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Lawson’s Legacy

August 1, 2014

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FEATURE BIKE – 1981 KAWASAKI KZ1000S1 Lawson’s Legacy Tribute to a champion

Story by Marcus Martellacci Photos by Jeff dawkins

Unobtanium is defined by the Urban Dictionary as that which cannot be obtained; theoretical but not yet real. Richard Biggs is a machinist by day and motorcycle builder by night. His interest in classic Japanese sportbikes and a talent with precision machine tools allowed him to create something that is unobtainable, or at least it was. 1981 KAWASAKI KZ1000S1The year was 1981, and a supremely talented racer by the name of Eddie Lawson had just won the AMA Superbike Championship aboard a Kawasaki. In celebration of this great achievement, Kawasaki built the KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica, which sold in dealerships across the world. That year, they also built a very special race bike called the KZ1000S1. The S1’s specifications were far beyond what could be found in showrooms, and with a championship pedigree and only about 30 examples produced, it is a much sought-after bike. So much so that the last one to sell at auction went for $107,000 in U.S. funds. In order to create a KZ1000S1 replica, Richard began with the not-so-sporty, but easier to find, 1982 KZ1000J model. His donor bike was a basket case; more accurately, parts of it were in a Sealtest milk crate. So he set out to collect the various items needed to make a faithful recreation. On the list of “must haves” were a set of Dymag wheels which he purchased for $300 and a set of Works Performance shocks with remote reservoirs. Those shocks were found in a bin of cast-offs at Mid-Ohio Raceway for $15. The Earls oil cooler, mounted behind the front wheel, was another essential period-correct item on the list. A set of CR smooth-bore carbs from Keihin have been tasked with breathing for the 1170 cc big-bore motor, and the Kerker pipe makes the whole package sing a tune that the rest of the AMA field followed to the finish line in the 1982 Superbike championship. I’d bet “Fast Freddie” Spencer still has nightmares about that sound. The original look of the KZ1000R and S1 was created by bolting a GPz tank and fairing onto a KZ1000J frame, so Richard stayed true to the original when he did the same. He was even lucky enough to have #21 Eddie Lawson himself sign the tank. This is where most of us would look at our bike and say “that will do.” Instead, Biggs broke out the big-boy tools. The original superbike had massive (for the period) 13-inch front-brake rotors. Like most of the parts on the S1, they are not available, or are in museums and private collections. The solution was simple: make them. In addition to the rotors, Richard machined the carriers to mount them, the engine mounts, the fittings for the oil-cooler, the rearsets, and many other small items that allowed this project to succeed. engine view With the easy stuff out of the way, Richard began looking at how to really make this bike as close to the original as possible. There were just a few small things to overcome: (1) the original superbike setup had two plugs per cylinder, whereas the production bike had one plug per cylinder; (2) the magneto on the superbike was located in the right side of the engine case, but on the production bike, that area is where engine oil flows through the cases; and (3) the rear swingarm on the superbike shared absolutely nothing with the stock unit. Undeterred by what amounted to re-engineering the motorcycle, the transformation continued. One 10 mm plug was put into each cylinder next to the stock 14 mm plug. Then the right-side case of the motor was hollowed out to make room for the magneto, which required re-routing some of that oil flow inside the engine case. It was finished off with a custom-made acorn cover, just like the race bike. gas tankWith regard to the rear swingarm, Kawasaki had done Richard the favour of recreating the look of the original S1 swingarm when they made the ZRX1200R in 2001, itself a reproduction of the KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica. I know, there’s some repetition – blame Kawasaki for cashing in on our nostalgia. So here, at least, there was something to start with, but instead of just mounting up what looked like the right piece, he cut it up and made it as close to the original as possible. The original S1s that still exist will forever be surrounded by protective barriers, locked doors or security guards. They have been relegated to a sad fate, because they are motorcycling’s unobtanium. This one-off replica is as close as any KZ1000S1 will ever be to the road, and we are lucky that Richard Biggs took the time to honour the model so faithfully…

One Comment

  1. I have a pair of the real brake rotors, a friend of mine raced a S1 back in the old days and I was able to get a pair for a bike I was building at the time. Never used them…

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