As vintage big fours go, the Kawasaki Kz1000 is as mythical as they come. It’s hailed as one of the granddaddies of the modern superbike; the fastest production motorcycle of its era, with a racing pedigree bar none.
This low-slung Kz1000 was a mere shell of its former self, when Rok and Luka of Krakenhead Customs got their hands on it. The 1981 ‘J’ model was found abandoned on a farm, in their native Slovenia.
“The farmer was a home-brew winemaker,” says Rok, “and it looked like some of that fermentation had moved over to the bike.”
“It was fixed with some serious ‘redneck engineering’—including various tractor parts, peeling rattle can paint, chipped chrome, duct tape and some questionable welds. It was the perfect bike for us to create a Kraken from scratch!”
Krakenhead wanted to “create a stylish, but practical, old school café racer, with modern components.” A bike that would be happy on the twisties as well as blasting from one café to the next, turning heads along the way.
But first, some serious restoration work was in order.
The guys disassembled everything and discovered that the engine internals and gearbox were, miraculously, still in good nick. But everything else was a disaster—especially the carbs.
The duo set off on an arduous journey of cleaning, soda-blasting, rebuilding, painting and polishing.
The list of replacement parts is endless—there’s everything from new stainless steel fasteners to wheel and frame bearings, along with a smorgasbord of electrical components.
Krakenhead even went so far as to zinc plate the carb springs and bolts for a perfect finish.
Why not just find a donor with less trouble? “Buying a Kz1000 here in Slovenia is nearly impossible,” answers Rok. “So we jumped on the bike as soon as it was advertised.”
With the heart of the beast restored, it was time to upgrade the rest of the bike. Little remains of the original Kz1000, with everything but the powerplant and frame either ditched or sold.
The suspension in particular has had a significant boost. There’s a new monoshock arrangement out back—a custom-made aluminum swingarm, connected to a fully adjustable Showa shock. Upside-down 43mm Kayaba forks do duty up front.
17-inch BEHR spoked aluminum wheels at both ends help lighten the load. They’re hooked up to Pirelli Phantom Sportscomp rubber.
There are extensive braking upgrades too. The master cylinders are from Brembo, with a radial setup at the front sporting a 320mm rotor and a Tokico 6-pot caliper. The rear’s running a 2-pot Brembo caliper, with a smaller rotor.
It sounds like Krakenhead just picked their favorite off-the-shelf bits—but it wasn’t quite that simple. Every part required its own measure of modding to fit.
Then there’s the exhaust: a four-into-two system, hand-crafted in-house from 316 stainless steel. Just imagining the sound has us giddy.
Only after the bike was rolling did Rok and Luka start fussing with cosmetic changes. They redesigned the subframe and reinforced the main frame, setting it up for internal wiring. (A new wiring loom was built from scratch, naturally.)
The fuel tank’s from a Kz1000A. In front of it is a new headlight with the digital speedo, ignition and warning lights all embedded in it. Finishing off the cockpit is a pair of custom clip-ons, complete with integrated mini-switches.
There are probably a hundred more mods that Rok isn’t telling us about, but he did point out that the Kz1000 should now weigh significantly less than it did before.
Less weight, modern components and better handling—sounds ideal to us. Then there’s that deep candy red paint, hence the moniker ‘Red Rooster.’
That’s it, we’re hooked.
Red Rooster is pictured below with Krakenhead’s first build, Green Glory, based on a 1976 KZ650 B1.