Kawasaki H1 The Story
giant killer
The Mach III was the second bike to make clear the intention of the Japanese makers to compete in all capacity classes; tiddlers and middleweights were no longer the only market segments they were going to fight over. Honda's CB450 sounded the first alarm bells in 1966 and was immediately compared with its biggest British comtemporaries and not found wanting. The 450 was a strong first foray into the big bike market but didn't have the capacity, horsepower or image to represent a real sales threat to the English makers.

It was up to Kawasaki's first triple and Honda's 750 four to begin reshaping the motorcycling landscape for ever. And with the Mach III Kawasaki was able to build on its existing reputation for performance orientated two-stokes and define itself as the "performance" company of the big four. This perception is still valid today though diluted somewhat due to the intense competition of the other three Japanese makers, there being little to chose between the competing supersports bikes that are the modern heirs to the market segment first exploited by the Kawasaki and Honda. The press of the day were very favourably impressed with the H1, enthusing over its power and acceleration, the finish and build quality also came in for compliments.
 It's hard to imagine the impact the triple made back in the day, three cylinders were exotic enough but the huge performance it brought within reach of anyone with a grand to spend and no fear was a genuine revelation. And because Kawasaki got the fundamentals of the powerplant right it delivered this grunt all day, everyday. The bottom end ran on six bearings, CDI took care of ignition chores and oil injection meant no premix hassles at the petrol station.

Technologically the 500 was a move away from previous Kawasaki two-stokes, not only because of the extra cylinder but also because induction was now by conventional carburetors and piston porting instead of the disc valves that had been Kawasaki's calling card up till then. The ignition system was supposed to be the way of the future and we were told that all bikes would mimic the Mach III and have CDI systems before too long. The advantages and intricacies of the system were dwelt on at great length by any journalist who swung a leg over the bike during the first couple of model years. This was high tech stuff and was another example of Japanese industry integrating new technologies into mass produced products at an affordable price. Of course it wasn't all beer and skittles. Even though the handling was praised in the press after the first roadtests later experience showed that the triple could get out of control in a big way if cornering at speed wasn't treated with care and respect.
Only in the forth year of production was a disk standard and did braking become  a non-issue. The much vaunted CDI also came in for attention as some units from the first year's production weren't totally water-proof.

From the H1D of 1973 the bike was restyled and brought bang up to date. The previously clunky look gave way to a slick tank, well inegrated ducktail and upswept pipes. These changes plus the famous "tongue" tank decals gave it a fresh, exciting appearance, and made it , in my opinion, one of the best looking bikes of its day. In fact the complete triple range received the same treatment with equally happy results. I can't think of a styling scheme more in tune with its time, it embodied the gaudy excesses of the first half of the 70s to a tee.