Kawasaki KR 350 Review Motorcycle Trader New Zealand

22 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Kawasaki KR 350 Review Motorcycle Trader New Zealand
Kawasaki KR 1 S

Kawasaki KR 350 Review

Kawasaki KR 350

Kawasaki’s return to the rostrum in GP racing in 2004, with the much-improved ZX-RR ridden in MotoGP by Shinya Nakano and Alex Hoffmann, invites an inevitable look down memory lane. More than a quarter-century ago, the Green Meanies dominated 250cc and 350cc racing. That master of middleweight GP racing, Kork Ballington, who doubled-up in scooping both 250 and 350 world titles in 1978, won ten races in all, then repeated the exploit in 1979, upping his race victory roster to twelve in the season.

The demise of the 350 category, coupled with intensified two-stroke development in the 250cc class by other manufacturers, led to Kawasaki’s withdrawal from GP racing at the end of 1982 In order to concentrate the company’s race activities on those classes of four-stroke racing directly related to our customer products, it says on the copy I still have of the company’s official press release on the subject. In other words, World Endurance Championship, in which Kawasaki was the reigning champion, also AMA Superbikes and, in due course, the World Superbike Championship, which Scott Russell won for them in 1993 with the ZXR750.

George Beale’s ex-Jean Francois Balde KR350 is no museum piece. It’s the bike which Jean Francois took to three GP victories in 1982, and on which he took a trio of third places in the World Championship from 1980-82 inclusive. It spent the next few years in former Kawasaki France team manager Serge Rosset’s workshop till George Beale and his partner in Bikesport International, Terry Boyd, took it, and its companion 250, back to Britain in 1988.

The pair then entrusted the bikes to former Kawasaki UK race mechanic Nigel Everett to restore. The brief was to prepare the KR350 for expatriate Aussie Graeme McGregor, who finished third in the British GP at Silverstone in ’81 on a similar bike, to race in the 1989 Isle of Man Junior TT. The race had the distinction of being the last major race in the world with a 350cc upper limit.

As proof of the enduring competitiveness of the tandem-twin Kawasakis, Macca, as McGregor was known, took the ten-year-old 350 around the island at an astounding 180.64kph in the race. He was third on lap three out of four, when a rivet broke in the primary gear and locked the gearbox in bottom.

Against the best of the current privateer 250s, with their electronic power valves and vastly more modern chassis, the classic Kwacker had proved its mettle, on the last occasion a tandem-twin Kawasaki would race competitively on the international stage. The Lean Greenie was still a Green Meanie!

The Kawasaki appeared in 250 form for the 1975 season for Barry Ditchburn and Mick Grant to ride on behalf of Kawasaki UK, and for Yvon DuHamel and Ron Pierce to race in the USA. Paradoxically, the two best results in a disappointing first season were crossovers, with DuHamel taking fifth place at the Dutch GP at Assen, and Grant an encouraging third at Ontario in California.

But the new bikes suffered many breakdowns, occasioned by serious vibration from the 180-degree engine; in an effort to spread the torque delivery more smoothly, the cranks were geared directly together, so that the pistons fired alternately. The result was a double-sized horizontal vibration, which literally shook the bike to bits.

Kawasaki took a year off in 1976 for a rethink, and returned in ’77 with a revamped 54 x 54.4mm KR250 in which the vibration problem had been resolved by the simple expediency of re-coupling the contra-rotating cranks so that both pistons fired together, in a 360-degree layout. This resulted in the trademark lazy drone of the two-stroke tandem-twin. The new design debuted in the end-of-season Japanese GP in ’76 and finished second to a works Yamaha.

Kawasaki returned in force for the 1977 GP season. After Barry Ditchburn had struggled to defeat the Yamaha hordes in the first half of the year, he was replaced for the Dutch GP by Mick Grant, who promptly won his first race on the revamped bike to score his maiden GP victory, following it up with another in Sweden. In 1978 Kork Ballington found himself with his long-awaited works ride in a team with Aussie Gregg Hansford, and German ex-125cc rider Toni Mang.

They had KR350s (overbored to 64mm, but otherwise all but identical to the 250) to go with the smaller-capacity machine. The rest, as they say is history.

