On the Hunt: The 1969 Kawasaki H1

The 1969 Kawasaki H1 was noisy, blew blue smoke and attracted troublemakers — who wouldn't want one?

| January/February 2016

1969 Kawasaki H1
Claimed power:
60hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed:
119mph (period test)
498cc air-cooled 2-stroke inline triple, 60mm x 58.8mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio
Weight (half tank):
415lb (188kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
4gal (15ltr)/36.4mpg (period test)
Price then/now:

BRRACK! The pleasant background murmur of an old bike swap meet is suddenly drowned in a haze of 2-stroke noise and exhaust. Someone’s just fired up their Kawasaki triple, and while some folks cover their ears and curse the machine and its owner, others step over to see the bike.

Kawasaki 2-stroke triples seem to be polarizing machines, the object of intense hatred or intense love. Hans Agren loves them, noise, blue smoke and all. He was just 17 when he saw his first H1. When he was growing up in Sweden, a motorcycle was transportation, something you got to school or work on, weather permitting. The H1 was different. It was fast and antisocial, and just what a young man wanted.

Hans had some savings, and he found someone selling their H1 just six months after buying it. “I don’t know why they were selling it,” Hans says. “Maybe it was too fast, or maybe they needed the money.” Swedish law at the time forbade teenagers under 18 from owning 500cc motorcycles, but Hans finagled his way around that little detail.

Hans and his buddies were into drag racing, which was highly illegal, of course. One night the police showed up while they were racing. “The police stopped their car and came running. I took off and hid the bike in my father’s garage. Then I walked back to where my friends were. When I showed up two hours later, my friends were glad to see me. They had been worried. The police had run back to their car, but all you could see was the smoke from my exhaust. There was no way they could have caught me.”

12/21/2015 7:45:22 AM

I remember in 1973 as a 16 year old riding one early evening on the freeway of Detroit and along side of me pulls up two riders on Kaw 500s and they nod and twist the throttle with a haze of blue smoke and gone in an instant.

12/17/2015 8:03:11 AM

My friend in CA had an 1975 H1 in his collection, but it had not run since 1983. Each time that I visited him, I begged him to let me restore the bike to running condition for him. After several years of bulling him about the bike, he gave it to me. A frantic trip to Big Bear Lake to pick it up and it was in my shop. It took a while to sort out the title, but it is finally registered to me in Texas. It took me about 3 weeks to get her going again. A big thanks to the gent in North Carolina that makes a current day(reliable) replacement box for the two cdi boxes. I have put about 400 miles on the bike since the rework, and it is not a stock 75 H1. Apparently, the engine was ported and balanced to H1R specs. It is faster and handles much better than previous models that I have ridden. I plan to ride it on some trips around East Texas this coming year and enjoy it. During that time I will accumulate the parts to do a full up "resto-mod". The complete frame up rebuild will start as soon as I finish my current project - a 1975 CB 550 cafe build.

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