KAWASAKI GPZ900R

It’s 35 years since we first clapped eyes on the GPZ900R. In that time it’s been em­braced, raced, thrashed, crashed, dis­carded and re­stored by an army of own­ers. This is their story

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - Words: Kev Ray­mond Pic­tures: Bauer ar­chive/ps read­ers

What the genre-defin­ing sports­bike has meant to you for the 35 years since its launch

Is it re­ally that long since we first clapped eyes on the GPZ900R? It’s hard to re­mem­ber now just what an enor­mous im­pact it had.

What am I say­ing? It’s not hard at all. I re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day.

The first pic­tures in MCN, then the first colour pic­tures in Bike and Su­per­bike, the scarcely be­liev­able tech­ni­cal de­tails – 115bhp, 150mph, 16 valves, liq­uid-cool­ing, air-as­sisted sus­pen­sion, monoshock rear, anti-dive front, trendy 16-inch front wheel, and that sleekly styled, full-faired body­work. It was a rev­e­la­tion, and a revo­lu­tion – a slim, lithe, nim­ble slap in the chops to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of wide-mo­tored, skinny-tyred air-cooled su­per­bikes. I had to pay homage to this new icon of speed and cool, and liv­ing in ru­ral Suf­folk that meant cross­ing the county line into the bad­lands of Es­sex to a lo­cal dealer. Not for a test ride – at that time I was still a two-part test away from le­gal ac­cess to any­thing big­ger than a 125, and decades away from the kind of cash it takes to buy any­thing but an old clunker. Just to look, and dream.

But while I was press­ing my nose up against the dealer’s win­dow, be­fore head­ing for­lornly home with my L-plates flap­ping, there were plenty of lucky peo­ple across the coun­try who were pulling up a chair op­po­site the sales­man and thrash­ing out a deal.any deal.

One of them was sign­ing away his life in that very same deal­er­ship. Ian Nixon had cut his teeth on lairy two-strokes in the ’70s be­fore mov­ing onto big­ger things: “In June 1984 I went to the Isle of Man on my Z1000J, girl­friend on the back, and at speed on the straight just af­ter the Creg two red bikes came past me like I was stand­ing still. I saw them in Dou­glas and re­alised it was the new GPZ900R, and I knew I had to have one. So when I got home to Colch­ester I went straight to Parkin­sons and or­dered a new one for de­liv­ery on the first ofau­gust, on a new B-reg. Jim Parkin­son gave me a good trade-in on the Z1000, and I cov­ered the rest with a bank loan. I was sup­posed to be sav­ing up for a house de­posit – the girl­friend wasn’t im­pressed.”

She should have been – Ian was lucky to be able to or­der a bike at all, as Ge­off Selvidge re­mem­bers: “I was work­ing at KMUK in charge of sales ad­min.we’d seen the 900R at the shows in 1983. It was such a land­mark bike, in styling as well as tech­ni­cally.we had a re­ally early launch, a si­mul­ta­ne­ous dealer event all over the UK, and every one of those deal­ers was packed out.we couldn’t get enough bikes to save our lives, so we tended to look at how many

“ON THE STRAIGHT JUST AF­TER THE CREG TWO RED BIKES CAME PAST ME LIKE I WAS STAND­ING STILL. I HAD TO HAVE ONE”

bikes the deal­ers had or­dered, then de­cided how many they could have, based on how good they were at pay­ing their bills.”

For­tu­nately for Ian, Jim Parkin­son had a good rep­u­ta­tion, but all over the UK de­mand for the 900R out­stripped sup­ply un­til well into 1985. It wasn’t easy even to get a test ride, as Jim Kerr found out: “I went to Jack Gow Mo­tor­cy­cles in Dundee on the launch day, but the only one he had was one he was go­ing to race at thett [He came 5th in the pro­duc­tion race – KR], so he wasn’t let­ting any­one ride it be­fore the event in case they crashed it! But he said he’d take me on the back. So he came out in his brown dust coat, old-man pisspot lid and gauntlets and I thought, ‘this is go­ing to be bor­ing’. It wasn’t... He rode it like he stole it, with me cling­ing on for dear life. He apol­o­gised after­wards for not go­ing too fast as there were Po­lice cars in the area...”

Nat­u­rally Jim or­dered a 900R straight away (and he’s had an­other cou­ple since), but the short­age in sup­ply meant some po­ten­tial own­ers had to wait a while be­fore they could get their fix. But the ini­tial im­pact was usu­ally the same – the need to re­cal­i­brate your head to the bike’s po­ten­tial, as Charles Hill re­mem­bers: “I had come from a 1974 Kawasaki 900 so the jump in tech­nol­ogy and per­for­mance was stag­ger­ing. It han­dled like a race bike and stopped like one too com­pared to my old Z1...” Tony Bran­th­waite agrees: “I couldn’t be­lieve how fast it was. It took me a month to have the balls and un­der­stand­ing of the bike to reach top speed – about 160 on the clock. One trip I al­most lost my first wife off

“I AL­MOST LOST MY FIRST WIFE OFF THE BACK. SHE OF­TEN CAUGHT THE BUS HOME RATHER THAN GO ON THE GPZ WITH ME”

the back when I ducked down at high speed. She wasn’t happy. She of­ten caught the bus home rather than go on the GPZ with me.”