George Beale reckons from his research that 12 examples of the first 180-degree version were made, all in 1975 and all KR250s, while around 40 of the later 360-degree type were built from 1976-82, split between 250s and 350s, with a bias in numbers towards the smaller bike. The bikes had a reputation for reliability and rarely did anything go wrong. As for working on them, today’s designers could learn a few lessons from Kawasaki – they were brilliant.

You could strip and rebuild the engine inside an hour, because they were so well thought out. It took only 15 minutes to get the motor in or out, and 30 minutes for a full strip and rebuild. There was a choice of four ratios for each gear, but instead of a side-loading cassette-type system, which all GP bikes have today and which weakens your crankcase unless you add in extra weight to strengthen it, you’d just flip the engine over and take the bottom off it to change ratios.

Power output is a conservative 75bhp at 11,800rpm, measured at the gearbox, though it’s likely Toni Mang’s later engines gave nearer 80bhp. The 350 weighed in at 104kg dry, the 250 1kg less. V-twins may be all the go in the 250 class nowadays, except for the new KTM, but the Kawasaki engine in no way looks dated, nor does it perform like a sudden-death rotary-valve period piece.

The original twin-shock rear end of the 1975 bikes was later replaced with a monoshock rocker-arm layout, featuring Kawasaki’s Uni-Trak layout, originally developed on the company’s motorcrossers. In due course it was used on their streetbikes. Racing improves the breed.

Once astride the bike and on the track, it seemed as if I was sitting low down at the back, reaching up to the bars, rather than vice versa. A bit like riding an old Moto Guzzi V-twin road bike. Coupled with the high-set footrests, this gives a very cramped riding position, and made it very hard to tuck my knees and feet out of the way while cornering.

How someone as tall as Gregg Hansford ever rode a bike like this as effectively as he did, is remarkable.

The Kawasaki steered well, if rather slowly by modern GP standards, as befits a long wheelbase of 1385mm with 18 inch wheels. The combination of that and the KR’s rearwards weight distribution makes it a basic understeerer, but you can correct this easily enough with the throttle, and the result is a stable, confidence-inspiring ride with neutral characteristics – provided you stay on the power.

As befits such a light, if rather tall, bike, the KR can be chucked into a turn very easily, though the actual geometry figures of a 24-degree head angle and 108mm trail come as a surprise. For sure it felt less steep at the front, and to have even more trail, so relatively slow is the steering by today’s standards.

Still, riding the Kawasaki was a real blast from the past in one way. You tend to take it for granted how well modern race bikes handle, until you sample something like this from the not-so-distant past, and a curious mixture of old and new in another. Even allowing for the extra 100cc’s, that superb engine could surely have held its own at 250cc level up to not so long ago.

George Beale’s ex-Balde KR350 Kawasaki is a superbly restored, surprisingly potent, example of the all-time 350cc class great, the Lean Greenie.

KAWASAKI KR350 – Specification

Engine: Watercooled rotary-valve 360-degree tandem-twin cylinder two-stroke

Dimensions: 64 x 54.4mm

Capacity: 394.9cc

Kawasaki KR 1 S

Output: 75bhp at 11,800rpm (at gearbox)

Compression ratio: 13:1

Carburetion: 2 x 36mm Mikuni

Ignition: Kokkusan CDI

Gearbox: 6-speed

Clutch: Chrome-moly steel tubular twin-loop full cradle

Suspension: Front: Kawasaki 36mm telescopic forks

Rear: Aluminium box-section swingarm with Uni-Trak rising rate linkage and monoshock Kayaba unit

Head Angle: 24 degrees

Trail: 108mm

Wheelbase: 1385mm/54.5in

Weight: 104kg dry

Brakes: Front: 1 x 310mm Bogl Braun cast iron disc with two-piston Kawasaki calliper Rear: 1 x 210mm Kawasaki aluminium disc/two-piston calliper

Wheels/tyres: Front: 3.25/4.50 x 18 Dunlop KR108 on 2.00 in. Campagnolo Rear: 3.30/5.80 x 18 Dunlop radial on 3.00 in. Dymag

Kawasaki KR 1 S
Kawasaki KR 1 S
Kawasaki KR 1 S
Kawasaki KR 1 S

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