KAWASAKI KZ400

1977 Kawasaki KZ400
air-cooled vertical twin

When the GT380 finally blew up beyond recovery in the spring of '85, I hitchhiked back to a small town near Little Rock and checked the local bike shop for something affordable to get me home. The only thing they had in my price range was a used Kawasaki KZ400. I bought it; and I wound up riding it for several months and far more miles than I ever intended.

(The fairing and windshield and the hard luggage weren't addons; Kawasaki marketed the bike for a short time in a full-dress version. The only non-stock items were the short megaphone mufflers, which the previous owner had for some reason stuck on.)

This was the only bike I ever owned that I never really liked. Oh, she had her good points - she handled well at low to moderate speeds and in close quarters; she was a lot easier to ride in city traffic than the GT380 had ever been - but somehow we just never hit it off. She was faster than you might think (I got her up to 100 once, briefly, just to see if she'd do it) but she wasn't happy at speed; the engine felt very busy and you had to buzz her brains out to make any speed. And the little bastard vibrated, constantly and very unpleasantly, sending nasty vibrations through the bars, so that you ended a long ride with tingling hands and tired forearms. Between that and the rather harsh suspension and the uncomfortable seat, riding any distance was a fatiguing business.

Brakes were mediocre. Handling wasn't all that great, either; she had to be held firmly all the way around a turn and didn't feel all that stable on rough pavement, though it's true she wasn't as squirrely on rain grooves as the GT380. And she pinged very readily unless fed highest-octane gas.

All of which probably explains why, in the few existing pictures of me with the bike, I always look pissed off.

The real problem, of course, was that I was simply too big and heavy for a bike like that. Later on that year, after I got something better, I turned it over to my teenage daughter, who got along with it much better.

Until then, well, as the old saying goes, sometimes you have to do with what you have to do with. And for all my negative feelings, we put in a lot of miles together and had some pretty good times. Soon after I got it I took it up into the Ozarks for an overnighter and it wasn't too bad.

(It may be significant, though, that I usually refer to my other bikes as "she", but the KZ was never anything but "it.")

And later that year I wound up taking it on a really serious run, to my considerable surprise. See the link below if you want to hear about it.

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North By Northeast: New England With The KZ400

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