Marty Estes: 1974 Kawasaki 750 H2 - H2 Heirloom

Keeping A Kawasaki In The Family

Driving to Susanville, California, to pick up the bike, I didn't know what an H2 was or what to expect. I only knew what I was told-that it was an "old 750 streetbike." When the garage door opened and the sun shone in after 11 dark years, it was hard to be anything but disappointed. The poor Kawasaki was covered in dust and rough-yellowed carbs, frozen front brake, oil everywhere and just plain sad-looking. It would barely roll, much less start. I drove 550 miles for ths?

Thankfully, my negative first impression and complete lack of education about what was being given to me didn't prevent me from loading the 1974 Kawasaki H2B onto a trailer and hauling it back to Los Angles in 1997. Many years later, when I stop to think about what this vintage Kawasaki means to me, it's difficult to overemphasize the impact it has had. Its previous owner was my cousin, Michael Mullaney, whom I met only once.

Mike grew up in Southern California before moving up north. His father Don bought the H2 for him second-hand in the late '70s. Mike quickly went to work modifying it for dragracing, mounting a 16-inch rear wheel and stripping off all the unnecessary bits. He raced it at Redding and used it as a daily rider for a number of years before it took a back seat to newer four-strokes. Around '82, Mike rode south to visit my family. I was 12 then, and I don't remember much about him other than he seemed larger than life. The Kawasaki KZ1000 that he rode was similarly enormous, and loud!

Mike was a gritty-looking guy, a true biker, with a sunburned face from riding 500-plus miles sans helmet. To a pre-teen with a Yamaha YZ80, the scene was hugely inspiring. I remember my parents worrying that Mike had ridden so far without a helmet. My father had an extra one that he offered, but Mike declined, and even more indignantly threw that big KZ up on its rear wheel as he motored out of town. That sight is my only memory of Mike, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Four years later, at age 27, Mike was involved in a serious accident while riding a scooter. Distracted by friends driving in the lane next to him, he rode helmetless into the back of a car that had slowed to make a right-hand turn. Ten years later, with Mike still lying in a coma and hope fading that he'd emerge, Aunt Julie and Uncle Don offered me their only son's beloved H2.

I picked up the bike from a stand-alone garage behind their house. This was clearly Mike's place, and little had changed since his accident. It was a surreal snapshot in time: Old beer bottles in the corner. Kawasaki and Suzuki two-stroke motors on the floor. Parts hanging from the rafters. Girly posters strewn about. One could easily picture laughter, a smoky haze and old Van Halen cranking on the boom-box. Now, though, it felt very empty. I spent hours there alone, going through Mike's things. Not knowing much about this bike at the time, I did my best to figure out which parts belonged to it.

It was a strange, emotional day. About a week later, the whole experience-coupled with my vision of Mike lying in a hospital bed somewhere-became too much and I couldn't hold back the tears. I guess it was something I needed to do; part of the healing process.

Once home, the H2 started to grow on me. A 750cc two-stroke triple? What is that going to sound like?! I set about getting it running with the help of the late triple guru Ron Reichert. It didn't take much more than standard-fare carb/petcock work to come to life, and when it did, I clearly wasn't man enough to ride it. I heard the old triples vibrated, but this bike hurt to ride!

I rode the H2 on and off for a few years, fiddling with things in an uneducated manner before the battery emptied itself on the frame due to vibration. I parked it in 1999, knowing that it needed a proper going-through. It stayed parked until 2001, when I set about restoring it. That vibration? A broken frame and motor mounts will do that. Through the years, I have addressed many small details. The bike has been a reliable runner and, compared to the shape it was in when I got it, about as civilized as an H2 can get.

Riding the bike is an experience. There's nothing else on the planet like a large-displacement, two-stroke triple. It feels downright illegal! I am a vintage bike aficionado and aspiring collector because of it, and a better mechanic too. I've met a lot of great people, as everybody seems to have a story about a "guy they knew" who rode a Kawasaki triple.

In 2002, roughly 16 years after his accident, Mike finally passed away. He never regained consciousness. Even though I did not know him well, we are related by blood and the common bond of owning this old Kawasaki. I now have the same view he had across those handlebars-not to mention the unique sound, the smell and that awful handling. This H2 is more than just a motorcycle; it's a part of me now.

Handling, though better with modern parts, is still wonky. Unique sounds from the two-stroke triple more than make up for it.
While looking for parts in Mike's garage, I came across this December '74 issue of Motorcyclist. He edited Bob Greene's test of the H2, crossing out the parts he didn't like.
The license plate is a tribute, combining "H2" with "Here's to ya', Mike."
The H2 in repose where it sat mostly untouched for more than a decade.
Most people still consider the H2 a scary-fast machine, but in stock trim it's pretty tame by modern standards. There's big power hidden within, however.