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Kawasaki GPZ900R

Our Bikes - Kawasaki GPz900R A1 1984

(MT #331, Feb 2018, updated June 2020)

See the video at the end of the story

Kawasaki GPz900R

Top Fun - buy-fly-ride

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

There are times when the best solution is to fly in and ride it home


Sod Editor Harris – then ringmaster on Motorcycle Trader mag (which is no longer published, sadly). In the space of six months he somehow managed to empty my wallet faster than anyone other than Bill Gates could refill it. First there was the ZX-10 he put me on to, and very nice it was too. Then this.

Another reader email turns up, which he flick-passes and slithers into my phone. It’s a bloke selling a Kawasaki GPz900R A1 and it looks very original and very bloody tidy. Dammit. It’s Au$8500 and I honestly have no idea what a good one is worth, simply because they don’t appear on the market in any quantity, least of all with the original exhaust system in place. So I consult the brains trust, which includes Spannerman et al, which is like asking Dracula if fangs are a good idea. They say the price is fine, so I have a little chat on the phone with the owner.

This turns out to be a bit of a story because the bike is claiming just 13,000km from new. What’s the deal? Mr B explains that he’s to all intents and purposes the second owner. Evidently the first was a tradie who was doing well and bought the bike new in Alice Springs. There probably weren’t a lot sold in the area back then. However his life went seriously sideways – illicit drugs were mentioned – and it was badly neglected. Finally it ended up at a pawnbroker.

Mr B wandered in all those years back, liberated the bike, and got stuck in to getting it back to its former glory. The cosmetics were pretty shot and chassis items such as brakes and forks seals needed a going over. He was pleasantly surprised however to discover the engine sounded crisp – near enough to new – and so left well alone, other than giving the carburettors a major service. To this day, the head hasn’t been opened up.

A respray and some months of work later it was up and running. However with limited space and a couple of other bikes in the shed, he decided to let go of the GPz. All this sounded plausible and he clearly knew what he was talking about when it came to motorcycles, so I took a punt and sent off the money.

There was a catch: the bike was in Alice Springs and I was in Melbourne. I did make two half-hearted enquiries with motorcycle shippers. One said nup, no service to the Alice, and the other never bothered getting back to me. You know what? I could do with a ride…

Kawasaki GPz900R

It’s about 2300km and it will be mid-Summer. Of course as I’m packing for the trip, the forecast is 40 degrees Centigrade and over. No matter, it still beats sitting behind a desk, tapping away at a keyboard.

The idea copped a roasting from a few of those near and dear – along the lines of, “You’re riding an antique back from Northern Territory, and, by the way, you’re no spring chicken, either.” People can be so unkind.

My rough plan was to fly in Tuesday morning, spend three nights on the road, and be back in time for the Lemmings Motorcycle Club (motto: Death before Courtesy) lunch in Melbourne on the Friday. Mr B picked me up at the airport and I finally got to clap eyes on the thing in the flesh. It looked great – everything he said it would be.

A little surprise was he had a couple of mates from the local Ulysses club in tow, and they’d decided to escort me out of town. Wise, when you think about it. Actually, it was very kind and it was good to have company for the run to the first fuel stop, a couple of hundred kays down the road at Erldunda.

He had two questions, before we started: “Do you have any tools with you?” My response, “No, I trust you,” made him blanche a little and he added an Allen key to the under-seat kit, so I could at least remove the sidecovers. I must remember to mail it back.

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The next was, “Do you mind if we ramp up the pace a bit once we’re well out of town?” Fine. It turned out to be more like a 170-180km/h cruising speed, somewhat above the accepted 130 limit, but safe enough out there on a crystal clear day. The GPz handled it just fine, with one little glitch – it would every now and then get fuel starvation and grind down to snail’s pace.

Great – just what you want when heading out on a solo trip through the red centre. Whatever it was, I decided to press on, hoping to nut it out. I did that night at Marla. The GPz runs two breather lines from the fuel tank, one of which has a damper in the tube. Mr B reckons he may have put in a unit that was too restrictive. In any case I swapped the lines over and that solved the issue. A major relief, really, as the prospect of riding all the way home with a bike that would randomly have a little rest was not appealing.

With that sorted, we settled into a steady 140-150 pace for much of the trip, which was perfect. No stress on me or the motorcycle. In fact I was pleasantly surprised at just how comfortable it was. Smooth and more than quick enough for the odd overtaking manoeuvre.

A night in sunny Marla – essentially an overnight stop for travellers, and the western gateway to the Oodnadatta track - and then off for a 700-ish km day, aiming for Port Augusta.

Now well into the swing of things, I was rediscovering the joys of long trips like this. Okay, corners were in short supply, but the sheer desolate expanse of the country around you, along with little highlights along the way – such as deep chasms running off to the west of the highway – is somehow soothing. No phones, no complications, just time to think a little and enjoy the time out.

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Then the sky ahead turned black. Desert storms are always spectacular. Suddenly you go from a light so bright that everything looks like it’s chrome-plated, to a dark and sinister wall of weather, with flashes of lightning hitting the ground. It looks and feels a little like the world may be ending, as the temperature plummets and you get punched around by crosswinds that challenge your ability to stay on the road.

I pulled in at the next rest stop, a mere 80km down the road, to climb into a rain suit. There I encountered three gents on their big adventure tourers, sheltering under a tin roof held up by four posts. From where I stood, it looked like shelter in name only.

