently in need of a thrill fix. I went to The Cycle Barn in Iowa City to see the new Mach III, "the fastest stock production bike in the world." I had ten $100 bills. I was an experienced rider. He wouldn't dicker, and he wouldn't let me drive it. Forty minutes later I was sitting in a ditch on the opposite side of a curved road wondering, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT??!!
I said to myself, rule number one: Never, ever, ever, ever, accelerate going into a curve during "the surge." Bike fails to curve and maintain control on one wheel.
The acceleration was like nothing else I've ever experienced. It was like riding a 350lb bottle rocket. I got those thrills for 3600 miles and my last near death close encounter was a city bus. My wife didn't like motorcycles. I never laid it down. Shut the key off forever in 1972 but still have it.
Robert -h-2  July 7, 2010 06:44 PM
I put 10,000 on a s-2,loved it .Bought a Norton Interstate,it sucked.Bought an H-2.Best bike I ever rode. The list is ; cb650,kz750 twin,Z-1, kz1100 police interceptor,cb 450,cb750,Harley 1100 sporty. All this shit about badhandling is crap.113 with a backrider on a bad new england back road. There was more there ,to be had so to speak.The kid on the back asked me how fast? I told him,and all he said was"the telephone poles looked like a picket fence:. Continental tires made all the differance.
Bruce Anderson -'70 H1  April 4, 2010 11:38 AM
I owned a '70 H1. Funny, I was somewhat naive and thought all bikes did the rhumba while cornering. I read that only the very foolish would run these WFO and disbelieved it since I did that all the time. I never crashed! I had a couple friends who had Triumphs - they would ask when that thing is going to blow up, and I'd answer "wanna race?" Drop into 3rd on the freeway and pop a wheelie? A real chore riding two up and starting up a steep hill from a standstill. Sanding the brake shoes was routine maintenance or you didn't stop! Steering damper and real swing arm bushings helped very little. Remember the wfo smokescreen? Have been riding BMWs now for many years.
Dan McBroom -1969 Kawasawki 500 Blue Streak Motorcycle  January 30, 2010 04:51 AM
Want to buy a 1969 Kawasawki 500 Blue Streak Motorcycle.
dmbroom001@kc.rr.com
Terry Slocum -finally got another Triple  January 13, 2010 12:40 PM
I recently bought a prestine 74 H1 500 with only 7,200 miles on the clock...I have been wanting another triple since I totaled my 72 H2 750 drunk driver hit me in the rear at a stop light.Oh I might add the bike was 3months old just bought it and was devestated. I have had Harleys, Triumphs, first bike when I was 16 was an old A 10 BSA Bobber. back to the h1... I forgot how powerful theese bikes were and really took me 2 weeks to get use to it.... Never could figure out why people say theese bikes handle so bad never had any trouble with mine the H2 or this H1 I love this Bike and will never sell it it sits in the garage waiting for me to get her out for a ride and blow the soot out of her. I love to spank theese newer bikes theese young guys look at it and say what is that thing? They soon find out! I finally got me another triple and this one isn't going anywhere without me on the seat!
eric newman -Kawasaki h1a 500  December 1, 2009 01:15 PM
Bought mine on the 3-3-1971 and I still own it.I rode it until 79 and left in a shed for 30 years, 15 of which the shed had collapsed on top of it.Retrieved it in January as a wreck but now restored to it`s former glory.The most exciting thing I`ve ever ridden at 6000 rpm it turned into a raging monster, the buzz was something else.Years before it`s time.Absolutely FANTASTIC.
Malhond -H1 Mach III  November 28, 2009 10:59 AM
I bought the second one that was shipped to Oregon. It was a white tank. I loved that terrible motorcycle. (:>} ~malhond
Richard Delleree -1969 H1  November 21, 2009 10:55 AM
I bought mine in 1969 April from Larry Stones Kawasaki in Detroit. My father picked it up for me and drove to the place I was working at. All my fellow employees laughed amd poked fun at the rice burner. As my father pulled away at a stop light, a 1969 Chevelle 396 decided to run him. I a flash my father hit the throttle, the bike popped a wheelie and he was gone. That Chevelle never knew what he was up against. I loved that bike and would another. I sold it becaause President Nixon thought I needed to go to Vietnam. My brother is currently restoring 4 H1;S and H2.
