History Of Kawasaki Motorcycles (Ultimate Guide)

Kawasaki is one of the foremost and well-known brands in the motorcycle industry, having made a reputation for itself as a reliable two-wheeler manufacturer over decades, gained from the performance and dependability of their motorcycles.

Kawasaki has a long and rich history. Among regular motorcycle users, Kawasaki enjoys the status extended to a high-quality manufacturer that manufactures motorcycles at a reasonable price with the reliability and performance expected from any leading motorcycle brand.

Below, we’ll look at how and where it all began, who took the decision to enter the motorcycle industry, and how Kawasaki grew into one of the most reliable and famous names in motorcycles. We take a long walk down memory charting the rise of Kawasaki as a motorcycle powerhouse.

History Of Kawasaki

On August 10, 1837, Shozo Kawasaki was born to a kimono merchant in Kagoshima. He would grow up to become the founder of Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard in Tokyo. In 1896, it became the Kawasaki Dockyard Co, Ltd and Shozo Kawasaki chose Kojiro Matsukata to be his successor as he was almost 60 years old. Kojiro Matsukata was the third son of Masayoshi Matsukata who was a benefactor of Shozo Kawasaki.

He expanded the business by entering into rolling stock, aircraft, and shipping which marked the beginning of Kawasaki as a leading heavy industrial company of Japan. Kawasaki Dockyard built over 80 ships in the next 10 years. Kawasaki started manufacturing steam locomotives in 1907 and continued until 1971, producing 3,237 steam locomotives in total.

In 1918, Kawasaki started manufacturing trucks pioneering the Japanese automotive industry. In 1922, Kawasaki built Japan’s first metal aircraft and continued manufacturing aircraft till 1927, producing 300 aircraft. With so many outstanding achievements in diverse industries, Kawasaki was sure to become a market leader in any field they engaged in.

Some Milestones Of Kawasaki Motorcycles

Kawasaki Aircraft bought Meguro Manufacturing Co and manufactured their very first motorcycle in 1961, a two-stroke 125cc bike named the B8. The following year they released a series of bikes from 50cc to 250cc. The bike proved to be a big hit, based on which Kawasaki introduced the B8M that won the top six positions in the Hyogo Prefecture Motocross Tournament in 1963.

This was followed by the 650cc W1 that brought them global acceptance. At the same time, they released a 250cc bike known as the A1 with a parallel twin, rotary disc valve engine. In 1969 they brought in the Bronco, a 500cc motorcycle that was the fastest in its class. In 1972, Kawasaki launched the Z1 globally with a 900cc air-cooled engine which was nicknamed the “New York Steak”.

The Z1 became extremely popular and was known as the King of Motorcycles in the European and US markets for many years, keeping Kawasaki in the spotlight as a manufacturer of quality motorcycles. In 1977, the snazzy 1000cc Z1-R was introduced and became highly popular globally as a cafe racer.

Overview Of What To Expect From Kawasaki Bikes


In a consumer survey report on motorcycle reliability, Kawasaki ranked 4th with a 15% failure rate. The top three brands were the other Japanese giants with a difference of only 1 to 2 percent separating them. The leading brand had a failure rate of 11% which only goes to show how small the disparity between the top four is, while they make up about 75% of the most reliable brands.

The reliability survey was based on miles per year as well as the money spent on repairs over a 4-year period. A number of owner satisfaction and comfort ratings are available that are outdated given that the number of new models is increasing all the time and consumers are more likely to attach importance to usability.

The most reliable bike across all brands is the cruiser motorcycle which makes sense since they are not subjected to extreme temperatures or high speeds as well as being the least complicated of all in terms of engine design.

Riding Experience

The Kawasaki Ninja series provides superior performance and is available in 300, 400, 650, or 1000cc versions. The 300cc bike is for new enthusiasts that are interested in entering the world of sport bikes or want to use it for urban commuting. The long-distance tourers go for the 650cc or the 1000cc depending on the amount of power that they need.