They had decided to sit out the storm, not a universal choice among the group, while I decided to press on. To be fair, they’d been on the road for two weeks and had probably experienced enough weather events by then. Me, I was on a mission to make lunch.

It got a little ugly for an hour or so, but really it was okay, though I was astounded by the sheer quantity of water that can magically appear from nowhere. Pulling into the next fuel stop, I made the mistake of asking what the road ahead was like. Flooded, was the assessment, even the road trains were down to a crawl. Don’t bother, son.

Maybe? I decided to head out and have a look, figuring I had the option of turning back if it was really bad, particularly since I had an extra five litres of fuel in the seat pack. Typically, whatever the issue was had more or less disappeared by the time we rolled though. No dramas.

opal mine warning

Well, okay, there was one: the speedo made some alarming grinding noises and went to lunch on the way out of Glendambo. That’s the result of age and lack of use – the lubrication had given up. Just to punctuate the issue, the needle jumped off its mount. Oh well, I now knew what I was doing when I got home.

My chosen route took me through the north side of Adelaide and the combination of slow traffic and a roaster of a day had the temp needle shoot straight to near max. That was worrying. The GPz was running fine, but I was concerned and pretty merciless with the traffic in an effort to keep the thing moving and air flowing across the radiator.

Get to the other side and back on the open road, things were okay. With a bit of time to ponder the problem, the memories came flooding back. When these things were new (1984, about the time I got into working for bike mags), there was a lot of discussion over allegedly overheating GPz900Rs.

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The gist of it was Kawasaki said the bike was fine and that’s how the temp gauge was designed. Of course no-one was listening, so Kawasaki on the next model reset the calibration so the needle was in the centre when it got hot. Problem solved.

From there, it was a trouble-free stunner of a ride. An overnight stay in Horsham and yes, I made it to the Lemmings MC (motto: Death before Courtesy) lunch. Richmond and the familiar noodle palace run by Mistress Sandy was a welcome sight, though it seemed like another planet.

Back in reality, I had a few things to sort out. One was the dead speedo, another was the mirrors were drooping down (they had been installed with the stalks the wrong way around), and the third was a general check-over and sparkplug clean.

Kawasaki GPz900R

A second-hand speedo with the right mileage was easy enough to source – I bought a complete dash and fished out the instrument I wanted. Doing all of this involved removing the tank (easy), the screen (fiddly) and the fairing infill panels. The latter requires a black belt in Origami, unless you’re prepared to also drop the handlebars – which I wasn’t.

It seems I may have learned a little patience over the years, as the whole process was time-consuming but simple enough.

Some thoughts on the GPz? Even now, it’s a smooth, surprisingly quick (good for 240km/h) and comfortable motorcycle. Though it was one of the machines caught up in the then great debate over the wisdom of 16-inch front wheels, this is one example that handled well.

The feel is a little gothic in some respects. Its placement of the handlebars and the now hopelessly outdated brakes make it feel very similar to the GPz750 turbo I owned some years ago, where braking hard requires more space and forethought than you require on a current bike. And, when you’re doing it, it doesn’t feel right.

While I have no beef with the 16-inch front wheel, these days the tyre choices are limited.

Kawasaki GPz900R

All up, though, the big surprise was that it was a very quick and comfortable tourer – far better than I expected.

There is a lot of the eighties about it, such as the styling and the then hero fitment of brake-actuated anti-dive units on the front fork. Oh, and then there’s its main claim to fame, as the star bike in the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun. That last feature still has cultural traction today, surprisingly even with people who would have been in nappies when the flick was released.

Was it a good decision to buy it? Hell yes. Getting the first of the breed – Kawasaki’s first 16-valve four – in this condition is rare. It also happens to be a thoroughly enjoyable ride. And I can recommend the idea of doing your own fly/ride program. It’s a great way to get to know your new toy…



Kawasaki GPz900R Ninja

About the GPz900R
The GPz900R was produced in various forms from 1984 to 1996 and ended up being sold alongside other Kawasaki hero bikes such as the ZX-7R and GPZ1000RX. It represented a shift away from air-cooled to liquid-cooled sports bikes for the brand, though it wasn't the marque's first liquid-cooled machine. That was the mighty Z1300 six.

It was however the brand's first pukka liquid-cooled sports bike, even though we now see it as a sports-tourer.

Over the years, suspension, wheels and tuning were changed. While it’s best-known for its appearance in the movie Top Gun, music buffs might know one was owned by Lou Reed, who referred to it in his album Legendary Hearts.

See the Lou Reed YouTube audio link here.

Kawasaki GPz900R



Smooth and quick
Surprisingly comfortable

Not so good
Tough to find an A1 in complete original condition

Kawasaki GPz900R A1


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, four valve, inline four


BORE & STROKE: 72.5 x 55mm


FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x Mikuni CVK 34mm carburettors


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Steel with aluminium rear subframe
FRONT SUSPENSION: 39mm adjustable fork, with air preload, hydraulic anti-dive
REAR SUSPENSION: Single shock, with air preload and damping adjustment
FRONT BRAKE: 280mm discs with single-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE: 270mm disc with single-piston caliper





FRONT: Cast alloy 120/80 V16
REAR: Cast alloy 130/80 V18


POWER: 86kW @9500rpm

TORQUE: 85Nm 8500rpm




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