Restoring a Bike from Old America

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The state of the country is depressing, so I decided to buy another motorcycle.

The price was right – $50. And it’s a “classic” – as every man tells his wife when he buys a 36-year-old pile of sorry looking parts. She may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can picture the 1975 Kawasaki S1C Triple restored to its lustrous, obnoxious, CO2-and-oil spewing magnificence. Yes, it will take time – and probably more money than I dare tell her. But the end result will be well worth it, for the old Kaw is both industrial art and political testament.

The S1 is a two-stroke, air-cooled motorcycle. That means it burns oil on purpose, like a chainsaw. There’s a side-saddle tank that you top off with two-stroke oil, which is fed to the engine as it runs, which in turns feeds the results to the air through a set of gorgeously asymmetric, jauntily upturned exhaust pipes – two on one side, one on the other and not a catalytic converter or O2 sensor to be found.

Unlike a four-stroke motorcycle, it is a sign of health for a two-stroke motorcycle to spew, to leave a heady contrail of incomplete combustion in its wake – much like an old 707 spooling up for its take-off run.

This is part of the reason why such bikes are no longer made (just like 707s).

An operational S1 is the equivalent, in motorcycle terms, of eating a porterhouse stake at your hippie niece’s all-Vegan wedding reception. It is also one of the reasons why I love two-stroke Kawasaki triples. (When this one is finished, I think I will ride it back and forth in front of the offices of the local Democratic Party. Not that the Republican Party is significantly less deserving, but after all, you’ve got to start someplace.) It’s the sort of bike Hunter Thompson understood – and rode. A mean son of a bitch that might end up hurting you – hence the appeal.

Which brings me to the other reason why no one makes bikes like the S1 anymore: They’re dangerous.

Two strokes make very high power relative to their displacement and it can come on suddenly – unexpectedly. The S1’s bigger brother, the H1 triple (750 cc) was known as “The Widowmaker” back in the day. It was notorious – legendary – for its exuberant throttle wheelies, ready or not. Sometimes, the rider was not. Then it came down to skill and luck.

Add to the mix a fairly flimsy (relative to the power of the bike) tube steel frame, spoked wheels that were hard to get perfectly balanced and top it all off with hopelessly inadequate drum brakes on both wheels.

Now you’ve got the recipe for fun!

The ninnies who predominate in Today’s America find all this appalling, of course. They won’t be placated until every motorcycle has multiple air bags, ABS, catalytic converters, traction and stability control, tire pressure monitors, Event Data Recorders – and that’s just for openers. Many modern bikes, sadly, already have some or even all of these things. It is why they cost almost as much as a car – more than a car, in the case of several.

Oh, it’s true they’re much more predictable; far less likely to surprise you with an unexpected surge of power, say. It does not take all that much skill to ride one, either. And even for those with skill, the bikes (like modern cars) have capabilities so extreme that they’re either beyond all but the most excellent of riders or you have to ride at a ridiculous pace to feel alive while riding one.

No such problems on a bike like the S1. You will be wide awake from the moment you throw a leg over to the moment when you finally stop that crazy thing and hit the kill switch. To not pay attention on a two-stroke triple from the early ’70s will almost always end up Not Pretty. There is slim margin for error and you’ll need every ounce of luck the motor gods throw your way.

But you will feel as fully alive as a combat soldier just back from a firefight. And that is the whole point of a bike like the S1.

And it is why such bikes are no longer made in this America.

And why it makes me happy to bring this one back to life.

Throw it in the Woods?











  1. Sorry about the deevorce. My wife has never given me much crap about my fourteen bikes. Nearly all were mine prior to my thirty-four year marriage.
    My junk is british and italian. I’d like to sell some of it, or a large ampunt of it as a 67 year old is not so great at all.
    How about a 900 Benelli six? AJS 650? et cetera, and several BSA’s. I’ll keep the Triumph 650’s from 1966-1967. Pussy bikes but what can one handle? My CR not Harley Buell isn’t all that much fun.
    I sent you a bit of cash for your efforts.

  2. Good choice, Eric. God, I miss and love the old two strokes!

    Check out, the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club. I was their webmaster for some time back about 10 years ago. A really knowledgeable bunch of guys and a good place to start looking for all the hard-to-find parts you are DEFINITELY going to need! On the other hand, the bike looks in pretty good shape.


    • Hi Stan,

      Thanks – and, I’m hip! I found vjmc back when I was restoring my ’76 Kz900.

