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Kawasaki is one of the giants of the powersports industry, with a broad product range that includes supersport, cruiser, and touring motorcycles; dual-purpose, motocross, and off-road bikes; sport and utility ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and side-by-sides; and personal watercraft. However, the Motorcycle & Engine Company that produces these recreational vehicles is but one business segment of the multinational corporation Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. KHI manufactures a diverse range of mobility products including container ships, submarines, aircraft, helicopters, jet engines, subway cars, passenger coach and freight train cars, and locomotives, as well as gas turbines, industrial robots, water treatment and recycling systems, and even the tunnel boring machinery that was used to build the Eurotunnel. In 2016 KHI had over $12 Billion in sales and celebrated its 120th anniversary. The same year Kawasaki Motors Corporation, U.S.A., the American arm of KHI’s Motorcycle & Engine Company, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Both parent company and subsidiary have long histories of innovation and achievement.

The lineage of Kawasaki motorcycles can be traced to KHI and the Meguro Manufacturing Company. In the early 1930s Meguro built copies of Harley-Davidson transmissions for the emerging Japanese motorcycle industry, and produced their first complete motorcycle in 1935. After World War II, the company resumed motorcycle production with a line of OHV (Over Head Valve) singles. In the early 1950s Meguro built the K-series Stamina model, which was a copy of a BSA A7. While some in the UK derided the bike as a cheap copy, when the British firm had a chance to examine a Stamina they found it be a higher quality machine. In 1952 Kawasaki engineers developed their first motorcycle engine and in 1955 the first complete motorcycle went on sale. Sold under the Meihatsu brand, the model 125-500 was powered by a 125cc 2-stroke KB-5 engine. In the late 1950s Meguro was failing and in 1960 the company was acquired by Kawasaki. The same year Kawasaki completed construction of its first motorcycle-only production plant. In 1961 the first motorcycles were sold bearing the Kawasaki brand.

On March 1, 1966 American Kawasaki Motorcycle Corporation was incorporated in Illinois. The first models offered by the company in the new market were the W1, a 650cc OHV vertical twin inspired by the BSA A10 and K-series Meguros, followed by the A1 250cc 2-stroke parallel twin Samurai, and larger 350cc A7 Avenger. The rotary disc valve engines in the Samurai and Avenger developed prodigious horsepower for their size. They had an impressive power-to-weight ratio and exhibited outstanding performance. But if there were any doubts that Kawasaki was THE performance motorcycle maker, they were erased in 1969 with the release of the H1 Mach III. The Mach III’s 500cc 3-cylinder 2-stroke engine cranked out 60 horsepower when most 4-stroke 500s were hard pressed to make 40, and coupled with a weight of about 400 lbs. the result was low 13-second, over 100 mph quarter mile performance. And all that could be had for less than $1000. When it debuted the Mach III was the most powerful production motorcycle available and is considered by many to be the first “superbike”. It was followed in the early 1970s by the more powerful and faster H2 Mach IV 750, and both bikes were upgraded with better suspension and disc brakes. Kawasaki campaigned racing versions of their triples in European and American road racing series, and an H1R placed 2nd in the 500cc Grand Prix class in 1970.

Although 2-stroke engines made much more power than 4-stroke engines of comparable displacement, they emitted a much greater quantity of harmful exhaust emissions in the process, and in an increasingly environmentally conscious America, Kawasaki knew it was only a matter of time before 2-stroke engine motorcycles were legislated off the highway. Even as they were introducing the H1 the company was working on project “New York Steak”, a large displacement 750cc 4-stroke, 4-cylinder motorcycle that would be designated the Z1. Unfortunately Honda beat them to market in 1969 with their CB750. Undeterred, Kawasaki postponed the Z1’s release until 1972, and made use of the delay to outdo Honda by increasing displacement to 903cc. With an output of 82 horsepower, the Z1 was the new horsepower king, producing 14 more horsepower than the Honda, and it also had a more modern DOHC (Dual Over Head Cam) valvetrain compared with the Honda’s SOHC (Single Over Head Cam) arrangement. The bike received rave reviews from the motorcycle press, and a Z1 set a world record for 24-hour endurance in 1972, with an average speed of 109.64 mph over 2631 miles.

