The biggest improvement was a change in steering geometry and riding position.
The rake angle was extended to 29 degrees from the J-model's 27.5-degree spec,
with an accompanying increase in trail from 3.89 to 4.50 inches. Generous
scalloping to the standard saddle dropped the seat height by half an inch, and
the footpegs were set four inches farther back and an inch higher. Suspension
was altered, with a revalved (read: stiffer rebound and compression damping)
fork and twin gas-charged, piggyback Showa shocks handling the road-hugging
chores. A Kerker 4-into-1 exhaust replaced the standard 4-into-2 pipe, with
other subtle changes such as a four-row oil cooler, wider rear rim (wow, a 2.50
incher!), an "Eddie Lawson bend" handlebar, some decent Dunlop rubber replacing
the usual rim protectors of that era, and various GPz componentry (brake system,
fairing, gas tank, etc.) completing the picture. Maybe the most surprising
change, however, was the lack of weight. The KZ1000R scaled in a full 41.5
pounds lighter than the J-model.
Of course, it should be kept in mind that this is early '80s technology we're
dealing with, so the KZ1000R's performance-while excellent for its time-isn't
nearly up to today's standards. The added rake and trail give the R's chassis
good stability in the fast stuff, and the steering is fairly neutral all the way
down to max lean. But there's a pretty big slab of metal in the engine bay and
keeping the motor high to stop the cases from grinding means a fairly tall
center of gravity. The suspension on the bike we rode was pretty worn out
(22,000 miles were already logged on the odometer) so handling was rather loose
and not representative of the actual item. Keep the KZ1000R's year of
manufacture in perspective, though, and you find it to be a fun sporting mount
with an exclusivity that can't be matched by any Japanese sportbike of that era.
This article was originally published in the October, 1999 issue of Sport
AMA Superbike Champion: 1981, 1982
Eddie Ray Lawson was raised on the dusty dirt tracks of California in the
mid-1970s and began road racing in the late-70s, at first of 250 Grand Prix
bikes, then later on Superbikes.
Lawson seemed destine for greatness from the very beginning, In his first AMA
Superbike finish he won at Talladega in 1980. In only his second full year of
Superbike racing, 1981, Lawson won the title in a close battle with rivals
Freddie Spencer and Wes Cooley. Lawson became known as "Steady Eddie" for his
consistent performances during the course of a season.
Lawson came back to win his second AMA Superbike title by the slim margin of
nine points over Honda's Mike Baldwin. The 1982 season was to be his final full
year of racing in America. In 1983 he left to compete in the 500cc World
Championship Grands Prix where he brought home four World Championships.
Eddie Lawson will go down in history as one the greatest motorcycle road racers
of all time. Lawson won the 500cc World Championship four times during the
1980s. When he retired from GP racing in the early 1990s, he ranked third on the
all-time 500cc Grand Prix wins list with 31 victories.
In addition to his international accomplishments, Lawson was equally successful
on the domestic front. The Californian won the AMA Superbike Series twice (1981
and 1982) and the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series in 1980 and 1981. When inducted into
the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Lawson was the only rider to ever win the
AMA Superbike and 250GP titles during his career. Lawson also won the Daytona
200, the first time during the prime of his racing career in 1986, then again in
1993 when he returned to the event after retiring from full-time motorcycle
Lawson was born in Upland, California, on March 11, 1958. He grew up around
motorcycles. Both his father and grandfather raced. Some of Lawsonâ€™s earliest
memories are of going out to the desert races with his father. Lawson started
riding an 80cc Yamaha when was 7 years old, having to hold the nearly full-sized
bike up on his tiptoes when he came to a stop. By the time he was 12, Lawson was
racing the local Southern California dirt track circuit.
"We rode mainly at tracks like Corona and Ascot. I didnâ€™t do very well for the
first couple of years," admitted Lawson. "I just sort of rode around cautiously
trying to not fall off my little 90cc Kawasaki Green Streak."
It didnâ€™t take Lawson long to get over his timidity. He quickly became one of
the fastest young amateurs in Southern California during the early 1970s heyday
of dirt track competition.
Besides dirt track racing, Lawson also began to hit the local road races after
his grandfather bought him a 50cc Italjet. He later graduated to a Yamaha RD350.
This road racing experience would later prove to be very valuable for Lawson.
By 1978, Lawson obtained his AMA expert license. He was riding Shell Thuett
Yamahas, which were very fast for Yamaha dirt trackers, but were no match for
the Harley-Davidsons that dominated dirt track racing. Lawson did manage to do
decently on TT tracks. His best finish of his rookie expert season was fifth in
the TT national at Santa Fe Speedway near Chicago.
By 1979, it was becoming clear that Lawson was fighting an uphill battle on the
dirt tracks, while just the opposite was happening at the road races. At 20,
Lawson was already considered one of the top road racers in West Coast club
racing. In 1979, he proved that he was a force to be reckoned with when he
finished second to a young Freddie Spencer in the AMA 250 Grand Prix national at
Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California. Lawson finished the season as the
second-ranked rider behind Spencer in the AMA 250 GP series.
While doing a made-for-television Superbikes event late in 1979, Lawson was
invited to a Superbike tryout at Willow Springs Raceway by Kawasaki. Lawson set
fast time in the tryout and was offered the ride.
"It was really pretty fun to ride those old 1000cc Superbikes," Lawson recalls.
"They were pretty heavy and had a lot of power and with the wide handlebars you
could actually ride them a lot like a flat tracker, power-sliding out of the
corners and everything."
It did not take long for Lawson to get used to racing Superbikes. Lawson won his
first Superbike national at Talladega, Alabama, in April of 1980. That season
saw some epic battles between Lawson, Freddie Spencer and Wes Cooley. The season
ended with Cooley winning the title in a controversial manner, with protests and
counter-protests being filed between the Kawasaki and Suzuki Superbike teams.
Cooley had to wait two months after the season to finally be awarded the
championship. The same season, Lawson dominated the AMA 250 Grand Prix Series.
The Superbike controversy at the end of 1980 just made Lawson more determined.
He came back in 1981 and won the title after another great year of battling
Honda and its top rider, Freddie Spencer. The Lawson/Spencer rivalry would go
down as one of the best in the history of Superbike racing. During this period,
AMA Superbike racing really came into prominence and started to replace the
Formula One class in importance. Lawson again won the 250GP title in â€™81.
Lawsonâ€™s â€™80 and â€™81 championships marked the only times that Kawasaki
would win the AMA 250 Grand Prix titles.
Lawson's last full season of racing in the U.S. was 1982. Again, Lawson and
Kawasaki held off a serious challenge from Honda, that year with Mike Baldwin,
who finished second in the series.