Naked Zeds on the Brain

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I have a garage full of naked Zeds – including a ’76 Kz900, which is essentially identical to the more famous Z1900 Kaw introduced in ’73 and which quickly became the dominant superbike of the early-mid-’70s.  (Main differences between the two being mine doesn’t have reflectors built into the front fork lowers). This one has a high compression/big bore kit and pods – and so probably is making close to 100 hp (vs. the 82 stock). But – and the big Zeds are famous for this – the bike is extremely tractable and civilized. Modern, even – other than the suspension, frame and of course, the brakes. You could ride it anywhere, anytime – and not be nervous about whether you’d make it home. Still can. I do. This bike will pull 120-plus, easily. It will go considerably faster than that – but I haven’t had the balls to find out how much faster because these bikes, though very modern feeling up to a point, begin to show their age after a certain point. That point being around 120…. and even that better be in a straight line – with plenty of time to bleed that speed if you need to. Don’t squeeze the front brake too hard – or that single caliper on the left side might pull you someplace you don’t want to be. Forget the back (drum) brake. The hub is pretty, though. This bike is exactly like an old muscle car: All engine,  good looks – and better be careful with it.

For speed that doesn’t require Kamikaze courage, I have the Z1’s true linear descendant: A ZRX1200R. This bike is the modernized  reincarnation of the old Kz1100 Eddie Lawson race bike (which was derived from the old Z1s) only now we’re talking 1200 CCs and water cooled, with a modern suspension and brakes. It stops as well as goes. Modded slightly (emissions delete, jetted and ignition optimized and Muzzy full exhaust) I’ve got 143 dyno’d rear wheel hp to play with. It’s no R1 but it’s got enough speed to please. Plus, it looks marvelous in Kaw racing green.

But, the old two stroke Kaws – long ago outlawed –  have charms all their own: The danger – and the satisfaction – that comes from surviving the ride. Or even just making it home. Almost anyone can ride almost any four-stroke bike. Even the hypersports modern ones. They are much more forgiving of misjudgments and inexperience than a vicious little son of a bitch of an air-cooled two-stroke that makes no power at all below 4,000 RPM – then snaps to life like an irritated copperhead right around 6,000 – with no warning at all and no time to think about how to deal with it. You either do – or you don’t.

All too many did not. This is why they nicknamed the H1 and H2 widowmakers.

It was an earned nickname.

Kaw could never get a bike like the H2 or H1 through the pipeline today. Or even the slightly more docile S Series triples like my S1. There would be holy hell to pay – literally. Might as well just pre-emptively give every ambulance chasing product liability shyster stock in the company. Clover would wet his pants (again).

Back in the day, triples were like M80s – explosive fun, disposable… and cheap. This made them accessible to the clientele most likely to appreciate them: Young guys with no sense of their own mortality.

Not yet.

They were not like today’s sport bikes, which though affordable relative to the performance they give ($12,000 or so will buy you a 9 second quarter-mile and 180-plus on top) are still beyond the greedy grasp of most teens and young 20s – unless someone else is paying the insurance. Back in the day, you didn’t have to buy insurance at all (or could easily get away with not having it) and a new two-stroke was cheap. Brand new in 1972, an H2 750 could be yours for just under $1,400 – about $,7,700 in today’s Fed Funny Money. Today, $7k will just barely buy you something entry level, like a Suzuki SV650 – a good bike, but no hellraiser.

And you’ve still got to buy the insurance. Go see what it costs to insure something like an R1, CBR or ZX10…. if you’re under 40. And even then.

No such worries back in ’72. It was let the good times roll – and the chips fall where they may. It was more dangerous, certainly – but by god we were freer. Free to take risks – and risk the consequences. Life was more alive, even if it may have been shorter for some of us. The H2 could deliver you to 60 in 4 seconds and through the quarter mile in the low 12s – if you could hang onto it. Back in ’72, a 12 second quarter was untouchable. Even today, it’s still impressive – quicker than all but a small handful of the world’s highest-performing cars and more than quick enough to keep up with – and pass – most of today’s bikes.

And the best part was, you could be 20 and have access to that kind of speed.

