BMW Motorrad Spezial

Cafe Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1 cafe racer
Friend of the site David Edwards sends us these images of his Kawasaki H1 cafe racer, just dripping with 1970s swagger. He says he purchased the bike, a retired proddie-class roadracer, with the intent of going vintage racing. Painted up in Team Cycle World colors, the bike’s track heroics would be chronicled in the pages of the magazine. “We made a good start,” David says, “but then found out that AHRMA didn’t want two-strokes racing in the Sportsman class, even when I offered to bump up one category to the 750cc division. They suggested I add a fairing and make it a GP replica.” Instead, it was decided to turn the Kawi into a period cafe-racer. Already in place was a Tracy one-piece fiberglass body—a $100 junkyard acquisition—plus gold-anodized Sun rims, Works Performance shocks, fat-belly expansion chambers and Raask rearsets. The project was handed over to Illinois-based Kawasaki expert Brian Hilverty, who treated the motor to a complete overhaul and rebuilt the bike from the wheels up. “It’s got low-rise handlebars, instead of its racing Ace bars, for comfort on the street,” David says. “And Brian fitted a modern Ducati steering damper just to keep everything in line, but the extra frame bracing we added seems to have calmed the H1’s allegedly evil handling.” No longer with the magazine, Edwards says the Team CW Kawasaki is now “surplus to needs” and will be up for sale. “Well, maybe after a few more Sunday morning runs down Ortega Highway.”

Kawasaki H1 cafe racer
Kawasaki H1 cafe racer
Kawasaki H1 cafe racer

  • TS057

    Solid bones but please remove that hideous body work!

    • Anonymous

      Period piece of “go fastness” or what folks did in the late ’70s to early ’80s to spiffy up their 8+ year old widow makers to look more up to date and supposedly lighter.

      So what did happen to those Tracy Design one piece bodies that were sold? They always had ads in the back sections of the mc mags but the prices were high comparatively against the cost of a new motorcycle of the time.

      • TS057

        Hopefully they were properly smashed and thrown out just like every Vetter fairing should be as well… They were a fad that has obviously not withstood the test of time.

  • Steve

    It’s a really nice bike, but it’s not a cafe racer, not with those bars.

    • Ecosse

      i recommend you look at period pix of cafe racers from whence the name originated; clubman bars are not a prerequisite. real cafe racers were not road going copies of racers but stripped down street bikes with extra grunt. in a genre not encumbered by a regulation book i’d say give the guy some slack.

      btw: i like the tracy body. fits the era.

    • fed

      This comment is exactly what became horrible about cafe racers.

  • Micah

    The term “Cafe Racer” no longer means what you think it means, sadly. It has been so abused and flogged that everything from the 80s and earlier is now a “Cafe Racer”. Type “cafe racer” into the search bar on Craigslist, and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless, the H1 is pretty cool. Love the period look, but its kinda spoiled by the later Kawasaki logo (should be all capitals, and no “K”). Also, the ribbon work is a little over the top.

    • Ecosse

      supports my point about clubmans or clip-ons. if that’s the deal maker then any stocker with them is a cafe?

      likewise, a stripped down and souped up production based bike can’t be without those bars?

      whatever you want to call this kawa it’s a hell of a nice bike.

  • Mule

    The junction between the tank and side panel is a bit abrupt, but the build quality is superb. Nice wheels, shocks, brakes, motor, controls, beautiful paint work and it sits just perfect! Not crazy about the ribbons, but they sure wouldn’t slow this bike down.

    • I’m with Mule. I would flog the snot out of this, (more to the point it would probably flog the snot out of me)… right after I repainted it. But that’s just a taste thing, overall this bike looks to be really well done!

  • elven

    Those expansion boxes, ” spannies” and the triple motor are so 1970’s, along with the dubious Vetter type bodywork. The paint is a matter of choice. I rode one in it’s era, the frame work is essential, not an option ;-)

  • Harry Farquhar

    As I’ve watched the Cafe Racer TV show which I though was actually pretty well done it made want to see a nicely executed 2T example and this one for me is superb including the body work although I don’t see the Vetter connection. The paint job not so much or more specifically the ribbon and Cycle World logo but that could be pretty easily eradicated. Hey Dave how about throwing the least amount of faring you can get away with and have a go as Team HFL.

  • Steve

    Sorry Ecosse, you are wrong. Cafe racers first appeared in the UK in the late 50’s, were road going copies of clubman racers with ace/ clipon bars and rearsets, abbreviated guards and noisy exhausts. Touring bars on racers were strictly U.S. practice, and cafe racers did not originate there. I don’t need to look at period pics, I was there.

    • Kim of Copenhagen


  • Just turn the bars over for a cafe’d look.

