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Kawasaki Z1300

It was big. Really big. Really extremely big for the 1980s. Steve The Toast debates the virtues of blunderbuss motorcycling and Kawasaki's classic six-cylinder machine...

If anyone ever tells you that they have never made a mistake, you would be relatively safe to draw the conclusion that they have never made anything, as the saying goes. This doesn't mean for one second that Kawasaki messed up in the 1980s when they designed that well known hippopotamus of a motorcycle, the Z1300. But just looking at the thing makes you wonder if their purchasing department over-ordered on metal that year. Oh it's not the heaviest bike to grace the planet (quite), but the mere look of it inspires a hernia in most people.

The first bike we've featured that is too big to fit on the page...

It was over six inches longer than a 750 Triumph twin of the same era. It weighed 250lb more. It had a whole extra four cylinders wedged across its frame. And it produced nearly three times the horsepower. It made even Honda's six-cylinder CBX1000 look diminutive.

Before I bought my own Z1300, my friend Simon, who was even shorter than me at perhaps 5'2" (and if I've ripped you off an inch, Simes, old lad, I apologize unreservedly), suddenly appeared on one. There was a commotion out front; the sound of a bike being ridden viciously (the only way to describe it) up and down our cul-de-sac. I saw the bikes minutes before I spotted Simes, stretched out across the tank and handlebars. His diminutive frame on such a behemoth of a bike made me wonder if there is any truth in size-mology…

A quick blast was all it took to hook me: the smoothness of the engine, the swift pick-up, the seamless flow of power; the crotch-wrenching pain when I leaned it over too far without putting the sidestand down properly and had to pull it upright from a wicked angle of lean; all brought forth a desire to buy one for myself.

A few months later a carburetor model came up for sale, complete with Windjammer fairing, top box and leg shields. The road test showed up some fearful handling foibles, but a serious check-over of the frame and its moving parts revealed nothing amiss. I put it down to the ridiculous amount of weight that lurked in the fairing. The ride home in formidable crosswinds had me fighting for my life, the bike's handling more akin to a small sailing sloop. It went where the wind dictated, my input merely ignored as is a flea on an ox's back.

By the will of the gods I made it home and vowed that before the Hippo, as it became known, would touch tyre to the Queen's finest tarmacadam again, it was going on a rapid weight-loss program. First off was the fairing. Some serious wire chopping, a few dozen fasteners, and bingo! Hernia time once more, as I tried to stop the fairing falling onto the front mudguard as I withdrew the last two bolts. The fairing weighed a ton. Oh, I carried it up the long front garden path OK, but by the time I'd made it round the back, I was well and truly knackered. Still, I thought to myself, I bet that'll make a huge difference. I was right. Half the local rat population found a new home. I'm not sure that we didn't have a few illegal immigrants in it for a while.

Z1300 Stuff on

Off came the leg shields and top box too, saving a further king's ransom in weight.

I spent the rest of the day re-wiring the front light into a normal nacelle, fitting some old indicators I had lying around, and doing a general tidy-up job on the front end. By bedtime, it looked like a proper motorcycle again. The proof of the pudding, or, in this case, bucket of concrete, would have to wait 'til morning.

Hmmm. Nice. Lord knows what it won a cup for...

Brightly shone the rain as it lashed off the tarpaulin that covered the Hippo as I rose from my slumber. By the time several cups of coffee had been imbibed, the weather had relented and allowed our old friend the sun to put in a brief appearance. Donning all things motorcycle-related from the closet, I dashed out to make good use of the sunshine.

What a transformation! I would no longer need a bull-worker session every day just to hold the bike upright. Furthermore, it actually went around corners without that 'block of flats about to be demolished by dynamite' feeling, where you feel the whole plot is just going to drop casually to the ground if you take it off the vertical by one sniveling degree. I was able to rort around my local town center, fit between rows of cars and buses, even maneuver to the front of the traffic light queue. The tractability of the 1286cc, six cylinder engine was unleashed and I rode like a Viking god around Herefordshire all day, using goodness knows how much fuel. The three carbs, one per two cylinders, fed the golden fluid in at such a rate I seemed to spend even more time than usual filling up despite the gargantuan fuel tank.

