The story of Kawasaki Company goes back to 1924, at that time involved into metallurgy and the aircraft industry. In 1949, they decided to enter the motorcycle industry producing engines that could be adapted to motorcycles.
In their line, you could find a 60cc two-stroke, as well as a 150cc and a 250cc four-stroke engines developed with technology from BMW, company with whom they had had relationships since their beginnings in the aeronautical industry. It was not until 1954 that Kawasaki Motorcycles produced their first complete motorcycle under the name of Meihatsu (a subsidiary of Kawasaki Aircraft Co.). Almost at the same time, they also tried to introduce their own line of scooters to the market, but they soon realized they could not compete against the two giants of the scooters industry for those days: the Fuji Rabbit and the Mitsubishi Silver Pigeon.
But we cannot talk about Kawasaki without mentioning another make that will definitely help Kawasaki become as well as Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha one of the big players in the Japanese Motorcycles scene: Meguro Motorcycles, better know in that time as the "senior make and the king of four strokes".
Meguro entered the motorcycle industry in 1937. Having a good relationship with the government, the people at Meguro took advantage of the army orders. Their first motorcycle was the Z97: a 500cc rocker-valve motorcycle influenced by the Swiss Motosacoche. It is worth mentioning that this model was a success for the factory and the Z97 was in production until the fifties.
Along the years, Meguro produced some very nice 250cc and 350cc rocker-valve, single cylinder models as well as high performance twins. All of them had a very strong British influence. And thanks to the commercial success they were living, they also launched a rocker-valve 125cc for their low end range and a twin cylinder 650cc to accompany the already existing 500cc.
But it was in 1958, when Meguro tried to get rid of their British influence that things started to go wrong. Based on a winning prototype of Mount Asama (one of the biggest races that time), Meguro Motorcycles produced three nice and elegant machines with overhead camshaft—the 125cc E3, the 250cc F and the 350cc YA. Unfortunately, these bikes turned out to be too heavy and did not get the buyers' attention.
Meguro will soon return to rocker valve models. Meguro Motorcycles remained as one of the top 10 manufacturers until 1960, but due to some bad decisions, as the ones mentioned above, the company started to decline and was soon bought by Kawasaki. In 1960, Meguro signed an initial agreement with Kawasaki Motorcycles, and in 1962, they had completely disappeared. And this brings us back to Kawasaki Motorcycles.
In 1960, the company decides to give a serious push to the motorcycle division of Kawasaki Aircrafts. They take out of the market the Meihatsu brand; they build their own plant of low end and low powered machines and buy Meguro. In same year, their first motorcycle rolled off the line, a 125cc two stroke.
Helped by the knowledge of the Meguro company which Kawasaki had taken over (Meguro was the oldest motorcycle company in Japan), the company moved into the production of big bikes around 1966. The model was called the W1 (650cc).
The W1 was not such a success because all the rival bikes were still faster, lighter and provided better steering. So, Kawasaki developed two lighter versions A1 Samurai (250cc) and the A7 Avenger (350cc). These bikes ended up being a little more successful.
In 1969, Kawasaki started to develop a name for itself with bikes with very high performance, the start was the H1 model (500cc) also known as the Mach III. The H1 was excellent for wheelies due to its backward weight layout. It gulped a lot of fuel and had a hard core reputation. Two smaller versions were also released, the S1 (250cc) and the S2 (350cc). In 1972, a bigger version of the original was produced called H2 or Mach IV (748cc). The production stopped when emission rules got too strict in the mid 70’s.
Even if the H models did not handle well, Kawasaki developed a super bike which no other manufacturer could compete with at the time. The Z1 from 1973 was a 903cc engine but it was first planned as a 750cc engine. However, Kawasaki waited and improved the engine because of the Honda CB750 introduction in 1968. Z1 had a great reputation and was very popular due to the price and performance ratio. The name “king” was its alias. In 1976, the Z1 became the Z900 and the engine was improved. Later, the Z1000 was launched because of more engine power.
Towards the end of the 1970’s, Kawasaki developed a few smaller “zed” bikes like the Z650 which was introduced in 1977. And a big “zed” Z1300 which was also partly engineered as to out-perform the other Japanese companies with a bigger, stronger and heavier bike. But Japan still had to learn that bigger was not always better and the Z1300 was not a big success to the company.
Kawasaki built a nicely full fairing bike with a strong engine and an outrageous performance called the GPZ900R (908cc). It was very popular both on the race track and on the road. And it was a comfort to ride.
In the beginning of the 1990’s, all the Japanese manufacturers were competing very hard in the super bike models and any advantage above the other would bring credit and success. Kawasaki stepped right up and took that credit with the development of the ZZR-1100 (1052cc) which was launched in 1990 and became the fastest production bike for 5 years.
The ZZR-1100 was popular not only for its speed and power but also the strong frame and good suspension made it a good tour motorcycle. Also, it was very fast. In 2002, Kawasaki replaced it with the ZZR-1200, which was designed for more middle end power and better handling. And a smaller ZZR 600 had also joined the lineup of ZZR’s earlier on in the production.
In 2000, Kawasaki had already launched an ultra super bike called the ZX-12R (1199cc). Its pure weight, unique frame and 176 bhp was enough to blast most bikes away.
Kawasaki had lost some of the reputation for performance by 2000 but Kawasaki President Shinichi Morita had promised that Kawasaki would be back and indeed, with the arrival of the ZX-12R and the ZX-6R, Kawasaki did make a nice comeback.
The ZX-6R was already launched in 1995 but the 2003 new ZX-6R (636cc) had been truly redesigned and engineered into a new aggressive fast racing machine. Kawasaki has taken many aspects from the racing technology and integrated it into this new bike. In 2003, Kawasaki also launched a street bike model called the Z1000 with a funky styling and a flexible powerful engine. Kawasaki was and is winning its power name back.
Today, from the class leading Ninja sportbikes and thundering Vulcan cruisers to the rugged Brute Force ATVs, Mule utility vehicles and JET SKI watercraft, Kawasaki products lead the powersports industry around the globe. The secret of Kawasaki's success is in designing and manufacturing products that offer balanced performance, high quality, reliability and excellent fit and finish. So take a look at what Kawasaki has to offer you in the way of Leading Edge products!