Sic gloria transit mundi


  1. Just thinking back, I almost bought the Eddie Lawson I saw at the dealership. But going over 750cc the insurance went up 50% so I went with the GPZ. I sure wish I had that Eddie Lawson in the Garage today!

    • I’d like to have that ELR! But my ZRX is very close in looks and feel and attitude. It’s the last new bike I lusted after. I guess I just prefer the older stuff – cars and bikes!

  2. Thanks for the memories Eric. I can remember the day I purchased my year old 1982 750 GPS,I still have it to this day. And to get into the fun with friends H one’s and two’s would require a few cold ones. Those were the days for carefree riding.

  3. Yeah it’s quite ridiculous what is currently happening in the world of Sport Bikes. The top liter bikes are pushing 200+ WHEEL horsepower with just a power commander and a slip-on muffler.
    I rode a 2012 Kawi ZX10R and nothing has ever come close to giving me the sensation of speed that machine did.

    I am considering the purchase of a ZX6R but insurance is out of the question. It’s the main reason I have yet to purchase a sport bike. I’m sure government intervention has something to do with these inflated prices. The again…I was quoted only $60/mo. for full coverage on a Harley Sportster 1200.

    • There’s another option: Build your own.

      I’ve got a ZRX1200. With a few simple mods, you can get 140 hp out of the basically stock engine. If you want 200 hp, it’s very doable with Muzzy’s top end kit (pistons, cams). But the insurance Mafia thinks you’ve still got a ZRX!

    • Get this, my insurance, through State Farm, on my ’05 Z1000 is…wait for it…$149.00 a year! That is not a typo or a decimal shift. In some ways it sure is nice being over fifty.

        • Good Morning Eric,

          That’s what I thought also, since that’s what Kawasaki calls it. So I had my insurance agent look it up. State Farm classifies it as a sport bike. Now I didn’t check on any of the “real” sport bikes, but it’s the same annual rate as my KLR. I’m pretty sure I’m getting the “senior discount” along with the multi-car discount. 😉

          • Yup!

            The funny thing is my ZRX (and IIRC, your bike) have – more or less – the same basic engine as the old ZX10, which was (in its day) the most aggressive sport bike available!

  4. This article definitely strikes a chord with me. 5 or 6 years ago (I’m 28)I was considering the purchase of a GSXR 600/ Kawi ZX6. I wanted pants-shitting speed on the cheap. This automatically ruled out any cars.

    I almost pulled the trigger on the Kawi until I dialed my insurance company for a quote. $2k…PER MONTH!!! The OTD price I was quoted by the dealership was a little over $7k. Here in Miami if you own a modern sport bike and park it outside it will be stolen. It just doesn’t make any sense to own a modern motorcycle these days unless you have a giant wad of cash to burn.

      • Nope. Theft was almost guaranteed…if not a total loss from a wreck. Before 08′ sub prime loans are what kept the sport bike manufacturers profitable. Must of these young men weren’t exactly the sharpest spoons in the drawer if you get what I mean.

        It’s easy to sell a bike to a 18-25 year old kid with $0 down/$150 payments. Almost everyone I knew at that age who had a bike either wrecked it or had it stolen from them within the first year. Thus the high premiums.

        The Power Sports market in general got absolutely hammered after the credit crunch so sales have dried up big time.

        • Hi Pedro,

          Thanks for the input. I, too, have wondered about the sport bike market. Current hypersports bikes (R1s, CBRs, Gixxers, etc.) are just that – hypersports, basically race bikes for the street. They thus appeal almost exclusively to guys under 35. But insurance costs for such a buyer are literally confiscatory. Imagine paying $1,000 annually to insure a bike that cost $12,000. Within about five years the buyer will have spent about 50 percent the cost of the bike to insure the bike. And $1k a year is actually lowball for a Gixxer. I’ve heard quotes can be twice that, if you’re under 30 and have a few tickets on your rap sheet…

      • Pedro’s spot on, mang –

        Even over-the-hillers like us get killed when it comes to insuring these things. I bought my Rex in part because a ZX10 would have eaten me alive … insurance-wise. And I’m over 40 and have a “clean” record!


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