How hard work, mechanical savvy, and a willingness to make do helped one rider get where he wanted to go – an inexpensive Kawasaki bobber build.
Drew wanted a motorcycle. His friends all seemed to have bikes, and he envied the sense of community they had. But as a hard-working father with a young family to feed and west coast real estate prices to deal with, there wasn’t much wiggle room in the household budget. Still, Drew is resourceful and with a mechanical background he has the skills, tools and talents to consider options. All that was about to come in mighty handy.
One day he heard through his workplace grapevine that someone knew someone who had a project bike that might be right up Drew’s alley. It was a 1979 Kawasaki KZ400H that had been sitting idle since 2012. This could be good. Here was a true Japanese classic built by Kawasaki through the years 1974-1979 and targeted to compete in the market against Honda’s much-adored CB350.
Powered by a 399cc air-cooled SOHC parallel twin, the KZ400H offered a square, upright riding position with comfortable ergonomics, a five-speed transmission and inspirational fuel economy (up to 60 mpg). Better yet, this particular unit was part of an estate cleanout and could be had for a mere $50. Here was a sticker that Drew could handle.
That it had been left sitting outdoors for more than five years meant a total teardown was likely in its imminent future. But even if a lot of sweat equity was required, that was fine because Drew had a team he could count on for some of the bull labour—his two boys Derek and Dayton, ages five and seven. Hey, you gotta start them somewhere!
Surprisingly, once Drew pulled and cleaned the stock Keihin CV carbs, the Kawasaki proved to be a runner. This was enough to convince him that here was a project with potential.
Of course the years had not been kind. There was corrosion, dried seals, fouled wires, gummed jets, defeated paint, and the rot of oxidization everywhere. Closer inspection though showed something else. Yes, the bike would need tearing down but it seemed the engine was still strong and that none of the cases needed cracking. Plugs, wires, adjustment and syncing of carbs would do it for this summer anyway.
But Drew had a vision for the Kawasaki bobber that went beyond simply getting it back on its feet—a budget bobber. That is to say, it would be bobbed on a budget “but I didn’t want it to look cheap,” says Drew, who began the five-month rebuild by scouring social media for bobber clubs and fresh ideas.
“I would take from this and that influence and mash them together into something interesting, neat, and clean,” he says. And graciously, his landlord made garage space available where the battered old 400 could be reborn.
With a direction in mind, Drew got down to the business of a total teardown of components. Off came the wheels, the tins, the wiring harness and assorted chassis parts. Out came the powertrain and out went pieces such as the rear-set shocks that would never be reinstalled. “I cut eight inches out of the rear end and replaced that with adjustable links,” says Drew.
The new suspension, made by the fabrication gurus of Victoria, A&A Performance Chassis, would give the bike a different flavour he reckoned—a lower, more contemporary and street-wise profile. He could have gone to a hardtail frame had one been in the budget, but it was not. The build would have to be almost entirely done at home and with a modicum of bought parts or it just wasn’t going to happen.
Fortunately Drew proved to be a savvy shopper though he’d be the first to admit that parts for this older model mid-displacement Kawasaki are typically not that expensive. He was going to need some though.
There were brake pads and shoes to buy, as well as fork seals, running lights, a new seat and exhaust. The brake components were not pricey, the seat and LED lights were found on Amazon, and the pipes were sourced from the Harley-Davidson Breakout owned by Canadian Biker’s own Art Director John Skipp, who actually introduced us to Drew.
Some of the hardware would carry a fixed cost and that was that. But to freshen the look of the Kawasaki bobber meant stripping and painting. It meant epoxy and powdercoat for the frame and wheels. It meant chopping the tail and replacing it with a five-inch flat fender. And it meant installing gaiter-style covers for the forks. There was coin that to be doled out to get there but mainly there was sweat equity targeted to meet Drew’s mandate of a blacked-out look for the bike.
There were also parts that needed to be home fabricated, such as the battery box and a new wiring harness to fit the placement of the box.
When the heavy lifting had been done and the smoke had cleared, it was time for the creative side of the build. To help him finish Drew brought in the talents of his friends at VCC Racing to paint and detail the tank. The classic Kawasaki green is punctuated with pinstripes, graphics, and a floral pattern on the top of the tank.
New bars to replace the current OEM set was in the works when we last spoke with him but aside from that the Kawasaki bobber is everything Drew had hoped for: a clean, interesting ride built to a price and with chewy attention to detail. What boggles the mind is that the sum total for this build (including the initial purchase) is slightly south of $400.
Wait. There’s more. Believe it or not, this is Drew’s first ride. In fact, he was prepping for the road test on the day of this photo shoot. He passed of course. And now, his wife is up and running too (Honda CM400).
Yes, this definitely is one of those feel-good stories you hear about.
- Story and photos by John Campbell Canadian Biker Issue #331