Reader restoration: Kawasaki ZXR750L

Care­worn ebay rat­ter blos­soms into a saucy Suzuka-rep su­per­bike

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - WORDS SI­MON HAR­G­REAVES PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CHIPPY WOOD

ROB THOMAS STANDS back, pauses, and con­tem­plates the strik­ing red, white and blue cus­tom paint on his 25,000-mile old 1995 Kawasaki ZXR750 L3. “I’ve even peo­ple say to me if I wanted a Suzuki, why didn’t I just buy one?” he says, smil­ing.

In fact 40 year-old Rob could eas­ily have ended up with a GSX-R750 SRAD as a restoration pro­ject in­stead of the ZXR – back in 2015, when he was brows­ing ebay and looking at what was out there, there were plenty around for good money: “A friend of mine at work has a 750 SRAD; he paid £800 for it – 10,000 miles and it’s re­ally clean. a lot of other mates have new bikes, but I just like the SRAD and ZXR; bikes of that era.”

Rob’s bik­ing life is un­con­ven­tional: at 16, his nan gave him his first bike – her Suzuki FZ50. “It was twist and go, kick­start on the left, shop­ping bas­ket on the front. But I was des­per­ate for a proper bike, so when I was 17 I got an RD125LC for £75 from a break­ers. It’d had 25 pre­vi­ous owners. First time I opened it up, it blew a hole in the pis­ton.”

But Rob never got around to pass­ing his test. “Half an hour be­fore, I dropped the RD and snapped the gear lever off. So I bor­rowed a Honda CG125 but I’d never rid­den one be­fore – I locked the front drum brake dur­ing the emer­gency stop and failed. then I never got around to re­tak­ing it.”

It wasn’t un­til the start of 2003 that Rob fi­nally sorted it out: “I’m a re­frig­er­a­tion and air-con­di­tion­ing en­gi­neer, and the com­pany I work for wanted an en­gi­neer on a bike. they put me through my test, then bought me a Honda Deauville as a com­pany bike.”

Rob ran the Honda for years, but by 2009 he was us­ing it less and less. then, two years ago, Rob’s mate Grant bought a ZZ-R1100 out of the blue. “We’d been talk­ing about bikes, and next thing I know he’s gone and got this Kawasaki from ebay – a 1994 model with 8000 miles. It’d been stood for years, but un­der­neath the body­work it was like brand new. But the petrol had turned to sludge and gummed ev­ery­thing up. So I helped him sort it out, and while I was do­ing that I thought, ‘right, I’m go­ing to get a bike now’.”

Rob started brows­ing, choos­ing be­tween an SRAD and a ZXR. “I was looking for a pro­ject,” he says. “And I wanted some­thing from the era of when I was get­ting into bikes.” But in­stead of find­ing a Suzuki, the Kawasaki came up first, al­most ex­actly a year ago in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

“It was in a bloke’s shed, up in Manch­ester,” says Rob. “Ap­par­ently he’d bought the bike three years pre­vi­ously, but it wouldn’t go into fourth gear. So he’d bought a spare en­gine for it, but then that one had a mis­fire and he couldn’t get it to run prop­erly. So he took it out again – and that’s how the bike was sold to me: two en­gines on the floor and ev­ery­thing else in bits. From the ad­vert you couldn’t even tell if there was any body­work with it – so I emailed him and he said it was all there, but he couldn’t get pho­tos of it. Me and Grant drove up, and on the way up there we phoned him – he said he didn’t ac­tu­ally live at the ad­dress, it was his mum’s house. So by now it was sound­ing well dodgy, but he promised me ev­ery­thing was present apart from the brake lever.”

When they ar­rived, it still didn’t look promis­ing: “It was a dark, scruffy lit­tle shed with no lights and the door wouldn’t open – and it was a job to scratch about find­ing all the parts. But he was a re­ally nice bloke, we got the ZXR all to­gether and paid £495 for it.and when I got back home it was all there, apart from the mir­rors for some rea­son – I even found the brake lever, in a box.”

The first thing Rob did when he got the parts back was clean them up, wipe the dust off, then loosely screw the body­work to the frame to see what it looked like. “It’d had a green paint job by some­one at some point,” says Rob. “It wasn’t too bad, and I could’ve got away with putting it back to­gether as it was and touch­ing the paint up. But I didn’t want to.the plan was al­ways to pull it apart.”

First, Rob fit­ted and ran the en­gine that had the mis­fire. “It was only be­cause the clips at the top of the plug caps were cor­roded away to nothing. I cleaned them up, and it ran no prob­lem.” Rob couldn’t re­sist a sneaky ride up the road: “Just a cou­ple of times, to see what it felt like…”

Back in the garage, the ZXR was pulled com­pletely apart. First to get the treat­ment was the alu­minium frame and swingarm. “I stripped the orig­i­nal paint off us­ing in­dus­trial paint strip­per – lit­er­ally, you slap loads of it on, leave it for 10 min­utes, it bub­bles up, then I took it out­side on the drive and jet-washed it off.any bits that were left, I just did it again and got it off with Scotchbrite.”