  • Just turn the bars over for a cafe’d look. This bike is a little upright for a cafe; more a roadster.

  • KG6ZKL

    Clearly, there are many differing definitions of “cafe racer”, some pertaining to the bike, others to the philosophy of the rider. I subscribe to “The Song of the Sausage Creature” by Hunter S. Thompson – though that’s a tribute to a stock bike.

    • Kim of Copenhagen

      And for those of you unfamiliar with ‘The Song Of The Sausage Creature’, do yourselves the favor of googling it. It’s out there, along with Ralph Steadman’s usual artwork. I’ve been reading motorcycle mags for 40 years now, and this is the best road test I’ve ever read. The reaction to it in the letters section of Cycle World two issues later was mixed: Half the readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions if CW ever ran that kind of stuff again, and the other half threatened to cancel their subscriptions if CW didn’t run MORE of the same stuff.

      • Steve

        Another HST piece well worth a look is “Midnight on the Coast Highway”, apparently his personal favourite and certainly mine.

  • David Edwards

    Wow, a tough room. Ragging on the logo lettering? Really?! Low bars alone do not a cafe-racer make; in fact the very idea that someone thinks there are rules for building a cafe-racer goes against everything the bikes are about. The bars are there for comfort on the highway and for leverage in the twisties where I ride. The only place clip-ons are better is on the racetrack…or flat-out between cafes, mate.

  • Steve

    Sorry guys, me again. A brief (and non hostile) history lesson. Cafe racers were a fashion, ridden by rockers, also a fashion. They both had rules of appearance and behaviour. We didn’t all ride CRs, lots of people rode more or less standard bikes. The rocker dress code went pretty much as follows; pudding basin or no helmet, chin rag, black leather jacket, badges and studs optional, heavy denim jeans, knee boots over thick white socks, gloves not mittens (black). For bikes it was low bars, ball end levers. sweptback pipes with meggas or goldies, rearsets and skimpy guards. bumstop seats were very acceptable, unless your sex life involved other people you might wish to pillion. Comfort and practicality were not considerations. We didn’t have highways, had lousy tyres and brakes and broke down or fell off regularly Quite a few of us got killed. That scene was petty well all over by 1967. So that’s cafe racers, guys: take it or leave it

    • elven

      Agreed Steve, when I first got interested in bikes, all the local rockers had clip-ons mounted down by the bottom yokes, rearsets and cut down aluminium mudguards, anything else just wasn’t cool.

  • Peter B

    Er, I don’t care about the bars, or what they mean we have to call this bike… in my view it’s of its time in many ways, although the standard H1s were much prettier to my eye. More to the point Ladies and Gentleman, is that the big bore Kawa triples are an utter hoot to ride (I still have an H2B) and if you’ve yet to sit astride one ‘coming on song’ then you’ve missed one of motorcycling’s truly great (or memorable at least) experiences…

  • I’m missing what the negativity about the bodywork is about… this bike is very little different from any number of modern factory “naked” bikes. If anything, what little bodywork there is, is more integrated. The worst thing I can say is that I’m not a fan of the painted-on ribbon – the 3D perspective work is much better than any period art, yet not designed well enough to be attractive. A simple change, and nothing I doubt the builder cares much about anyway.

    The pipes scream “two stroke!” with the functional expansion chambers. It’s great when there’s some technology in an exhaust, not just fancy curves and chrome. Expansion chambers, tuned cross-overs, efficient packaging, that’s the stuff that impresses me.

    Overall, very clean and lean, built to perform, and those bars are plenty low compared to the high seat. A set of clip-ons would have you just lying down on top of the bike. Might as well put the rearsets below the taillight and do a Superman fly-by.

    • Steve

      Rollie Free Style?

  • Larry Pearson

    Always good to see another Edward’s bike. A collection to ogle for sure. Dave was kind enough to feature one of mine as an American Flyer in CW a few years back, and we both participated in the ’08 Legend of the Motorcycle so I was grateful to have a chance to thank him in person. That bike has a perfect 70’s vibe to it. Every part is right on the money and it’s beautifully detailed. The Tracey body work is a nice period touch. Not too fond of the ribbon myself, but as a painter I can tell you it takes some talent to do it. If it goes on the block and sells anywhere near what he sold his CB750 for, I think he’ll do alright on it, and, some lucky person will get a unique motorcycle to boot.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a cafe racer, but it really has captured the 1970’s vibe. But what is wrong with it is that it needs is to be mean Kawasaki green.

  • David Edwards

    For the record, the furling ribbon wasn’t my idea. The doper painter I took the bodywork to for the red base coat, Kawasaki logos and Team Cycle World crest thought it would look good and added it without asking. It went with the period vibe so I kept it. Glad I did.

