A while back I bought a 1981 Kawasaki KZ550A off of Craigslist that kind of, sort of ran, but didn’t shift properly.

I was planing on just getting it running and selling to make a buck, but it grew on me for a couple reasons.

First, when this bike was released in the US it sold out the first year of production and people were lined up to get them the next year. I like those bikes that people remember. It was not the race machine that the GPz550 was when it was released in 81,

but it has plenty of speed and is a durable and reliable 4 cylinder, twin overhead cam motor.

So, initially the goal was get it running better, and get it to shift, then assess its potential.

I did that, and decided that I wanted to make it a little more special. Not like a full blown custom race bike build, but I just want a clean, sporty, classic look.

I pulled out the motor and gave it new top end gaskets.

Soda blasted and painted the motor and valve cover, then hand polished all the aluminum case covers. I replaced the front brake master cylinder and made a braided stainless brake line to the rebuilt and painted caliper. 

I refinished the wheels to their factory look and I sprayed the frame black. I put some Shinko 712 tires on front and back. These Yokohama clones have a nice look and great reviews for the price range.

I painted, polished, or replaced everything from front to back.

The tank front fender, seat cowl, side covers, and tank were sprayed with a Urechem’s Black Sparkle Metallic with one solid stripe taped off down the middle and a gold ghost pearl effect in binder clear sprayed down.

Its currently assembled back to rolling, stopping, running condition but modifications to the air, fuel and exhaust departments require some more tweaking.

I have four Uni-Fliter pods on the carbs and the carbs themselves have been fully disassembled and dipped. I was going to by new exhaust manifold gaskets and i noticed that it was the same part number for many different Kawasaki four cylinder bikes.

I rolled the dice and bought a cheap used Vance&Hines 4-into-1 exhaust off of an 87-89 zx6 on eBay to see if I could get it to work.

The only alternative to this for an exhaust was a$300+ 4-into-1 kit offered by MAC or to buy decent condition factory pipes on eBay for $100 plus shipping. I made some small spacers for the manifold bolts and the pipes received a subtle convincing from the torch and ended up fitting very nicely.

I got one size up on main jets and ran stock pilot jet as a base line for the first test and was close but no cigar. After acquiring some needles with an adjustable clip (the stock needles are not height adjustable) and some careful hand drilling of both jets on all four carbs, I reassembled them for the last time.

The bike will start and idle, but throttle response is poor and uneven.

I have put a cheap manometer together to test the four cylinders for synchronization. The tank, fender, cowl, and sides are painted, but still waiting on a couple coats of 2K clear coat.

Right now the throttle cable routing is giving me grief.

I can’t seem to find a nice smooth way for them to flow now that I have clubman bars on the bike.  Besides the looks being unappealing it also seems to be having a negative effect on how the throttle returns.

Its sticky and slow every configuration I’ve tried, which is leading me to surrender to measuring them and tracking down shorter ones so there is less resistance on the cable from bends.

Stay tuned and check out the instagram pictures for more on this as I try to wrap up this classic 80’s mid weight sport bike.

Thanks for reading, and Long May You Ride!

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