By David Soderholm
The strange call came through a highly secretive and frankly never used channel. The foreign digitized voice on the other end was calling for an authentication code that I was unaware of. Somewhat panicked, I called Bruce and Victor. We had a quick hushed conversation and an emergency meeting was arranged. During the meeting I learned about the hot line that had been set-up by a prior staffer that had back channel communication with a corporate Japanese operative. With shaky hands, Bruce revealed 3 sealed envelopes that were dusted off and opened revealing a 3 part code. Sending off the code led to another communication.
The second communication was scant on details. Only instructions to board a pre-paid flight to Japan with the directions – “bring riding gear” and “kore wa naisho dayo” – roughly translated to “please keep this a secret”. Victor, Bruce and I looked at each other, obviously puzzled by what was happening. After a high stakes game of rock / paper / scissors it was decided I was the most expendable of the three staffers present and assigned the mission at hand. I would head to Japan to find out what was going on…..
Upon arrival at Kansai International Airport in Japan I gathered up my gear from the luggage carousel. I walked over to Ganko Sushi in Terminal 1 to get a platter of Sashimi and bottle of Saki to help clear the cobwebs of Jet lag. While paying my bill, a Ray Ban wearing, clean cut Japanese mystery man approached me and told me to follow him. I thought it was too coincidental to ignore and did as told.
Exiting out a guarded door I was blindfolded and whisked onto a gulf stream G280. 1 hour later after landing I was driven to a “Himitsu no tesuto basho” or a “secret test location”. NDA’s were signed (now lifted) and I was shown the highly guarded and secretive new model in all its authentic retro beauty.
Sitting before me was the 2019 KZ750E1! Yes you heard that right! And yes – I know you’ve never heard of it. Not even in rumors. It’s an MMM WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE after all! You may also be thinking…..didn’t Kawasaki just release a retro standard? Well yes, you’re right. That’s the Z900RS. Unknown to anyone until today, the real story of the 900RS goes like this. Kawasaki used the Z900RS to gauge public reaction to moving towards more authentic looking retro motorcycles. Reactions to it have been overwhelmingly positive. Both to the commercials they have shown for the 900RS and in the flesh at the North American International Motorcycle Show. People have gone gaga over the thing! This encouraged higher up executives at Kawasaki to really push the envelope for AUTHENTIC retro motorcycles. This KZ……it’s the first!
When talking with the lead engineers on the KZ project, they said that they were tired of imitating old motorcycles and calling them “Retoro” (Japanese for Retro). Honda, Ducati, Yamaha, Triumph, Royal Enfield, Moto Guzzi, and BMW had all produced motorcycles that looked like old bikes. Cool to be sure, but none of them WERE authentic old bikes. They all looked old, but used modern parts in a disguise to try to trick the rider and general public. Get close to any of them and it’s obvious they are impersonators. Not this KZ.
That’s an important distinction and the waters that Kawasaki was willing to wade into. The question they had was, “What if we produced an AUTHENTIC retro (Retoro) motorcycle, using fresh, remanufactured parts?” The resulting motorcycle is as authentic as they come! MTV VJ’s Martha Quinn, Mark Goodwin, J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter would weep at the amazing job Kawasaki Engineers have done.
As you approach this KZ, you can start to see the amazing details Kawasaki has sweated with it. Things on this bike look old and aged. The engineer in charge of paint and finishes spent thirty proud minutes explaining the highly secretive Patina imprinting chemical process he had come up with for this and future bikes. It’s been used liberally around the bike. Subtle discoloration and aging is found in stickers, dash and control plastics, paint, clear coat, fork tubes and the optional highway pegs. Not too much, but just enough. It’s unbelievably realistic. Park it next to a restored 81’ KZ750 and you couldn’t tell them apart.
Saddling up for the first time, a public relations man referred to as JT kept looking at me. Suddenly he smiled and sprinted off. Returning he gestured towards my Isle of Mann TT issue Arai. He made me take it off (he knows this is from Japan….right?) and handed me a period authentic candy apple green retro open face lid. Perfect! Good thing I had my own Ray Bans along.
Starting the KZ was thoroughly old school. I forgot about the choke equipped Keihin carbs and almost killed the battery trying to start it. Dang. After some schooling from chuckling engineers I fired it right up into a high idle, much noisier and mechanical in sound than a modern inline four would be. Righteous! After testing for clean throttle I shut off the choke, pulled in the surprisingly cooperative cable clutch, snapped the 5 speed into gear and was off.
Power was surprisingly good. Keeping in mind this was a 750 originally designed 37 years ago! Throttle response was crisp and pulled well through the upper mid-range before flattening out. It wasn’t power wheeling, but it was fun! The transmission shifted crisply and had none of the notchiness I was expecting. Go power was good!
Brakes and suspension are also period authentic. The single piston front brakes are not up to the standard of the modern radial mounted 4 pot abs equipped brakes on a modern bike. But I guess that’s ok. They still get the job done, you just have to flow smooth arcs with them instead of bombing corners and trail braking. Same goes with the suspension. It is non-adjustable, except for rear preload, just like it used to be. Smooth is the key! The handling in real world situations is fun and fine. Tires are modern Michelin non radial Michelin Activ. They were the one thing that was decided had to be modern.
After parking the bike and reveling in the mystery of what the situation was, the exclusivity of the invite and the amazing job the company had done to pull off a real retro, my phone rang. It was Bruce, wondering if I had been shipped off to a work camp or something. I could hear Victor in the background, “Is he alright?! What’s going on??” I just smiled and said…..”Tell Victor everything is good and he will never believe what I’m sitting on. I’ll fill in the details later….and Bruce …next time you get to write the April Fools article!”