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Kawasaki posted by

Superbike Daddy: 1978 Kawasaki Z1-R


This post is in our archives. Links in this post have been updated to point to similar bikes available to bid on eBay.

I know that for many of our readers, RSBFS is all about the import smokers. And while we do love our grey-market popcorn poppers, variety is – as they say – the spice of life. Two-strokes did not always dominate the sport bike scene, as evidenced by today’s example of what ruled the streets in 1978. Our younger readers will be forgiven if this simply looks like a Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) from the period, but two-wheeled transport circa pre-1980 was a relatively simple affair. Air cooled, carburetor-fed Japanese multis were the hot ticket, and cubic centimeters made the world go ’round. Throughout the 1970s, the Big Four traded blows with big bikes, and the Kawasaki Z1-R (1978-1980) could go toe to toe with the best on the road.

1978 Kawasaki Z1-R for sale on eBay

Owing more to the KZ lineup than the original Z1 design, the Z1-R is pretty typical of this era: big motor (1,015cc over square inline four), tubular steel frame, simple un-adjustable front forks and twin shocks. Novelty items include the bikini fairing (variations to make a reappearance on the ELR model as well as early GPzs), four-into-one exhaust, low maintenance cast wheels, and triple disk brakes. Expect about 90 HP off the showroom floor, in a package tipping the scales at over 540 lbs. With a top speed in the 130s, the Z1-R was a powerhouse with subtle intent. In all, this was an evolutionary move by Kawasaki; the revolution would have to wait until 1984 and the introduction of the 900 Ninja.

From the seller:

There is nothing *particularly* special or rare about the Z1-R line, save for the fact that they didn’t speed off the showroom floors at a sufficient rate. Not even bolting on a turbo and creating the first of the factory blower bikes could help move these models. As a result, staring down the barrel of a 40th birthday, not many of these exist in great condition. Laws of supply and demand govern all, and I would expect to see good examples fetching more over the coming years. This will not likely appreciate in the same manner of a RC30 or truly rare and iconic model, but it should fare respectably given the lower price of entry.

This well-loved Z1-R is located in Oklahoma. The seller claims to be the second owner, which helps explain the condition. There have been some minor, non-destructive mods which should lower maintenance and improve the riding experience, and the seller will include the original parts. This bike is listed with a BIN of $12,500 – a number that some may scoff at. It does appear a bit high for the model. But the challenge would be to find another in this level of condition. I’m sure there is some emotional equity included in that number by the seller – but can you blame him? Check it out here, and share your thoughts. Would you take this, or hold out for an ELR or early model GPz? Let us know!



  • A great original rsbfs… But this is as low as I’ll stoop when it comes to the definition of “sportbike”.

  • ^ The Toecutter from Mad Max would disagree….

  • Good for you big bang….i’m very glad to hear this meets your minimum standard.

    RFBFS, please continue as you are!

  • Love the air cooled pre plastic sport bikes. Keep it up.

  • We had one of these in our group back in the day. 1984 I would say. We had a couple spots where we would drag race. I smoked this bike with my 83 GS750E. I hope my low mileage ES that I have now goes to the prices these are getting . Unlikely.

    • Keep on dreaming–it’ll never happen. The Kawi prices are partially driven by demand from Japan. I had a nearly-museum ’83 GS1100ES which took a year to sell at $2600 a few years ago. My dad bought it new off the floor in ’85, but for the same price could have gotten a CBX (still on the floor). He chose it because the quarter mile was quicker on the Suzi. Never had any problems with it, but isn’t the choice I would have made, and not only from the value standpoint. CB350s/400s are now worth more!
      I exported a black Z1-R to Japan when I lived there and it was one of the neatest looking bikes. You can feel the entire backbone bend in corners–Kawasaki “active suspension” which they had from at least ’73!

  • I was “there” when these came out…This was the era of CB’s, KZ’s, GT380 & 550’s, Water Buffalos, RD350 & 400’s, H1 & H2’s naked or wearing Vetter Windjammers, Cal Tech’s or other aftermarket fairings. When these were advertised in ’77 it was OMG, How Frigging Cool! I can only remember the Harley XLCR having a “sportbike” small nose fairing at the time. I had my 1974 H2 Mach IV’s clock cleaned by a Z-1R on a dark summer night (no moon), on Hwy75 leaving Tulsa northbound in a top mph. game of “let’s see what ‘ya got”. It turned out to be a Z-1RTC.
    I agree with the Z1R being one of the first true sportbike’s.

  • A great piece of history from a period when only cruisers would sell. This bike to me was a teenage dream. Our local Kawi dealer could not give them away. “Sportbikes” were of no interest to riders around here. Too bad.

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