A quick little Kawasaki

Sometime in 1979, while a grad student working on my MBA at Southern Illinois University, I visited the Kawasaki Motorcycles dealership in Murphysboro, Illinois. I can’t remember the name of it but it was located in an old house on Illinois Route 13, the main drag through the town.

I don’t remember why I went in there in the first place but I do recall seeing a super low-mile 1976 Kawasaki KH500 on the showroom floor. It was a metallic orange color, didn’t even have 500 or 600 miles on it and looked brand new. They wanted $995 for it. So I worked them down to $895 and bought it. I put $300 down and borrowed the rest from The Southern Illinois University Employees Credit Union (an option available to me only because I was a grad assistant making $358.95 a month). It was the first thing I ever financed. My payments were $55 a month for 12 months. And I got myself a beautiful KH500- the first of three KH500s I bought soon after when I had an Indian moped and a used motorcycle shop with my pal Frank Galanti, mentioned in an earlier column HERE.

A 1976 Kawasaki KH500, nearly identical to the one referenced in the story. Except for the filter pods. Photo by Bring-A-Trailer.

This was not my first Kawasaki triple. By that time, I had already owned a ‘75 Kawasaki S1 250. A beautiful little blue bike that I never should have traded off. But the KH500 was everything it was and more. Even though it was toned down from the scary original H1 500, it ran good enough to keep up with my friend Dave Stanowski’s Suzuki GS750, and that was all I cared about.

There was a fellow MBA student, “Jean”, who tended bar at an adult establishment in Desoto, Illinois that we used to occasionally go visit.  Since we sold the bouncer there a beat 750 Honda with a “king and queen” seat (that was a common mod back in the day) and mini apehanger bars from our used bike shop, he used to let us in for free. Then we could sit at the bar and Jean would serve us drinks in plastic cups for free. We never stayed there long- after all, we were on motorcycles- but more than once I remember taking that KH up to its maximum speed of 120 mph on the six mile straight ride home heading south on US Highway 51.

Another beautiful example of the 1976 KH500. Photo by Mecum.

I had a lot of fun with that bike. As a grad student, we used to have international dinner parties where everyone would bring a dish from their home country. Mine was potato chips and beer. Several times I took tiny Malaysian grad students for rides after the party. I can distinctly remember having a 5 foot tall, 100 lb girl on the back and how easily the Kawasaki gently wheelied away from every stop light. That was my trick for making the girl hang on to me for dear life!

Another time I was visiting a professor friend of mine named “Ike.” His wife had left him and he had an enormous five bedroom house with absolutely no furniture in it because she took it all. Ike and I used to ride together, as he had an RD400 with expansion chambers on it. After a few beers, I headed home on the KH. It was late and I was tired. As a full-time student, half-time graduate assistant, and part business owner of a motorcycle and moped shop, plus being single after a three-year live-in relationship with the girl who would eventually become my first wife, I got by on about 3-4 hours of sleep a night. Well, that night I was apparently so tired I fell asleep on the four mile ride from Ike’s house to my trailer on Giant City Blacktop. I woke up in a ditch on Pleasant Hill Road! Luckily, I was unscathed and the Kawasaki only suffered a bent shifter, so I dusted myself off and rode the rest of the way back home.

A 1974 magazine ad for the H1 Mach III “fire breathing dragon” version, before they detuned them for more street manners by 1976.

In the months that followed, I started drag racing that Kawasaki at I-57 Raceway. I always had a hard time hearing when to shift the thing because the cars I was racing against were so loud. When it was fully paid for, I sold it and got myself a beautiful blue 1975 Honda CB550-Four. It had a windshield on it, crash bars, and a sissy bar, and was a stout little brick of a bike that felt safer and much more refined than the KH. When I finished grad school, all I owned was a ‘72 Chevy Van with a 350 V8, three-on-the-tree, and burnt out clutch, along with that CB550. The Honda and everything else I owned fit in that van when I moved back home in 1980. But that’s a story for another day!



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