Most iconic Kawasaki Z1 designer Ken Tada has passed away

Most iconic Kawasaki Z1 designer Ken Tada has passed away

The Z1 was a break for Kawasaki in more ways than one, which is why it’s still a significant source of pride for the company. 

The Z1 was the first Kawasaki design to feature that unmistakable water drop logo and yellow paint. 

It’s also remembered for its 903 ccs, 82 ps engine capped by an 8-valve cylinder head with vertical exhaust pipes. These sonic cues inspired the nickname “Mach Boy” when it was released in 1971.

The 903cc powerplant took the bike at a top speed of 135mph. And we are talking about the Norimasa “Ken” Tada, the Z1 designer born in Kumamoto, Japan, in 1923. Tada died on August 29, 2021

He was a well respected and highly experienced designer when Kawasaki tapped him to pen the classic Z1. 

Kawasaki first introduced the bike in 1972, and it quickly became a performance legend, despite its modest engine size and specifications.

Mr Tada is a legend to many of us. So many people have theories and stories about the bikes he designed. 

I learned about the design process and his thoughts on the Z1 from one of his earliest interviews. 

It’s one thing to talk to someone who worked with Mr Tada, but it’s a whole other thing to interact with him directly on Facebook and get his thoughts.


The Japanese brand has come a long way from a 1972 Z1 to a 2016 Kawasaki Ninja H2. The first road bike that ever really got me interested in motorbikes was the Kawasaki Z1. 

Its styling and heritage were ahead of their time, and it remains one of the most iconic bikes ever made – especially to those of us who remember it from the 1980s. 

It’s still as fresh today as it was when I first set eyes on one all those years ago. 

Kawasaki’s expectations were so high for the bike it was rumoured that a gold stickpin given to Tada that technically started his countdown. 

On March 31, 1971, the Z1 was presented looking better than Tada could have ever hoped. 

The Z1 dominated the superbike market for years and helped put Kawasaki on the map.

So Tada was only given a month to complete, and that too without any help. Tada said the Z1 would have taken around four to six months.


It’s freeing. Interestingly, it’s the same observation we can make about workaholics. Notable workaholics include Edison, Tesla, Curie, and Tada, among others. 

In pursuing their obsession with genius innovations, they often lost friends. No close peer circle was left untouched by the sense of betrayal many felt when another person suffered from their workaholic feats.

DOHC or Double Overhead Cam is a valve train configuration that allows for four valves per cylinder, a beloved bike by American motorcyclists. 

The Z1 also used a full-duplex cradle, unlike any of its competitors at the time. It was not just an aesthetic choice; 

Tada’s goal was to make it look super cool and nearly impossible to produce. All four wheels were cast aluminium, with the single front disc (drum brakes were standard at the time) and rear drums.

With the success of his first design, Tada was given an increased designer wage and a more extensive staff. 

His next task was to design a bike that would appeal to Western tastes while retaining some Kawasaki heritage. 

Tada’s work lives on. Today, Kawasaki has a storied collection of sportbikes, cruisers, and even an electric motorcycle, all designed by what became its in-house R&D powerhouse.

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Akash Dolas

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