Kawasaki KH250 Special

Kawasaki KH250The great 70s cover up

Unlike today, there was little choice in 70s motorcycling and any desire to ride something that bit different meant creating it yourself after the donor bike had been acquired or buying a ready modified model. If you wanted to emulate to the look of the GP race machines there was only one route to down, the fibreglass body kit; held in place by ugly metal brackets and heavy beyond belief, the body fit added kudos to the humblest of machinery and trapped your thumbs on a regular basis too.

The KH250 could never match the speed, and acceleration of the two leading quarter litre machines of the 70s, the GT and RD250. Weight being a major factor, the complex engine not helping in that respect and not aided by the lowly power output it produced, even so the KH stole the show because of its sweeping looks. The engine was the also dominant feature of the looks too, with its bank of heavily finned cylinders and polished casings sticking out level with the riders feet, this is capped by a brace of exhaust pipes winding their way from the front of the cylinders, down and under the cases, before flowering into a lop sided array of bright chrome work by the rear wheel.

KH250In tests of the 70s the KH always lagged behind the equivalent Suzuki and Yamaha, whether it was outright top speed or standing quarter times the Kawasaki didn’t disgrace itself but was never a match for the two stroke twins, making the Honda CB250 a better machine to pick on if you fancied winning the fight.

Not helping the KH in the twisties is the width of the engine, and the sagging of the rear suspension, the casings stick out a good way on both sides, making spirited riding a cautious affair, the rapidly diminishing ground clearance not helped on the right hand side by the collection of bulky pipes and the centre stand on the left. The chassis is more than capable of holding the engine in check, after all there isn’t too much power for it to worry about, and, if it had more ground clearance, there can be no doubt the tube work would make the most of it. Its the same with the brakes, the 250 benefits from having a larger brother and this means it gets the same brakes as the KK400, an effective and predictable single disc performing well up front.

Kawasaki KH250 SpecialInside the triples engine, it is all pretty standard fare for any one who has ever stripped a horizontally split power plant. The gears sit in the bottom case along with the crank with just the number one cylinder sticking out on the timing side. Twin lipped, rubber seals provide the seals between each crank, this adds to the friction losses greatly, and because of this Kawasaki chose to run straight cut primary gears to combat some of the internal loss, these are far noisier than the oppositions helical designs, but at least they transferred the power from the crank to the gearbox with the minimum loss of precious horse power.

On the plus side, the Kawasaki build quality was always among the best of the 70s bunch, especially the depth of the paintwork and its application, and the engines all but bullet proof if left in standard trim. All this means nothing if you want the fastest machine on the block and all most kids were bothered about was cracking the 100mph mark, something a KH would struggle to do unless in freefall.

Adding the fibreglass

KH250 KawasakiThe FLF body kit is a snug fit around the original tank, so much so that getting it off and on is fraught with potential cracks and damage to the paintwork, but it also means that the size of the bike doesn’t get out of hand and the kit makes little impact upon the tank width. The seat is made up of the original KH250 padding cut and bent into shape meaning in this respect there is no going back to the way the manufacturer meant it to look. On the plus side, the low seat height found on the standard machine is maintained, well you think that is a bonus until realise how close your bum is going to be in relation to your feet, and how warm those feet are going to be as they sit in close proximity to the thin steel of the expansion chambers. These came as part of the set and look very like early Microns despite having no visible makers stamps, the FLF kits were made within a few miles of Microns Condor plant so the link does make perfect sense. The sound this array creates is the best bit of the experience, a sort of excited cackle at tick over, that steadily makes its way into a smooth burble, and then back into a higher pitched ensemble at higher revs, superb. The choir of pipes is backed by the throaty induction noise that the three wire mesh filtered carbs make, of course smooth carburetion is compromised but then again, so is everything else the minute the decision to fit the kit is made.

