Some motorcycle riders find pleasure in being able to both ride and maintain a motorcycle. British bikes, for example, are fun as hell to ride and have a ton of character, but they also typically require more maintenance than a Japanese motorcycle.
The Kawasaki KZ750 was not the type of bike that grabbed headlines. Instead, it was a small, reasonably powerful motorcycle that was easy to run and easy to maintain, without requiring much wrenching knowledge to do so. It was a vertical twin in an era of triples, and four-cylinder bikes. It just blended right in.
This was a motorcycle that didn’t need an entire garage of tools to fix it, leading to the Kawasaki KZ750 becoming a legend not for performance, but for outright dependability. This tough bike offered a basic, affordable ride that less serious motorcycle riders could enjoy. The KZ750 was produced between 1976 and 1983, and plenty still grace American roads today.
Ready to dive into this under-the-radar machine? Let’s do it!
Development and history
The KZ750 is a relatively unknown motorcycle that filled a market gap in the late 1970s. Other motorcycle manufacturers were developing larger four-stroke engines that, by some standards, were overly complicated. The idea of “more” maintenance on motorcycles doesn’t go over real well unless it’s accompanied by more power or some level of riding comfort.
The KZ750 didn’t try to innovate; it stuck to the tried-and-true formula of smaller two-stroke engines that were big enough to provide everyday riding power while offering a simple mechanical experience. As motorcycle engine development pushed for larger engines and faster speeds, only the Triumph Bonneville and Yamaha XS650 remained as reasonably compact motorcycles with engines under 750cc.
Most American motorcyclists either wanted a larger, comfortable, and more powerful motorcycle or a smaller one that wasn’t meant to travel over 100 miles per hour on an open freeway. With fewer bikes remaining to satisfy America’s desire for affordable and reliable performance, Kawasaki ultimately stepped in and offered some slight improvements over what Triumph and Yamaha were offering.
Fanfare for the KZ750 died out after a few years but Kawasaki attempted to make an upgrade which included altering the exhaust pipes and changing the seat and calling it the CSR750. Ultimately, Americans had moved on from bikes like the KZ750 by 1983, and the reliable Kawasaki flew even further under the radar.
Unlike many bikes of the day, the KZ750 was powered by a 745cc air-cooled parallel twin two-stroke engine. The engine produced roughly 55 horsepower and could achieve 45-55 miles per gallon. Despite the middling engine, performance was solid, and this inexpensive machine topped out at 103 miles per hour.
These numbers wouldn’t impress someone trying to race or go especially fast but the 745cc engine pushed the slightly over 500-pound bike hard enough to help you merge into highway traffic with relative ease. Initial reviews indicate that some consumers were unhappy with the engine’s performance, claiming that the KZ750 felt like a 40 horsepower engine, but this was most likely due to the bike being amongst the heaviest models at the time.
Reviewers from the 1970s also commended the KZ750s low-speed punch, which made it perfect for city streets. Others reported that the engine idled erratically, likely due to having constant velocity carburetors that delivered all the power, or little at all. Sure, this made for great city driving, like taking off from a stop sign, but not so much for a congested area where brake lights defined your pace instead.
For all the small issues it had, the 745cc engine became well-known for being easy to work on. A person with minimal mechanical experience could figure out how to make adjustments and repairs in their own garage without much difficulty.
When the KZ750 was released in 1976, one thing truly stood out compared to competitors in the V-twin world. This was the first Kawasaki with front and rear disc brakes, while also offering a more competitive price than bikes without them.
While V-twins are known for vibrating a bit, the KZ750 was relatively smooth and refined. To accomplish this, a pair of counterweighted shafts and chains drove the KZ750 in an attempt to bring both balance and a smooth ride. This design worked, as initial reviews indicated it would be a good touring bike on the basis that the handlebars had little shake under load. The counterweights also made for one of the most complex parts of a relatively simple motorcycle.
The KZ750 did not receive great reviews for handling, in part because the bike was a bit heavy for its engine size, but overall, it was easy to ride.
Impact on motorcycle culture
If the KZ750 did one thing well, it succeeded in producing a bike with a small, uncomplicated engine that could ride well on the highway and provide good gas mileage.
Unfortunately, KZ750 sales were not great. It’s believed that by the early to mid-1980s, Americans perceived the Kawasaki brand as a true sportbike meant to provide hair-raising acceleration regardless of gas mileage or complexity. The KZ750 arrived after Triumph and Yamaha had already sold a number of similarly designed motorcycles, but the days of more powerful, complex engines were coming, and sales fizzled out quickly.
This model did succeed in one sense, though. Kawasaki prevented the end of smaller V-twin motorcycle engines as a common option and did so at a good price point of just south of $2,000, which made it affordable for the average joe. The KZ750 remains relatively unknown because it was among the last of its kind and represented Kawasaki’s understanding of the American market in which people still wanted smaller engines. Equipping this basic bike with disc brakes at a good price was just a bonus.
One reason the KZ750 had an impact on motorcycle culture was because it was so accessible. With a low price point and a simple engine, most anyone could afford to buy one and maintain it. The engine had minimal problems, and someone could learn to maintain it just by working on it or reading a manual. In a time before YouTube, you didn’t need much to keep your KZ750 buzzing through the city.
Whether or not the KZ750 was successful depends on how you define success. While the KZ750 didn’t sell all that well, Kawasaki satisfied more than a few riders seeking basic performance and reliability for a low price.