October 18th 2002. My wedding. It's all gone well, the beer's flowing and my new wife presents me with an envelope. It contains a logbook for a KR250. I'd spotted the advert above in the back pages of Classic Mechanics Magazine and mentioned to her a vague desire to go and check it out. Of course I'd done nothing about it. Meanwhile she'd noted down the phone number, rang them, went to see it, bought it, added it to my insurance and then surprised me with it on the big day. Even my Mum was in on it, having kindly forked out for a tax disc. It was being sold by Earnshaws Motorcycles of Huddersfield. Their salesman Jerry was in charge of the basement full of old, classic and weird stuff that had no place in the main showroom. They'd acquired it from the son of the man that ran Huddersfield Kawasaki in the 1980's, the one who'd imported them in the first place. So it hadn't travelled far. Jerry wanted to free up some space in the basement for his collection of aircooled Yamaha twins and racing Hondas, so had advertised the KR for sale in the magazine classifieds. Although Sara had bought the bike and given me the V5, the bike itself was still at Earnshaws. They'd MOT'd it and it was ready to collect.
On the wettest October Monday ever, we drove across so I could ride it home. As it had sat around being neglected for a while, I gave it a soaking in WD40 to make it vaguely waterproof and off I went. First impressions were of slippery tyres, a need to be above 6000rpm to avoid stalling and a strange problem somewhere in the front brakes/forks that almost had me off at the first set of traffic lights. And a fantastic typically-two-stroke-twin-but-somehow-different muted howl from the pipes. Minor alarm was raised when a red warning light appeared but I quickly realised it coincided with a redline marked on the speedo at 80kph and must be some sort of anti-speeding device for the home market. It was also quickly apparent that the fuel gauge wasn't working so I filled it up at the first set of motorway services. Then I couldn't start it again. 5 minutes of frantic kicking made my waterproofs sweaty without any reward. But it bump-started easily and I set off home, weaving through the busy motorway traffic and arriving home 70 miles later with no further drama. As we were due to leave for Italy by Mini on honeymoon the next day (that's another story, see The Italian Job for details), the KR was pushed unceremoniously into the garage and left.
Back home again, and I want to restore my KR to it's former glory. Not an obsessive concours restoration ensuring the original Japanese air is in the tyres, just strip it down, service it, tidy it up and make it look as nice as it was when it was new. At first glance, it all appears to be there and original too, but closer examination reveals a missing sprocket cover and quite a lot of cosmetic damage to the exhausts and various plastics. So, first on the list will be to give it a good wash and then inspect it more thoroughly. Despite the MOT we can't be sure of its recent service history, so I'll also change the oil and coolant, fit new spark plugs, clean the airfilter and recharge the battery (replacing it if necessary). The chain/sprockets will probably need replacing too.
The front-end problem needs investigating so maybe a fork (and shock) service and check of the anti-dive is in order too, along with the bearings. In any case the brakes should be stripped and cleaned and I might as well replace the ancient original brake hoses with braided-steel ones too (no concours restoration remember). I need to investigate a possible oil/coolant leak (the garage floor doesn't lie), fix the fuel gauge (hopefully a duff connection) and I need to find a new sprocket cover. With a clean up and polish of the frame and cycle parts, that should just leave the bodywork (which will need repairing and repainting, possibly by me or more likely professionally) and the exhausts (repaint black and get the end-cans refurbished somehow).
I pushed the KR out of the garage at the weekend and took some pictures of the worst bits, as an incentive to get on with the restoration and also for some 'before' pics to send to Classic Mechanics magazine when it's finished. In the process I noticed that there's bad rust on the bottom seam of the tank - the discoloured sidepanel and frame below it suggests that it may be leaking petrol which isn't ideal. And I noticed the other day that the back tyre is pretty flat - did I pick up a puncture riding it home or could that explain the strange handling ?
