Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Kawasaki KZ1300

Wed, February 24th, 2010

Featuring a different Kawasaki street bike each day.

1979–83 Kawasaki KZ1300A
It only gets a score of 3 because it's a huge, water-cooled six. In the same way I grade on a curve for small displacement bikes and one-lungers, it's only fair to expect a whole lot from an over-achiever like this. Its 90+ rear wheel horsepower does not completely justify the great bulk that went with it. Its silky smoothness does. Perhaps.
Sort of.
There is no way to get around the heft and high center of gravity. The first time I rode one I was genuinely alarmed at how forcefully it fell into turns under about 20 MPH or so, and how much control pressure was required to keep it on course. On the flip side, cruising on the highway at 90 feels the same as cruising at 50. As soon as I reached the Interstate, my opinion of the 1300 did a complete one-eighty. I wanted to just keep going, and going, and going.
All the beauty and aerodynamic efficiency of a brick, which makes this bike the perfect 'Anti-CBX.' Where Honda's six was full of subtle sculpture and graceful lines, the KZ has all the subtlety and grace of a fist to the kisser...which I find kind of cool, actually.
The motor is overbuilt and trouble-free. Mileage is largely irrelevant, but like all older bikes, age does take its toll on plastic and rubber parts. Cam chain tensioners tend to get sticky while dormant and can instantly ruin an an engine. Should something go wrong with the KZ1300 mill, there is a whole lot of mechanical complexity to put right again. Everything on this bike is unique, from the harmonic balancer on the crank to the three dual-throat CV carbs.
This bike is a bit of a platypus: neither a true superbike nor a modern tourer, and too big to suit any other purpose. It was a smooth shaftie that excelled at Interstate cruising, but the bike's 'standard' design was an anachronism. Kawasaki soon realized this and the fairing-less 'A' model was joined by the larger, uglier, full dress 'B' model, and eventually both went away in favor of the even larger Voyager XIII touring bike. None of these could overcome the basic limitations of the engine's architecture; Honda's Gold Wing was always less of a handful on city streets or curvy back roads, and just as pleasurable on wide, straight highways.
The KZ1300 was a bike in search of a purpose. In the same way that the Leaning Tower of Pisa eventually became famous because of—not in spite of—its engineering deficiency, the KZ1300 eventually found its identity as motorcycling's 'bridge too far.' It became the symbolic punctuation mark at the end of an epoch of ever bigger, ever more imposing bikes. It was living proof that there was such a thing as 'too much.'
I have always enjoyed the awesome excess of Kawasaki's six, and would jump at the chance to ride one again someday. But thirty years on, I cannot come up with any reason to own one other than purely emotional ones.