Regular users have commented that the bike has excellent stability at high speeds with plenty of braking power. Seating comfort is more than satisfactory for the pillion rider with a luxury seat, leg rests, and the rear shock absorbers directly beneath. Initial adjustment of the shock absorber may be necessary according to the load, but once it is adjusted, it delivers a smooth ride.

The only downside to the bike could be its weight if the rider chooses the 650cc or above, as its weight ranges between 175 to 265 kgs, and with accessories maybe even more. This becomes a problem when it needs to be put on its stand. Of course, a side stand can be fitted but detracts from the charm of the bike, not to mention the difficulty when it needs to be put on the center stand.

Design Philosophy

Especially with regard to the Ninja series, Kawasaki designs their bikes with the goal of being the most powerful machines in the world. At the same time, many of the Kawasaki models are designed for touring, where comfort and reliability form the basis for the enthusiast to make a purchase decision.

Continuous Innovation

Right from the very beginning, Kawasaki has always followed the policy of using the latest technology to make their motorcycles better than the competition and to provide enhanced user comfort. This is most visible in their engine and gearbox engineering, but the latest innovation has brought a number of improvements can that be viewed on a smartphone.

Using a smartphone, the motorcycle owner can wirelessly connect to the motorcycle to check on a number of parameters that could affect the motorcycle performance as well as the riding experience. The riding logs, odometer, rpm, maintenance schedule, and GPS route can be accessed taking the rider experience to a whole new level.

This information can be relayed to the nearest Kawasaki service center to enable them to make a diagnosis of any mechanical issue likely to occur in the near future, before which they can inform the owner to bring the motorcycle in for repair.

The Most Popular Bike From Kawasaki

The first bike from Kawasaki in the Ninja series was the popular GPZ900R which was manufactured in 1983 and was named Bike of the Year. Encouraged by the success of the Ninja, Kawasaki went on to manufacture over 28 Ninjas in the years to come, but all of them were not equally popular. We take a look at the best of the Kawasaki Ninjas and how they transformed the motorcycling landscape.

The GPZ 900R was the first liquid-cooled, 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine with a double overhead crankshaft. It pumped out a staggering 115 bhp and could attain speeds greater than 150 mph. The bike was used for urban commuting as well as a long-distance tourer and could hold its own on the racetrack.

Kawasaki Ninja Mileage

The 300cc Kawasaki Ninja does an impressive 58.8 mpg, while the 400cc Ninja is even better in fuel efficiency doing 65.9 mpg. The Ninja 650cc does 47 mpg with the 1000cc tourer providing 40 mpg with a 300 km range on a full tank. Even though these numbers may seem small, the smaller bikes are not that much more fuel efficient by comparison.

The Kawasaki Superbikes

Kawasaki Motorcycles manufactures a wide range of superbikes from 300cc to 1450cc. The instrument cluster is displayed on a TFT screen that displays speed, fuel gauge, gear position, and engine rpm along with a Bluetooth connection to view the information on a smartphone.

Kawasaki’s Most Popular Bikes

The bestselling bike from Kawasaki has been the Ninja ever since its debut in 1983. Variations in engine capacity to cater to every segment of their followers have given them the opportunity to ride the bike with an engine size most suited for their use, whether it is commuting or just sport riding.

Currently, their top model is the Ninja H2 which sells for about $25,000.

Kawasaki Vulcan S

The Kawasaki Vulcan S has a 4-stroke, 649cc liquid-cooled engine with digital ignition, a double overhead crankshaft, and 6 gears. This bike is designed more for the sport biker who enjoys sport riding. The 8-valve fuel injection bestows a smooth start as well as strong acceleration at low to medium rpm ranges while the large-diameter disc brakes supply more than enough braking power with control.

