Friday, 10 February 2017

Hundred Quid Hacks: Kawasaki Z200

The Z200 is probably the most underrated single on the market. Introduced in '78, it had little that was really new - Honda were selling a similar engine in the CB100/150 back in the late sixties. Luckily, what the Kawa did manage to incorporate was their maker's experience of making tough and efficient engines.

Kawasaki could have used the same techniques as they employed on their 400 and 750 twins, but they resisted the call of the complex to produce a commendably straightforward and simple engine. The short stroke engine (66x58mm) has a single camshaft, two valves, gear primary drive, a multi-plate clutch and five speed box. It knocks out 18hp at 8000rpm.

Screaming the bike through the gears, changing only when the speedo is past nine grand, eventually gets the speed up to a true 80mph. This is hard work, it's much easier to change up at around six grand, which will let the bike scoot along between sixty and seventy.

Used moderately the bike returns between 80 and 100mpg; thrashed it increases to 70mpg. Up to 60mph the vibes are not noticeable, the motor thrums a little at higher speeds, but it's no worst than the Honda RS250 (which has balance shafts) and way ahead of the Tiger Cub (which has tiny main bearings). The vibration doesn't cause cycle or engine parts to fall off and doesn't wreck the motor.

The engine is very tough with no particular faults. Alternators have been known to burn out at twenty grand, gear selectors can wear out at around thirty grand, cam lobes can be scored by the same mileage, carbs start leaking fuel at forty grand and most bikes need a complete rebuild by 45000 miles.

The motor does need regular oil changes every 1000 miles, but otherwise regular maintenance can be ignored without ill effect in typical Jap manner.

When new the Z200 handles well, with stiff frame and suspension. with twenty grand on the clock it loses most of its precision due to sloppy front forks and shot shocks. The 280lbs can still be flung about with relative ease, but the chassis can't take worn tyres and wanders all over the road on bumpy surfaces.

The ten inch front disc is typically appalling in wet weather (yawn, yawn) and doesn't really have that much more power than a good TLS drum. Pads go for 9000 miles, are quite easy to change, while the caliper needs attention every fifteen grand.

The SLS drum isn't particularly wonderful either, with a lack of feel and shoes that only last for 15000 miles. The paintwork lasts for about four years, after which a respray is needed. The chrome starts disappearing after three years. The silencer falls off after two and a half years, but a cheapo pattern item can be fitted without complaints from the carb. Rear tyres start interesting Mr Plod after twelve grand while fronts go for sixteen thousand miles.

When new the Z200 was too expensive to interest most punters, used prices were wrecked when the learner laws came into force, second-hand prices are interestingly low. The bike has none of the mechanical nastiness of the RS250, can be remarkably economical, even has a electric start and it looks quite neat in an understated way.

Those limited to just a hundred quid are limited to models built between '78 and '80. There are still some bikes around with less than 20000 miles on the clock, that have been used as very mild commuters, which still have loads of life left in them.

The 250 version lost its way somewhere along the design route, lacking any extra performance and having economy even worse than the RS250. Easily the best single of 250cc and under, the Z200 is a very cheap way of getting into the motorcycling game.

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