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Greatest Bikes

Kawasaki Mach III H2 with Boris Mihailovic

NB: Images featured here are the later generation 750cc machine


Two years after everyone had sex with everyone else during the Summer of Love in 1967, Kawasaki started making widows. 1969 was the year Kawasaki’s glorious wedge of two-stroke hatred, the Mach III H2 came into the world – and sent so many riders out of it.

1971 Kawasaki H2
1971 Kawasaki H2

Built for a performance-crazed US market, the 500cc Mach III redefined acceleration and filled hospital beds with unmatched enthusiasm. It would do the quarter mile in under 13 seconds.

If you were on drugs, you could get it up to 180km/h. Or even a bit more if the drugs were really good and the road was really straight and long and angled downhill a bit.

In the end, no-one was really sure how fast it went in a straight line. Those who tried to find out usually died. But what everyone did know was it would not go around a corner. People who tried that usually died too.

1971 Kawasaki H2
1971 Kawasaki H2

It had a no spark plugs. But it had a capacitor and a thyristor that produced 30,000 volts to blow up the petrol. The exploding two-stroke fuel acted like a missile thruster system. And just like a missile, it would not go around corners.

1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV
1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV

It weighed 175kg and had the best power-to-weight ratio of any bike ever produced in 1969. It made 55Nm of torque and 60 horsepower. But it would not go around corners and it wouldn’t stop, either. Its brakes were diabolical.

1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV
1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV

So it was the greatest of things. A bike that went like stink but only in a straight line, with shit brakes and crap suspension. There was clearly a price to be paid for all that free 1960s love. The motorcycle media was appalled.

1971 Kawasaki H2
1971 Kawasaki H2
‘Motorcyclist Magazine’ said,

“Viewed logically, the Kawasaki H1 had many flaws. The gearbox was odd, with neutral below first, the brakes very questionable and the handling was decidedly marginal in every situation – except when the bike was stopped with the engine switched off.”

Ron Toombs on a Kawasaki H2R 750 at Bathurst in 1975 - Image by Phil Aynsley
Ron Toombs on a Kawasaki H2R 750 at Bathurst in 1975 – Image by Phil Aynsley

No-one cared. Crazed teenagers bought them and raced them and laughed like apes, and died like dogs. It scared the shit out of riders, and they loved it.

1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV - A crazy bike in crazy purple
1973 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV – A crazy bike in crazy purple

It’s the reason America invaded Vietnam. It’s the reason titanium started to be used in surgical theatres.

1971 Kawasaki H2
1971 Kawasaki H2

It’s the reason older riders still smile and cry when they hear a two-stroke. And it’s the ideal LAMS bike for today’s bold and daring teenager.

Find one. Ride one. I dare you.

Rick Perry on a Kawasaki H2R 750 at Bathurst in 1978. A scary motorcycle at a scary place! Image by Phil Aynsley
Rick Perry on a Kawasaki H2R 750 at Bathurst in 1978. A scary motorcycle at a scary place! Image by Phil Aynsley

Almost 50 years later Kawasaki even sought to recapture the original H2's spirit with the supercharged modern day H2 and H2R
Almost 50 years later Kawasaki even sought to recapture the original H2’s spirit with the supercharged modern day H2 and H2R

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8 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a MACH IV you dill. I had one in blue when I was 17. My old man wouldn’t go guarantor on a loan for one when I was 16, so I had to save up. The brakes weren’t any worse than the ones on a Kwak 900′ cause they were the same and the bike lighter. The neutral at the bottom was so that you couldn’t miss shift between 1st and second as you rode up the road on one wheel showin’ off to ya Mum, ya mates and the girls at the bus stop. At 17 you have absolutely no fear. Mine had K81’s front and rear and slid like a dirt bike coming out of corners. I used to hang out with half a dozen guys who owned them including a couple with milled heads, big ports, pipes and carbs. One of my mates still has his. I wish I did.

  2. Yes Mach IV 750. I also had a blue one and I’m still here 40 odd years later, against all odds some would say. The 750 was 74hp, the 500 was 60. Sems pathetic now compared to my 200hp R1, but it certainly scared the shit out of me back then, wheelies and death wobbles just about every time I rode it! Did teach some respect though…

  3. He’s talking about the Mach III and the pictures are all the H2 750 – a much easier bike to ride. The early H1’s were lethal – the killer was all the power seemed to come in in a 500 rpm range – normally in the middle of a corner – the frame flex then twisted the bike out of shape as the front tried to come up and if you weren’t very quick, lucky, or brave, it normally tried to go straight ahead – into that oncoming car, row of trees, fence, whatever! Much better in a straight line – apart from trying to slow down with the mighty drum brake up front. Also remember – 60 hp was a lot for the era – Commandos and Bonnevilles put out about 45-50hp, were heavier and handled better!

  4. I remember when I was 17 (many moons ago 1974 ish) riding my Honda 500 four as fast as I could up a steep bank back in the UK when one of these thing went past me like I was standing still, worse still he was on the back wheel only going up hill, so much power, it was a wow moment.

  5. The Mach 1V was I thought somewhat less peaky than the Mach 111 and I never thought the brakes were bad. In fact they were so much better than most of the things I’d ridden up until that time that I rated them. The handling was maybe of the point and squirt variety but it would go around a corner – obviously. You needed to understand the machine but if you did it was rewarding to ride. I thought this review a bit hysterical. And really – he should have known what the thing was.

  6. My friend had a blue mach III 750 with drum brake up front and the standard 34mm Mikuni carbs. He changed to 38 mm no air box just funnels, gusseteted the front of the frame, added a bustbin faring and Bercini expansion chambers. It was pure poison, he was not game to open it fully on the strip till he let me do so ( I used to tune and ballance the carbs or the ran rough) Eventually not to be out done I purchaced a mach IV with disk up front, got a twin disk front of a K1 900 and did the same mods with Boisene reeds and 38mm Lectron flat slide carbs. I eventually achieved an 11.2sec 1/4 the bike capable of over 117mph and probably betterbut I was not. I smiled and laughed till I cried reading this article despite the inaccuracies previousl mentioned by others who rode these widcats, you could stop them and corner though both actions took skill not to loose the front or have the crank gyroscopics flip you off. They were a thing of great pleasure and pain (suffered many a burn and gravel rash) having to put them down or bail out before you got eaten.

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