Today, I’m taking a look at a bike that has probably slipped under a lot of people’s radar. The unassuming commuter/workhouse that is the Kawasaki KZ400.
But it’s not until you start to do some research though, that you begin to find some interesting things about a bike that let’s be honest, is comparatively uninteresting.
Production started all the way back in 1974. Think about that for a moment, Richard Nixon had just put his hands-up to Watergate, Muhammad Ali and GeorgeForeman were rumbling in the jungle and gas was 55 cents a gallon (42p in the UK). In other words, it was a reaaaaaally long time ago.
Furthermore, the humble KZ400 was the first bike to have a ‘Made in the USA’ tag when it rolled out of Kawasaki’s Nebraska plant, the first foreign vehicle manufacturer to have a base in the US. Anyway, interesting stuff over and on to the really interesting stuff.
Featuring a rather pleasantly symmetrical parallel twin engine and no frills frame with conventional suspension, the KZ400 lends itself readily to a Café Racer look, but here are two examples that have taken a slightly different route.
This fine example of understated craftsmanship, simply called The Type 14, is the work of London based Kosovan brothers Gazmend and Bujar Muharremi. Opening Auto Fabrica their bespoke Custom bike building outfit in 2013, they began they say, ‘by taking a step back from modern-day technologies and really looking into what is a beautiful machine.’
They also took a step back when it came to fabrication methods too, using many of the metal working skills that are rapidly disappearing but which mean that the seven or eight bespoke builds they undertake per year are instantly recognizable.
Design and hands-on metalworking are at the very essence of their KZ400 and the petrol tank alone is a complex handmade masterpiece in 2.5mm aluminum. The frame alterations and internally baffled exhaust also follow their design philosophy with gentle bends fabricated from single section pipe.
For our second Kawasaki KZ400 we have to travel 8,500 km south-west to Columbia and another family run outfit, Garaje 57. Esteban and Gustavo Pasquale run their Custom shop out of Bogota and this particular Kawasaki was created to show-off their skills at the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin Texas.
Despite an insanely tight deadline before the bike needed to be crated and shipped, the brothers re-worked the frame, replacing over half of it with seamless bends and flawless welds. More welding skills are displayed in the down pipes, which are made from almost twenty separate tig welded pieces.
Using top quality aluminum billet the bell mouths, side stand, risers, plus a host of bits and pieces were machined and polished and the Honda XL125 petrol tank, frame and hand beaten seat unit, all taken back to the bare metal and clear coated to give the bike a real industrial feel.
Two bikes, two continents apart, but displaying one common denominator, hand built craftsmanship.