Monday, 16 May 2016

Kawasaki 750 Triple: who can argue with an original triple for £250?

The advert was vague but intriguing — Kawasaki 750, £300 — followed by a name and address on the other side of town. I hoped that it might be a 750 four but suspected that it was more likely the twin. Imagine my surprise when a 1976 750 triple was revealed by the owner. He had owned it since 1980, ridden it for a few years then tucked the bike at the back of his garage.

It looked original to me, but then my expertise on Kawasaki triples is vague memories of them screaming around the town in the seventies. It wouldn't run, a quick poke at the kickstart revealed the internals still moved but back pressure was minimal. The expected white alloy corrosion and tarnished chrome were both there, but the paint was still okay and there were no obvious chassis problems. I offered him £200, we eventually agreed on £250.

Pushing home 450lb of dead metal was not my idea of fun, but there wasn’t any other cheap option. The owner told me he had filled the engine with oil and l tended to believe he had expended some time and thought because the chain was still covered in oil and the cables still worked. A long list of bits were bought, including plugs, pads, shoes and a complete oil change done.

It took a lot of kicks to finally fire up I was despondent as soon as I heard the engine. The rumbles and knocks surely told of main bearing demise. The cloud of blue smoke intensified as I tried the throttle... the noises became no worse, maybe there was some hope. Nothing for it but a quick run up the street. Impressive amounts of power came in as soon as 2000 revs were called up, surprising me as I thought the triples were all rev crazy. When it hit five grand I found out what all the myths were about, the front end rearing up as the bike screamed along in second gear. l hastily backed off and adjusted my underwear. Returning to the house I was wearing a most wide grin.

Test, tax and insurance were duly acquired without any problems. The four gallon tank was filled and the open road beckoned. Ten miles later I pulled into the local tyre shop. I assumed that the old TT100s had gone hard and this was the cause of all the wobbling. There were some Conti's on special offer so a set were bunged on. Back on the road I was astounded to find that the handling was no better.

To be fair, the bike was reasonable up to about 75mph, but after that it twitched when it hit a bump and weaved all the time. The wind pressure from the very high bars was something else and could not have helped the handling. Coming out of bends under power was very frightening, as well as the bike having a very loose feel the front end went light, the bars wobbling in my hands. I mean, I wasn't even using much of the power. I started to dread thinking about going into a wheelie when half way through a bend.

Another annoying aspect was the large cloud of smoke the bike left behind, it seemed to intensify every time I opened the throttle. Back home, I was amazed by the rattles and clangs coming from the engine, but as before they didn’t become much worse with the revs. I hadn't seen a triple on the road for ages so there was no-one I could talk with locally to see if this was normal. There was 22,500 miles on the clock and the previous owner had denied ever taking off the cylinder heads, so it could have been on the original pistons and bores.

The suspension was shot, it probably wasn't much cop as new. A pair of Konis were fitted to the rear and a set of heavy duty springs I had in the garage went straight in the front forks. The bike felt much stiffer but it still weaved and twitched even on a dead smooth road. Flat bars, thought I. So, I fitted some. It made a significant difference, the extra weight over the front forks quietening down the twitchiness.

On one motorway run I persuaded the speedo past the ton in fifth (top) gear. Remarkably, when the engine came on to its power band, it flung us forward at a tremendous pace to an indicated 120mph. The bike hadn't felt bad, just a gentle weave but when I backed off the throttle there was some real making of its head. By the time 70mph was back on the clock I felt like Buffalo Bill. After much reflection I've come to the conclusion that the bike has awful steering geometry and a rotten frame, neither of which I can do much about.

Another annoying aspect is fuel economy. The bitch doesn't do better than 25mpg, once it went on to reserve after only 65 miles! It also needed a pint of oil every 75 miles, although the gearbox level never needed topping up, and the change was surprisingly good for a machine of this era. Or it would have been if I’d had Charles Atlas style muscles, for the clutch was heavier than that on a Norton Commando I once tried. The gearbox objected to clutchless changes by making graunching noises.

The Kawasaki was good fun in town, where it would take just about everything in the traffic light GP. The engine was very wide, though, and I nearly took off the alternator cover a few times. The front disc brake still worked in the dry but had the dreaded lag in the wet. The rear drum was a life saver at such times, although there was also a bit of engine braking from the two stroke triple.

Spark plugs only lasted for 700 or so miles and the points (on the end of the crankshaft) needed adjusting at about that interval to stop the engine backfiring or refusing to rev beyond 5000rpm. Other than that, it was just a case of filling the tanks with oil and petrol.

The longest distance I went in a day was 275 miles, which was quite enough as the seat and vibes conspired to make more than a 100 miles tiresome. The frequent fuel steps were a welcome relief. The triple cylinder wail did not impress me much, as the motor sounded so tinny; I am, anyway, a four stroke fan.

I tried various different riding techniques in an attempt to master the beast, but it seemed too heavy and powerful to even approach civility in its road manners.The worst aspect was that its handling was totally unpredictable. There were times when it was possible to motor along at 90mph in relative stability but at other times at as little as 60mph the machine would dance violently all over the road. I never actually fell off, but this is probably down to my innate cowardice rather than any natural ability the chassis might possess.

On the other hand, parking the triple up in any town centre would have some fool come over to tell me he used to own one just like it and weren't they the greatest bikes ever. On one occasion I let a 200Ib enthusiast relive his dreams by sitting on the beast, and the stand snapped under him. The bike toppled over, the guy crushing a Tomos moped and Honda CG125 under his obese form. I haven't laughed so much for ages. I charged him £25 for breaking the stand, but apart from a few scratches the terrible triple was unhurt.

I did 12000 miles in 18 months, nothing much went wrong with the bike as long as it was fed its consumables and the ignition timing was checked regularly. The engine felt as happy at 120mph as it did at 60mph, although the rider and chassis were certainly a lot more concerned. I didn't enjoy riding the bike very much, if the truth be told —- sitting on the surprisingly high seat wondering if it was going to try to throw me off was not conducive to peace of mind.

You won't believe what happened. I went to a motorcycle show on the bike and met a real triple enthusiast there. He had waited for me to come back to the machine in an apparent frenzy of expectation, saying he hadn't seen one in such an original state for years and years. When he offered me £1500 for it I nearly fell over in shock. The next weekend he came down with the dosh and left in a haze of blue smoke with a huge grin of happiness (or perhaps insanity) on his face. He wheelied the bike the whole length of my street, the engine making a terrible din, then he was gone. Perhaps he had more guts than myself, able to thrash the machine to the limit everywhere. If so, I don't rate his chances of making his next birthday very highly.

Donald Saunders

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