Owning a piece of motorcycle and personal history
As we swung our truck and trailer around in the cul-de-sac and parked, I could already see it down Tom’s driveway. Glimmering, almost glowing in the late afternoon sun filtering through the golden leaves of autumn, sat the motorcycle of my youthful dreams- a fully restored 1978 Kawasaki KZ650. Tom, the owner, met me in the driveway and proceeded to share the unique story behind this bike I was about to buy and trailer home. “It looks just like one I owned while I was in college,” Tom told me. “I loved that bike, hated to sell it, and always hoped I’d find another one someday.”
The ad photo that captured me. 1978 Kawasaki KZ650, in restored, pristine condition.
An old college buddy who also rode one back in the day, found a pair of KZ650s, a blue and this red one, called Tom about it, and they went in and bought both bikes for beans. The friends spent months rebuilding both to (near) original condition with a few improvements, then proceeded to ride and enjoy their restored machines for the next four years. “We took them both down to the frames, rebuilt everything from the pistons and rings, out.”
Tom and his friend took the KZ down to the frame in the restoration. Literally.
Flash back to my adolescence, late 1970s-early 80s. We had several dirt bikes growing up, as I’ve recounted here before, and Dad owned several Triumphs in those years. By late high school several of my friends were riding street bikes, but I stuck with dirt. One friend had a Kawasaki by our senior year, 1980-81, and although I don’t recall which model it was, I knew it was one of the acclaimed Z series, with the distinctive tank shape, rear fender, and crazy power for its day. It was gorgeous, until he wrecked it down some country road outside our town of Fayetteville, Georgia. I thought, “If I ever buy a street bike, I’d love one like his.”
Anyone remember these ads Kawasaki ran? I do.
Flash forward to October, 2022. I’m nearly 60 years old, and I’m standing in the driveway with Tom, gawking at this drop-dead beautiful KZ650 before taking it for a spin and hopefully, taking it home. I asked Tom, “Why are you selling it, if I may ask?” Tom reflected, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this bike, and riding with my friend who still has his blue one, but last year I bought that beast,” pointing to the big Yamaha FJR1300 sport tourer in his garage. “The wife told me I don’t ride this (pointing back to the KZ) as much anymore, and she wants the garage space back, so I guess it’s time to let her go. The bike, that is.”
What a beaut. Had to have her.
I took the KZ650 for a short 3-4 mile ride while my wife Lisa, who had accompanied me, chatted with Tom. The bike shifted smoothly, braked well for its age, had plenty of power, and sounded ridiculously cool with those aftermarket 4-1 pipes and Delkavic exhaust. I was in love. Upon return, we settled up with the price we had already mutually agreed on, drew up the paperwork, and Tom helped us load and strap down the bike in our trailer. “I’m glad she’s going to a home where she’ll be appreciated for what she is, who remembers how special those bikes were and are.” Tom had named the bike, “Lucille Ball” for its fiery red paint, and because “She’s a ball to ride, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
Fantastic from every angle.
The Kawasaki KZ650 was the brainchild of Ben Inamura, who envisioned the bike as a middleweight version of their vaunted Z900. The KZ650 ran from 1977 through 1983, underwent numerous iterations and modifications, and proved to be a strong, reliable seller for Kawasaki. Competing specifically with the popular Honda CB650, the KZ was truly the epitome of the 1970s “UJM” or “Universal Japanese Motorcycle.” By 1983, Kawasaki replaced the bike with their GPZ models, which would dominate sales during the rest of the 1980s. The middleweight KZ passed into memory, overshadowed by the increasingly sought-after Z900s and Z1000s as well as those GPZ machines. Yet to those who remember them, owned and loved them, these KZ650 bikes still have an allure and attraction all their own, decades later.
Fun, easy and nostalgic to ride, at least for this child of the 1970s.
Upon return, in the fading light of day, I took “Lucille” out for a ride myself, down some winding country roads south of our home. I could feel the nostalgia of my youth, the thrill of riding a motorcycle that came Stateside when I was a freshman in high school, and the deep joy of connecting with that inner kid who had wanted to ride street bikes with his buddies back then, but never pulled the trigger until the 1990s. And on a bike I had admired as a teen, but never owned until now. The circle is complete.
Not a bad handler either, for an old bike. Same goes for the old rider?
My wife, who doesn’t ride with me, even loves this bike, and is happy we found it. “Its so pretty, I just might have to take a short ride with you on it from time to time.” Oh. Yeah. Turning on the petcock, lifting the choke lever, keying and thumbing the bike to life, then coaxing it into a nice, 1100 rpm idle after a few minutes, takes me back to the carbed bikes my dad and my friends rode back in my youth, and the bikes I owned and rode back in the 1990s-early 2000s. These older bikes require more TLC to keep on the road, they smoke, vibrate, and can’t handle with the precision of modern machines, but I love them. And to have found one that I didn’t need to try and restore myself has been an added pleasure.
With Ted having found his “unicorn”, we can now say that I’ve found mine.
*Check out this ride review video, without ever leaving this page-