2 Wheels

The Kawasaki KZ900 LTD Was the First Power Cruiser

Even before the supercharged 200-hp Ninja H2, Kawasaki offered some pretty powerful motorcycles. And that includes cruisers. Today, the idea of a ‘power’ or ‘muscle cruiser’ isn’t that unusual. Harley-Davidson, Ducati, and (arguably) Triumph offer bikes that fall into those categories. But the 1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD was the first.

How the Kawasaki Z1 led to the 1976 KZ900 LTD

1976 Honda CB750 Four
1976 Honda CB750 Four | Bring a Trailer

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Honda made a big impact on the motorcycle world when it debuted the 1969 CB750. With a 750cc four-cylinder, a front disc brake, and an electric starter, it became the first superbike christened as such. And it quickly inspired a host of rivals from other Japanese brands, including Kawasaki.

1974 Kawasaki Z1 900 with a brown-and-orange fuel tank
1974 Kawasaki Z1 900 | Bring a Trailer

This led to the development of the 1973 Kawasaki Z1, aka the Z1 900, Hagerty reports. Up until that point, Motorcyclist reports, Kawasaki had mostly made its name in 2-stroke bikes. But the Z1 had a 4-stroke 903cc four-cylinder, with 15 more hp than the CB750.

In fact, it was the most powerful production motorcycle four-cylinder at the time, producing 82 hp, Motorcycle Classics reports. Racing versions, Cycle World reports, could make up to 150 hp.

Unfortunately, the Kawasaki Z1 had some flaws. For one, despite the extra power, it still had a rear drum brake. Also, the bike’s chassis and suspension couldn’t quite keep up with the power, Cycle World reports. And finally, Hagerty reports, it looked basically like every other Japanese bike produced at the time. Hence, why Japanese motorcycles of the 60s and 70s are usually called ‘Universal Japanese Motorcycles.’

The Kawasaki Z1 was made from 1973-1975. For 1976, Kawasaki wanted to turn the bike into something that combined four-cylinder performance with American cruiser styling. The result was the 1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD.

The Kawasaki KZ900 LTD: specs and riding impressions

Red 1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD in a parking lot
1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD | Motorcyclist via Instagram

To turn the Kawasaki Z1 into the KZ900 LTD, engineers and designers tweaked both styling and performance. The bike got a new fuel tank, cast-aluminum wheels, new tires, and longer front forks, Motorcyclist reports. The front fender was chopped, and a new handlebar fitted.

On the performance side, the Kawasaki KZ900 LTD has a lighter exhaust, a rear disc brake, dual front disc brakes, and adjustable rear suspension. The carburetors were a bit smaller, which dropped output to 82 hp, Bike-urious reports. However, the new carbs gave more power in the midrange.

White-tanked 2020 Harley-Davidson Street 750 on a city street
2020 Harley-Davidson Street 750 | Harley-Davidson via Instagram

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The KZ900 LTD isn’t quite as fast, but around town, it’s more usable, Ultimate Motorcycling reports. In fact, as a whole, with modern tires, it’s a fairly well-balanced, approachable bike. Yet, the Kawasaki KZ900 LTD is still about a second faster in a ¼-mile drag race than a new Harley-Davidson Street 750, Cycle World reports.

Pricing and availability

Red 1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD in front of a forest
1976 Kawasaki KZ900 LTD front | Bonhams

The ‘LTD’ in Kawasaki KZ900 LTD stands for ‘limited.’ And indeed, the bike was deliberately never sold in large quantities. Only 5000 were made, of which 2000 were sold in the US. And in 1977, it became the KZ1000 LTD, with a 90-hp 1013cc four-cylinder. But it’s because of it that bikes like the V-Rod and Diavel were given form.

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However, despite the Kawasaki KZ900 LTD’s relative rarity, it’s actually cheaper than the Z1, Hagerty reports. An excellent-condition Kawasaki Z1 can go for almost $16,000. Meanwhile, even the best-condition KZ900 LTD is unlikely to go for much more than $8000. In 2015, one sold at Bonhams for $6,325.

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