Over the years, the motorcycle industry has changed to suit customer needs. It could be argued the biggest change occurred in the 1960s when Japanese motorbikes started to dominate the market. Consumers were demanding for more speed and Kawasaki looked to capitalise. They developed a series of motorbikes called the Kawasaki Triples that were renowned for their power and dangerous aura. The Mach III H1 500 was the beginning of these robust machines, and we’re looking into the history of the model.
A rebel image
In 1967, Kawasaki started a project called the N100 Plan and they planned to produce the most powerful motorbike engine in the world. The company first considered increasing the bore of an existing engine, but they settled on creating a new one. After experimenting, Kawasaki created the Mach III H1 500 that came with an inline-triple 498 cc engine in 1968. The engine allowed it to go from 0 to ¼ miles in 12.4 seconds.
The H1 had a flexible frame and high power-to-weight ratio for the time. It became the first multi-cylinder street motorbike to use capacitor discharge ignition (CDI), which had previously been used in off-road single cylinder machines. Due to its speed, the H1 was prone to doing wheelies and that made it unpredictable. Many people saw the H1’s handling as poor and it gained a scary reputation as ‘The Widowmaker.’
Divisive to the end
Despite its poor handling, the H1 proved to be a huge success. Riders were attracted to the rebel image of the motorbike and it was unpopular with the police. The total number of H1s to be produced exceeded 110,000 units.
As production increased, Kawasaki improved the strength of the H1’s frame and shifted the centre of gravity to decrease the risk of wheelies. In 1972, they also released the Z1, which had better handling and comfortable seating. This model also became popular with the public, which demonstrated that consumers were willing to buy fast motorbikes at low prices.
The H1 was also characterised by its noise and production ended in 1976 due to new pollution regulations. This didn’t stop the motorbike from being popular among collectors and a source of debate among historians. A H1 was included in the Guggenheim’s Museum ‘The Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibition. Motorbike historian Clement Salvadori said the H1 “was one of the least useful motorcycles available on the market” but “it could blow just about anything else off the road.”
The H1’s success lies in the fact that it appealed to its target audience. People wanted the fastest motorbike on the road and Kawasaki delivered. It set the tone for the rest of the Kawasaki Triples that followed, making it a historically significant motorbike.
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