Adding to the Stable – 1978 Kawasaki KZ650 Project Introduction

In Blog, Japan, Standard by AbhiLeave a Comment

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This post isn’t about a bike for sale…it’s about a bike I’ve just acquired!

Before I started Bike-urious, I’d typically buy a used-but-new-to-me bike every couple of years. I’m a bit of a BMW homer, which is why the last few bikes I’ve acquired were a K1200R, R1150GS, R1100S, and K75C.

There’s also been a couple of dirt bikes since. This is from the day I bought a KTM 450XC for the ill-fated Baja idea.

But over the last few years, that’s slowed down as I try to review bikes instead. I bring all of this up because nowadays it’s rare for me to get a new-to-me bike, but a situation has presented itself and now things have changed slightly…


When I first started riding, I thought of bikes as toys that were only useful for weekend pleasure. It wasn’t until I met my second boss that I discovered how foolish that opinion was. He had a BMW K1200RS with nearly 100k miles that he bought new, and he opened my eyes to the possibility of motorcycling touring. He also found me the K75C that became my vehicle of choice to conquer miles with, including a few Iron Butt Association rides.

His K1200RS and my K75C on a road trip to New Mexico.

My boss also had a 1978 Kawasaki KZ650 in his garage that hadn’t moved for years. He bought it used when he was working in advertising on Madison Ave in New York City, and on one unlucky morning commute he had an incident when he was crossing the George Washington bridge. He shoulder-checked to make sure he was clear for a lane change, and by the time he looked back there was a large piece of wood in the road. He couldn’t avoid it, and he ended up on the pavement with his bike. Crash guards took the brunt of the cosmetic damage, so he was still able to get to work. He continued to ride the bike for a few months, but when he moved to Los Angeles for a new job he bought that ’98 K1200RS brand new and the Kawi was relegated to sit.

Doing its best Rip Van Winkle impression.

I met my old-boss-who’s-now-a-good-friend years after the Kawi been put to sleep, and he often mentioned that he’d like to get it back on the road. As you all know, life is good at getting in the way, and the bike kept sitting. Early in December he moved, and his new home did not have room for the non-functioning Kawi so he was planning on throwing it out. Even though it wasn’t my bike, I had an oddly sentimental attachment to the Kawi just because I had heard plenty about it and I wanted to see it come to life as well. I couldn’t let the bike disappear, could I?

You’ve probably figured out where this is going. The KZ got a tow truck ride, and now it’s my problem.

Actually, there’s a few problems. First of all, I don’t have room in my garage for another bike, so the Kawi went off to my storage unit. The bigger issue, as my friends will not hesitate to tell you, is that I’m not mechanically savvy. But I’m looking at this as an excuse to learn more about how motorcycles work and wake up a sleeping beauty in the process. So now I’ve got a 70s Kawi and I can’t say I know what needs to happen to it. I’m pretty sure this will not go well, but I’ll share what happens.

The KZ gets a new home in my storage unit. Sitting in the back is the XL350R that I used in the Halloween Hillclimb. It may need a little bit of work as well…

I considered leaving the Kawi at Lucky Wheels (a DIY community garage in Los Angeles) and working on it there, but my first call was to a friend named Billy who knows his way around classic 2-wheelers. He was on vacation in Hawaii, but the first weekend he was back, he met me at my storage unit and helped me take the bike apart.

We didn’t have a key to the bike yet, so Billy had to figure out how to get around the seat lock. See that arm hiding in the background? Say hi to Nathan.

Once we bypassed the seat lock, we were greeted by this informational decal:

That’s a lot of checks to do every day.

The plan for the first day was to get the carbs out so that they could be cleaned.

Mission accomplished. I really like the styling of the tail section.

A few days later, I met up with Billy again to see how bad the carbs were.

The gas was so congealed that we needed a rubber hammer to get the float bowls off.

Looks like these are going to need a bit of a chemical bath.

We started making a list of parts that I’d need to order when Billy remembered that he had some OEM Kawasaki float valve assemblies lying around in a package from a project he worked on 2 decades ago! He was impressively able to scrounge them up within 30 seconds.

Billy’s a nice guy – instead of worrying about how much they cost him back in the day, he was just excited that these parts would find a good home.

Seeing as we’d have to wait until I ordered a few things, we bagged up all the loose parts while waiting for the inevitable rebuild.

Knowing that I’d need some help in the next few months, I reached out to a friend that works at Haynes manuals. He kindly sent me their guide for the KZ650.

Now I’ll know enough to be dangerous, I guess.

Most parts shops are closed for the holidays and by the time you read this I’ll be abroad, so I’ll get back to rebuilding the Kawi when I’m back in the US. I don’t yet know what the goal is in terms of how close to stock this bike will end up, but I know a full restoration is out of the question. Short term, I just want to make it a runner again for as little money as possible. From there, who knows? I plan on posting updates as they happen, and maybe we can figure out what the best plan is together…

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