In 1989 I talked co-worker Ranny Meier into selling me his Kawasaki H-2 (Mach IV). It wasn't running at the time since Ranny had laid it down a couple of years earlier and lost interest. The damage was fairly light, and Ranny threw in a bunch of extra parts that allowed me to get it back in running order with a minimum of expense. This was one of the original blue machines that had given every other motorcycle fits when it first appeared. It was clearly the fastest motorcycle available at the time, only to be rivaled a year later by the Z-1. The H-2 was the 500cc H-1's bigger brother, being almost identical except for size. Both were three cylinder, piston port air-cooled two strokes. And they both ran like hell.
The feeling of power produced by the H-2 was just as vivid in the 80s as it had been in the early 70s. This wasn't the first H-2 I had ridden, having once taken a brief spin on buddy Jimmy Mapp's bike, which was a later model. I also had some H-1 (Mach III) experience, so this Mach IV felt perfectly natural. While the H-1 was at lower rev's an average 500, the 750 boasted power at every engine speed. Back in the early 70s I had gone riding one night with a friend and his girl. He had an H-1, while I had my Harley Sportster in its 900cc configuration. I was shocked to find that the little Kaw could pull away from my Sportster, even with the passenger. At some point we swapped machines, with my friend and his young lady boarding my Harley. To my disgust, they still left me as I burbled along on the H-1, spoiled by the Harley's grunt so that I had forgotten what a power band was all about. Such diligence was largely unnecessary with the big H-2. It had much in common with the Sportster, both capturing the essence of motorcycling: a powerful engine, two wheels, and a place to put your butt. Everything else is pretty much of a distraction. Like the Sportster, the H-2 was the fastest thing on wheels when it first appeared, and continued to convey to its rider the sensation that it was still the fastest many years after it had been eclipsed. Click here to see Cycle Guide's spec panel for the H2. Note: Although the model tested was apparently a '72 model, they listed colors not available until 1973. I think all the '72s were, like mine, blue.
While turning on the ignition system of an H-1 or A-7 (350 twin) would bring the reassuring whine of capacitors charging, the H-2's efficient inductive system worked silently. Overall design was fairly simple and straightforward, with everything just scaled up from the 500, including the frame, so much so that a 750 engine could be dropped into a 500 frame, as my compadre Chris Smith demonstrated. The H-2's swingarm had to be one of the longest ever produced, an apparent attempt by Kawasaki to make a big machine in the hopes of dampening some of the reported ill-handling of the 500. The 750's handling was, in my estimation, adequate and typical for a machine of that era. My evaluation might be a little skewed, however, since I initially modified my Mach IV with tapered steering head bearings (a must on any older machine which will be ridden seriously), a 3 inch wide rear rim laced with heavy duty spokes, and aftermarket shocks. With the exception of a halogen headlight, everything else stayed stock.
The three cylinder Kaws were not known for their durability, and you rarely see them nowadays. But there were enough of them sold, in sizes 350, 400, 500 and 750, that the surviving units continue to justify the existence of a reasonable number of sources for parts such as expansion chambers, pistons and rebuilt crankshafts. I've never needed a crank, but I have had to replace pistons (OK, I'm and idiot and ran out of oil), and the transmission once got stuck in second, necessitating replacement of various tranny parts.
I still own my H-2. It hasn't been ridden everyday since 1991, and now is in need of further transmission surgery. The last time I rode it for any distance, I was once again impressed with its power characteristics. But what was even more striking was the difference between riding this machine and its modern counterparts. On the Mach IV you sit relatively high, with your hands up but not much clutter ahead of you such as windshields, instrument panels, fairings, etc. The gas tank is slender, and not elevated much higher than the seat. There is, of course, no electric foot, so that to start you fold up the right footpeg, depress the spring-loaded choke lever with your right thumb while holding the twistgrip, and kick. In good tune, the Mack IV starts easily. The first difference you're going to notice once the motor fires will probably be the sound, which is unlike any machine made in the last two decades. Sure, there's the characteristic two stroke piston rattle, but there is also the somewhat irregular and unique sound of three 250cc cylinders firing in turn. The most distinctive trait, however, has to be the intake roar, which becomes more noticeable when the throttle is yanked open. This weird sound has a somewhat nasal quality, and could probably be used as a sound effect in some space movie. It's unlike anything that you normally hear today, and, to those who understand what it represents, it's music to the ears.
Copyright 1998 by Patrick Inniss. All rights reserved.