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Kawasaki Avenger


A two stroke with (almost) the performance of a Bonneville? This one maybe the answer.

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 quantity.

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 loss.

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 anyone.

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.