Town work, spirited I have to admit, returned a meager 24mpg. OK, there were a few traffic light GPs and some heavy-handed riding involved, but 24 miles to the gallon? I booked it into the local Kawasaki center for a testing time; something had to be wrong, somewhere a little part must be broken, missing, maladjusted. But no, nearly £100 later they could find no fault, no error, no miscalculation to explain its voracious appetite for the golden ambrosia... other than my own over-exuberant right wrist, of course.

I took it on a run, hung out to dry by the huge bars, and I cruised at the magical ton for many miles. Well, not that many, before once more the beckoning of the pumps had me relinquish more of my hard-earned for a refill of the voluminous tank. This revealed that we had managed a mere 31 miles for every glittering gallon. Oh, but surely worth it for the acceleration, the smoothness, the pride of riding such a beast? To be at the controls of one of the most feared, revered, lusted-after bikes of the moment? No, you are well and truly off your trolley. So the roll-on at ninety was exceptionally good, it was glacier smooth, it was (a little too) planted on the road, but not at that price. Here was the bike that could induce global warming all on its own.

In 1984 out came fuel injection to go with the modified suspension, strengthened transmission and the beefy starter motor which were introduced the previous year. The utter complexity of the dual-mode digital fuel injection startled another 20 horsepower out of the engine, but it only managed to win a few extra mpg, bringing the average up to around 35. Ooh, I was so impressed.

Real Mart's Factoid of the Day: The Z1300 engine is heavier than an entire Guzzi V50.

Life, however, was never dull with Hippo. She would have my heart rate raised on every tight country lane, as her immensity wallowed around each bumpy corner, the rear shocks wound to their maximum. She would weave on white lines, buck like a bronco over pitted surfaces, but she never actually let go despite the angle of lean.

Her triple disc brakes, although they did struggle with her girth should you try to ride her a little too fast through traffic, never actually faded away... but then they weren't all there either. Not as bad as our American cousins fitted to their own lard-arsed touring offerings of the era, but not a lot better either. She could be loaded with two people and everything including the kitchen sink, with a large rack the size of a helicopter landing pad, and the only noticeable difference was a little more wallowing on fast bends. The extra load made little difference to her nearly 700lb kerb weight, and she would eat up the miles as quickly as she would the fuel. It almost seemed like a race sometimes, to try to cover as much ground as possible before she could drink up all the available propellant.

Her reliability was never a question, firing up on the first caress of the button, although too wide a throttle opening on wet days would see the sparks finding an easier path to earth than through the spark-plug and across the great 32-thousandths of an inch divide at the bottom in the swirling mists of the combustion chamber. The gearbox was competent enough; you had to be a ham-footed Neanderthal to grate a cog, and the shaft drive never intruded on your day unless you were stupid enough to try and change down a gear as you where banked over in a corner. The battery needed checking regularly as she had a tendency to boil it dry, especially on longer journeys, but this effect could be reduced by riding on main beam during daylight hours (a practice I would never condone in a million years… Officer).

The cast wheels came up beautifully for a little attention with Autosol and her chrome work, minimal as it was, would shine for a little chrome cleaner's attention too. Over time, her paint began to fade, her silencers began to bubble up, and it was obvious that before too long great expense would be required to revamp her great expanse with parts new enough to keep her running in a tidy fashion.

Arrr. Not so scary when it's small.Would I buy another one? No, I replaced her in my heart with, what was for me, one of the finest dinosaurs to come from Japan, the inimitable Yamaha 1.1S. This black custom version of the XS1100 did everything better than the Kawasaki by a country mile. THIS bike I'd buy like a shot if I could find one in prime condition. The Z1300, king of all it surveyed in the manner of Arthur, was de-throned for me by the Lancelot style and performance of the XS1.1.

The Z1300 may be considered classic by some, but it was beaten to the streets by Honda's CBX, then out-classed in power, weight, top speed and also -- for my money -- in styling by the Honda. Handling? Nothing this large and unwieldy can ever be considered good in this respect. To be adequate is the best it could hope for.

That was my opinion as an owner, back then. The Z1300 is so long in the tooth these days that by rights it should have returned to the earth from whence it was spawned, but it keeps on keeping on. So who am I to pass a vicious judgment upon this uncrowned king of the streets? I'm just a lover of motorcycles, dear reader. Maybe another such lover of motorcycles would be delighted beyond reason to own this behemoth now...

Why are there no Classic Yamahas on our Bikes page? YDS7, XS650, FS1E, RD350LC owners - where are you?


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