I was interested in the KR listed on the West Coast Salvage under their 'broken bikes' section. I rang them to enquire about it. They said it was green (good !) and in "reasonably-good" condition missing only the front seat and right-hand fairing panel. They also said they'd be keen to sell it complete rather than break it. So I go to Southport and undertake a search round the back streets for West Coast's well-hidden salvage yard. First impressions aren't good - it's a mud track littered with the corpses of dead bikes literally lying where they were pushed off the back of the truck. But he knows I'm coming so the KR's been dug out and is sat in front of the workshop. It's not as good as I was hoping - the pipes are almost as scraped and dinged as mine and what's left of the bodywork is split and scratched too. Two indicators are missing, along with a footrest, both carbs and the throttle assembly. I won't be riding it home then ! In his warehouse he shows me a tea-chest containing the remains of another KR - clocks, rear-shock, footrest-hangers and other bits I don't recognise. I spend a few minutes scavenging and eventually leave with the 2 remaining indicators, the sprocket cover, the right-hand sidepanel and a tool-box that lives under the left sidepanel - I didn't even know I was missing one until I saw his. £30 the lot. I also know what else he's got if I need anything in the future.
I've done nothing to the KR since I got it 6 months ago so let's have a closer look and come up with a proper plan. First, both tyres have gone flat, so pump 'em up. No obvious faults, maybe leaky valves ? Next, check the oil and coolant levels - they're OK. It's got fuel too, so now whip out the tiny battery and put it on charge. Then have a look at the front end. The anti-dive adjusters are on 2 (out of 3) and one of them's seized, so free it off and put 'em both on 1. Now the rear - the preload adjuster appears to be working OK and you can actually feel the difference between the settings. Lube the chain, fit the tax-disc and recharged battery, tie up the flapping pillion footrest and we're ready for a test-ride.
Starts after 3 kicks, ticks over OK. Set off and immediately switch off the choke. At the first open road, wind it up, there's a massive cloud of smoke in the mirrors but it pulls cleanly with a fantastic 2-stroke wail. On the brakes the front isn't as bad as I remember but there's definite pulsing through the brake lever and forks. It could be warped discs or the anti-dive or both (the brakes feed into the anti-dive). We stop after a handful of miles to swap bikes (I'm with a mate on a RG400 Gamma). The KR won't start - it ticks over but won't take any throttle. Very strange. A push-start works OK. Maybe I just don't have the knack ?
Take it out for a test ride again (have you noticed how I'm putting off the restoration ?). It starts easily and runs nicely, but once again it won't start when it's warm. Another push-start does the trick. On the way home I see 170 on the clock (kph remember). When it's cooled down I get the Gunk out and give it a proper degrease and clean. On the good side the discoloured frame cleans up nicely but the engine cases go a funny grey colour and look worse than before. And now I know that the rear-suspension is adjustable for damping as well as preload, I've realised that the adjuster knob and mechanism is missing from the hole in the bellypan...
Plan A has given way (temporarily) to Plan B. I want to go to the Lotherton Hall VJMC show on it next month so rather than start the complete stripdown, I'm gonna give it a quick service and tidy it as best I can for now. I need to fix the problem with warm-starting so I'll try new plugs and clean the airfilter and carbs. I'll also do an oil change and fit the sprocket cover and toolbox I acquired. I'll investigate the broken fuel-gauge and maybe tidy up the underside of the tank with some black beading on the seam. I suppose a MPH sticker on the speedo would be handy, and I might put a smaller numberplate on it too.
Right, I've bought some plugs (B9ES). Let's take the bodywork off and see what we can find. Hmm, the bolts that hold the fairing on are all different and pretty scabby, and one is completely stuck fast due to a bodged nut on the back. I'm gonna have to take the whole fairing subframe off, with headlight and clocks too. Unfortunately, the routing of the wiring loom means that lots of that has to be disconnected too. Eventually it's all off, and I drill out the offending bolt to separate fairing and subframe. Looks like the fairing has been repaired with fibreglass at some point in the past, and the wiring loom has been bodged with extra connectors and lots of black tape too. On the plus side, the headlamp surround should look OK once cleaned up and painted black.
Sidepanels and the tank off next and investigate the fuel-gauge lead. The contacts are blue and furry so I clean 'em up . There's an earth lead under the tank which doesn't appear to be connected to anything. There's also a sticker on the frame rail with a diagram showing the correct routing for the lead - bizarrely it's not connected on there either ! What's the point of that then ? There are 3 other loose wires near the bellypan and a block-connector that doesn't go anywhere too. At least I can see the plugs now, and the orange gasket sealant on the front head - I think it's gonna be a while before it's back to showroom condition...
