Heavy Metal: 1974 Kawasaki H1

The Kawasaki H1 was introduced in late 1968. The Sixties were in full swing, and dizzying changes in art, music and politics were taking place. Motorcycles were changing, as well.

| July/August 2009

Years produced: 1969-1976
Claimed power: 60hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 114mph (period test)
Engine type: 498cc, air-cooled, 2-stroke inline triple
Weight: (wet) 188kg (415lbs)
Price then: $1,195
Price now: $1,500-$3,500
MPG: 23mpg (period test)

Cue the music. Turn the petcock to the “prime” position, wait until the Plexiglas filters are full of gas, then back it to the “on” position. Turn the ignition on and engage the choke. Kick twice.

The triple cylinder 2-stroke fires and Van Halen’s heavy metal band strikes up the staccato beat of “Hot for Teacher.” Listen to the beat for a minute. The beast is easy to kick start, but it is cold blooded, and it takes a while before it is ready to roll from its den. Wait until the Kawasaki H1’s exhaust note smoothes somewhat — although it won’t smooth much. Now you’re ready to rock and roll.

“In 1971 I was in high school and friends with a kid named Dennis Baxter,” Bill Swagerty explains. “He got one for Christmas. It was radical. It was a 3-cylinder, 2-stroke fire breather with electronic ignition and a lopsided power-to-weight ratio.”

Bill fondly remembers a trip to Lake Havasu, Ariz., with his friend. “He picked me up and we ran out there, but the bike seized up on the way. We walked to a store, got some 2-stroke oil, and it started up like nothing ever happened. That bike was so powerful that it wanted to fly, even two up. The front end came off the ground in third gear.”

Beginnings of the H1
The Kawasaki H1 was introduced three years before, in late 1968. The Sixties were in full swing, and dizzying changes in art, music and politics were taking place. Motorcycles were changing, as well. The economical transporters of the Fifties had become sporting machines primarily ridden by young men. Speed sold, fuel economy didn’t. Motorcycle manufacturers took note, and bikes blossomed out in chrome, with quarter-mile times prominently advertised.

11/6/2014 11:47:00 AM

I'm 51 and I had a 73 H1 for 10 years during my 30's, but just wasn't qualified to own one. I am a great rider but lack the technical know-how to keep one of these in top notch condition. After finally selling it I eventually had a 75 400 S3 fall into my hands in parts. Every nut and bold, reflector, etc. was included so I am currently restoring this bike myself to learn what I can about them and thus become a qualified owner! Everything done now except the motor and I was lucky enough to be referred by a distinguished race shop (with a color in the name)to an older guy in my area who has been building and racing these things since the 70's. He graciously offered to help me put it together (he said we could do it in a few hours). I'm definitely excited to be able to receive an education on the mechanics of these landmark machines.

10/16/2014 8:49:20 PM

Yep, and then in 1973 came the 750cc and up Triumphs and Nortons to finally out-accelerate the 500cc H1 in a 1/4 mile. After that you had to to take 45 minutes and bolt on a set of cheap aftermarket expansion chambers to immediately re-establish your tiny Kawasaki's undisputed motorcycle supremacy.

9/27/2014 12:35:05 AM

The Kawasaki H1 was third in acceleration in the March 1970 Cycle Magazine comparison test, behind the Norton and Trident. Look again.

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