A seminal moment in motorcycling.

The Z1 was the first powerful, smooth, really refined air cooled inline four 903cc-going-on-a-litre motorcycle. It was built by Kawasaki in 1972 and was novel in that it was extremely powerful for its day, managing 82 bhp. While it was beaten to the market by four years by the Honda CB750, the Z1 was instantly the bike to have. It had the same sort of power as the GP bikes of the day, in tractable, not-as-mental-as-the-H1 form. It had a good disc brake on the front and while the handling was not what we'd call good today, is still considered very acceptable.

The Z1 spawned a series of descendants:

  • The Z900, which was a re-spun Z1. A much nicer bike to ride, though the power was down slightly to 81 bhp.
  • Several K-Z1 variants. They were all pretty similar, varying mostly in trim and instrumentation details.
  • The Z1000 (full name KZ-1000) as featured in Mad Max. Basically the same as the Z1 but slightly more refined in design. Not to mention bigger displacement of 1013cc.
  • The Z750, which had a 750cc engine that revved slightly higher, a stiffer frame, and mostly cosmetic differences otherwise.
  • The Z2, which was a smaller displacement version of Z1, for the Japanese market, where displacement is heavily restricted.
  • The Zephyr range (in 250, 550, 750 and 1100cc). The smaller variants differed quite markedly from the Z1, but kept the same styling. The Zephyr 1100 is basically the Z1 with more modern shocks, a slightly bigger engine, way bigger brakes, and an oil cooler fitted.
  • The ER-5 series (500cc). The look and feel of the ER-5 is pure Z-bike. Designed, though, as an uber-commuter machine, it's got a smaller engine, water cooling, and is a twin, not a four, for filtering through traffic. A lot of people think this one shouldn't be in this category. I invite them to look at a Z1, then look at the ER-5, and tell me they're not related... the things are fricking identical.
  • The Z650, a recent addition, designed explicitly as a Z1-alike.
  • The Z1300, an inline six, awesomely silly! Shaft drive, water cooled, black and chrome insanity.
Of course, the Z1 provided the cues for most of the Japanese motorcycle design of the 1970s and 1980s, so whenever you look at an unfaired Japanese bike, you're looking at the Z1.

And I really, really want one.

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