Both deadly and liberating, the Kawasaki Triple was as loved by experienced riders as it was feared by newcomers for the same single reason: the Kawasaki Triples had a never-before-seen power-to-weight ratio capable of extreme acceleration at the cost of difficult handling.
The History of the “Widowmaker”
The first Kawasaki Triple entered production in 1968 with the Mach III H1 500, production of which lasted until 1976. The S2 Mach II 350 came out shortly after in 1971, followed by the smaller S1 Mach I 250 in 1972.
Kawasaki Triples were also referred to as Widowmakers, a pejorative nickname earned because of the severe handling difficulties, tendency for rapid acceleration to cause the front wheel to lift off the ground, and of course the high likelihood of death or injury for inexperienced riders.
The Design Specs
Specifications differed widely from model to model, but the first Kawasaki Triple, the Mach III H1 500, initially saw an inline-triple 498.75cc engine equipped with three Mikuni 28mm carburetors.
The general design threw fuel economy to the wind and trampled safety on its way out the door of the showroom. Just listen to the 750’s roar:
Timeline of Versions with Changes and Pictures
The phrase “Kawasaki Triple” refers more so to the engine design than the model itself, meaning that there are quite a few Kawasaki Triples out there. However, the most influential of all time were the Mach-series models.
- H1 500 Mach III (1968-1976)
The original 1968 Mach III weighed in at about 384 pounds dry and 414 pounds wet. With the Mach III’s 60 horsepower at between 7,500 and 8,000 rpm, that brings the total power-to-weight ratio to a whopping 0.145 horsepower per pound, making it instantly popular among auto enthusiasts.
- S2 350 Mach II (1971-1974)
The second model in the series boasted three-cylinder, two-stroke engine with a much smaller 346cc engine.
- S1 250 Mach I (1972-1975)
The smallest model in the line-up by far is the Mach 1. Designed to cut down one excess weight and shed bulk, the Mach 1 only had an engine displacement of 250cc and weighed about 350 pounds.
- H2 750 Mach IV (1972-1975)
The Mach IV was the pinnacle of power for the Widowmakers. It increased the engine displacement to 748cc, slightly raised the compression ratio, and increased the torque by almost 50%.
- S3 400 (1974-1975)
The last model produced before the line was discontinued in ‘75 was the S3 400, essentially the same as the S2 except for the increased engine displacement and power.
The Widowmaker in the News
On July 21st, 2019, the Kawasaki Triple was featured in HotCars’s list of “Ten Great Motorcycles which Deserve to be Back on the Market.”
But other than that, there’s not much going on for the Widowmaker today. 44 years after production was discontinued, the motorcycle news industry has, with a few minor exceptions, moved on to covering more recent developments.
Frankly, you’re not likely to find any celebrities endorsing a motorcycle as deadly, both for its rider and the environment, as a Kawasaki Triple. That said, there are still collectors and museums offering their support to the influential design.
As with all classic motorcycles, superbikes, and scooters, there are plenty of people on social media and online forums with whom you can chat about your love for the Kawasaki Triple. This Facebook group, for instance, has more than 9,000 members.
The Kawasaki Triple – The Widowmaker
Despite its checkered past and its deadly nature, nobody can deny the sheer power of the Widowmaker. Whether this beast of a machine lives on a classic because of its danger to its rider or its power-to-weight ratio, who knows? There’s only one way to find out.