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1978 Kawasaki KZ1000 custom.

This is the tale of a vintage bike that has led many lives. It's been a neglected junker, a basket case, a commuter, a touring bike, and a custom hot rod; this bike has seen it all. What follows is the story of how I put it through those changes and created the ultimate KZ1000! Well it is to me anyway...

My first interest in KZs started when I was a motorcycle mechanic at age 21. I was riding an '81 GPZ 550 in those days. I was working at a Kawasaki and Honda dealership. One of the guys I worked with had a really nice “duck tail” KZ900. It was red and beautiful and fast! It wasn't the latest, fastest thing available, but it was just plain cool. Another coworker had a KZ drag bike that was long, low and super loud, and it made a big impression on me. Over the years I've traveled the mountains and deserts on at least 30 motorcycles; dirt, street and dual sport, but none have had the emotional appeal or “cool factor” of this bike.

This KZ1000 has been with me for about 14 years. I bought it just before leaving on a cross-country move from Seattle, WA to Wilmington, NC. It was towed behind my van. I camped at RV parks and campgrounds where I could unload the KZ and ride it to scenic places. I rode it around the Grand Canyon, at several national parks, the red rocks of Utah, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and to the beaches of North Carolina.

This bike was not torn down and then built up all at once like a lot of project bikes are. I did some fabrication and mods, rode it for a while and then made more changes. This went on for a few years. At times it was my regular commuter bike. This book tells the story of all the transformations it has been through and the final big rebuild I did. Here's what it looked like shortly after I got it.

It was my regular commuter bike. I worked on it in the evenings and weekends and eventually got it cleaned up and gave it a spray can paint job. I had no garage, so I was painting parts in the bathroom of my apartment! I also polished the cases, changed tires, made a seat cover with a friend's sewing machine, and put in new steering head bearings while working inside my van in the parking lot. The tank was full of so much garbage that the carburetors kept getting plugged. I think I cleaned the carbs three times in the van. I installed two automotive fuel filters which helped tremendously, but they got plugged up also. Here's how it looked after the first quick spray can restoration.

Look how gray the headlight is. I did not know it at the time, but the reflector inside was really faded, peeling and in bad condition. Later on I found the headlight from an old Yamaha XS650 that was in better condition. It fit right in the bucket and the extra light output was amazing! Cafe racers started to become popular and I saw a lot of cool ones on the Internet. This inspired me to rebuild my bike and turn it into something really special. I did not set out to build something that would be recognized as a “streetfighter” or “cafe” bike. I just wanted to build what I thought was the coolest KZ1000 possible. A bike that was personalized to my taste. Here it is after I did most of the fabrication, but before disassembling and rebuilding.

During the design process I made drawings and Photoshop mockups of different modifications and paint jobs. I decided to make it as stripped, simple and clean looking as I could without affecting functionality. I also minimized the chrome. I wanted the retro look with some modern touches and upgrades. The finished bike has many curved or round parts on purpose. Like turn signals, front fender, mirrors, tail light, chain guard, etc.

Making a Custom Tail Section

One of the first things I did was cut the frame shorter and cut off the passenger peg brackets. It was a bit scary to start cutting for the first time! I knew there was no going back. It took a long time to make the new tail section bodywork. The back half of it is molded off of the original part. From the middle forward I had to custom make it from scratch. I came up with this strange system: 1. Cut out shapes with manila file folders and tape them together with masking tape. 2. Lay wet fiberglass on top of the folder paper. 3. Cut, trim and reshape as needed with body filler or more fiberglass. It was kind of crude, but it worked. Figuring out how to mount it and make it strong was the hardest part. I had to weld brackets on the frame and create places in the fiberglass to put bolts.

At first I thought I was going to use part of the original rear plastic tail, but the fiberglass resin did not want to bond to it. I started with this, but ended up not using it.

The plastic piece became a mold for the back half.

Symmetry is very difficult. Making both sides exactly the same was very challenging. I made a pattern on one side and transferred it to the other. That would be enough if this was a two-dimensional part, but the third dimension makes it more difficult.

Foil was used to keep resin from dripping all over the bike.

Carbon Fiber Parts

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