Mar­i­tal dishar­mony apart, most own­ers loved their GPZS, but few kept them long term – tech­nol­ogy was march­ing on and the once cut­ting-edge 900R was soon side­lined by a new gen­er­a­tion of 750s, built to suit the new World Su­per­bikes series. Within a few years of its launch the lairy, su­per-fast, pur­pose­ful GPZ had some­how be­come a sen­si­ble sports tourer – a task at which it ex­celled, in­ci­den­tally.

A few GPZS ended up as long term keep­ers though. “I bought mine in 1987,” says Chris Parker. He’s still got it, and has put 46,000 miles on it. “I’ve got six bikes in­clud­ing a 916, an H2, a Z1 and a Ket­tle, but I’d sell them all be­fore I part with my trusty GPZ.” Rob Gray still has his, too: “It’s still go­ing strong with 48k on it. I love it and I’ve never seen the need to change it. It can’t com­pete with a mod­ern bike in brakes and han­dling, but af­ter 28 years I’m used to it!”

For own­ers who weren’t so faith­ful back in the day (or those of us who were too young and/or skint to have one back then), there’s a strong temp­ta­tion to track down a bike to re­store. Robert Pater­son fell into the lat­ter camp. He’d fallen in love with the GPZ as a

“IT WAS 26 YEARS SINCE I SOLD IT, BUT THERE IT WAS IN ALL ITS RUST, 16 OWN­ERS LATER. NEXT DAY I BOR­ROWED A VAN, PAID £400, AND IT WAS MINE AGAIN”

12-year-old, flick­ing through brochures in class: “I knew I’d have one one day, but var­i­ous fac­tors kept me away from bikes. Things changed in 2016 and I saw one on ebay. Made an of­fer and the deal was done.”a full year and a com­plete strip and rat­tle-can resto later, and she’s back on the road: “Nowhere near per­fect, but she’s meant to be rid­den – and rid­den she gets!” Bet­ter late than never. A cou­ple of own­ers have even been lucky enough to find their orig­i­nal bikes.troy Knighton had a blue and sil­vera2 in 1986 (“I was just 17 years old – but I sur­vived.”) and drag and cir­cuit raced it in New Zealand for a while be­fore mov­ing on. “I loved it so much I bought it back last year, still with its old-style black reg plates.” He’s since done a bit more drag rac­ing on it to cel­e­brate. Ian Nixon, who we met ear­lier, started look­ing for a re­place­ment for his B-reg A1 a few years back. “It was about mid­night on a Fri­day, when I saw a red A1 model, just like mine, but in a re­ally sorry state, a non-run­ner in York­shire. I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested ini­tially, but when look­ing at the pho­tos I saw the reg­is­tra­tion num­ber, and it was my old bike! It was 26 years since I sold it, but there it was in all its rust, 16 own­ers later. Next day I bor­rowed a van and paid £400 and it was mine, again!”

Four years on, it was back to its pris­tine, spot­less best, and even 35 years on you can see why the GPZ made such an im­pact when it first ap­peared. It’s still a bloody gor­geous mo­tor­cy­cle.

Over three-and-a-half decades the GPZ900R has be­come a mas­sive part of our lives and mem­o­ries

Camp­ing at La Mure, French Alps 1987

Kawasaki Day Sil­ver­stone: easy tigers

Charles Hill’s GPZ (right), and be­low a keen aero­plane en­thu­si­ast re­laxes on the GPZ’S comfy seat

GPZ900R looked so, so mod­ern with­out be­ing con­trived. Check out Kawasaki’s cur­rent Z900 (not the retro RS) and ask your­self if it’s do­ing the same job. Few bikes ever look so good for so long

Rob Gray: mas­ter of the post Gra­ham Bee with his Neta slip-ons (pipes)

Chris Parker’s GPZ fully-loaded with al­most match­ing lug­gage

Never too early to be in­tro­duced to the charms of the GPZ

So slim com­pared to what came be­fore, and so fast, so ro­bust too. One hell of a ma­chine

reser­voir-spotting ...fol­lowed by a quiet af­ter­noon’s

1989 Brit GP for Charles Dew­ing and mates...

Troy Knighton burns out be­fore a run

Ja­son ‘jeans and train­ers’ Lamb. At­taboy Ja­son

CBX just wasn’t the same for Troy. But nice boots mate

Gra­ham Pater­son: a vi­sion in bin-lin­ers

Thank you Kawasaki. Good job

Brian Wal­ton did some heavy miles on his

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