Kawasaki H1-500: 'the widowmaker'

Kawasaki H1-500
ER Classics Desktop 2022

"Widowmaker" or "rodeo bike." The revolutionary Kawasaki H1-500 cc three-cylinder got those nicknames for a reason. In the course of their short existence, the machines became a little less explosive, but they have never become fine touring models. That was also not Kawasaki's approach.

Kawasaki had chosen 'power and speed' to distinguish itself from the competition.

Kawasaki - H1-500

The first of the legendary Kawasaki 3 cylinders, was the H1-500 that came on the market in 1969, and made the entire motorcycle world shiver due to its enormous performance. The 500 cc machine was allowed to deliver no less than 60 hp according to 'the requirements book' of Kawasaki and had to be able to complete the quarter mile with a standing start within 13 seconds. was unprecedented.

But these machines soon got the nickname widowmaker or rodeobike because of the rather ferocious incoming power and lagging qualities of the chassis. And what is now called 'wheely' was then called 'climbing the chain'. A rear-end chassis was a Japanese trend at the time. The engine blocks were 'too fast' for the bicycle parts.

The Kawasaki H1-500 had some limitations

With the Kawasaki, the pain was mainly in the poor rear suspension and damping and the use of nylon bushes in the rear fork. Those buses were often worn out within a few hundred brave kilometers. The Kawasaki H1 was a lot better to drive with a pair of Koni's and bronze bushes, although the frame was no wonder of torsional rigidity.

They became more civilized. Slightly more civilized

The savage features of the later models were refined and these are wonderful machines to drive on, while retaining the character of these two-stroke models. But it never became real competitors for the then current line of BMW boxers.

The Kawasaki H1-500 now and then

In the meantime, such a shocking projectile from the past is now a small, slender motorcycle. The line is almost like that of a Chinese brush drawing. The heart of the machine? That is emphatically the air-cooled three-cylinder that sounds running at no load as if three angry two-stroke motocross bikes are muttering in front of them.

The Dutch Kawasaki importer Henk Vink already used the machine in March 1969 at the sprints in Uden, where he won the standard class up to 500 cc on a motorcycle with lighting and (dealer's) license plate, but he just didn't stay under the 13 seconds who was the guideline of the factory. But Henk Vink was also shaped differently than a substandard Japanese test driver. But Vink set the second time of the day.

Only 1000 cc was faster

Only Jan Maas with his 1.000 cc JAP in the 'Specials above 650 cc' class was faster. On the sprint strip it was no point. But 'in the wild' the Kawasaki H1 was very thirsty. The fuel consumption was on average such an 1 on 10 and with a fuel tank of 15 liter capacity, it was therefore often necessary to refuel. Those who really had an active right hand could even halve the action radius. H 1 - 500 Mach III was the first - standard engine with electronic ignition.

And there the law of the braking lead applied again: in Germany the model did not receive type approval because the electronic ignition caused interference with the television signal. With the current range of TV programs that would be a blessing.

Scarce and wanted

These Kawasaki's are currently scarce and sought after. They are scarce because there is an above average number of accidents on public roads or on circuits. They are wanted because they are the most spectacular examples from the short period that fast, heavy two-strokes were 'hot'. In the Netherlands, on Texel, the Smitbros company is an international pilgrimage type for Kawa fans. The company is run by Hans and Alfons Smit, two very fanatic enthusiasts of engines and technology. I once bought a Kawasaki H1 with a Robinson brake with eight ascending shoes and expansion exhausts for 800 guilders. That was no topper. Now think for a top copy of amounts up to 17.000-20.000 euros


3 cyl. 2T air-cooled, thyristor ignition, bore x stroke: 60 × 58,5; 498 cc; 3x Mikuni 28 mm; 60 pk / 7500 rpm .; 5 acc .; double cradle frame, wheels: front; 3.25 × 19, rear; 4.0 × 18, tank volume 15 1; 195 km / hour.

Kawasaki H1-500

Thanks to Smitbros / Texel


Give a reaction
  1. Somewhere around 1974, a guy was waiting at our school more often for a girl and I thought he had a Yamaha 200cc 2cil. with slightly wider tank. I rode Kreidler moped and was jealous of him. Reminds me of this Kawa.

  2. Japanese quality, then and now has indeed been rotated 180 degrees. My first car was a 1975 Mitsubishi Lancer; rusting Alfa could have borrowed from those Mitsubishis. My second bike was a Yamaha XS650, just like the Kawa's a frame to dream of… when you're delirious with the flu!
    My brother then had a Suzuki GT500, also a two-act like the 3 pitter from Kawa but as easy as a lamb. Yet he had to refuel twice and I with the 4-stroke Yamaha only 1 times!
    Then we thought that “horses that had to work hard should have more oats…”!

    • Suzuki came up with the GT750, the Water buffalo, and it was by no means tame as a lamb.

      Raised two-strokes have a small but fierce optimum, indicated by the green field on the rev counter. My buddy tried out what could happen if he shifted down to three on the highway at say 100 kph and then gave it full throttle. He ended up in the taillight and it was more luck than wisdom that he regained control of the steed. Was a beautiful beautiful machine, though.

      Suzuki GT750 76

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