KH250 Kawasaki SpecialOnce sat on the FLF version, the width of the whole package is apparent, not so much because of the fairings as the engine sticks out of the cut outs, but rather the footrests. These stick out way too far and appear to be too rearward in their positioning too. Once both feet are up and on the rests, no mean feat I can assure you, then all of the body weight is placed through each wrist, not at all comfortable or easy to get used to. The placing of the rear sets so far back, almost alongside the rear wheel spindle, means a lengthy and meandering rod between the lever and the engine is required so your foot can talk to the gearbox, and this doesn’t help with accurate shifting, strangely its perfectly alright up the box, but fraught with miss shifts and false neutrals on the way back down. This is a serious error as, unless pottering about, the power band of the triple does rely heavily on constant gear changes to keep it nicely on the boil, especially if you want to get a move on and stay in that mode. Anywhere below 6k on the tacho is of little use on the open road, its ok if you are in second or higher as a quick stomp down on the lever has the piston-port engine buzzing and raring to go, providing the linkage works as it should that is but, if you are already as low as you can go in the five speed box, it is time to call on the clutch for some help getting away.

The engine itself is a real treat, a product of being left in completely standard trim except for the expansion chambers, and has usable spread of power even if it wont lift itself up into serious mode without a quick down shift. Yamaha did the piston port engine no favours at all when they developed the reed valve, in reality the older design is just as capable of producing power low down and machines that stuck with this method like the Suzuki GT range and Kawasaki triples are testament to this, we just fail to remember. Great savings have been made in weight by ditching the standard pipe set up, but this is all but lost when you add the fibreglass and a few pounds of extra metal work that is used in the footrests. The FLF also feels far heavier than a standard KH simply because of the riding position; the smallest of bar movements involves most of the body having to contort to accommodate this. Its hard to imagine such a machine being desirable in modern times and it certainly begs a few questions like why would you want to spoil a lovely machine. The answer is a simple one, there simply wasn’t any choice, and if you desired the look of a racer on the road without having a special built, or performing some serious surgery on your machine, this was your only real option.

Superbodies and glass fibre

Kawasaki KHAlthough after market fairings had been available since the 50s from the likes of Rickman and Dresda, and it was always possible to modify a full race set up for your machine, the genre really came about in 1974. Peterborough based designers Ian and Tony Dyson, first began redesigning established motorcycles in this year, offering what they prefer to call “Superbodies” for a variety of machinery, the most common and famous of these being the kit built for the middle weight Kawasaki triples. The Dyson name shot to further prominence when they began offering the Bol D’or series for the larger Kwak fours, this range was launched at the 1979 Earls Court motorcycle show and mimicked the fats emerging endurance race style perfectly. Alongside the work being carried out by the Dyson brothers was lots of similar ideas, usually aimed at the twin cylinder Yamaha. The PR men made great claims about the RD series and its closeness to the real TZ race machinery but in the cold light of day they may have been technically similar, but they couldn’t look less alike so many felt the need to make their RD look like those of the race heroes of the day.

Kawasaki KH250 EngineHot on the heels of the Dyson Superbodies where firms like HamYam, Sondel and FLF (Flow Line Fairings), the latter made complete kits for the 250 and 400cc machines that were easy to fit and slightly more affordable too. The FLF kits were less complex than the Dyson, and arguably better looking too, capturing the racer image that little bit more accurately. Few intact examples survive today, a product of fibreglass not being the hardy beast we were led to believe, and the age and mentality of the intended user group. The FLF kits could be had, ready painted in your choice of scheme, for around £395 back in 1978, but this did include the rear sets and spannies too. This would add a third onto the new price of most machines that the kits were intended for, thus making such mods well out of the reach of all but the wealthiest of kids, these things were rare even in their day.

Kawasaki KH250 Triple Specifications

  • Engine – air-cooled piston-port two-stroke triple
  • Capacity – 249cc
  • Bore & stroke – 45 x 52.3mm
  • Carburetion – 22mm Mikuni VM
  • Max Power – 28bhp@7500rpm
  • Torque – 19ft-lb@7000rpm
  • Ignition – contact breaker
  • Transmission – 5-speed wet clutch chain final drive
  • Frame – steel dual cradle
  • Suspension – 34 mm telescopic forks. Twin rear shocks oil damped
  • Wheels – 3.25 x 18, 3.50 x 18
  • Brakes – 277mm disc single piston floating caliper, 180mm single leading shoe drum
  • Wheelbase – 1375mm
  • Weight – 160kgs
  • Fuel capacity – 14litres
  • Top speed – 92mph

Kawasaki KH250 Special

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