"This KZ1000 was built to be a combination of retro styling and modern upgrades. I built it over several years. Adding modern parts, better suspension, brakes, and a little more power make for a great ride," says Nelson
Nelson Hallgren, who's based in Northern California, is a KZ1000 owner-enthusiast and has owned Kawasaki KZs and GPZs since 1985. A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, mechanic and occasional racer, he has rebuilt and modified countless Japanese and European motorcycles since he started riding at age 10! Nelson has owned the same 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000 for almost two decades and has written an ebook about how to restore and customize a KZ1000, which is available on his website. In this story, which he's written exclusively for Faster and Faster, he talks about his beloved KZ1000.
The 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000; a classic superbike to be sure. Honda's 1969 CB750 was a game changer but a lot of us older guys are stuck on the Kawasakis. The 900 Z1 started it all and eventually Kawasaki pumped it up to a 1000. These bikes have a long history in roadracing and drag racing. The motors are strong and they respond well to modifications. It's an air-cooled inline-four with dual overhead cams. The cam lobes push on shims and buckets to open the valves; much like many modern bikes do today.
What's it like to ride this thing? Well not quite like an old bike and certainly not like a new one either. I've owned modern sport bikes, and it would be silly to try to compare the performance of a 38 year old bike with the latest corner carvers. But even so, this bike is quick! Every time I gas it hard through the gears I still think to myself , "holy crap this thing is fast!"
The sound is incredible. The Vance and Hines 'Sidewinder' drag racing pipe is a 4-into-1 with no muffling and a wide-open megaphone. You might expect it to be really loud, but it's not. The two big valves in each cylinder make a throaty rumble you don't hear from the modern four valve machines. It's sounds a bit like a cross between a muscle car and an Indy racer.
The SV650 brakes on the front are almost too strong. Why? Well the tire is very skinny compared to today's bikes, and a strong grab of the lever will leave some rubber on the road and wake me up quick! They are a great upgrade, but I would not want anything stronger. On the rear, it's a Hayabusa caliper. It works great and looks worlds better than the giant boat anchor that the factory put there.
The Continental 'Classic Attack' radials are probably the best tires available for an old bike, and you can surely feel the difference. They are smooth, and stable. Much more so than any other tires I've had on this bike in the 15 or so years I've owned it. The stock drive chain is massive! It looks like something meant for pulling logs along a conveyor belt into a saw mill.
The ZRX1200 shocks are a mega upgrade compared to the ridiculous junk that was there. The ride is a little stiff for my 170 pounds, but it's sooo much better than it used to be. The shocks bolted on pretty easily, but they are a tad longer than stock, so the seat is a bit higher and the bike turns quicker. I like this because it feels a little lighter and more modern. I noticed that the front had a bit of a head shake if I sat up and let go of the bars. A GSX-R steering damper mounted below the steering head solved that. It stays straight and true now.
The stock front end was too soft and would almost bottom out under hard braking. Some preload spacers and an extra inch of fork oil made all the difference. The ride ain't very comfy, but it's better than it was.
The modern Kawasaki Z1000 is an obvious choice for a comparison. The new Z is a great bike to be sure, but the power delivery is not as usable as the old bike's power. The modern machine's big rush is all at high RPM. Of course it will stomp the old KZ in a drag race, but do any of us do drag races all day long? I slung a leg over the modern Z a while back, and was not impressed. You grab a handful of throttle and wait for it to spin up. Then it goes like crazy and makes a lot of noise to attract the fuzz while offending everyone around you. That is not usable power. The power delivery of the old ride is much wider, more usable and torquey. The motor feels very smooth, even compared with new bikes.
One great thing about the old bike is that is slows me down. Say what? I used to ride a Suzuki SV1000, and I was constantly going too darn fast. That bike made it so easy to get crazy! After a year of telling myself to slow down I finally sold it. I knew the thrills were eventually going to end badly. The KZ's frame and swingarm flex lets me know early that I'm going too fast! "Slow down and stay alive to ride another day," it says to me.
Are you thinking of restoring one of these old beasts yourself? Go for it I say! They are a ton easier to work on than the modern bikes. The use of computer aided drafting has done amazing things for bike designers, but it has also made working on bikes a pain in the rear! Everything is integrated with everything else it seems. If you have some basic understanding of how things work and a decent manual, you can easily handle a project like this. Four cylinder motors are just a single with three more of everything. No worries!
Hallgren's e-book describes the whole project in detail. Over 270 photos illustrate the modifications, restoration, and stunning final result. Preview the book or buy it from www.nelsonhallgren.com