A Ride on the Old Zed

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Here’s a quick “from the saddle” viewpoint ride on my old Zed – a ’76 Kawasaki Kz900 (subject of several articles, here, here and here).

This bike is one of my all-time favorites because it combines the coolness of look and layout of a ’70s superbike with modern-comparable reliability. I’ve owned this bike for almost 20 years and – other than ethanol gunking up my carbs – the only functional issue it’s ever hassled me with is a once-about-every-three years random shorting out of the main bus fuse. I’ll be riding along and – like a sudden stroke – the bike will just die. I’ll roll to the curb, park. Hop off, raise the seat and grab a new fuse (I’ve learned to carry extras), pop it in place of the fried one – and be good to go for another three-or-so-years. Must be an electrical surge or iffy ground someplace. I’ve yet to find the source of the trouble – and given this trouble is minor, easily dealt with – and only happens every three-or-so-years… well, why worry about it?

Otherwise, the bike is as reliable and rugged as a Russian T34 tank.

Kawasaki overbuilt the thing. The crank, for example, is a massive lump of alloy – and rides in roller bearings that are all but indestructible. It is very hard to hurt an old Zed.

Mine’s been freshened up a little with a big bore kit (1015 CCs), Vance & Hines pipe, tweaked carbs and electronic ignition. I’ve never dyno’d it, but the engine is probably making around 110 hp now vs. the stock 82.

It’s plenty.

Stock, this was a 12 second bike. About 134 on top. But – trust me – it took balls of steel to ride one that fast.

While the engine – DOHC transverse four – is very modern (it was light-years ahead of its time when launched back in ’73) the chassis isn’t.

And those spoked wheels are not the hot ticket for triple digit forays into the land of the hugely illegal.

A wobbler that can quickly become a tank-slapper at 120-plus will impart sense like nothing else.. if you survive it!



  1. My first bike was a KZ 250 one-lunger. Lots of fun, and a good learning bike. My second was a KZ 1000 police-type cruizer, which was insane to drive. Scared me to death, ramping up from as 250. But pushing 130 for the first time in my life had me hooked. Spoke wheels are naughty at that speed, so I settled for jack rabbit starts and pole position on the freeway. Big fun, that bike.


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