The Z1 spawned an entire line of air-cooled 4-stroke, 4-cylinder motorcycles that the company would build through the early 1980s in displacements up to 1100cc. The most notable models were the 1976 KZ900 LTD, which was the first Japanese custom cruiser, the café racer styled 1977 Z1-R, and the GPz sport bikes of the early 80s. 1000cc and 750cc engine factory backed road racers would win the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Superbike Championship in 1977 and 1978, and 1981 through 1983. During the 1970s Kawasaki had also increased their presence in the dirt with a full line of dual-purpose and motocross bikes, and a factory 450cc motocrosser won the AMA 500cc Motocross Championship in 1972. But it was in the water that a true revolution took place with the introduction of the Kawasaki Jet Ski in 1973, the world’s first personal watercraft. It was powered by a twin-cylinder 2-stroke engine and propulsion was by a fully-enclosed impeller pump, plus it had self-righting and self-circling capabilities if the rider fell off. The Jet Ski brand name would become so well-known that it is commonly used as the generic name for these water vehicles. In 1974 Kawasaki opened its Lincoln, Nebraska manufacturing plant, becoming the first Japanese vehicle manufacturer to produce its products in the U.S.

When the ATV boom began in the 1980s Kawasaki was ready with the 1981 KLT200 3-wheeler. Its 198cc 4-stroke engine was the largest displacement available at the time and the first machine with electric starting. The company’s first 4-wheel ATV was the Bayou 185 that debuted in 1985, which was followed 2 years later by the high-performance sport ATV KXF-250 Tecate. With its liquid-cooled 249cc 2-stroke engine, long travel suspension, and disc brakes, the Tecate performed like a 4-wheeled motocrosser. Over the years Kawasaki would build ATVs in a range of displacements for work and play, including the 1997 Prairie 400 4x4, the first adult-sized, fully automatic ATV from a Japanese manufacturer, the 2002 Praire 650, the first mass-produced ATV with a V-twin engine, and the Brute Force 750 4x4, the largest displacement ATV in the industry.

But while ATVs are useful for many jobs, some Kawasaki employees thought that a purpose-built 4-wheeled utility vehicle that could carry 2 people and heavier loads than an ATV would be more useful in the workplace. The sketch they made on a cocktail napkin ultimately became the MULE (Multi-Use Light Equipment) UTV (Utility Task Vehicle), also known as a side-by-side. The first MULE 1000 was powered by a liquid-cooled 454cc 2-cylinder engine mounted in an open cab chassis with independent suspension. It featured a large capacity tilt-back cargo box and locking differential. The MULE was an instant hit and is now a common sight on farms, ranches, golf courses, sports facilities, and wherever there’s work to be done. The MULE has been upgraded over the years with four-wheel drive, more powerful engines, including a diesel in 2000, and optional 2-row seating, and specialized models have been built to suit the needs of particular work environments. In 2008 the Teryx 750 joined the MULE in the Kawasaki side-by-side lineup, but with its powerful V-twin engine and sport suspension, instead of chores the Teryx is designed for high-performance side-by-side riding.

In the early 1980s it was becoming increasingly difficult to coax the necessary horsepower from an air-cooled engine to stay competitive in the superbike market, so in 1984 Kawasaki released its first liquid-cooled, 4-cylinder engine motorcycle, the DOHC, 16-valve GPz-900R, or “Ninja” as it was called in the U.S. The Ninja was a phenomenal success, setting new standards for top speed and quarter mile times, and it was named Motorcycle of the Year by several enthusiast publications. The Ninja was the first in a long line of highly successful sport bikes that would bear the name, in displacements from 250cc to 1400cc. In 1985, Kawasaki released the first of its long running line of V-twin cruisers, the Vulcan 750, and this was followed the next year by the first Concours sport-touring machine, with its Ninja-based engine. In 2002 the first of the company’s “naked” sport bikes debuted, the Z1000, which combined high-performance with minimal bodywork. The Supermoto inspired Versys joined the lineup in 2007, featuring an upright riding position, long travel suspension, and a torquey engine designed to handle any street riding conditions.