Mike Barret -The Kawasaki H1  October 25, 2009 05:03 PM
I have just found these comments on the internet, I loved reading them. What you have all basically said is this bike has real character. Something that is sadly missing in most modern bikes. Up untill resently I have never owned a Kawasaki of any type. I was one of those CB750 boy's you keep mentioning. I sold my RD250 and bought the CB, big and quick but fun? NO WAY. I always wanted a Kawa triple but for various reasons never got one. After a break from motorcycling for a year or two I bought a GT380, Promtly tuned it and loved it. I moved onto a new GS750, actually one of the first in the UK. Very quick and handled really well. But I love two stroke power bands. They make for an exciting ride. I bought an H2A which was in really good condition, but needed a little work here and there to make it fantastic. During the engine rebuild it ended up with Reed Valves, Spun cast steel liners with bridged intakes. Wiseco Pistons, Beefed up clutch. Not quite finished yet but I have been told to expect 125 rear wheel BHP. WICKED!!!! I believe the handling problems are mainly caused by poor suspension from the 70's than anything else, plus lets not forget the "Wooden" jap tires that came as standard back then. I think modern rear shocks, uprated forks and sticky modern tires will be a big improvement over what we had back then. Can't wait to ride the beast.
Greg Wells -I want one!  September 20, 2009 08:56 PM
I am looking for one in the Chicago area. It does not have to be in the best shape but It has to run so I can ride it right away. If anyone can suggest where to find one please e-mail me back. Thanks.

housebuilder_us@yahoo.com
JOHN -H1 KAW  August 8, 2009 08:43 AM
I STILL HAVE MINE OUT IN THE SHED. I BOUGHT IT TWO YEARS OLD IN 1978. RODE IT IN THE MOUNTAINS OF COLORADO FOR A YEAR. WOW WHAT A RIDE. I CAN REMEMBER GOING FROM DENVER TO CO SPRINGS VERY FAST. HAD TO WAIT ALONG TIME WHEN I GOT THERE FOR MY FRIENDS TO CATCH UP.
LSO COMING DOWN OUT OF THE MOUNTAINS LEANING OVER SO FAR I HAD BOTH FEET ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE BIKE. SOUND IMPOSIBLE BUT IT REALLY HAPPENED.

I USED TO SAY IT WAS LIKE SECONDARIES OPENING UP YOU HAD TO REV IT TO ABOUT 5 OR 6000 RPMS THEN EVERYTING BALANCED OUT AND AWAY YOU WENT... MY FRIENDS USED TO TRY AND SNEAK UP BEHIND ME TO BEAT ME. IT NEVER WORKED, DOWNSHIFT AND A FLIP OF THE WRIST AND I WAS GONE.. YOU HAD TO BE A LITTLE CRAZY TO RIDE ONE, I KNEW MANY PEOPLE TO WRECK EM . EVENTUALLY I LEFT COLORADO AND RODE IT HOME TO ILLINOIS. MY BODY DIDNT STOP VIBRATING FOR A WEEK AFTER I GOT BACK, IT WAS NOT A ROAD BIKE FOR SURE.I KEPT RIDING IT TILL 1983 WAS STILL FAST WHEN I PRKED IT AND HAVE DREAMS OF SHINING IT UP AGAIN SOMEDAY JUST FOR FUN.
bobby -mr reality  July 29, 2009 04:54 PM
correction on comment you mean colin howkins not craig crisetilio regarding bad gas mileage . But yes I agree who gives a crap about gas mileage when your riding an H1 500 I Like the idea of those chumps on cb 750's choking on raw unburned hydrocarbons and thick blue smoke :-)
Mr. Reality -The kawasaki 500  July 2, 2009 09:10 AM
Seems most of the folks here enjoyed there bike at one time or another. Other than the guy craig criscitiello , I dont see anyone who knew how or why to ride a Kawasaki 500. Im discusted with men worrying about the freaking gas mileage....who give a rats ass of the freaking milage.If you werent man enough to own or ride the wicked machine (a beast) ..one that easily the fastest bike most people ever saw or heard of.A badge of honor flipping the bike for the first time and getting back on and grabbing the bull by the horns.And never losing a race to anyone including the entire Honda line.I think most of these posters would have been happier with a Honda 350..good mileage and smooth and reliable.And might be able to handle the power...lol. Man up or Man out! The Kawasaki 500 will handle you if your not man enough to handle it!
bobby -honda 750 beat you regularly?  July 1, 2009 10:51 AM
either you didnt know how to race or your 500 ran like crap. My brother had a 1974 500 and we street raced that bike all the time . not one honda 750 could beat him. he even took out a modified 836 honda 750 . hell my kh400 with dencos beat those old honda 750s as did the gt380 and rd350 my brothers had. those old cb 750s .well lets face it they were dogs and they bogged and woofed with the open headers but thats it.
