For many motorcycle enthusiasts the name Kawasaki represents one of the vanguard Japanese OEMs. The company is built on a history of racing, covering the full spectrum of two-wheel disciplines including superbike, MotoGP, supercross, and motocross.
The motorcycle line-up covers everything from cruisers to off-road bikes. However, long before Kawasaki ever ventured into two-wheels, they were a force to be reckoned with in the industrial revolution.
It all began back in 1878 when Shozo Kawasaki founded a shipyard to build steel ships. Just eight years later the operation became the Kawasaki Dockyard. In 1896 the Dockyard was incorporated and Kojiro Matsukata was named the company’s first president. In 1906 the burgeoning company began fabricating locomotives, freight cars, passenger carriages and bridge girders at the new Hyogo Works. The following year they began producing marine steam engines.
In 1918 Kawasaki started its Aircraft Department and in the ensuing years built Japan’s first metal plane. The following decades were busy with the formation of Kawasaki Rolling Stock in 1928, Kawasaki Aircraft Co. in 1937, and Kawasaki Steel Corporation in 1950.
It was not until 1961 that Kawasaki produced their first motorcycle, the "M5" also known as the "Pet". The bike was more of a motorized scooter and was actually a product of the Kawasaki Aircraft division. As an opening act, the M5 lacked any pure excitement but that was all about to change.
Later in the 1960’s Kawasaki astounded the motorcycling world with a revolution of exhilarating and prodigious two-stroke motorcycles. The first to come was the Kawasaki 250cc and the 350cc Samurai twins. They were followed by the legendary inline triples.
In 1969 Kawasaki Dockyard, Kawasaki Rolling Stock, and Kawasaki Aircraft merged to form Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. That was also the year the Kawasaki debuted the notorious 1969 Kawasaki Mach III 500, also known as the H1. It was recommended you remove the plastic from the seat before you tried it on; otherwise there was no guarantee of holding-on under full acceleration.
I remember the Kawasaki ad, "let the good times roll", on the radio and in magazines back in the early 1970’s as the world was greeted with the Kawasaki 750 2-stroke triple, also known as the H2. The 1973 Kawasaki print ad went on to say, "You’re jumping a puddle — or flattening a hill. Flying the freeway — or riding the range." Today, there is no doubt that the shear rush of the H2 would have been expressed much more explicitly.
All and all the historical Kawasaki 2-strokes triples came in a number of engine sizes: 250cc S1, 350cc S2, 400cc S3, 500cc H1 and 750cc H2. The Kawasaki 3-cylinder 2-strokes revolution was followed by the KZ 900, a potent inline 4-cylinder 4-stroke, that further cemented the company’s horsepower reputation.
Today, Kawasaki has manufacturing plants and distribution centers worldwide. Kawasaki is involved in robotics, environmental control, marine engineering, and aerospace. And of course, Kawasaki continues to manufacture class-leading ATVs, motorcycles, utility vehicles and watercraft.
Kawasaki is also pioneering 21st Century transportation systems such as the Shinkansen bullet train and is a frontrunner in the development of larger, faster Liquid Natural Gas carriers and high-speed ships. In aeronautics Kawasaki builds a range of helicopters and provides portions of the new Boeing 777. Kawasaki is also involved in the development of the Supersonic Transport, a passenger carrying plane capable of flying at 60,000-90,000 feet at Mach 2.5.
So next time you see a Kawasaki out on the track, or cruising the boulevard, consider the impressive history behind it.