Although known internationally for its world-class motorcycles, the history of the Kawasaki name started long before the company began two-wheeled production.
Originally established in 1924, the company was involved in metallurgy and the aircraft industry. In 1949 Kawasaki entered the motorcycle industry by producing small capacity engines and in 1954 produced their first entire motorcycle under the name of Meihatsu (a subsidiary of Kawasaki Aircraft Co.). Yet it was not until 1960, upon purchasing Meguro Motorcycles – the oldest motorcycle company in Japan at that time – that the first motorcycle rolled off the production line under the Kawasaki moniker.
In around 1966 Kawasaki moved into the production of large capacity motorcycles with the release of the 650cc W1 model and a little later released two lighter versions – the 250cc A1 Samurai and 350cc A7 Avenger – which were highly popular models at the time.
In 1969 Kawasaki’s ‘high performance’ reputation started to kick into gear with the release of the 500cc H1 model (Mach III), which was a powerful machine for the day and as such it quickly developed a hard-edged reputation. The H2 (MachIV) released in 1972 was, at 748cc, a larger and even more powerful machine whose life span was cut prematurely short due to the onset of strict emission laws in the mid 70’s. The die had been cast however, and Kawasaki had officially established itself as a high-performance brand.
Kawasaki built on this reputation with the release of the 903cc Z1 in 1973. Affordably priced and offering outstanding performance, the Z1 was dubbed the ‘King’ and immediately developed a large following. Things only got better in 1976 as the Z1 evolved into the Z900 and later the Z1000. The late 70’s saw the introduction of some smaller Z’s, such as the ‘77 Z650, followed by the awe-inspiring Z1300 – developed with the intention of beating the opposition into the ground with pure, unbridled horsepower.
Bigger was not necessarily better however, as was proved with the introduction of the legendary GPZ900R. Fully faired and boasting phenomenal performance, the GPZ laid the groundwork for the development of the modern day super bike.
By the 1990’s the sports bike era was in full swing and the race to build the fastest, most powerful machines was hotter than ever. Now was the perfect time to introduce the incredibly powerful ZZR1100. Launched in 1990, the ZZR sported RAM AIR induction and established itself as the fastest production motorcycle of the day. Fast forward to the year 2000 and the release of the ZX-12R, with a very low weight and producing an astounding 176bhp, the ZX-12R quickly took over the horsepower reigns.
Now, half a decade later, Kawasaki has cemented its position as the foremost manufacturer of no-compromise, extreme performance motorcycles with a stellar line-up including the razor-sharp ZX-6R, the rocket ship that is the ZX-10R, and the next motorcycle to re-write all the horsepower and speed records – the peerless ZX-14.
Yes, it is indeed a good year for motorcycling.