Tom Parker -I had one too!  June 30, 2009 01:15 AM
I bought a 1970 black tank beauty in June of 1972. An older man put his up for sale with 13,000 well cared for miles for $500.00. The next week I went on a 600 mile ride through the insanely hot Mojave desert riding behind my 6 friends in their 1949 Chevy to get to Yosemite national park.Later that year I moved to Oregon and road it from L.A.in Feb.1973 withclear weather all the way. No trouble. The guys in the car took turns as a passenger with me as it was an inferno riding in that car with the heater on to prevent overheating. That bike never seazed up and endured the awful heat.until we got to our destination. By 1975 all I did to it was a top end overhall and ended up selling it after 60,000 miles. What I did not know was it had a distributer that worked for about 25,000 miles until I discovered why the sparkplug wires from the coil was badly burned, replaced it with a new one and it ran great. Then the baffles were almost completely. So after a good cleaning that had a 6 inch wideX3 inch high mountain of carbon on the ground. So I really got my $500 worth of fun until I went back to L.A. for 5 yrs.then sold it. Great bike that got me a few dates who were thrilled to go with me. Its vibration was tolerable. The shaking shimmy @ 90 mph was worrysome to say the least. Would love to have one again, just for show and tell.And I averaged @ 35-40 mpg. The brakes were patheticly weak and I had to plan some of the stopping well in advance. No real problems with the CDI box until I stopped in a rest area, turned on the ignition, and no noise coming from under the seat. Thinking I was stuck there I took out a wrench and hit I. Then it came on and away I went happy and releived to get going again. So after that it occasionly needed a tap on it and it worked every time. I feel pity for the guys who thought the CDI was dead and bought a new one. So yes,I had many great memories as well. I want to go back to 1972 again!
Rodney Dickson -Kawasaki H1  May 20, 2009 09:22 PM
I bought a fairly rough H1B in 1975. I traded my nice Suzuki GT550 for it and when I first rode that H1 I could not believe it. It would not pull away without revving to 3,000 and it would not accelerate in 3rd gear without downshifting. The handling was lethal too and overall I could not understand why anyone would own such a bike. These were my first impressions. I rebuilt the bike over the next year, had the motor mildly ported and changed the rear shocks and did the usual mods to help with handling. It took a very long time to learn how to ride that bike, basically the same was as a race bike, shifting gears constantly to keep it in the power. Once I finally got the hang of it, I could ride that bike as fast as any other bike of that era. It actually handled well and when kept in the power, it was unbelievably fast. with the slightly tuned motor, it was as fast as any bike of any CC of that era and was a match for the H2 also. 1st gear wheelies happened everytime on full throttle and 2nd and even 3rd gear wheelies sometimes. I never changed the gearing from stock so top speed remained about the same as stock. I saw 125MPH though which is not bad for any street bike in the 70s. I kept that bike for about 15 years and regret selling it. It was my favorite bike, born bad but when you get the hang of it, you love the achievement of doing so. A difficult bike to ride, but great fun. I regert selling it so much, I bought a blue H1A a few months ago. Oh, it seems very fast, so I am relearning how to ride one.
