FROM MOTORCYCLE SPORT - FEBRUARY
A two stroke with (almost) the
performance of a Bonneville? This one maybe
To be frank, when Swansea dealer
Keith Taylor rang to ask if I'd like to try
a Kawasaki Avenger wasn't absolutely sure what
a Kawasaki Avenger is: I mean, what size it
is -125,250, or 350cc. Not wanting to show my
ignorance, I had to fish a bit. The bike was
it turned out, the only one in the country.
Yes, the actual show model that thousands of
enthusiasts had drooled over (or had they) at
Earls Court the previous month. A customer of
Taylor's had been so impressed he'd persuaded
Taylor to worm it out of the importers. And
it is 338cc.
The Avenger, to my mind, is not
an exceptional looking -indeed it would be more
correct to call it rather bitty looking twin
two stroke. Of its road performance, more anon.
What intrigued me most of all was what had persuaded
its new owner to buy it? Possibly I'm over cautious
but personally I prefer to stick to moderately
well known quantities. If I was going to spend
upwards of three hundred quid on a bike I'd
think in terms of a Triumph Tiger 90 or a Velocette
Viper known -thoroughbreds with ample performance
and a nationwide spares service. Yet here was
this chap slapping down his cash for the only
Kawasaki Avenger in-the country -and for which
the importers admitted there was no spares available
at all for the engine and only such cycle part
spares as happened to be interchangeable with
those of the two fifty Samurai.
The easiest way to find the answer
to this puzzle was, of course, to talk to the
owner. Dominic Byrne is 18 and works in his
father's cafe at Morriston near Swansea. He's
been motorcycling since he was 16 and from the
very beginning developed a taste for two stroke
twins. First there was an Ariel Arrow the British
machine that, given better styling and better
quality cycle parts, might well have rivaled
anything from Japan and this was followed by
a Suzuki Super Six (in my estimation just about
as good a twin two stroke as you'll find).
Now why should anyone want to
trade in a Suzuki Super Six with its exhilarating
performance, excellent handling, superb gearbox
and top notch spares service for a quite unknown
Put in a nutshell, the answer
is simply -performance. One of Dominic's friends
in the local club has a Bonneville -standing
quarter in 14 seconds, 115 mph, and all that
jazz. But while a Bonneville's a reasonable
proposition for someone over 21 it's not insurance
wise much of a bet for an 18 year old if, as
is wise, you went for fully comprehensive cover,
Norwich Union rates for example are up to 350cc.
£30; over 350cc. £48. And these
are if any thing, lower than average.
Dominic couldn't afford to run
a six fifty because of the high insurance premium
demanded by his company, but he wanted as near
as possible the same performance. What would
give him that performance? He studied advertisements,
he studied catalogues, he went to Earls Court
and studied the machines on the stands. Now
bear in mind that he was already a convert -to
the cult of the two-stoke twin. What would be
more natural, therefore, than for him to want
another two stroke twin? And look, too, at the
Kawasaki's performance data claimed possibly
not substantiated yet in this country, but presumably
with some fairly close relationship to the truth:
40.5 bhp at 7,500 rpm., a maximum speed of 105
- 108 mph., a standing quarter in 13.8 seconds.
In his position wouldn't you have been tempted?
Anyway Dominic succumbed and
placed his order. Although he took several days
to make up his mind the show model hadn't been
sold and he was able to have that. Keith Taylor
took the Super Six in part exchange and the
Avenger was on the road.
When I tried the Avenger it had
been on the road for just two weeks and covered
just over 500 miles. Experience as a pressman
and far more valuable, really as a dealer and
repairer has made me cynical, suspicious (of
men and machines) and possibly over critical,
yet on the face of it this Japanese newcomer
was difficult to fault on any count save possibly
that it Looked as though it might be a pig to
work on in the event of engine or gearbox trouble.
Styling -with the upswept cow horn bars and
chrome guards - was essentially American but
personally I prefer that to the pseudoracer
look, and for controllability there is no comparison.
The two leading shoe front brake
looked impressive, I liked the sensible old
fashioned headlamp mounting which enables one
to adjust the angle of the lamp, and I liked
the neat housing (on top of the lamp) for the
speedometer and rev counter.
But what was this? I noted a
hydraulic damper in addition to the normal friction
unit? Was the steering so awful that two dampers
were necessary to stop lock to lock wobbles,
or was this just gilding the lily?
The tyres although marked Dunlop,
looked rather strange and old fashioned in fact
with rather widely spaced tread blocks. A closer
look confirmed what the owner told me. The tires
were marked made in Japan and presumably they
were made in, to us, obsolete moulds. However
I was soon to find that for normal road going
they seemed to provide ample adhesion.
In Continental fashion the gear
changes on the left -down for down, and up for
up, with neutral right at the bottom. And when
you are in neutral a green indicator light glows
alongside the speedometer.