The compact engine on a slim frame with forward located adjustable footrests afford a comfortable ride that is associated with cruiser style riding. The instrument cluster has a tachometer and an LCD panel for easy readouts. The adjustable handle and seat help to personalize the riding angle to suit any body type and the pillion rider gets the benefit of a pair of grab rails.

The 5.2 feet wheelbase grants a good amount of riding stability, while the 14-liter tank is good enough for a long-range journey, given that its fuel economy is about 13.6 miles per liter. The muffler is located below the engine to lower its center of gravity for even greater stability. The gear indicator is useful for beginner riders but the bike weighs about 520 lbs, which is quite heavy.

Kawasaki Ninja H2R

The Kawasaki Ninja H2R is far from cheap as its current cost is around $57,000, but it has a number of outstanding features for its price. The 998cc liquid-cooled, 16- valve engine with a double overhead crankshaft and supercharger belt out an astonishing 228 kilowatts of power with its kerb weight at 476 lbs. A pair of whopping 330 mm disc brakes supply enough braking power to keep it in check.

Its 17-liter tank has sufficient capacity for about 250 kilometers as its fuel economy is between 28 to 32 mpg. The rear of the seat has hip supporting pads that are adjustable according to the rider size to support the rider during periods of high acceleration or braking with highly esteemed TTX shock absorbers that provide better rear stability with superb damping.

The digital ignition with electronic valve control results in reduced emissions as well as smoother acceleration and increased power output. The exhaust system is made completely from titanium with a megaphone type of silencer. To facilitate smooth gear shifts, the gearbox uses dog-ring transmission that is usually found in MotoGP or Formula 1.

It is worth mentioning that Kawasaki used a new type of paint on the Ninja H2R which is self-healing in that scratches repair themselves so that the motorcycle retains its highly glossy finish. The paint is chemically treated to repair itself in the event of light scratches and takes about one week to recover.

Kawasaki Ninja 650

The Kawasaki Ninja 650 is more suited to the recreational rider with its lighter weight as compared to the other bikes. Its kerb weight is 432 lbs, with a 17-liter tank and fuel economy at a healthy 70.5 mpg which will appeal to urban commuters and sport bike enthusiasts. It has a 6- speed gearbox with a power output of 50 kilowatts which isn’t very impressive but more than enough for a sport bike.

It uses TFT color instrumentation with new features that were not available in older models. The rider can connect to the motorcycle with a Bluetooth connection to access many of the instrument functions. Its sport bike appearance is embellished with a windshield to offer the rider better wind protection. Twin LED headlights with high and low beams complement the sporty look.

The 649cc 4-stroke, 8-valve, liquid-cooled engine has digital ignition with dual throttle valves for smooth acceleration with a slipper clutch. The front wheel has a pair of 300 mm disc brakes, and the rear has a single 220 mm disc that supplies enough stopping power. Intake and exhaust systems have been optimized for increased torque at low rpm and to ensure that its emissions are BS-6 compliant.

Kawasaki Versys 650

The Kawasaki Versys 650 is a sport bike with a number of features that made it extremely popular in its time. A large adjustable windscreen protects the rider from wind and its big 21-liter tank with a fuel efficiency of 49 mpg is enough for sport biking. With a kerb weight of 480 lbs, this is a middleweight bike best suited for recreational riding.

 A 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, twin cylinder 649cc engine that can output 49 kilowatts at 8500 rpm is adequate to power it to 130 mph. A gear indicator with twin headlamps contributes to its sporty looks as well as its wide handlebar. Its long-travel rear suspension is designed to smoothen out any road bumps for a comfortable ride and increase the rear stability.

The 4-stroke, 649cc, 8-valve engine with a double overhead crankshaft has the standard digital ignition with liquid cooling. The front and rear 17-inch wheels can accommodate a variety of sport tires that makes for carrying a higher load. Airflow around the bike is handled by the usual fairing that gives it aerodynamic smoothness and adds to the overall mix of style with looks.