    Speaking of the Tracy bodywork, does anyone in EXIF Land know the whereabouts of designer/builder Tracy Nelson. Seems he moved from Santa Cruz, California to Hawaii 20 years ago after the death of his wife but there ther trail goes cold.

    • Harry Farquhar

      I thought I was getting a contact high just looking at that paint job…

  • Pete P

    Awesome bike, Dave. Exactly what I wanted in high school.

  • Mingh

    Reminds me of this girl i used to date. Gorgeous , but with horrible dress style. To me, the bike would look much better with a squarish tank and thin single seat. Not that this would make it any faster, or go round corners better.

  • Db

    Another bike called a ‘cafe’, another boring argument about what constitutes one.

    More importantly, that bodywork is absolutely disgusting and completely ruins the wonderful lines of the H1. Considering this particular bike’s history I’m not calling for their removal but god damn, it ain’t pretty. I also find that the ribbon down the side really confuses the shape of the bike (which may not be a bad thing).

    Re: wrong logo – I guess that fits with attempt to ‘update’ the bike.

    I guess my BIGGEST issue though is that this not particularly pretty example of a H1 could mean we won’t see another one for a little while, rotation and all that :(

    • Mule

      I have a book written in 1976 by Rich Taylor titled “Cafe Racers”. In the introduction, he describes what a Cafe Racer is (in his view anyway), in the United States in the mid 70’s.

      “A Cafe Racer is, in the simplest definition, a street legal motorcycle that captures some of the aura of a genuine road racer. But like most simple definitions, this one hardly covers every facet. Factory technicians with unlimited funds might produce a machine loosely based on the motorcycles they sell for everyday transportation – a handbuilt 170mph AMA Championship racer with a headlight. And they can call it a Cafe Racer. But the kid down the block can add a few fiberglass to his street wobbler…. and he’ll have a Cafe Racer too. In between, there are dozens of true dual-purpose machines that people ride to work during the week, and perhaps run in production races over the weekend…or in informal Sunday morning contests with friends on any empty, back country road. The variations are virtually endless. Because Cafe Racer is such an indefinite term, any bike that someone thinks looks like a roadracer to him is a legitimate Cafe Racer. And since most are custom built, there’s no such thing as a standard format. It’s strickly Road Racer Free Form at every level.”

      For me, this definition works just fine and certainly describes the H1 featured here perfectly. The Ace Cafe version may differ, not that it matters to anyone except an original Ace Cafe veteran.

      • Steve

        This is getting tedious. CRs are a distinct style, whatever Mr. Taylor might think. We Ace Cafe veterans invented them, not Mr Taylor. They are just about the only street custom style to come out of the UK, and not really suitable for most American roads. Build bikes any way you like, but dont call them cafe racers if they are not; find your own names. Calling a horse a camel just confuses people.
        None of the above changes the fact that this Kwacker is a fine bike!
        I will not be making any further comments on this topic, you will be relieved to hear.

      • That’s the most absurd thing I ever heard on the subject… it’s actually funny. (And did Rich really wrote “stricKly”?)

        There are enough names for the various styles of bikes, from stockers to real racers and every tarted-up bike in between, that it’s absolutely limiting to call anything you want to a cafe racer. Just silly.

        Stocker, chopper, bobber, flat stracker, street tracker, dualsport, tourer, sportbike, supermoto, enduro, hog, scrambler, dresser, rat bike, brat, and the list could continue for pages. If you can’t select a more specific name for a bike that doesn’t have what is obviously a particular, albeit loose, set of features that make a cafe, then a sense of discernment is not your strong suit.

        • Mule

          Boy I’m glad I didn’t write that book!

  • David Edwards

    Well, you know what they say about opinions. Or is that a-holes…?

  • D2237

    I grew up in the 70’s around a bike shop. The guy was always having custom bikes done. Numerous times I witnessed stock bikes transformed with the Tracy body kits and I loved the bikes. They had that certain 70’s hip & cool vibe. I can’t explain it but I remember all of the hip bikers loving those Tracy bodies and the hardcore bikers with the Choppers then there were the old motorcyclist with that pure stock was the only thing. I have a resto-mod T-500 and if I could find a good tracy body I would put it on in a heartbeat. But I have to admit, the Kawasaki triple is too cool, no matter what you call it.

  • I’m not going to discuss if it’s a cafe racer or not. I like it anyway.
    What I’m curious about, it is that three cylinder two-stroke engine. It is so different than anything they make today. And those 2-stroker’s pipes, two on the one side n one on the other…haven’t seen them for long time. And I like that lack of symmetry.
    Well, and the paint looks cool too, nice. :)