      I’ve already begun rooting around for some of the parts know I’m gonna need – like a new/decent used gas tank. I think that’s gonna be the biggie. I found NOS rear shocks and know where I can get a set of (expensive) repro/NOS wheels/spokes… I’ll keep everyone here posted!

      • Hey, Eric.

        Not an easy find, the tank. On the other hand the tank doesn’t look like it can’t be rebuilt. A buddy I used to work with picked up an old Harley Servicar and the tank was really rough. He sent it out and it came back beautiful.

        I can’t really tell from the photo if you’re missing the air box. I always found that a tough find since must kids threw it away when they installed the K&Ns (50% more power! It says so right on the box!) so there isn’t a lot of them around.

        I always liked a 350. Light enough for fun with enough power to keep you out of trouble, but not enough to get you deep into it.


        • The tank’s pretty rough; I doubt it can be saved – and it makes a good object d’ art for the garage, anyhow! Plus, it’s just a out the last thing I’ll need before everything’s done, so I have months to find one. Luckily, I do have the air box, including the individual boots from the air box to the carbs. I even have the factory tool kit!

          • “a good object d’ art for the garage”

            LOL, start doing that and pretty soon it’ll look like Jay Leno’s garage!

            Keep us posted.


  3. Eric writes:

    “An operational S1 is the equivalent, in motorcycle terms, of eating a porterhouse stake at your hippie niece’s all-Vegan wedding reception”

    Oh I LOVE it! What a turn of phrase…like something PJ O’Rourke used to write in the old Car & Driver or Road & Trac!

  4. Awesome, I rode an S2 350cc and the darn thing was some kind of scary. Those bikes were the undisputed kings of the stoplight drag scene. The motorheads hated them!

    • I have been wanting one for years and this project seemed perfect. The bike’s “all there” – it just needs a thorough going-through. I should have the engine out of the frame this weekend and then I can split the case and send crank off to be redone. Target date for launch is spring 2012!

      • Eric,

        If you find another one for $50 – in any of the three displacements – please lemme know. I’ll bring the old Toyotruck to any place south of Maryland or east of DFW to get it!

        One thing your excellent review didn’t mention – and from the mechanics I spoke with in SoCal back in the day and my own experience – this is commonplace…


        These bikes DEMAND to be ridden hard. When you don’t romp ’em around they foul plugs quickly. They like to be kept “on the pipe” and don’t take to putting around very well. Indeed, that’s why I got rid of mine after about a year and got a Sportster – most, but not all, “young ladies” don’t like to go screaming around all the time! LOL!

        You’ll see if this is the case this when you get the old boy back up and running. I can’t remember which of the Japanese brands of spark plugs I eventually settled on to make my 1972 Orange 500 Triple at least semi-civilised; I think it was NGKs.

        Good luck, keep putting your “Clover Busters” out on LRC.Com, and please put a post up on the finished product.

        BTW, I was serious about finding one of these myself; both of my kids are outta college now – and married and debt free!

        (in the secession state)

        • Hi Wes,

          Roger that!

          This bike was a “friend find.” My buddy Graves has a barn full of old stuff and knew I’d give the S1 a good home, hence the great price.
          I’m keeping a pictorial record of everything and will definitely keep everyone here abreast of the progress!

  5. Yikes Batman! I drove that triple in 1975. Cool thing it accelarates when you let off the gas. 2 cycle bikes rule!

    Amazingly fast and handling was made for the 1/4 mile. Suspension was not right.

    I love that bike! V

        • Hi Vic!

          Very similar bikes; the H1 was a 500 cc; the S1’s a 250 cc. That’s the major difference. One of the neat things about the S series (S1, S2 and S3) is that the bottom ends are identical and it’s easy to just swap in, say, the jugs and heads from an S3 400 onto an S1 250 bottom end and have a 400 cc machine. I may eventually do that with this bike, depending on how the stock 250 runs (once I get it running). It is supposed to make about 30 hp. But you can get H1 power out of the 400…

          This bike is gonna be mainly for me to look at and occasionally take out for a local ride.

          Eventually, I want to get an H2 (750). But they’re not cheap, as you probably know. A nice one can easily go for $15,000.

  6. That bike sounds sick. Reminds me of off-roading on a CR250. Digging trenches while taking off and doing a wheelie at the same time. That is the only way to ride a 2 stroke!


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