The Widowmaker and the Idiot

Anders Carlson restores a 1975 Kawasaki H1 with little back story and takes it racing. Yes, it’s a bad idea.

| September/October 2018

  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Dragging pegs at Road America, Turn 6.
    Photo by etchphoto.com
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Anders Carlson’s 1975 Kawasaki H1.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    First picture with the bike, before noticing the lack of front brake.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    An hour wrenching for every minute you get on the track.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Anders Carlson’s 1975 Kawasaki H1.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Slightly "repaired" right-side metal side cover.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Piston No. 3, "customized" by Road America.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Things you're not meant to rebuild, like the speedometer.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Black scuffs show heat damage. Shift fork was replaced.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Crazy Kawi side stand lean is part of the charm.
    Photo by Anders Carlson
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
    Sometimes white whales come in brown and yellow: author and motorcycle.
    Photo by Anders Carlson

  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1
  • 1975 kawasaki h1

It makes sense that a motorcycle designed to stimulate adrenaline and invite bad decisions has the same power when broken down and parked in a barn. My first glimpse of a Kawasaki triple came in A Century of Japanese Motorcycles by Didier Ganneau and Francoise-Marie Dumas. The triple shown on Page 96 disengaged my frontal lobe and raised hairs on my arm just looking at it. The third pipe was a middle finger to the EPA, your parents, Ralph Nader or anybody else trying to keep you down.

While Honda wanted to grow the U.S. market with easy-riding bikes with push-button starting, Kawasaki just wanted to dominate anything unlucky enough to line up next to it. Before anyone cared about emissions standards or product liability, a large 2-stroke street bike was a fine marketing idea. Kickstart-only with a 500cc 2-stroke 3-cylinder engine, the H1 was extremely wheelie-prone. Old Hondas got parked in a barn and forgotten. Kawasakis got wrapped around telephone poles. Dangerous and crude, the H1 gave Kawasaki a reputation that makes money to this day.

Result and causation

My 2-stroke obsession stems from the belief that they run on magic. The kind of magic that finds your card in a deck or produces a quarter behind your ear. Sleight of hand and misdirection. Result and causation. The power-stroke itself inducts fresh fuel to feed the next satisfyingly smoky bang. Fresh fuel passes uneasily next to spent charges, helped by chamber exhaust pipes that use sound and air pulses to keep them distinct. The alchemy of guesswork and intuition that goes into optimizing transfer ports hints at divinity. Religion is a touchy subject, so magic it is.

Today, the danger from power surges and poor handling has been replaced by threats to sanity when hunting down unobtainable oil lines, exhaust baffles and stators. You could buy Honda OEM pipes until about 15 years ago. But Kawasaki considered its work largely done after assembling the motorcycle. Some 40 years later, the current aftermarket craze for CB café, tracker or brat styles actually make OEM Kawasaki parts seem affordable — if you can find them.



So when a poop-brown/caution-tape-yellow 1975 H1F appeared, I jumped at the chance to offer too much money with zero thoughts as to why it didn't run. It had been recently purchased in Wisconsin from a deceased hoarder by 6-Volt Cycles owner Jason Koschnitzke, who's forgotten more than I'll ever known about motorcycles. It came with no further backstory. Seemed like a safe bet.

Almost complete except for a front brake and showing 5,009 miles on the clock, it seemed a steal. Theft is right. Knowing nothing about H1 restoration, getting a runner would involve stolen luck and favors in equal measure. With the wife out of town, I plunked down $1,500, took delivery and began figuring out what I'd gotten myself into.