Rob sent the stripped frame and swingarm off to Mor­ley Broth­ers in Cam­bridge for paint­ing. “I talked to a lot of peo­ple about the mer­its of pow­der coat­ing or us­ing wet paint,” he says “The orig­i­nal fin­ish was paint, and Mor­ley Broth­ers rec­om­mended us­ing it in­stead of pow­der. If you scratch pow­der­coat it tends to chip, while paint is eas­ier to re­pair.”

While the frame was away, Rob stripped the ZXR’S wheels the same way, then re­painted them him­self with spray cans. Rob went over them with Hal­fords primer, then a cou­ple of cans of white, then a lac­quer top coat. “It’s im­pres­sive, the fin­ish you can get with a rat­tle can, if you’re care­ful,” he says.

Next up were the forks; Rob re­placed the seals and changed the oil, masked the bot­toms off, then got them painted the same colour as the frame. “I took them over to the painters in my works van. But first I had to pop over to do a job at theam­er­i­can air­force base at Milden­hall – the se­cu­rity there is pretty tight and, while I was out of the van, a guard spot­ted the fork legs on the seat and thought they were a pair of bazookas,” laughs Rob.

Other parts were cleaned up; Rob pol­ished the clip-ons, buffed-up the switchgear, clocks and levers, fit­ted new grips and ’bar-ends, got the head­lamp and fair­ing stays painted, fit­ted new head bear­ings and de-yoke pro­tec­tored the top yoke.the frame came back from paint­ing; Rob hung it from the ceil­ing of his garage and bolted on the sus­pen­sion.the

“A guard saw the forks on the seat and thought they were bazookas”

shock was in good con­di­tion, so Rob just cleaned up the link­age and fit­ted new bear­ings.and with the wheels on, the rolling chas­sis was tak­ing shape.

Rob wanted to keep the orig­i­nal mo­tor – the one with the stick­ing fourth gear – with the orig­i­nal chas­sis. “I started strip­ping it down, took the clutch out and the sump off,” he says. “In the bottom of the sump I found the end of a cir­clip – and on the back of the clutch bas­ket there was a ring gouged around the out­side, made by the shaft the se­lec­tor forks slide on. It’s locked by a sin­gle M6 bolt and a flat metal plate; the thread had stripped off the bolt, the plate swung out of the way, and the shaft had dropped down.the forks had worn the dogs on third and fourth, and that’s why it wouldn’t change gear.”

It sounds a hard­core job. “Not re­ally,” says Rob, wav­ing a ZXR service man­ual and smil­ing. “It’s all in here. I’m pretty me­chan­i­cal; I can look at things and fig­ure it out.”

It also sounds like an ex­pen­sive prob­lem to fix. wrong again: “I bought ev­ery­thing; in­put and out­put shaft, all the gears, the se­lec­tor forks, shafts, and the se­lec­tor drum, all de­liv­ered for £40 off ebay,” says Rob.

But that, apart from valve clear­ances, was as deep into the ZXR’S mo­tor as he felt com­pelled to dive. “Be­cause the mo­tor splits hor­i­zon­tally, I didn’t have to take the top half off – and as it was only a gear­box prob­lem, there was no need to go any fur­ther.”

More rat­tle can fin­ish was de­ployed: “I de­greased the mo­tor, then sprayed it with Hal­fordsvht alu­minium paint.”

With the en­gine back in the frame, Rob took care of de­tails. He un­wound the loom tape, checked the wiring, cleaned the con­nec­tors and re-wound it all. Mini in­di­ca­tors were dumped in favour of pat­tern repli­cas. Brakes were stripped, new pis­tons fit­ted, and the calipers spray painted by Rob’s own hand.

Even­tu­ally Rob’s at­ten­tions turned to the body­work. It wasn’t in bad shape, but had the usual splits, cracks and bodged re­pairs. true to form, in­stead of pay­ing some­one else to fix it or buy­ing ex­tra parts, Rob learned how to plas­tic weld and re­paired the pan­els him­self.

And then there’s the paint scheme. It’s broadly a replica of the ZX-7TT-F1 racer on which aaron Slight and Scott Rus­sell won the 1993 Suzuka 8-Hour event (see page 38).

