There are many iconic motorcycles, but only a handful have changed the entire industry. Even today most motorcycles are a design evolution, refining frames, engines and dissecting competitor bikes. However in the late 70’s Kawasaki realised this simply wasn’t enough for a performane motorcycle, and after a six-year development the little (Z1300!), GPz900R arrived and shook the industry, especially the Japanese, from their slumber.
This isn’t your usual Japanese sportbike.. this is a hard-core performance motorcycle aimed directly at the hard-core performance rider. If you think the essence of motorcycling is the sensation of leaning into corners, you need one. Source: Motorcyclist 1984
Despite such words today we don’t see the GPz900R as a “hard-core” motorcycle, and it’s amazing 20 year production run was not as a performance machine but rather one of the first true sports tourers. There were other bikes that were far more race-replica oriented (Honda VFR1000R and Yamaha RD500LC) and clearly developed to associate the machines directly with the factory race teams. It must have been a very rude shock when the road-design Kawasaki began winning production superbike races almost straight off the showroom floor.
Almost 40 years later (2020) it still ranks as the 17th fastest production motorcycle – ever. But in 1984 it’s performance was breath-taking. Not simply the first +150mph motorcycle, it cornered properly & was out-run by only a handful of exclusive supercars – off the line it left all of these far behind.
The GPz was, by almost every measure, King of the Road.
Context? A modern production superbike is now out-muscled by scores of modern supercars and are highly focused designs intended for a race-track. Yes they are fast on the road – but also uncomfortable! In 1984 you could carry a pillion, you could comfortably tour, and to be the fastest on the road you simply bought a GPz900R.
The 1948 Vincent Black Shadow is deservedly regarded as the grandfather of superbikes. Incredibly fast but expensive, uncomfortable and, let’s be honest, dangerous. And apart from being cheaper not much changed right through to the early 80’s.
But Kawasaki had seen the future & after six years of development the GPz took performance motorcycling from a limited, niche market and handed it to the masses on a gold platter.
It was affordable and handled impeccably, a performance motorcycle that the average rider, even Tom Cruise, could genuinely own – and coincidentally was basically the fastest vehicle on the road. It is no wonder it made such an impact.
…the Ninja is almost a production-racer motorcycle for street use, a motorcycle that can’t be versatile without losing it’s specialist expertise. The Ninja’s target is the no-compromise sports rider who wants high-tech hardware and who thinks or knows he can use it. Source: Road Test 1984
The Ninja (its name in the US) was a decathlete – designed to be the best at everything that defined a performance motorcycle. No longer did this simply mean power and size, that’s why the engine is only 908cc. The brilliance of the Kawasaki engineers was that by designing the whole package it also happened to be the fastest on the road and no slouch on the racetrack either.
Although it was only brief (perhaps only 8 months before the arrival of the Gixxer) the GPz900R was arguably the best at *everything* that defined a performance motorcycle. There simply will never be another motorcycle like it.
Re-defined as a sports-tourer gave the design an incredible 20 year sales run, out-lasting scores of sports & performance motorcycles. If you could only own one sporting motorcycle the GPz remained a genuine choice – for well over a decade.
A superbike? Well more importantly it sowed the seeds for the modern superbike.
Firstly it opened the door to this market – sensible people, not simply riders, now realised they could own a performance motorcycle and live to tell the tale. Secondly, the GPz was so good at everything that only by specialising could other motorcycles genuinely out-point her.
The wonderful 1985 Suzuki GSX-R750 is the perfect example, and many consider it the first sportsbike. It’s absolutely in my Top 4. Dominated 750cc production racing & with the power-to-weight almost identical to the Kawasaki it was close on a race-track. How marginal? Well after 3 hours racing around Mt Panorama, pretty darn close, the last lap of this race is brilliant. Frightening too from a modern perspective, those riders had nerves of steel.
But again you simply have to look at the two bikes to see that they are completely different designs, especially rake & wheelbase. The off-the-shelf race-track ability of the GPz900R simply reinforces just how good the design was.
Like the CB750 in 1969 the shadow cast is perhaps the greatest legacy of the bike. Reputation, looks, technical specifications – they all meant nothing unless you delivered. Performance bikes simply could not be mediocre anymore. IMHO these two are so significant because they made *all* other successive performance bikes better. When chatting about the Daytona 675 (lovely bike) I recently read on a forum that part of training for Triumph engineers included dismantling a GPz900R. Unverified – but definitely plausible.
To begin with you have to appreciate the different design concepts of the GPz and the GSX-R. The former is essentially a road bike that just happens to be pretty good on the track; the latter was designed from the outset as a straight-from-the-crate racer that just happens to have lights and indicators. Source: Motorcycle International Nov 85
Kawasaki produced the ultimate performance motorcycle. The fastest and the best at almost everything. The GPz shook the industry from it’s laziness – speed was no longer enough. History shows from here that any significant motorcycle design was more specialised, stronger at one element but weaker at another, creating the different sports-tourers, superbikes and hyperbikes we now see today.
In 1984 the GPZ was all of these – there simply will never be another motorcycle like it.
The aim of this site is to be a useful reference point for owning & maintaining a GPz900R.
From here you will find links to other online resources, general information, maintenance, parts, technical & service information with real experiences and input from real owners. The good, the bad and the ugly. Please feel free to contribute to the knowledge-base on this iconic motorcycle as we cruise towards her 50th anniversary in 2034.
Enjoy the ride!