Sabotage: A custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD from Australia

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
On paper, the Kawasaki KZ440 LTM made lots of sense when it hit the scene in 1980. It had a disc brake up front, cast wheels, an electric starter and that all-important Japanese reliability. All in all, it had the makings of a great street bike.

But life doesn’t happen ‘on paper.’ In the real world, riders buy with their hearts more than their heads, and if you saw a bone-stock Kawasaki KZ440 LTD in the wild, you’d grimace and turn the other way. It’s not especially good-looking.

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
It takes a special custom shop to see past ugly first impressions to the beauty that lies beneath. A special shop like Sabotage Motorcycles in Marrickville, just south of Sydney, Australia. When a customer approached shop founders Giles and Andy to turn his beat-up, neglected KZ440 LTD into a café racer, the boys had other ideas…

“The first challenge was to turn the client’s initial brief from a café racer on a cruiser base, to something more suitable to the bike’s frame geometry,” says Giles. “A little Japanese Harley-chaser perhaps—especially with the belt drive. Plus, these Kawasaki units were partly built in Lincoln, Nebraska, so an American flare isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.”

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
With the client onboard, the bike was torn down and liberated of its cobwebs, leaves, dirt and grime. With just the bare bones of the bike remaining, Giles and Andy got their creative juices flowing (by imbibing a few imagination liquids, we’re sure).

Like a lot of cruiser-style bikes of the era, the KZ’s subframe was where most of the concern was focused. Its tall backbone and low, swooping subframe don’t lend themselves well to customization. But instead of chopping it all off and starting from scratch, the Sabotage team chose to subtly lean into these restraints.

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
The results speak for themselves. With a properly shaped seat, a loop in the back of the subframe and a small, square-shaped sissy bar, the guys have done an outstanding job of managing the bike’s proportions.

The sissy bar itself is a particularly nice retro chopper touch—especially how Lucas-style tail light and numberplate bracket are incorporated into it. It was made by hand in stainless steel, then polished to a mirror shine. The flat bar, square shape was inspired by bikes from the 80s, rather than the more slender designs of the 70s.

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
It also keeps the rear guard clear of clutter, with the rear turn signals hidden further back, closer to the shock mounts. It’s also a great place to strap luggage to, when there isn’t a passenger back there.

Sabotage absolutely nailed the handlebar design too. Made in-house from stainless steel, the rise and sweep are perfect for a bike of this style. Combined with the traditional UJM-like position of the foot pegs, it looks like a great place to chew up the miles.

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
A single Daytona speedo is the only thing between the rider and the view, with a mixture of Honda and OEM Kawasaki switch blocks to keep the vintage vibes. With fresh Vans Cult waffle grips (a personal favorite of Giles) and a new Bates-style headlight, the rest of the front end is now better, and better-looking, than new.

The cast wheels remain, since they lend themselves nicely to this street-brat style—especially with the chunky tire that was spooned onto the 16” rear wheel. A shortened front fender tidies up the front.

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
Moving to the motor, Sabotage treated the mighty 443 cc donk to a full rebuild and fresh paint. A pair of Mikuni carbs was subbed in over the factory units, and, to get as much power from the old beast as possible, a custom stainless steel exhaust was made. Capped with quiet core reverse cone mufflers, the bike reportedly has a nice note to it, without being “obnoxiously loud.”

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
The stunning blue paint job, which is a more vibrant version of the original 1984 color, was laid down by Kyle at Smith Concepts. It’s the only part on the bike with any color in it, which is why it pops so hard. The silver scallops and subtle grey pin strips are particularly sweet.

“Our aim was for a stand-out build, but with comfort and practicality in mind,” explains Giles. “The more we got into the design and the fabrication, we were surprised at how much we started to love what this build was turning into. We must admit, we were not that excited about this bike when it was first dropped into the shop—but it’s ended up being one of our favorites.”

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage
Sabotage has taken the KZ440 LTD from a two-wheeled identity crisis, to a slick, street-ready machine that would be equally at home parked next to a suburban Sydney skate bowl as it would be on the open road. It’s no wonder that Giles and Andy ended up liking it so much.

Sabotage Motorcycles | Facebook | Instagram | Images by Andrew Jones

Custom Kawasaki KZ440 LTD by Sabotage

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