SirRonny
10/3/2019 4:42:33 AM

Ahhhh....what a great read and really brought back some memories for me, although not on a 500 H1 but the S3 400. Bought it new off the showroom floor in 1974 and at the time I was working at a small garage in Illinois. One of the guys that worked there had a 71 Triumph 650 Bonneville and he challenged me to a race. I knew there was no way this Bonnie was going to off my new little rocket, so off we go out of town to a nice, flat straight stretch of road. We lined up and off we go, my leaving the Bonnie in the dust from the get go. That was the good news and the little Kawi's claim to fame, At about 110, the rear wheel suddenly and I might add, scarily, locked up. Fish tailing down the road was not a pleasant experience but I did manage to keep it upright. At somewhere around 55, the rear wheel inexplicably came free and started riding somewhat normally. The Bonnie rider road up beside me and yelled at me what was going on. This was before ATGATT and naturally we didn't have helmets on, so we could hear each other quite well thank you. Anyway, we are yelling back and forth and what could have happened when I looked down at my right leg and saw it coated with a heavy layer of oil, as well as my right tennis shoe. Did I mention ATGATT? About the time I noticed all the oil dripping off my leg, the rear wheel locked up again and we did the fishtail dance again coming to a stop in the middle of the road, about 7 miles from town. My friend turned around and came back to see what I was doing. I showed him the oil dripping from my right leg and he said Huh. Even his Triumph that was known for marking it's spot when parked never did this. I reached down, flipped out the kickstarter and assumed the pose. Going to give it a healthy kick to ride it back to town, I found the kickstarted completely locked. What are the chances something would happen to the kickstarter AND the well oiled leg at the same time??? Then my not to well formed 21 year old brain finally put 2 and 2 together and came up with the uneducated theory that that my beautiful little orange with yellow striped beauty had a seized engine. My friend rode back to town and got his truck and unceremoniously loaded it into the truck for its ride back to the dealer. They called me the next day and said that the middle cylinder oil line hadn't been properly tightened and had come loose, thereby seizing the engine. So, they decided that instead of repairing the engine, they would just install a new one. A month later I had my little orange beauty back, but I never did have the same confidence in it than I had the day I rolled it out of the showroom. In the first three gears, I had to have my scrawny 21 year old body laying down on the tank or it would want to come back over on me. After a few close calls when scraping the pegs in corners I decided I needed to get rid of my orange crush. I sold it to a 18 year old guy that had the same stars in his eyes that I had when I first laid my eyes on the orange beauty. To my credit I did warm him about how it would quickly get away from him when it came on the pipe. Two weeks later I saw my old bike and the left side of it looked like it had been in a war....and lost. I asked him what had happened to it and he said it had got away from him, but not the way I thought, by coming over backwards, but by getting away from him on a gravel road. Gravel road??? You took my orange crush on a gravel road? Alas he did and one of these beasts getting on the pipe on gravel is a thought I didn't want to think about. He sold it soon after that and I always wondered what happened to that little, not so pretty anymore, little orange bike. Seeing as I was bikeless at the point, I bought a much more reliable super bike. The Triumph Bonnie that my buddy had when we were racing on that hateful day a year before. Did I say reliable? That is a story for another time, around another campfire. But you know after all these years, I have forgotten most of the bad about my little orange beauty and wax nostalgically about the front wheel coming off the ground so easily, my girlfriend at the time complaining about the oil sheen and oil smell on her back when we rode anywhere together, my "friends" at the time mocking me by yelling ring-a-ding-ding-ding every time I rode into town and most of all, the burble of that little two stroke springing to life. OK, I going to go check on Ebay and just see what is available, not that I would ever buy one. I mean, why would I, I have a perfectly fine BMW now that is so reliable to be boring. Too, remember the ATGATT or lack thereof I mentioned earlier? Well now, if I am even running to the store, it is helmet, ear plugs, boots, Tourmaster armored pants, Kilimanjaro jacket, and heavy gloves all making me resemble the Michelin man when I ride off. But thankfully I lived long enough to be able to still ride. Hummm.....there is this little orange beauty over on Ebay that at least deserves a closer look...OK, take care and I am just going to look and have no intention of buying it...but it sure is pretty...so maybe.


RTillery
8/9/2019 9:12:57 PM

Ah yes, a great read indeed. I've paid my dues to the 'Asphalt gods' on Palomar Mt. in flesh & blood myself. Rode back to 53 area with both controls on the left side of my 71 CB750 & a fuel tank 1/2 its' original size from a horrendous 'high side....but I didn't slide over the edge, so I put that in the "WIN" column.


richard langley
10/9/2018 1:35:12 AM

Hi Triple Fans, it's hard to sort out a "short" tale for ya'all, in a lifetime of 50 triples, but here goes;. I bought my first 1973 H1D 500 Brand New. I went into the Triumph/Kawasaki Dealer in Tucson, Az, to buy a 650 Bonneville "TT Special", but I couldn't qualify for the $1700 cost of that New Trumpet. The salesman said; "Try that little Green Kawasaki, You'll Like it". After a dozen "Rheostat Wheelies", I sure did, and qualified for the $1300 out the door cost of it!! I learned my road riding "Craft" on Mt Lemon near Tucson. I then decided, after a high speed, late night, uuuuhhhh "episode", with the Tucson "Gendarmes" (do you know that a stock 73 H1 could indicate 118mph for 10 miles WFO?), to drive to, then sell my 1962 413/426 Plymouth Sport Fury, Stage I, "Golden Commando" (which I had been drag racing for 3 years), here in San Diego and take my H1 roadracing. As you may know, So. Cal. was the hotbed of roadracing in the mid/late 70's. I started in the Production Class, racing it at Carlsbad Intl Raceway, Riverside, Willow Springs and Ontario Motor Speedway. I worked on it for 5 years and finally built it (with advice for Don Vesco, Paul Dahmen and Rob North) to race in the 500GP Class. In the summer of 1978, I put it on the Podium (2nd) in 500GP, at Ontario Motor Speedway. A month later, I chewed my own leg off in a crash on Palomar Mt (on a Honda CB550F). So, somewhat lighter, I healed up for a few months while I rebuilt the Honda. I went Willow Springs in Feb 79 and took x2 5th place finishes with it. Those results "made me" put the H1 back on the track for a few races, to finish out the rest of the year (the bike's long gone but I still have the freshened up 500GP motor and Spec II roadrace chambers custom built for it). In 1980, I roadraced a Blue 1972 H2 750 for 18 races, against bikes 8 years newer. It could out top end DOHC CB750F's and GS750 Suzuki's. Only the well ridden KZ750's could best it. I finished in the Top Ten (7th) in the Modified Production Class, with x2 Podiums. But that's another story! ;-) Ride safe and have fun. cheers Boots Langley La Mesa, Ca




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