Sunday, 6 November 2016

Hacking: Kawasaki Z400 tales

The first time I rode the Z400 I didn’t own it. I took it to a dealer for its first 500 mile service, whilst the owner led the way in his BMW auto. The bike was only six months old and could cruise down the local bypass at 80mph.

Two years later I saw the bike again. Just 1050 miles on its bores, the chrome on the mudguards still shone, the paint, a sort of orange brown, was a little dull, whilst the paint had disappeared off the frame, the engine cases were white with corrosion and the cylinder head gasket sported a healthy oil leak.

The owner had asked me to clean it up so he could sell it, to make way for a Vespa scooter for his wife. After charging the battery, the Z400 struggled into life, spitting out half a dozen earwigs that had colonised the silencers, and lots of blue smoke. I took the bike home to clean her up.

First, change of oil and filter, could almost hear her sigh with relief. Loose cylinder head bolts caused the oil leak problem. The engine cleaned up with Brillo pads and Gunk. Bit of T-Cut and polish on the paint had it nice and shiny. I painted the frame, oiled the chain and cables and awarded myself three house points for doing such a grand job.

I rode the bike around for a few days and was quite impressed with the good riding position and the very torquey twin cylinder engine, which appeared to have much more stomp that my 400cc Super Nightmare and did 65mpg against 50mpg for the Honda.

I was not impressed by the dreadful handling. The bike felt remote and unhappy going around bends. This was down to soft suspension, roads that could be taken at 60mph on the Dream could only be done at 40mph on the Kawa. not helped any by stands and footpegs that had a lively love affair with the tarmac.

The owner of the bike tried all known ways to sell the Kawa, but no-one wanted the poor old dear. Something stole my bike so I ended up buying the Kawa.

I had the urine taken out of me for weeks by my riding companions who looked down on the run of the mill Z400, from the heady heights of Z900, Z650, CB750, T150 et al. But I grew to like it. Always started first press of the button, never had to touch the kickstart.

I got the price of the Kawa back when the company sent me to work 60 miles from home for two weeks - they gave me a hotel allowance, but I commuted on the bike instead, with no problems, including 80mph motorway bashes.

On a long run the ability of the Z400 to cruise at 80mph without complaint so impressed a 650 owner that he bought one as a winter bike. Only the poor suspension let the bike down. It didn’t even sound like a Jap bike thanks to the healthy bark.

The engine isn’t the toughest in the world, with chain driven balancers that like to wear and increase vibes, a dodgy gearbox and even the crank gives up at high mileages.

But this Kawa is still going strong because I sold it back to the original owner, who just uses it occasionally - it still only has 10000 miles on the clock. I sometimes get to clean it and ride around for a couple of days. Just like meeting an old friend again.

William Gould

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