Although Kawasaki’s image, especially the more modern one, is more focused on racing motorcycles derived from series, there was a time when they manufactured prototypes so technically complex that they were surprising. That is the case of the 1966 Kawasaki KA-1, a gem that today, almost 60 years later, is such a spectacular technological display that it never ceases to attract our attention.
In the final era of the 125 displacement there was practically an Aprilia monopoly, with the permission of KTM and Honda, which were the discordant note. But the truth is that a long time ago there was more competition, and brands took the “small” categories very seriously.
Furthermore, before the regulation that ended up establishing that the 125 could only be single-cylinder, and also before the one that initially limited them to 2 cylinders, there were some spectacular battles on a technological level.
One of the contenders was this incredible Kawasaki KA-1, which was born in 1965 as a twin-cylinder, but was modified a year later to four cylinders to compete with the machines that Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki had at that time.
We are talking about a light motorcycle, weighing 95.5 kg, and with a rotary valve engine. It offered a power of 40 HP at 17,250 revolutions per minute! Thanks to this, in those times, with those tires, those chassis, those brakes and those suspensions, it had a top speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour.
These are tremendous figures for those times, but we must keep in mind that we are not talking about magic, but about enormous work by the engineers who looked for the best way to get the most out of the Kawasaki KA-1. Although for that you had to have the hands of a pianist.
The Kawasaki KA-1 was so demanding that, almost accidentally, they invented the quickshifter
And although the motorcycle offered the 40 HP that we have talked about previously, the power band was minimal. Of the 17,250 RPM that it reached, only 800 were worth it, above and below the engine did not run. In order to optimize it as much as possible and to finish complicating life for the pilots (or perhaps with the intention of making it easier for them) the gearbox was 14 speeds, yes 14 gears!
This forced the pilots to change gears practically continuously, and this is when we find another anecdote. Since they needed so many gear changes, instead of using the clutch for changes and to avoid dropping revs, they began to use the ignition cut-off to “connect” gears.
That is, the manual way of the quickshifter that is so common today but was invented 60 years ago, although in that case the synchronization was the responsibility of the pilot who had to press the button while engaging the gear.
It is still surprising what the competition advanced in the motorcycle world during those years…