Motor Cyclist - Feb 1969
Whoever became involved with it showed enormous surprise at the sheer speed of the 350cc Kawasaki, but as soon as they knew it was one of those Japanese things~ they relaxed and found themselves understanding it all. After all it is like their cameras, transistor radios and more recently watches. Well that explains it. And for the onlookers it did. To a small degree it did for me as well, because like everybody else I have come to expect high standards as normal from Nippon. It is an enviable reputation, enhanced by almost every introduction to their merchandise.
To help cost-cutting nearly all manufactures turn out at least a couple engine sizes utilizing as far as possible the same components. In most cases for me anyway, the smaller of the two is generally the sweeter nut, but not this time. My standards were revised. Last month the 250, I thought was quite amazing, but now there is the 350 to consider and it is that much better.
Read Titan of Leytonstone were generous enough to loan the machine for the test, but apart from fitting one of their race styled sports fairings, nothing was other than standard. Stan Welsh, their manager, told me I would be surprised, and I was. Whilst on the subject it may be worth mentioning Reads approach to motorcycling. It may appear horribly something or other knowing most peoples views on editorial dealers mentions, but every time I visit the Westlake racer partners I am impressed by their wholly professional approach to the job of spares and what have you. It is very refreshing indeed.
All else aside now and onto the Avenger. Twice I attempted to leave home and twice I turned back by bad weather. It was unfair on Kawasaki trying to discover performance on ice besides it frightened me. But third time lucky, very lucky as it happened, for a good friend of mine came along, too, on his Vincent Black Shadow. Say what you like about the big black twins, and some people do say some rather odd things, they perform powerfully and quickly. On our bleak runway we both whacked open the throttle at a slow clutch just home speed. The Shadow boomed and bounded forward as only a machine with its tremendous torque can, but at the point where I thought all was lost my Kawasaki found its strength and, with only about 40ft. between us at the start, that's how it remained all the way up and around the speedometer. It was grand fun, and tremendously satisfying matching the screaming revs of the small two stroke twin against the legendary power of the V twin. Up to 100mph we flew, and then it was over for we had to slow down, but both machines were still accelerating prior to the roll off. Who knows what the final outcome would have been? On another occasion, by myself however I did. achieve an absolute maximum of 110mph on more than one run, so possibly the faster of the Vincent twins would squeeze past if the road. or track was long enough, but it would. be a squeeze.
Unlike the 250, power did not jump in hard hitting steps to the same degree, although they were noticeable, and. except starting at 3500 rpm or thereabouts (500 below the 250 model), were in the same place. 100 below 4000 rpm and the surge of merely fast acceleration became almost shocking. The speed up to 8000 rpm was as lightning quick as I have experienced on anything of any capacity and. regardless of purpose in life. The makers claim of 13.8 sec for the standing 1/4 mile, would I fancy be difficult to substantiate during daily use, unless you are willing to risk the wrath of the police, car drivers, John Conell, Vincent owners and. Vic Anstice. In the hands of an expert, I have little doubt that it could be achieved, but meanwhile a conventional clutch start is quite enough to leave everything else except, maybe, another Kawasaki a long way behind.
It cannot be proved., but I am sure the fairing must have contributed something towards the machines progress across the tarmac, not that it is any slur on its performance, merely that the fairing enables the engine to propel its load, along at something approaching its true potential, for a naked bike has about half the frontal area of a sports car, and. the Devil knows what increase in atmosphere drag. But who complains that a car of any kind is cheating by streamlining? More than streamlining even, in my table of advantages, it kept the weather from me. Much of the riding was over wet roads, but at no time did I wear leggings, or any wet weather gear, except for a light weight anorak. Both boots and gloves remained dry except for a quite acceptable slight damping. The screen was too low to keep the rain away from my eyes and head but my chest and stomach remained comfortable. Steering lock was unaffected. As were the foot controls on either side. The pre-focus light unit was attached to the fairing, behind, a nicely curved. Perspex nose which, as far as I could tell, made little difference to the headlamp beam. Indeed, it was somewhat better than the 250s which suffered. An over diffused beam, so I can only imagine that its bulb filament was poorly aligned.
Unlike the 250 1 have very little criticism over the road holding. On the small bike it was too hard., but on this one just right. It may well be that just the 10 pounds difference in machine weight makes the improvement, or maybe I was wearing heavier clothing on the 350, but whatever it was, this time I discovered no over sprung skittering out to the edge of a bumpy bend. Bend swinging was a delight, always. Firm light and. responsive, it gave me tremendous confidence. On second thought though, could it have been the tyres only that supplied the quality lacking on the 250? For on this model a pair of Avon’s had been fitted by Reads; the rear one a GP. If it was only the tyres, then the Japanese have even more to learn about than previously imagined.
