Classic bike logo

Green Piece!

With all this talk of politics and climate change this spring, it’s little wonder we’ve wanted to ‘go green’ here at CB-Net!

Unless you’ve been living under a stone, you’ll notice that Kawasaki tends to favour a certain colour.

Yes, that’s right: Lime Green – it’s just a classic colour and has been forever linked with the brand. Or has it?

Actually, for many years Kawasaki used red as a race colour – which kinda makes sense when you think that this colour has often been almost a ‘second choice’ for Kwak owners. After all, think of all the GPz900Rs, GPXs, GPZs and Ninjas of all capacities that have come in some sort of red hue, firecracker or otherwise.

History indeed shows that it was a bright red 125cc B8M that dominated a number of Japanese national off-road events way back in the day. So why the switch from red to green?

If we rewind back to 1968, Kawasaki were struggling to create a distinctive image for themselves in the rapidly growing (and vitally important to them) US motorcycle market. To try and give them something of what we’d call today a ‘USP’ the company explored several different options to help set them apart from the many other motorcycle brands in what was then the world’s largest two wheeler market.

The A1 Samurai had just been introduced, the knarly H1 Mach III was soon to be launched and no one knew exactly how it would be received when it did hit the streets. Out on the track the A1RR (a 250cc two-stroke) had seen success in road racing but this bike’s red and cream race-paint was pretty much lost in a sea of similar paint schemes.

George Hamawaki, then president of Kawasaki Motors in the US, gave National Sales Manager Don Graves, and National Marketing Manager Paul Collins, the unenviable job of coming up with something – anything – to help strengthen Kawasaki’s identity out in the States.

Thankfully for Kawasaki, Graves had been in the custom car business while at college and he felt that some new colour, a new vibrant hue could be the thing they needed. Graves eventually got hold of a custom car painter by the name of Molly Sanders. Sanders had an almost run-down shop behind a service station in Brea, California but it was busy and it was popular…

Graves says: “I spent two days drinking with Molly, and was impressed enough to get the go-ahead from Hamawaki to obtain some new paint ideas.” Sanders was sent 20 tanks and 20 mudguards and was told to be as creative as he wanted…

Within a month Sanders was ready to reveal the tank and fender combinations on the bikes themselves. Legend has it that when the Kawasaki top brass showed up, he demanded that they also hear his reasoning behind each of the combinations. The story goes that there were variations on the then-current themes of reds, blues, yellows etc. Apparently, Graves then asked Molly which one he thought was best, which did Sanders think was ‘the one.’ He answered: “None of them… but I’ll show you a colour that will make you stand out.”

He then revealed the first incarnation of the unmistakable ‘Kawasaki Lime Green.’  Apparently, the reaction was muted and the faces of the top-brass at Kawasaki USA were puzzled. Sanders then gave them his reasoning. He told them that this was a unique colour, that it was distinctive and that it would stand out on any race-track. Most importantly it was unique… no-one had used a colour so striking, so bold and so original before. “This is an exclusive Kawasaki colour that can’t be confused with anything else,” he said.

Despite some misgivings the colour was given the go-ahead and shortly afterwards Kawasaki’s Racing Green was introduced to the world making an impact at events such as Daytona and being seen on accessories and race-wear. At first the colour was restricted to competition machines and paraphernalia. That embargo was broken in 1982 with the Eddie Lawson Replica, after which numerous machines wore the iconic green hue including the Ninja family of machines.

Since the late 1960s, Kawasaki’s green has changed many times, sometimes due to the change in paint technology and sometimes due to customer taste. The teams themselves even embraced the colour… in the UK a number of the teams were called ‘Team Green’ in both on and off-road disciplines. The bikes were even ‘green meanies.’

Kawasaki made lime green their own in the world of two wheels. From the two-stroke race machines of the 1970s, through to the Steady Eddie replicas of the 1980s, into the 1990s with a range of Ninjas and ZXRs through to the all-conquering World Superbike Ninja ZX-10R today of Jonathan Rea.

In the two-wheeled world, Kawasaki, lime green, track victories and road sales successes have become as one!