The pace of evolution quickened with Kawasaki’s dirt bikes in the 1980s. The “Uni-Trak” rear suspension introduced in 1980 became the first single-shock linkage-type rear suspension system, the type that is still most widely used today. Two years later Kawasaki became the first major manufacturer to equip their motocrossers with disc brakes. In 1985 the company switched from air-cooled to liquid cooled engines in order to extract more horsepower, and built its first 4-stroke engine motocross machine in 2004. But perhaps the most important dirt machine to ever bear the Kawasaki name is the legendary dual-purpose KLR650. First introduced in 1987, the KLR is still in production today. The first design was produced without major changes until 2007, and featured a 651cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke, DOHC single-cylinder engine with 6.1 gallon fuel tank and front and rear disc brakes. The KLR could be a fun bike on fire roads, a commuter, or a long-distance adventure tourer with the addition of aftermarket luggage. A modified version has even been used by the U.S. military. A complete redesign in 2008 included a more powerful engine, upgraded suspension and brakes, and a revised appearance with a new fairing design.

The first Jet Skis were stand-up models and required some skill to stay aboard, especially in rough waters. The appeal of these machines was expanded in 1986 with the introduction of the 635cc 52 horsepower X-2, a hybrid machine that could be operated standing or sitting with a passenger. In 1989 the first true sit-down Jet Ski debuted, the Tandem Sport. From the beginning there were Jet Ski jockeys who wanted more performance or to go racing. Kawasaki listened and delivered, first with the JS440 in 1977 and then the JS550 in 1982, which combined a high capacity pump with a 531cc 2-stroke twin to create thrust. These were succeeded by the SX series machines, culminating in the 1992 750SX, with 40mm carburetor and 8-petal reed valve induction. The 1993 Super Sport Xi featured two 40mm carburetors and a 5-blade stainless impeller. The 1995 900ZXi became Kawasaki’s first 3-cylinder Jet-Ski, and displacement was increased the following year to 1071cc. The even larger 1176c Ultra 150 pumped out 150 horsepower in 1999. In an effort to reduce exhaust emissions, direct injection was featured on the 2000 1100 STX’ 2-stroke engine, and in 2003 Kawasaki brought Ninja performance to the water with their first 4-stroke Jet Ski, the STX-12F, with a fuel-injected powerplant that was based on the 4-cylinder engine from the Ninja ZX-12R.

Kawasaki has a motorcycle for every purpose, whether it’s carving corners on a Ninja sport bike, gliding along the boulevard on a Vulcan cruiser, eating up the miles on a Concours sport-tourer, or adventuring on and off-road on a versatile KLR dual-sport. You can have loads of fun riding off-road with a lightweight, capable Kawasaki KLX dirt bike or get used to podium finishes with a powerful, technologically advanced KX motocrosser. If you prefer 4 wheels off-road, Kawasaki has Brute Force Sport Utility ATVs ready for work and play, high-performance Teryx side-by-sides with single or 2-row seating, and Sport ATVs with features designed for young and beginning riders. When there’s work to be done, there’s a Kawasaki Mule for the job, with gasoline or diesel power, single or 2-row seating, in sizes and with features and capacities for every operator and purpose. And whether you just want to relax and cruise on the water or experience the ultimate in performance, there’s a Kawasaki Jet Ski that excels including the return of the stand-up performance SX-R model and the Ultra series, with supercharged and intercooled engines that are the most powerful on the market.

Owning a car gives you comfort, owning a motorcycle gives you freedom. Your bike is your therapy, your passion, and your access to off-the-beaten-path places. In our selection of motorcycle accessories and parts, we have everything you need to keep your Kawasaki running, show some love to your prized possession, and hit the road or trail with confidence. We take the hassle out of your motorcycle maintenance, repair, and tune-up experience.

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