Braking was superb as far as stopping the machine was concerned, but I would have felt much happier with less spongier units. Only a gentle squeeze on the handlebar lever and things stopped turning as suddenly as you could wish for, but without any feeling of sensitivity. Whilst stopping, it was possible to squeeze even harder and touch lever and bar together, but without any increase in braking power which, I must underline again, was very considerable indeed. Exactly where the sponginess came from, I could not tell. Once the shoes had touched the drum I could still see movement in the operating linkage, but as no flexing was visible in the anchor plate, and no more than is usual with cable controls in the cable outers, I confess to being puzzled.
All in all, it is a difficult machine to fault except for one or two slight incidentals. Gear changing is as perfect as one could hope for with any manually operated mechanics. Oil consumption, despite its total loss system is better than a good many four strokes. The riding position which admittedly is a very personnel matter, I found could scarcely be bettered. Instrumentation was generally excellent, the speedometer being one of the best I have come across, its inaccuracies too small to be worthy of consideration. The Porsche car company, whose tremendous experience and technical Knowledge 1 would otherwise scarcely dare to challenge, place the rev counter slap in front of the driver and the smaller speedometer to one side, presumably to remind owners of the true value of the two instruments, and it is on this point I disagree. I think that the Kawasaki layout is correct, at least for road machines. A good, big, fat, speedo is placed centrally while the rev counter is to one side, a slightly smaller instrument there to advise only as to the best method of twisting the needle of the bigger instrument around or holding it in a certain position. Used in such a manner on the Avenger, riding became an art that gave me intense pleasure.
Often I have attempted to rationalize about foreign foot control layout and have always found myself at a loss. The American explanation is that as so many motorcyclists come from the four wheeled world (over there) it is safer to standardize as many controls as possible hence the swapped (for us) gear and brake levers using like car drivers, the right foot for the brake. It is just so much rubbish. 90% of American cars boast, and are sold, with automatic transmission leaving the right foot for the throttle pedal, and the left for the brake. By far the most important reason in support of our system seems to have been overlooked. It may appear remote and unrelated to the arguments at first though, but every animal in the world except for the camel walks with diagonally opposite legs only moving at the same time; even we swing our arms in the same manner; it is simply a matter of balance. Now, it is easy enough braking hard or changing gear at speed using diagonally opposite limbs, but using those on the same side is as unpleasant as it is unnatural. Motorcycling is simply an extension of running. Unlike a car you do not fight it, but join it for maximum performance and enjoyment; and you cannot do that unless it is as near instinctive movement as possible. Of course, it can be learned and mastered, but it should not have to be. To brake very hard, feeling as though it is all on one side of the machine, I find unpleasant as though at any moment it will swing into itself like a badly set up car. It does not stop me wishing that I owned a Kawasaki though.
Some slight noise, echoed back from the f airing, was apparent, mainly I think from the twin rotary valve discs whirling around. It is a hollow sound, not unlike the noise from a bone dry primary chain case, but much quieter of course.
Scarcely a test, more a questionnaire considering all my queries, so here is another that has always puzzled me. Why when they turn out such superb alloy castings do the Japanese insist on painting the engines alloy? It beats me.
Starting was always a second kick affair, except on one inexplicable occasion when the plugs required heating over a flame before the engine would fire.
The horn I loved. A dignified but loud, bugle notified other drivers without giving the slightest offence. Even pedestrians moved away without glowering at me.
Accessibility to contact breaker points was good, and although the carburetors were hidden under a couple of covers removal was easy enough if required. The tools were adequate for all but the heavier of repair work, but it was a bit of a squash to fit them into the box.
Lastly, you had better not think about tuning it; you cannot. The all important item on a disc valve two stroke is, of course, the disc valve, and with such things you leave well alone. It is no good hoping to smooth out induction tracts either; it is done already, but who wants to tune such a machine anyway. With such a performance it is quite unnecessary.
My grateful thanks to Reads for the pleasure of riding such a delightful motorcycle; I would love to sample another one of the machines, sometime.
According to journalists, the Avenger, with its 40.5 hp (upgraded to 42 hp with the installation of the CDI ignition) held the record in 1968 for its ratio: horsepower produced per cc. Its road performance and almost excessive handling abilities made it untouchable in many cases for the duration of its short career,
A US tester wrote there is nothing in its class that can touch it This brutal torque provides some pretty fearful speeds out on the turnpike with fourth gear capable of awesome acceleration up to 80mph Runs through the quarter gave times in the low 14's with a terminal speed of 90 mph. It is perhaps the best middleweight bike on the market. It's fast very fast. It's faster than just about anything short of an out and out super bike with twice the displacement.
Cycle Guide wrote Initial reaction from the first buyers was simply amazement. Never before had anyone seen a 21 motorcycle that could compare with it in performance.
In fact its superiority was so evident, a racer from Santa Barbara won the 1969 ACA production road racing championship riding one.
In a quarter mile drag it will beat many 500's and even a few 650's.
It was and still is a standard of comparison for its class
Another US tester of the time wrote First ride is a revelation Most 350's are only enlarged 250's; many do not run much faster, this is not the case with this bike.
Getting the gas on hard does one of two things, either the rear wheel breaks loose on dry pavement or the front wheel rapidly tries to make contact with the rear