Restoration without the Exploration

The Joy of Internet Motorcycling


Torrance, California, August 5, 2002 -- For those of the "plastic bike generation," as the old hacks call riders of post-`70s machines, Kawasaki produced its three-cylinder two-stroke road rockets between 1969 and 1976. Most popular was the 500cc H1, or Mach III, but there was also the scary-fast H2 750 as well as 250, 350 and 400cc models. Designed specifically to satisfy the insatiable American desire for straight-line acceleration, the triples were the quickest and craziest things on two wheels and were the catalyst for Kawasaki's massive growth in the US market.

By the late 1970s, rising gas prices and stricter emissions regulations killed off most of the large-displacement smokers, as did the advent of big four-strokes such as the Z1 900.

"It's still amazing to me, in this day of litigious consumers and near-impeccable quality control, that these bikes could have been produced and sold the way they were."

Even by the loose standards of the early 1970s, the triples were pretty awful machines: unbelievably noisy, they spewed oily blue smoke, and paint shakers are smooth in comparison.

Mild-steel cradle frames, in particular the flimsy swingarms, are weaker than some modern mountain bike components. And don't even get me started on the surging problems.

On the other hand, the triples' legendary poor handling is pretty much exaggerated, I've found, but then I'm not about to push my bike hard into a corner to find out. The legends are right about the drum brakes, though, which really do suck. They'll have you in a white-knuckled death grip if you try to stop in a panic situation. So why are so many people obsessed with the Kawasaki triples? Why are the prices of clean examples shooting through the ceiling? Hard to say. For some, it's simple nostalgia: triples were the hot ticket when they were poor, moped-riding high school students. For others, it's the bikes' history, the memories of past rides, the racing connection to the H1-Rs and H2-Rs as ridden by Gary Nixon and Yvon DuHamel (that's right, kiddies - Miguel's dad).

For me, it's the sound. The succulent whoooop from the airbox blends with the crackle of the pipes, followed by the unique electric rush of two-stroke speed and the usual cloud of smoke. TAKE THAT, EPA!!! You're probably not going very fast, but damn if it doesn't feel like you're doing 120, the vibes rattling your teeth, numbing your fingers and generally scaring the wasabi out of you. And there's the added olfactory bonus of that oily blue smoke; the sweet-smelling petrochemical byproduct is redolent with racing and roosting memories, and has the sort of forbidden, bad-boy odor similar to a whiff of fine cannabis at a Dead concert.

"The H2 I put aside for future projects, deciding to concentrate first on the H1, the more valuable of the two."

Ever since I sold my first `74 H1 in 1984 I've felt this hole in my life. Then, during last year's WSB race at Laguna Seca, the sight of a rusty old H1 sandwiched amongst the exotica on Cannery Row brought the old memories back, and got me thinking I'd really like to relapse into triple-holism. I began searching soon as I got home. I located and bought several bikes, a 1970 H1 and a 1974 H2 750, from separate owners. The H2 I put aside for future projects, deciding to concentrate first on the H1, the more valuable of the two.

The bike was found in a local motorcycle classified periodical, and came with a near-complete 1971 H1 in parts. It didn't look too bad, just kind of rough, but the engine was drooling two-stroke oil from behind the alternator - a tell-tale sign of a bad crank seal. The tank and sidecovers were the bland 1970 Peacock Gray, which was unpopular enough that Kawasaki switched to a red/white scheme in mid-year production.

Back at the ranch, I set about the seemingly endless task of cleaning years of accumulated grease and gunk off the machine.

Ah, but that's the easy part; the biggest headache with restoring almost any old motorcycle is getting the required parts. Fortunately the Kaw triples were mass-produced machines.

Although a quarter century has passed since the last tri-pot ring-dinged off the line, and much of the dealer stock has been depleted, many NOS (new, old stock) parts are still available from a number of triples specialists in the US and Britain. Most body and cosmetic parts, however, are long-gone and must be located on the second-hand market.

"Several triples discussion boards provide a wealth of information for prospective restorers."

That's where the Internet has proven invaluable. Back in 1982 when I first got into triples, the Kawasaki Triples Club's home-made black and white newsletter was the resource for rare parts and information, as well as a link between far-flung members. However, with the advent of the "Information Superhighway," like so many other hobbyists the hard-core triplers got themselves wired and started communicating electronically, with amazing results. Suddenly it seemed as if there were literally thousands of triple fans coming out of the tool sheds, as evidenced by the number of hits and posts on triples message boards. New clubs were formed in the US and overseas. Old projects were resurrected. Garages were cleaned out, and precious artifacts were found and sold online to rabid restoration groupies.

The most popular forum is the Triples Racer homepage, run by Tom Loftis. Restoration masochists might shy away from doing business on the Internet, but there's really little to fear. The rip-off question is always there when you buy online, but for the most part (in my experience) people are honest.

The key is to look for good pictures that clearly show the part or bike in question. If there are no pix, email the seller with your questions, and evaluate the response accordingly. Does he dodge your questions? Know exactly what year and model his bike is? Where has it been kept, and does it run?

Such common-sense practices will almost always keep you safe. Ebay suggests a number of payment options, including Pay Pal, a secure online service that uses your bank account or credit card for speed and convenience. They also offer an escrow service for added security on the high-buck deals.

For those without a pickup truck, or who don't care to drive hundreds of miles, there are numerous shipping companies that will crate and deliver your new old scoot from across the country or even the world for a couple hundred dollars. If you find an online parts source or a "guru" for your bike, you're gonna love email (if you don't already). Being somewhat mechanically insecure, I decided to have the bike thoroughly gone over by Rick "Boots" Langley (The bike was completely disassembled and restored from the ground up--nearly everything was refurbished or is new.

 

I spent about $4000 right off the bat over the $1500 I paid for the bike, but I've lost count since. engine rebuilt (rebuilt crank, shimmed trans, new gaskets all around, all external parts bead blasted)
approx. $500 powdercoated frame and all peripherals (i.e. kickstand, swingarm, etc etc)
approx. $400 rechromed pipes and all chrome bits
approx. $600 tank/sidecovers professionally repainted by Cycle Colors of N. Carolina
approx. $500 seat recovered
approx. $80 (including replica seat cover) wheels respoked
approx. $200 lots of NOS bits purchased from Ebay, i.e. electrical parts, sidecover emblem, tach, cables, oil tank, etc etc. much tech assistance provided by Boots and the guys on the Kaw triples message boards.

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