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The Kawasaki triples were a range of 250 cc to 750 cc motorcycles Kawasaki exported from 1969 to 1980. The engines were air-cooled, three-cylinder, two-stroke with two exhaust pipes exiting on the right side of the bike, and one on the left. Right from the first triple model, the 1969 Mach III H1 500cc, the motorcycle gained the record for being the quickest for its engine size. Despite having severe handling problems, the machines became extremely popular and fine examples command high prices by collectors today.
The first Kawasaki triple was the 500 cc H1 Mach III, introduced in late 1968. The original H1 was unique for using a CDI ignition which operated through an automotive style distributor. The H1 offered a high power-to-weight ratio for the time, but had generally poor handling and weak drum brakes front and rear. It was the quickest production motorcycle at the time. When motorcycle journalists[which?] expressed disbelief, Kawasaki suggested they take a new H1 to a dragstrip. Using a regular production model with only 7 miles (11 kilometres) on it, Tony Nicosia, a Kawasaki test rider, ran the quarter mile (402 m) in 12.96 seconds at 100.7 miles per hour (162.1 kilometres per hour) for the press to witness. The official figure was 12.4 seconds by Mike Wenzel—quite believable on a well run in machine. Tony Nicosia set many world records with Kawasaki triples over the following years, including some[which?] land speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats.
In 1972, the 750 cc Kawasaki H2 Mach IV was introduced and was essentially a scaled-up version of the H1 500. A stock H2 was rated at 12.0 seconds for the quarter mile (402 m). Updated with more power and better front disc brakes, the H2 became the undisputed king of the streets,[clarification needed] even beating legendary muscle cars of the era such as the Plymouth Hemi Cuda. It was notoriously dangerous, being prone to up-and-over wheelies and speed wobbles. The dangerous handling characteristics arising from its mediocre frame design caused it to be nicknamed the "Widowmaker" by motorcycle enthusiasts of the 1970s.
In 1974, the 350 cc S2 was expanded to a 400 cc S3. In addition, the model range was toned down in performance. The H2 ceased production in 1975, and the model line became the KH series in 1976. United States production stopped in 1976, while the 250 cc KH-250 and 400 cc KH-400 continued in Europe and elsewhere until 1980.
The S1 was popular for some time as a budget performance bike in England because of its small size, and the fact that at this point in time it was legal for learners to ride. The entire S series of motorcycles used breaker point ignition, which was more reliable than the early CDI ignition and much cheaper to repair or replace.
Kawasaki triples were air-cooled, and the crankshafts were pressed together. This made it possible to cut an engine apart, press up extra sections of the crankshaft, re-weld different sections of the cases, and make multi-cylindered motorcycles. The ignition system and carburetors had to be redone. Four-cylinder 1,000 cc H2s were known to exist,  but the most common bikes to be modified were the S series, with 5- to 7-cylinder models being built, and at least one "V-6" (two three cylinder banks feeding into a common transmission). There even exists a 48-cylinder bike made up of 250 cc parts. These bikes were more of a machinists' skill exercise than a practical development. They were impractical because the engine was made much wider and the clutch and gearbox were put under more strain.
The 500 cc H1 also benefitted from the marketing genius of Kawasaki. They identified their target customers perfectly. Many US bikers under 30 years of age simply wanted to be the fastest kids on the block. Producing a two-stroke engine was significantly cheaper than a four-stroke, and for many years Kawasaki managed to keep the list price for the H1 under the magical $1,000[clarification needed] barrier. Competing bikes from Norton and Triumph were over $1,200 and slower. For a while Kawasaki even dropped the CDI and reverted to the cheaper contact breaker ignition in order to keep the price under $1,000.
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1969 H1 500 cc white w/blue stripes, distributor CDI ignition, drum front brake, "Mach III 500" badge on side cover and "electronic ignition" decal on oil tank. Early 69 models had bridged port intake design, with "windowed" carbs. Late 1969 saw the introduction of the Charcoal Grey model, but a common misconception is the charcoal grey model is called a 1969 model—it is indeed a 1970 model. Kawasaki paperwork that came with the bikes, and the sales brochures confirm this. This has been spread by many in order to add value to their bikes by being able to call them a first year model when they are not. The red and white model replaced the peacock grey model due to poor sales.
1970 H1A 500 cc
1971 H1B 500 cc, style redesign without the Mach "III" badge
1972 Entire line introduced, intended to be similar in style, with the "swooping" racing stripes on the tank that distinguished the triples.
1974 All models restyled with a new cleaner design that resembled the Kawasaki Z-1, with an instrument "pod" rather than separate instruments. All models revised for more civilized performance at the expense of raw power.
1977–1980 Only surviving models are the KH-250 and KH-400.
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