It's a sunny day - shall I sit at work or take the afternoon off and play with the KR ? You guessed it. Off with the airbox first - pretty easy because the front retaining lug has snapped off. Then remove the intake trumpets and get at the carbs. Hey, flat slides, very racer-ish ! They're pretty cruddy and the float-bowl and top screws have been butchered. But they come apart and I get the jets out (mains are both standard 137.5) and clean everything up. The front one's not bad but the rear one's full of rusty cack and everything's covered in a strange white film suggestive of water in the fuel. They're not very well balanced either so I spend some time adjusting the cables and tickover screws until they're sorted. Then I fit a brand new pair of B9ES plugs and there's just the airfilter left to clean. It's filthy, and unfortunately it's only the dirt holding it together - it practically dissolves in my hands. Oh dear ! Can I bodge a temporary replacement from some foam/sponge or can I find some sort of aftermarket K&N type thing ? On the plus side I give the dirty engine a bit of a wipe and find the engine number - I've been looking for that !
I bought a flat sheet of airfilter foam from the local bike shop and my Mum expertly cuts and sews it into a 3D cone shape like the original. It looks spot on, you'd never tell it from a genuine Kawasaki part. I re-fit the airbox, fit the new filter and bolt on the tank. Two kicks and it starts ! The next night I take it for a test-ride - I'm hoping that cleaning and tweaking the carbs together with new plugs will have sorted the hot-starting problem. I take it easy until it's warmed up and stop after 10 minutes. It won't re-start. Exactly the same as before - it'll tick-over roughly but won't take any throttle. Choke kills it altogether. Eventually it catches properly so I set off home. On the bypass I open it up to overtake a car - almost past and it suddenly loses power. Clutch in, dive left to safety, try loading the engine again and it seems OK. Did it nip up ? Have I killed it ? Get home and check it out. There's a hint of oil leaking from the base of the rear pot and I can't believe how much heat is coming off the engine (sign of being lean ?). The plugs look OK but it won't re-start again. Bollocks...
Take it apart again. The airfilter looks fine but I soak it in oil and dry it off like you're supposed to. The new plugs don't seem very oily, just a bit wet. I check the position of the needles in the carbs - they're both on position 4 (from the top) which is what the manual says. I blow through the tank filler cap breather vent and also the vacuum feed pipe from the rear carb. I also re-route the fuel pipes in case they're restricting the fuel flow somewhere. No different - sometimes it'll fire up properly and sounds very healthy (my neighbours probably disagree) but most of the time it gets bogged down at low revs and won't pull through it. Is there any good news ? Well, the fuel gauge is working now and despite the mangled damping-adjuster shaft on the rear shock, the adjuster itself does seem to turn OK with some pliers on it. I did make it to the Lotherton Hall show, but... erm... I went on a Suzuki. And it was a four-stroke...
Not much progress I'm afraid. A request for advice from the RD/LC boys resulted in 2 quick replies - the first suggested the bike was running rich and that I should check the floats and heights in the carbs, and maybe the crank seals. The second reckoned a mate of his had a KR with the same symptoms which turned out to be fuel starvation caused by the fuel evaporating in the pipes as they pass between the hot cylinders (ie. running lean). A switch to Iridium plugs of a higher grade was also suggested. A mate of mine reckons it's running lean due to the leaking base gaskets and I myself suspect the reed-valves but thanks to the unusual intake system, checking the reeds means taking the whole clutch out and more - I knew I should have bought an LC instead...
An idle flick through the owners manual one night (bedtime reading) hints that the alloy "end-cans" on the silencers might only be sleeves over the one-piece expansion chambers. 5 minutes with a spanner confirms this the next day. This is excellent news as they should be much easier/cheaper to replace, either with genuine parts or by having some made by a sheet metal specialist. Should tidy the bike up a treat !
