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.

Rob

*Check out this ride review video, without ever leaving this page-

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22 Comments

  1. Gordon Lunde

    Beautiful bike. Bought my first KZ650 in 1977, my second in 1989. I commuted, toured, road raced and drag raced them. Super reliable, comfortable for long hauls and fast as hell at the time. If I find the right deal, I may own another one.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      I’ve searched for years, hoping to find a Z900 or KZ650 like this. The Z900s were always out of reach, but when this KZ650 popped up on FB Marketplace locally, I had to jump on it. So glad I did. Love this bike!

      Reply
    • Mark YounG

      Had one in the 1980’s. Great bike would take it to the drag strip with my buddies KZ 1000 and race for time. Bike was great. Sold it for a BMW R90S. I know you Gordon. Al and I used to promote dirt track races District 16

      Reply
    • Erin

      I have my 79 KZ 650 SR in the garage that I bought in 1982. deep metallic purple, almost black. Love it so much that I bought and restored a second one, it’s twin. Great bikes!

      Reply
      • Rob Brooks

        I recently picked up a non-running ‘79 KZ650 as well, kind of a practice mechanic and parts bike. So got two KZs in the garage now myself!

        Reply
      • Marvin Ramos

        Back in 1989 in Qeens NY I bought my first full size bike the KZ650SR in a beautiful red with pin striping. I had it for yrs but didn’t have a place at home to keep it so I kept it at my store that my dad owned. well for a while I had a UPS delivery man that would come in all the time and always bugs me to sell it to him. well one day I said yes and I had to say goodbye to my Kz. I’m sorry to this day that I sold it. today I have a garage full of Harley’s but still I’m missing my KZ650SR. hopefully some day I’ll find one that somebody ready to part with so I can relive that old feeling.

        Reply
        • Rob Brooks

          I hope you find one too, Marvin. Best to you.

          Reply
  2. Dallas Puckett

    Have a ‘78 sitting in my garage now, same beautiful red, 4,100 miles on it.

    Reply
  3. Robinson Sintnicolaas

    Also have a 1978, C2 model. have over 130,000 kms of wonderful memories.

    Reply
  4. Andrew E. Washington

    Bought one in 1977, candy apple red. It caught my eye in a magazine ad that said, “ Straight Out The Crate It Will Out Run and Out Perform any 750 In The World.” Not sure if that was true, but I just had to have it. Loved that bike.

    Reply
  5. Paul Bergamini

    I bought my 79 KZ650 C3 new in California. I added the windjammer and bags by end of that year. I’ve ridden my bike cross country and then some. I parked the bike while I raised my family. I still take it out from time to time. Yes I still have her and enjoy the ride

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      You are the original owner?? That is fantastic, Paul! Glad to hear you still own her and ride her. A family heirloom, I hope you pass on to your children.

      Reply
      • Jeffrey

        had an 83 650csr I bought new for $1850 from a dealer going out of business. was my first bike, clubman bars,Kerner exhaust, candy red paint job,and $1000 in chrome plating. I miss that ride. (sold it and bought a 1976 kz900.
        kawasaki forever for this fan!

        Reply
        • Rob Brooks

          Nice! Betting that was a beautiful bike!

          Reply
  6. Stan

    This was a great bike. I owned one once. Took a trip from DC to Arizona and back. Had well over 40k on it when I let her go. They cracked open the case and realized she was in great condition. Oil changes and adjust those carbs. Great bike. Mine was blue.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Good word, Stan. Thanks for commenting.
      How often did you have to adjust the carbs?

      Reply
  7. STanislav *

    Interesting and nice reading. And just at the time when I’m considering buying the unfulfilled love of my childhood and youth. Honda 900 BOL D’OR. My dream was actually a 1200 six-cylinder, but I found a beautiful 900 four-cylinder on offer here. I will be sixty years old and I am looking for some reasonable justification for my absolutely unreasonable decision to buy her. I was interested in motorcycles in my youth, since childhood, and a few days before the wedding I sold the last one I owned. And the time is coming that I could fulfill my dream. What a similar story from the other side of the world.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Yes we do have similar stories! Both loved motorbikes as kids, left them for a time, returned, and both turning 60 this year. I hope you find that dream bike of your youth. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  8. Abel Mendoza

    I had my first KZ650 it was a 1977 KZ650 built for a quarter mile. I was 15 years old, smoking all the old men on their Honda overhead cam cb750s and my 79 was built for the top end. That thing was fun.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      I’ve learned that they’re consistency and reliability made them great bracket racers.

      Reply
  9. David J Bleha

    I still have my Kawasaki KZ1000 limited it has a total of 6,900 mi on it I started up every couple years and remember how much fun it was to be young and crazy

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Glad you still have it, David! What year is your KZ?

      Reply

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