Kawasaki KH400: 400 Triple
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Kawasaki KH400: 400 Triple

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By BikeReview - 24 May 2022

Words: Tony ‘Pommie’ Wilding

While working my first job as a 16-year-old spray painter in Northern England in the early ’80s, I got the chance to buy a beautiful 1978 Kawasaki KH400 from my mate, for around 150 pounds ($300). When I say beautiful, I mean beautiful to me, because my mates thought it was a smelly and an oily piece of crap, which to be fair it probably was, but it was my first real bike and although it started and ran, it certainly needed some work to fix it up and I could see the potential lurking beneath.

The lovely English winter weather, no time for a peaky two-stroke triple! 

At the time I had a Honda CB125 that I needed to pass my test on before I could legally ride my new stead but living in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I could not help myself but take a little sneaky ride every so often and having only one cop in the town with a small mini van, didn’t do much to dampen my enthusiasm.

I didn’t know much about the KH series until I bought one but my 1978 KH400 was in the middle of the bunch. In the UK we had the single-cylinder, KH125, the triple-cylinder KH250 S1, the KH350 S2, the KH400 S3, the KH500 H1 and finally the mighty H2 Kawasaki 750 triple.

While I was waiting to pass my test, I decided to get started on restoring my KH400 so she would be perfect for my first legal debut ride, besides, if the bike was in bits I couldn’t get nicked by the police – bonus. The original colour was blue but someone had gone to town with an aerosol can, which never ends well. I decided to paint the bike the way I wanted it and not bother going down the original road. The colour I chose was green and white, I even did the frame white and had the seat upholstered in white leather.

The engine was in pretty good condition, so I just pulled the barrels and casings off and checked for wear, then put it back together with new gaskets, then I highly polished the heads and casings. The restoration may have not been to everyone’s taste but to me it was perfect.

The KH triples were known for their reliability and performance but poor handling.

There were two things that made my bike special to me. The first was, this was the bike that ferried me back and forth to my first real girlfriend’s house and gave us freedom to travel and have fun doing so. The main reason was that during the restoration of my new pride and joy, my 20-year-old brother passed away, this made the Kwaka extra special to me, especially as he was a bike nut too. This tragic event spurred me on to finish the KH and always made the bike special to me, I kept my KH for 15-years, until I immigrated to Australia, and it has been one of my biggest regrets selling that bike, but you can’t turn back the clocks, can you?

Being relatively new to road bikes, I had no idea that my KH was renowned for having dodgy handling, to me it was bliss and to this day with all my riding and testing experience I have never replaced that feeling of riding my newly restored KH400 for the first time. The handling may have been questionable but for a 17-year-old, the induction noise of the air being sucked throw those three open bell-mouth carbs was something else, not to mention the sound coming from the three chrome exhaust pipes, especially with the baffles removed. To add to the overall effect, when hard on the gas the bike bellowed out smoke like some sort of James Bond gadget, so much so, that I was made to ride behind my mates due to the smoke and smell, but I loved it.

The KH400 and KH250 were the last line of production of the KH and continued until 1980 believe it or not. 

I even had a full faring and clip-on bars that I could fit in a couple of hours should I feel like getting sporty, but it was the naked look I liked and in naked mode, it would pop up on the back wheel with ease. The KH400 was fitted with a single front disk brake and rear drum, which worked reasonably well for a 1978 bike.

The main problem was the ground clearance, the lower expansion chambers and footpegs were completely flattened and gauged with scrapes, according to my mates it was quite a spectacle to watch from behind, especially at night with sparks flying everywhere.

Rather than going for an original colour, Tony went for a very 1980s cool two-stroke look that really gave the bike some visual punch. 

I loved that bike like no other, even though it only had 38hp, to me it felt like a rocket ship, so much so, that I’m looking for another Kwaka triple project to get under way – bring on the smoke I say.

Tony has since fully restored another KH500, which you can read about soon here on shannons.com.au

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