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
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