THE BEST BIKE I EVER OWNED
The last one might have rolled out of Kawasaki’s factory 22 years ago, but the mighty AR50 lives on in the hearts of a whole generation of British former teenage idiots. Without it, thousands of us wouldn’t have discovered what it feels like to corner fast, to stoppie, to wheelie (briefly) – and generally be The Man. Our love of the sportsbike started exactly here.
One of those who did precisely all of that was former two-time world endurance champion Terry Rymer who, after growing up on schoolboy scramblers, got one of the little Kawasakis (it was actually the slightly larger AR80 but with ‘50’ sidepanels) as his first road bike at 16.
“It was the best road bike I ever owned,” he told MCN recently. “My mates were all a year older and had 80s legally but we had more fun on them than anything else.
“We used to go from my house and have a race wherever we went – up to the tea hut, or Chelsea Bridge, slipstreaming through the middle of lines of cars, it was full-on. How we survived I don’t know. We had loads of crashes but it was brilliant.”
Essentially, the cute Kawasaki was the go-to sports sixteener of the 1980s in the same way the original Yamaha FS1-E had been a decade before. A simple, air-cooled, two-stroke single with monoshock rear and styling rounded off with a headlamp cowling, the AR had it all: sports appeal (helped by a campaign including quadruple world champ Kork Ballington), affordability and, best of all, thanks to its AR80 bigger brother, instant tuning potential – as a young T. Rymer and thousands of other tearaway herberts quickly found out.
‘I fell off in secret’
MCN reader Matthew Cooper was another AR teen. “At age 16 in 1990 I saved hard and bought a 1983 A-reg AR50 for £150 and went everywhere on it, rain or shine. Living in a relatively remote village it opened up the world to me. I fell off it (within a week) hid the scratches from worried parents and tinkered to my heart’s content. It wasn’t new or shiny but it was the quickest and all my mates envied that. My bike bug began with my AR50.”
It was a similar story with fellow owner David Ulke: “The 80 version was my first bike in 1983. I’d originally wanted the AR125 but my folks (who were paying for it on HP) decided 60mph was plenty fast for a 17-yearold. It was the C1 model in Polar white and I recall drooling over the brochure for the 10 days it took to get delivered and the sense of freedom; of going where I wanted to, come rain or shine. Sadly, it all came to an end about 18 months later when I was rear-ended by some loon in a Datsun 280ZX.”
And although Kawasaki’s cutie finally went out of production in 1992, it remained a popular used buy for years to come, became a competitive favourite in the riotous ‘Moped Mayhem’ racing series and, more recently, has become an in-demand restoration project or first classic to a generation eager to rekindle their misspent youth.
The AR is Guy’s cup of tea
In fact, no less than biking TV celebrity Guy Martin, is one of them.
“As soon as I turned 16, in 1997, I had a 1991 Kawasaki AR50 – registration J121 LVL – and that was everything to me,” he said in his autobiography.
“It had an 80cc engine with a fivespeed gearbox and a Micron exhaust. It was illegal to have an 80 in a 50, if you were still on L-plates, like I was, but I wasn’t bothered. Then I bored it a mil and ended up with a 93cc kit on it, cut my own ports in the barrel, fitted a KX60 carburettor and a Nikon pipe. I was always tinkering with it.”
Unfortunately, after a night on the lash, Guy rode the AR to Scunthorpe and crashed head-on into a car. He was lucky: “I flew over the top, flailed down the road like a rag doll and got up without a mark.”
The unfortunate AR was less so, although there’s still hope: “It was completely smashed up. It’s never been the same since, but I never sold it. I still have it now, in the vague belief I’m going to restore it one day.”
ARS have that effect on people.
‘It was illegal to have an 80 in a 50, if you were still on L-plates, but I wasn’t bothered’