“I was Googling ‘Red and blue ZXR’,” says Rob. “I saw the photo of the Suzuka bike, and knew that was it. I mocked up dif­fer­ent ver­sions just work­ing out where the lines would go, be­cause the Suzuka race bike had dif­fer­ent body­work to the L3. In the end the paint shop did the fair­ing, tank and seat unit in pearles­cent white, then gave it back to me with a roll of edg­ing tape. I fit­ted it to the bike, then spent ages mark­ing it all up.the paint shop chose the ac­tual colours, af­ter I showed them a few pics.the red is ac­tu­ally the same as used on the ZXR750 H1.”

With the bike nearly com­plete and a new stain­less Black­widow ex­haust sys­tem (5kg against the stock sys­tem’s 11kg), Rob went for a test ride. “It just wouldn’t rev past 6000rpm,” he says, ex­plain­ing that he’d also no­ticed soot in the ex­haust. “It was run­ning way too rich – the carbs had been Dyno­jet­ted. With the air­box off on idle, I could see the fuel spit­ting back out of the car­bu­ret­tors. I checked on­line, took some ad­vice, and or­dered 160 main jets in­stead of the 180s that were al­ready in there. with them in, it revved right out but had a mas­sive flat spot. So I drilled out the Dyno­jet’s air re­stric­tors, raised the float height to drop the fuel level, and it was in­stantly crisper and more re­spon­sive.and when I rode it, no more flat spot. I’m in­clined to think it’s about there.”

Rob still has plans to get the ZXR on a dyno but, as the sun be­gins to break out from be­hind a cloud, he’ll have to make do with me in­stead. Keys please, Rob...

“I saw a photo of the Suzuka 8 Hour bike and I knew that was it”

Rob looks a lit­tle ner­vous as I wob­ble out onto the road on his box-fresh build. He has sev­eral good rea­sons: the ZXR’S Dun­lop Qual­i­fiers are brand new, the roads are soak­ing and cov­ered in cack, and the fur­thest the ZXR has been rid­den since it was fin­ished a few weeks ago was to the MOT cen­tre and back. So there’s a healthy scope for dis­as­ter.

But, apart from get­ting the Kawasaki filthy, he needn’t worry.the bike he’s put to­gether feels ex­actly as it felt when I last rode one in 1995; at low speed the sus­pen­sion is as firmly sup­ple as if Kawasaki UK had only yes­ter­day prepped it in their work­shop.well-bal­anced and well-be­haved, the ZXR steers pos­i­tively but isn’t over-fret­tingly sen­si­tive. Brakes are smooth and po­tent; gear­box snicks through its ra­tios with oily, prac­tised ease (in fact it’s way bet­ter than I re­mem­ber the ZXRS of old be­ing – the ’boxes were usu­ally a bag of span­ners).

As the Kwak prowls stealth­ily away from Rob’s garage over wet tar­mac, its rid­ing po­si­tion is about as ex­treme as it gets; arms fully ex­tended across the long tank to low, low clip-ons, with no sus­pen­sion in the el­bows and full body weight on the wrists. I can bear it for about 10 min­utes, but af­ter that it’s speed up or die. Kawasaki didn’t muck about with com­pro­mis­ing in 1995.

Speed up, then.the ZXR’S mo­tor is a me­chan­i­cal mu­si­cal – the whirr of cam­chain and valve-gear min­gle with the pri­mary drive whine and de­liv­ers a spi­ralling melodic mesh­ing as the revs rise. It’s a beefy, hearty noise, more fun­da­men­tal than the po­litely si­lenced fizz of a mod­ern in­line four. It sounds like en­gines are sup­posed to sound. It sounds like per­for­mance.

Shift­ing on a bit through the gears, pick­ing up speed and wind blast to bal­ance the body, and Rob’s ZXR makes more sense the faster it goes. Sus­pen­sion smoothes out, the en­gine gets into a stride, and the plugged-in, fully com­mit­ted rid­ing po­si­tion be­comes per­fectly poised to at­tack. If ever a bike was built for blitz­ing round a hot race­track, the ZXR is it. It’s wasted on the roads and I’m curs­ing our timing; the Kawasaki begs to be ham­mered in the dry. I know it’d be out­stand­ing.

Be­fore long it’s time to head back to Rob’s garage – the few miles in the wet can’t ob­scure the ZXR’S po­ten­tial and it’d be crim­i­nal if it doesn’t find it way onto a track at some point in 2017. Rob says he has plans to ride it into Europe this sum­mer – good luck with than on your wrists – but if you ask me, a trip to Cad­well, Oul­ton or Don­ing­ton would suit the Kawasaki bet­ter. In fact it’s a shame Suzuka isn’t a lit­tle bit closer…

Thanks

Mor­ley Broth­ers, for paint­ing the frame, sub­frame, swingarm and forks bot­toms (01223 423048, mor­ley­broth­er­sltd.co.uk) Grant, my mate, for all his help

Rocker solid The Uni-trak rocker was ser­viced, while the tie-bars and shock were in good enough fet­tle to go back on the bike af­ter a thor­ough clean.

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