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The History of Kawasaki Motorcycles

May 24, 2021 ·

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The origins of Kawasaki date to 1878, when Shozo Kawasaki founded the Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard in Tokyo, Japan, where new technological innovations were being created for the shipping industry.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Kawasaki dipped its toes into the motorcycle industry, when it produced its first bike in 1962. It soon merged with the Meguro Manufacturing Co. to form Kawasaki Motorcycle Co., Ltd., in 1963.

Since then, Kawasaki has been a name in the industry and has stood the test of time while producing a range of motorcycles. The brand and Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) have developed a relationship that led to the creation of the K-Tech specialized training program in 1989.

Keep reading to learn more about the history of Kawasaki’s motorcycles, as well as the specialized training opportunity available at MMI. 

Early Days

Shozo had been interested in the marine industry from an early age, which is why he wanted to get involved in producing modern innovations for Japan’s shipping industry. It wasn’t until 1878, after struggling for some time, that the first order was placed with his company.

The business moved to Hyogo in 1886 and was renamed Kawasaki Dockyard Co., Ltd., as it continued to grow and demand for shipping rose. By 1906, the products Kawasaki manufactured began growing beyond the shipping industry. The company would eventually produce components for the automotive, railway and aviation sectors.

The Kawasaki Aircraft division became involved with the motorcycle industry once it started working with Meguro Manufacturing, which had been producing bikes since 1935. The two companies joined forces to form Kawasaki-Meguro in 1962.

They produced the first Kawasaki bike, the B8, that same year. It featured a single-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled engine. In 1963, Kawasaki took full control and formed Kawasaki Motorcycle Co., Ltd.

Kawasaki Motorcycle Timeline

We’ve put together a Kawasaki motorcycle timeline to showcase some additional models produced throughout the decades.

1960s Kawasaki Motorcycles

1963 B8M: The B8M was also known as the “Red Tank" Kawasaki and was manufactured for competing in motocross events.

1967 A1: The A1 was a 250cc street bike that was the first in its class to feature an air-cooled, two-stroke, parallel twin engine.

1969 H1 Mach III: With American riders demanding more horsepower, Kawasaki released the H1 Mach III, which was a 500cc, two-stroke sport bike. It was very popular in the United States thanks to the combination of high power and affordability. It was considered the most powerful production motorcycle in the world for a time.

1970s Kawasaki Motorcycles

1972 Z1: The Z1 began being sold outside of Japan during 1972, with domestic versions following in 1973. The Z1 was the world’s first air-cooled, DOHC, in-line four engine. It was code-named the “New York Steak” during its five-year development.

1977 Z1-R: The Z1-R was the first-ever Japanese café racer and featured a stylish appearance that became popular overseas.

Working on a Kawasaki motorcycle at MMI in 1979.

1980s Kawasaki Motorcycles

1982 GPz1100: This sport touring motorcycle had digital fuel injection (DFI) and Uni-Trak rear suspension, as well as an in-line, four-stroke, liquid-cooled engine.

1984 GPz900R: Known as the Ninja in the U.S., the GPz900R was named “Bike of the Year” by publications around the world. The model featured the first liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine and a unique look that set it apart from other bikes in the industry.

1990s Kawasaki Motorcycles

1990 ZZ-R1100: Also known as the Ninja ZX-11 in North America, this bike had a high maximum power output and featured the first “Ram Air System.”

1997 Super Sherpa: The Super Sherpa was released as a dual-sport motorcycle and featured a 249cc, four-stroke engine. The bike’s multipurpose off-road performance made it a popular model.

2000s Kawasaki Motorcycles

2000 Ninja ZX-12R: The newest Ninja became the flagship on the model of the brand and featured the first mass-produced aluminum monocoque frame.

2006 ZZR1400: Also known as the Ninja ZX-14 in North America, the sport bike was touted as the most powerful ever produced by Kawasaki. Able to reach 60 mph in 2.5 seconds, the bike balanced performance and handling.

2010s Kawasaki Motorcycles

2011 Ninja ZX-10R: This was the first complete redesign of the ZX-10R since its initial release in 2004. It featured a new engine and frame, among other upgrades.

2014 Z1000: The fourth generation Z1000 debuted with a new look and feel. Upgrades included a new SFF-BP front suspension and increased direct response from the engine and chassis.

These are just a handful of the motorcycles produced by Kawasaki over the years. The brand continues producing high-quality bikes, which students get the chance to work on in the manufacturer-specific training course at MMI.

Kawasaki K-Tech Program at MMI

The Kawasaki K-Tech program was endorsed by Kawasaki Motors Corp. in 1989, giving MMI students the opportunity to expand their training by enrolling in the manufacturer-specific course.

Once students have completed the 18‑week Motorcycle Technician Prerequisite (MTP) program at MMI, they are eligible to apply for the 12-week K-Tech program, which is split up into four different modules:

  • Module 1: Students become familiar with the brand’s fuel-injection and electrical systems. They work on ignition, starting, charging and fuel-injection components.
  • Module 2: The second module dives into the suspension and braking systems on motorcycles, as well as the chassis, engines, transmissions and routine maintenance practices.
  • Module 3: Students work on V-twins, ATVs and Teryx models. They also learn about Mule utility vehicles and servicing their engines.
  • Module 4: The final module has students learning watercraft design and theory as they work on electrical systems for Jet Ski and Ultra 250/260 Jet Ski models.

Program Benefits

Offered at two MMI campuses, the K-Tech program offers unique features to students who want to work with one of the biggest names in the motorcycle industry.

  • Updated curriculum: Kawasaki works alongside MMI to provide instructors with ongoing training, so students are exposed to what is most current in the industry.
  • Certification: After graduation, students receive a Kawasaki-endorsed entry-level technician certificate that they can add to a resume.
  • Training beyond bikes: Students get the chance to not only work on motorcycles and dirt bikes, but also with Kawasaki brand ATVs, personal watercraft, gas and diesel Mules, and side-by-sides.

Enroll in Manufacturer-Specific Training at MMI

If working as a motorcycle technician is something that interests you, and you’d like to get specialized training working with Kawasaki, check out the K-Tech program at MMI. Manufacturer-specific training can help prepare you for a career working at a Kawasaki dealership.1

You can complete the elective in just 12 weeks once you’ve finished the core Motorcycle Technician Prerequisite (MTP) program. You can find out more about both programs by requesting information here or by calling 1-800-834-7308.

With classes starting every 3-6 weeks, no need to wait to start your career.
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1) MMI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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