If you've just looked at the pictures immediately above, you'll have realised that I've done something silly. I've bought another one ! I couldn't bear the thought of that poor old KR rusting away at West Coast Salvage so I hired a van and took away everything I could find that was off a KR. That includes the bike (about 90% complete but pretty rough), a tea-chest of odds-and-sods and most of a set of new unpainted bodypanels : tailpiece, both sidepanels, main fairing, bellypan - no fairing side pieces or front mudguard, though he was going to have another look in the warehouse for me.
The KR doesn't have a V5 - it was never registered in the UK. It came over from Japan in a container when West Coast were importing loads of 250/400's (they were the first bulk grey-importers along with BAT). It does have engine/frame numbers though and was sold to me as a complete bike to be registered by me. I'd have to get an age certificate and MOT and then it'd get a B-plate I suppose.
It's missing both carbs, both coils and both front brake calipers. All of these are in the tea-chest. It's also missing both seats, the screen, the gear-lever, both brake-levers, both mirrors, both fairing sides, the sidepanel lock, the RH footrest and bracket, the radiator cap, chainguard, battery and two indicators (as well as the bits I previously got off it myself - see the Info page). It kicks over OK and is not seized. There's no oil in it. The clutch lever bracket is snapped and the splined shaft that the gear-lever goes on has snapped off short. It does have both the sidestand cut-out switch and rear-shock damping mechanism that I want for mine though. The tank is badly dented and there's no keys for the filler cap (or the ignition). The bracket that holds the tank on is snapped but there's another one in the tea-chest. It has an airfilter but it started to break up as soon as I touched it ! Exhaust end-cans are scuffed but better than mine, as is the airbox.
Also in the tea-chest are 2 sets of clocks, 2 fairing subframes, a pair of front discs, rear sprocket and carrier, both alloy footrest hangers with passenger footrests, rear mudguard with numberplate light, both CDI boxes, regulator/rectifier, sidestand and bracket, airbox and trumpets (no filter !), rear-shock with remote preload and damping fittings, coolant header tank, headlight and assorted loose nuts/bolts/washers/O-rings etc.
None of these bits are for sale - yet. Once I've got mine sorted with all the best bits from both, I'll decide whether to attempt to fix-up the 'new' one or break it for spares. Having said that, if there's something you need for your KR that you think I can spare, get in touch and we'll work something out.
A week later with a couple of hours to kill, I swapped the end-cans and the best four indicators onto my main bike, along with the spare sidestand cutout switch (I realised that what I previously thought was the sidestand cutout switch actually fits on the clutch lever bracket as yet another safety device). I also got a smaller numberplate made up (with the website logo on) and fitted that too. Hardly an essential mod but the original massive one was annoying me ! And just to make it look a bit less sad, I fitted the spare carbs, coils and front brakes to the dead KR. The throttle cable is snapped and the whole choke mechanism is missing. There are no bolts to hold on the brake calipers either, but it does look slightly more complete than before.
Whilst messing about as above, a mate came over so I let him take the main bike for a spin. It ran fine, but once again was not prepared to restart whilst warm. 3 hours later it started 3rd kick. Whilst he was there he had a look at the dead KR and pointed out that the forks are very badly bent... doh ! So one bike's gonna get restored to standard and the other one will get the fat-wheels & USD-forks 'special' treatment then...
Believe it or not, this website is taking up all my spare time and stopping me working on the bike ! Don't get me wrong though, I'm delighted that people are finding it interesting and informative, and if I can help someone new join the KR-azy world of the tandem-twin I'll be very pleased. I'm dealing with enquiries and technical questions from KR owners and prospective purchasers all over the world but it's two-way traffic and I'm learning just as much as I'm passing on. I don't want to get all soppy but I'm extremely impressed with the friendly and helpful people I'm 'meeting' though this thing.
But enough of that. I've had my KR just less than a year now so it needs an MOT. Can't see why it would fail but you never know. It's only 5 minutes ride to the local bike shop but I get halfway there and someone does an emergency stop in front of me to let an old lady across the road. I panic, the front wheel locks and I leave a nice black line on the tarmac. For half a second it looked like I was gonna be adding handlebars, brake levers etc to the shopping list but I get away with it and the bike sails through the MOT no problem. The tester has to push-start it too but says that he used to have a KH400 with similar symptoms and traced it to the low-speed pickup for the ignition. Now that's gotta be worth investigating...
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