First impressions of a machine
on the road are normally the most lasting In
this case the impressions were certainly good.
The engine started with the gentlest prod on
the right hand. kick starter and ticked over
smoothly and. evenly. A trace of four stroking
from a seemingly over rich mixture perhaps,
but what two stroke doesn't do this? Bottom
gear went in with a slight clunk indicative
of some clutch drag, but once I was under way
the gear change was perfect.
Unfortunately black ice on the
roads precluded any long distance high-speed
testing and my run into the Shropshire Hills
had to be tempered with extreme caution. Even
so it was soon obvious that the makers performance
claims couldn't be far out.
Breathtaking acceleration is a
well worn cliché but in this case it
was really true. Open the throttle in bottom
and watch the rev counter needle swing towards
the red mark at 8,000rpm. At around 5,000 the
steering seems to lighten. Momentarily you wonder
why, then realize it's because the front wheel
is off the ground. An upward snick on the now
feather light gear lever and the needle soars
again. Still only in third and with two more
gears to go and we're in danger of breaking
that ridiculous speed limit. Not since trying
the Suzuki Super Six which Phil Heath brought
over one day last year had I enjoyed myself
so much. I went over the same route to try and
get a comparison but time dulls the memory so
that something from the past always seems better
than the present. On the face of it, though
my reactions were that there wasn't much -to
choose between the two. The Suzuki has always
stuck in my mind as a smooth as silk model rather
like a good Scott -where as the Kawasaki seemed
to have the rougher edge to its power. Possibly
just because it is bigger and has more power.
But is there really more power? Difficult to
say. Certainly, though, there was more than
enough for me.
Handling was excellent. Ice,
slime and mud were encountered during my run
yet never once did I have an anxious moment.
Even with the friction damper slackened right
off there was no trace of head shake and I can
only assume that this damper is the relic of
pre hydraulic days that somehow hadn't been
left off what may have been a special machine
prepared for Earls Court.
As for the brakes - I can only
say I have never tried better. Whether they
would fade in racing conditions I wasn't able
to find out but for ordinary fast road work
they were quite superlative. So good, and so
light to apply was the twoleading shoe front
brake that the only time I used the rear brake
was to see how it worked.. For normal road work
the rear brake was quite unnecessary And. when
the front brake was applied there was none of
that fork dither encountered with some British
bikes, where the forks aren't stiff enough.
But you can't have everything. Fuel consumption
isn't normally one of the strong points of the
two stroke twin and. the Kawasaki Avenger was
no exception. Driving hard, the owner told me,
he is lucky to get much more than 30 mpg.! Oil,
too has to be added. in fairly frequent doses,
for the Injectolube system is, of course, total
Summarizing, this new Kawasaki
three fifty twin is really so good that, provided
it sticks together and wears reasonably well,
it is very difficult for one to fault it on
any count save that it might not yet be a good
proposition in this country and. is rather thirsty.
I understand, however, that spares will become
available early in the New Year. The Kawasaki
firm is a huge, old established engineering
concern with a very fine reputation. That nothing
is known of them in motorcycling circles over
here is due to the fact that it was only in
1961 that they first entered the market. I just
six years they have developed the motorcycle
side so quickly that now they can challenge
Was Dominic wise in his choice?
Without being able to see a bit further into
the future its difficult to say. Certainly the
machine is now just about as good a three fifty
roadster as the most discerning enthusiast could
want. But will the importers C.Itoh and Co.,Ltd.,
of London E.C.3 back it with the spares and
service that will be needed later on? The answer
will only appear in time.
Excerpts from various US road tests
of the time:
According to journalists, the Avenger, with
its 40.5 hp (upgraded to 42 hp with the installation
of the CDI ignition) held the record in 1968
for its ratio : horsepower produced per cc.
Its road performance and almost excessive handling
abilities made it untouchable in many cases
for the duration of its short career,
A US tester wrote There is nothing in its
class that can touch it.This brutal torque provides
some pretty fearful speeds out on the turnpike
with fourth gear capable of awesome acceleration
up to 80mph. Runs through the quarter gave times
in the low 14's with a terminal speed of 90
mph. It is perhaps the best middleweight bike
on the market. It's fast very fast. It's faster
than just about anything short of an out and
out super bike with twice the displacement.
Cycle Guide wrote Initial reaction from the
first buyers was simply amazement.
Never before had anyone seen a 21 motorcycle
that could compare with it in performance.
In fact its superiority was so evident, a
racer from Santa Barbara won the 1969 ACA production
road racing championship riding one.
In a quarter mile drag it will beat many 500's
and even a few 650's.
It was and still is a standard of comparison
for its class
Another US tester of the time wrote First
ride is a revelation. Most 350's are only enlarged
250's; many do not run much faster, this is
not the case with this bike.
Getting the gas on hard does one of two things,
either the rear wheel breaks loose on dry pavement
or the front wheel rapidly tries to make contact
with the rear.