The Kawasaki triples were a range of 250 cc to 750 cc motorcycles Kawasaki exported from 1969 to 1980. The engines were air-cooled, three-cylinder, two-stroke with two exhaust pipes exiting on the right side of the bike, and one on the left. Right from the first triple model, the 1969 Mach III H1 500cc, the motorcycle gained the record for being the quickest for its engine size. Despite having severe handling problems, the machines became extremely popular and fine examples command high prices by collectors today.
The first Kawasaki triple was the 500 cc H1 Mach III, introduced in late 1968. The original H1 was unique for using a CDI ignition which operated through an automotive style distributor. The H1 offered a high power-to-weight ratio for the time, but had generally poor handling and weak drum brakes front and rear. It was the quickest production motorcycle at the time. When motorcycle journalists[which?] expressed disbelief, Kawasaki suggested they take a new H1 to a dragstrip. Using a regular production model with only 7 miles (11 kilometres) on it, Tony Nicosia, a Kawasaki test rider, ran the quarter mile (402 m) in 12.96 seconds at 100.7 miles per hour (162.1 kilometres per hour) for the press to witness. The official figure was 12.4 seconds by Mike Wenzel—quite believable on a well run in machine. Tony Nicosia set many world records with Kawasaki triples over the following years, including some[which?] land speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats.
In 1971, the S2 350 was introduced, and in 1972 its smaller brother, the S1 250 became available. Also introduced in 1972 was the behemoth H2 750, which was essentially a scaled-up version of the H1 500. A stock H2 was rated at 12.0 seconds for the quarter mile (402 m). Updated with more power and better front disc brakes, the H2 became the undisputed king of the streets,[clarification needed] even beating legendary muscle cars of the era such as the Plymouth Hemi Cuda. It was notoriously dangerous, being prone to up-and-over wheelies and speed wobbles. The dangerous handling characteristics arising from its mediocre frame design caused it to be nicknamed the "Widowmaker" by motorcycle enthusiasts of the 1970s.
In 1974, the 350 cc S2 was expanded to and replaced by a 400 cc S3. In addition, each model year following was met with toned down performance in attempt to meet new emissions regulations. The H and S series ceased production after 1975, and the model line became the KH series in 1976, omitting the 750 from the lineup and leaving just the KH250, KH400 and KH500. The last year for U.S. sales was 1977, with only the KH400 and the KH250 left in the lineup. Both models continued to be available in Europe and elsewhere until 1980. Stricter emissions regulation and advances in 4-stroke technology caused the demise of the Kawasaki triples in both cases.
The S1 350 was popular for some time as a budget performance bike in England because of its small size, and the fact that at this point in time it was legal for learners to ride. The entire S series of motorcycles used breaker point ignition, which was more reliable than the early CDI ignition and much cheaper to repair or replace.
Kawasaki triples were air-cooled, and the crankshafts were pressed together. This made it possible to cut an engine apart, press up extra sections of the crankshaft, re-weld different sections of the cases, and make multi-cylindered motorcycles. The ignition system and carburetors had to be redone. Four-cylinder 1,000 cc H2s were known to exist,  but the most common bikes to be modified were the S series, with 5- to 7-cylinder models being built, and at least one "V-6" (two three cylinder banks feeding into a common transmission). There even exists a 48-cylinder bike made up of 250 cc parts. These bikes were more of a machinists' skill exercise than a practical development. They were impractical because the engine was made much wider and the clutch and gearbox were put under more strain.
The 500 cc H1 also benefitted from the marketing genius of Kawasaki. They identified their target customers perfectly. Many US bikers under 30 years of age simply wanted to be the fastest kids on the block. Producing a two-stroke engine was significantly cheaper than a four-stroke, and for many years Kawasaki managed to keep the list price for the H1 under the magical $1,000[clarification needed] barrier. Competing bikes from Norton and Triumph were over $1,200 and slower. For a while Kawasaki even dropped the CDI and reverted to the cheaper contact breaker ignition in order to keep the price under $1,000.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (April 2012)|
1969 H1 500 cc white w/blue stripes, distributor CDI ignition, drum front brake, "Mach III 500" badge on side cover and "electronic ignition" decal on oil tank. Early 69 models had bridged port intake design, with "windowed" carbs. Late 1969 saw the introduction of the Charcoal Grey model, but a common misconception is the charcoal grey model is called a 1969 model—it is indeed a 1970 model. Kawasaki paperwork that came with the bikes, and the sales brochures confirm this. This has been spread by many in order to add value to their bikes by being able to call them a first year model when they are not. The red and white model replaced the peacock grey model due to poor sales.
1971 H1A 500 cc
1972 H1B 500 cc, style redesign without the Mach "III" badge
1972 Entire line introduced, intended to be similar in style, with the "swooping" racing stripes on the tank that distinguished the triples.
- S1 250 cc,
- S2 350 cc, drum front brake
- H1B 500 cc, orange, disc front brake, CDI dropped for breaker points, and a front disc brake.
- H1C had CDI IGNITION instead of points as found on an H1B, and a front drum brake as opposed to the disk brake on the H1B model. The H1C carried over the stainless fenders from 1971 along with the complete fork assembly and gauge style. Engines and exhaust were also carry overs from the 1971 model making it a true hybrid of the new 72 H1B and the 71 H1 models.
- H2 750 cc, front disc brake, CDI ignition with one igniter unit per cylinder.
- S1A 250 cc
- S2A 350 cc
- H1D 500 cc Adopted H2's CDI ignition and the styling that would be used on the later 1974 models.
- H2A 750 cc
1974 All models restyled with a new cleaner design that resembled the Kawasaki Z-1, with an instrument "pod" rather than separate instruments. All models revised for more civilized performance at the expense of raw power.
- S1B 250 cc front drum brake.
- S3 400 cc disc front brake, restyled cylinder head design for better cooling.
- H1E 500 cc
- H2B 750 cc
- S1C 250 cc
- S3A 400 cc
- H1F 500 cc
- H2C 750 cc
- H2 dropped from line, models renamed "KH" to match the "KZ" line of four strokes.
- KH-250 250 cc.
- KH-400 400 cc.
- KH-500 500 cc.
1977–1980 Only surviving models are the KH-250 and KH-400.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kawasaki Triple.|