Colin Howkins - Brisbane Australia -Kawasaki H1  February 25, 2009 02:31 AM
Reading these articles has taken me back!! Around September 1970 I purchased a black H1 Kawasaki Mach III. The memories of that bike are still with me, and I have often contemplated it was more good luck than good management that allows me to be here today commenting about that bike. It is really quite fascinating, people who are too young to have had one of these bikes but are a bit bike savvy all seem to know of the legend that is Mach III. Some of my memorable stories with that bike are: Drag Racing. A group of us used to get together on Saturday afternoons at a deserted industrial area and have drag races. On paper the Mack III should have eaten everything. A mate who had a Honda 750 used to regularly beat me - that really pissed me off. He said to me one day that he thought the secret of getting the Mach III off the line was to take it to about 8500+ then dump the clutch. So I said - show me. No deal, he said your bike you do it. I still thing one of the bravest things I ever did was sit astride this shrieking monster, dialling up thaose 8500 rpm and dumping the clutch - not easing it out gently, just dropping it. Man o man, the front wheel came up no more than a foot and down the road licketty split. that was the method, no one got near me after that. The downside less tha 1000 miles from a back tyre The death wobble: At about 95mph the bike used to get up the most violent speed wobble, it was real clean out the jocks type stuff. Got rid of it in the end, heavier oil in the front forks and a number of washers in the fron fork to compress the springs and that sort of fixed that problem. Handling: Going to and from work there was a nice 90 degree corner that I went around each day, footpegs chamfered off, serious scrapings off the muffler etc etc. I had a fixation that this corner could be taken at 40mph, and every day I go round that corner and grind more nmetal off the bike, but could not quite make 40 mph. Finally, said to myself, stop being a girl, do it at 40. I am here to tell you it was not a 40 mph corner on a Mach III it was 39 and down the road I went. Not so long ago re-vistied that corner on my Ducati. Easy peasy at 40, but I think I have gone past pushing the limits. Fuel Economy: At the time I used to do a bit of water-ski racing, and the to get to the dam where this took place was about 60 miles from home. Used to fill the bike up at a servo on the way, and if I gave this thing stick I would be on reserve after about 50-55 miles I think it held about 4 gallons of fuel. Could have run a 351 cubic incher on less fuel!! I am thinking I would like to get another one, do it up just for the hell of it. It was without doubt, the worst handling, most fuel inefficient, bike I have ever had, but somehow or other there seemed to be a fairr bit of bank for your buck
Jack Barr -Kawasaki H1  February 21, 2009 06:53 AM
I was involved in an accident on my 1968 Triumph Bonneville and bent the handlebars and footpeg. The toolbox cover got scratched when I layed it down. After settling up with the insurance company I bought a new 1970 H1 in bright red. When I got it home I took off the badges and painted her flat black. Why? I don't know. The owner's manual said it would do 128 mph so I put my girlfriend on the back and off we went. At 120 the bike shook so bad and the speedo needle was jumping between 120 and 130 as my eyes were tearing up when the headlight went off and the bike died on the highway. I pulled over and waited for my friends on their Harleys and Hondas to catch up. We stood and looked at the bike for a few minutes but saw no oil or any other damage. I turned the key on and the headlight came on! I kicked it and it started! But it was only running on 2 cylinders. My girl got on the back of one of the Harleys and we limped home. The next morning I removed the center cylinder, took off the piston with the hole in it and went to the Kawasaki dealer and bought a new piston and rings. I drained everything from the motor, replaced the parts, refilled the fluids and rode off in half an hour like I was on a new bike. What a machine! Next I went for a test drive on a 750 triple and actually got scared of the power and refused to buy it. I kept the H1 500 for four more wonderful fast years without any problems.
craig criscitiello - My 71 H1 blue streak 500 kawasaki  February 5, 2009 05:26 PM
I worked all summer in tobacco to save $999.00 to buy my h1, borrowed a dodge pickup to go pick it up with my mother . I had read articles about the bike and knew it was bad to the bone fast. I put mine in the ditch 4 days later and bent the forks, fixed, and drove it 10,000 miles. I was 16 years old and could do wheelies 1st 2nd 3rd gear no problem , 12.12 dragstrip times and made cb 750 hondas mad. I bought another one a few years back it has 30,000miles on it . I also have a 70red h1 500 for parts or to restore, 53years old now and can't kick start to good any more need to sell $3000 for both with extract parts. Love your post and hope you enjoy mine. Craig Criscitiello the maysville flash!
Ed Campbell -The Kawasaki H1  December 23, 2008 01:23 AM
Ah yes, the H1. I bought mine new in '70 and kept it for 7 years and 30,000 miles. I'm sorry that I sold it, since it was in beautiful condition and probably now collectible, but overall it had some serious flaws. Your article has touched on several of them. The handling was horrifying! Leaned over hard in a corner, any significant mid-turn bump would set the frame flexing with a terrible bent-in-the-middle sensation... and yet it never spat me onto the ground. The brakes were a real piece of work; mine would not squeal the front tire, and if the bike was driven on wet roads the front brake shoes would quickly glaze over and lose all effectiveness. I've never seen anything like it. Disassembly and roughing up the shoes with a file were required as soon as the streets dried. And the vibration! One-up wasn't so bad, but I took my girlfriend on a long trip through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virgina, and I had to downshift two gears and run near the redline to climb some of the hills and keep up with traffic. Oh my God! We could hardly wait to hobble away from what had become a torture machine. And did I mention the execrable fuel economy? It broke 30 mpg only once in its life (may have had something to do with how I drove it). Still I miss the old 500 triple and have fond thoughts of her. A more involving motorcycle I have never owned, and completely dependable. Thanks for letting me revisit some old memories.