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R

The Kawasaki Ninja ZX – 10R was originally launched in 2004 but has been continuously revised over the years to incorporate the latest technology. A 4-stroke, 998cc, liquid-cooled engine with 16-valves is at the heart of this bike that outputs an astonishing 150 kilowatts to power it to a top speed of 186 mph. Its fuel tank holds 17 liters, and its fuel efficiency is 38 mpg.

This bike is intended purely for the racetrack, so sport bike lovers will have to give it a miss. To increase the bike’s stability, winglets are built into the cowl that that generate downforce to keep the front tire gripping the road, especially during strong acceleration. A special air-cooled oil cooler cools down the oil to increase engine performance.

Peak torque is generated near the high rpm range as its maximum power is 200 bhp at 13,200 rpm while at low and medium rpm the torque is reduced to be sufficient when coming out of corners. LED headlights and an LED taillight are compact and lightweight. A smartphone can connect to the motorcycle using Bluetooth to access all the instrument functions and readouts.

Kawasaki has installed a new cruise control system that can be activated by the press of a button to maintain a consistent speed. This reduces stress on the hand constantly applying the throttle, especially when traveling over long distances.

Kawasaki Ninja Z1000

The Kawasaki Ninja Z1000 is another popular motorcycle in the Ninja series that was launched in 2011. Its 1043cc 4-cylinder, 16-valve engine can output a blistering 139 bhp at 10,000 rpm and powers the bike to 147 mph. This is a heavy bike with a kerb weight of 487 lbs, a tank capacity of 19 liters, and fuel efficiency of 35.28 mpg. The headlight has a powerful bi-xenon projector.

The front wheel has a pair of floating 310 mm semi-petal disc brakes, and the rear wheel has a single 250 mm disc brake that together provides a hefty amount of stopping power. The instrument cluster uses a 4.3-inch TFT panel to display riding modes and GPS. As with all the other newer Kawasaki motorcycles, this also connects wirelessly to a smartphone for instrument readouts and other functions.

Although this motorcycle is meant more for the racetrack, it has many features that will appeal to the sport biker such as the rear shock absorber which is gas-filled and has spring preload adjustability for a comfortable ride and a pillion rider seat with footrests and a grabrail. Integrated riding modes include Sport, Road, and Rain that are used for optimal power or to cut throttle response.

A Brief History Of Kawasaki In Motorsport

Kawasaki has a long history in motorsport starting from their first win in a Motocross in 1963. Subsequently, they have won numerous World Championships across different classes and in MotoGP racing which boosted their acclaim and gave them the reputation of being a world-class brand. The traditional racing color of the Kawasaki team is green, which has led to them being known as “Team Green.”

Kawasaki won their first World Championship through Dave Simmonds in 1969 in the 125cc class, but they had to wait for nine years for their next two World Championship victories in 1978 when Kork Ballington won riding a 250cc and again on a 350cc motorcycle. Ballington won the World Championship again in 1979 but finished second in 1980 in the 500cc class.

Their next big wins came in 1981 when Eddie Lawson won the AMA Superbike Championship for Kawasaki and then again in 1982. In 1993 Scott Russell won the World Superbike Championship after which Bubba Stewart won the AMA 125 MX Championship in 2002. In between these wins, Kawasaki won a number of titles in smaller races that defined them as a world-class brand.

In 2007 Kawasaki formed another company named Kawasaki Motors Racing to manage the activities of their MotoGP racing team as well as other racing activities in the future.

Other Kawasaki Ventures

The Kawasaki Group has vast experience in diverse industries such as shipbuilding, aircraft, and manufacturing locomotives for the Japanese railways. Kawasaki Industries has a number of subsidiary companies: the most important ones are listed below.

  • Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries Aerospace Company
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries Motorcycle & Engine Company

Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation

Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation is the shipbuilding divisionof Kawasaki Heavy Industries manufacturing oil tankers, LNG tank ships, container ships, and bulk carriers. In addition, they also manufacture marine machinery, fishing machinery, steering gears, and thrusters. In the Second World War the Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation was engaged in building warships for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The range of ships built included destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers that continued until the end of the war after which they restarted building ships for civilian use. They boast of a new range of impressive ships from LNG Floating Power Plants to deep submergence rescue vessels, patrol vessels, and deep-sea research vessels that conduct surveys of the seabed in trench areas.

The deep-sea submergence rescue vessel is used for the rescue of sunk submarines and secret missions that require the operation to go unnoticed. Rescuing a disabled submarine is a bigger challenge as the deep-sea submergence rescue vessel has to connect to the submarine through its hatch before rescue operations can begin. Patrol vessels are used to provide maritime security to coastal areas.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Aerospace Company

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Aerospace Company is the aerospace division of Kawasaki Heavy Industries producing flight simulators, missiles, aircraft, jet engines, and helicopters from 1930 onwards. They were involved in developing various types of aircraft for the Imperial Japanese Army before the Second World War.

After the war, the company started producing aircraft and helicopters under license from several global brands including Boeing and Lockheed. In 1970, Kawasaki Aerospace produced Japan’s first twin turbofan military transport designed in Japan. In 1977, Kawasaki joined hands with the famous German aerospace company Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm to produce twin-engine helicopters for general use.

In the 1980s Kawasaki designed an indigenous jet trainer which was manufactured at a Kawasaki plant in Gifu. In 1992, Kawasaki was appointed by the Ministry of Defense to manufacture an indigenously designed light attack helicopter. Parts of the airframe and rotor system were manufactured by them. After 2000, they were responsible for designing fixed wing, multi-engine aircraft that were used for maritime patrolling of the Japanese coast.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company

In 1907, Kawasaki started manufacturing railway vehicles and in 1911 produced its first steam locomotive for use by the Japanese Railways. They continued making steam engines until 1971 completing a total of 3,237 steam locomotives. Later they started manufacturing passenger coaches, railway freight cars, and diesel locomotives.

Electric locomotives and electric trains were manufactured and were sold to customers in foreign countries through their division, Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. Monorails and automated guideway transit systems were manufactured for the Japanese Railroad that was used all over Japan. Since its inception Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc has manufactured over 90,000 rail cars.

The city of Kitakyushu and Okinawa opened their own monorail systems supplied by Kawasaki. Some of their overseas clients include the Chinese Railways, the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority, the New York City Subway, and the Panama Canal Authority among many others who proved that Kawasaki rolling stock was as good as the best in the world.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Motorcycle & Engine Company

From the time Kawasaki started building ships, the company has been active in building aircraft, helicopters, and even submarines as well, so it is no surprise that their design and engineering expertise was successfully applied to manufacturing motorcycles as well as other personal vehicles for sport and recreational use.

The Kawasaki Heavy Industries Motorcycle & Engine Company manufactures motorcycles as well as several vehicles that are used for various purposes. Utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, water scooters, jet skis, and general-purpose engines are manufactured and sold by them. Since 1976 they have been manufacturing 400cc two-stroke engines used for watercraft.

Kawasaki Jet Skis

It was the forerunner of the fashionable jet skis that were used in the 1990s and in 1986 Kawasaki brought out a new version that could be used by 2 people called the Kawasaki X2 with a 650cc engine. Their sit-down and stand-up models enjoy a great deal of popularity, powered by 4-stroke engines that can output 300 horsepower.

The latest jet skis are basically superbikes on water with very high-powered engines to power them to high speeds and enabled Kawasaki to win a number of trophies in the personal watercraft category. Models that carry two passengers are available for recreational jet skiing.

Final Thoughts

Kawasaki has carefully built up a reputation of excellence in motorcycle manufacturing over decades, starting in the 1960s. Kawasaki has been able to achieve success on the racetrack and with the sport bike enthusiasts, selling over one million motorcycles worldwide.

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