A Kawasaki KZ200 Cafe Racer Feature
Tradition would suggest that a café racer be based on something British, perhaps a pre-unit Triumph 650cc twin in a Norton Featherbed frame. There are only so many parts and pieces from those motorcycles around, however. And now, thanks to an increased interest in the café style of build, folks are turning to some rather pedestrian machines – such as Honda CB350s or Yamaha XS650s — as starting points.
Others, though, are becoming ever more creative in their machines of choice. Take Calgarian Al Onia. His most recent project was based on a run of the mill 1978 Kawasaki KZ200. But it turns out Onia’s reason for choosing a small-displacement Japanese single-cylinder motorcycle does have a connection to a couple of British bikes
“I’ve always loved the British machines, and always liked the Royal Enfield Continental 250,” he says. The GT Continental was based on Royal Enfield’s pushrod 250cc single-cylinder Crusader, but the GT was equipped with a sleek gas tank, clip on handlebars, rear sets and a small windscreen. It looked the part of a mini café racer, and although it got the blood up in some of the young lads, it only sold from 1965 to 1967. The other British bike Onia appreciated is the BSA 250 Starfire. Onia says, “They look clean and uncluttered, and even though they’re utilitarian they do have some style.”
Onia has been riding motorcycles since he was 14. He started out aboard a used Honda S65, purchased from Bow Cycle, and says every couple of years he’d trade up to something better, including a Honda CL72 250cc scrambler, a Hodaka Super Rat and finally a brand new Suzuki TS185 street scrambler. After that, Onia took a 20-year hiatus from bikes before jumping back into the hobby. In the early 2000s, with the luxury of a few months of early retirement, he started buying and restoring some of the bikes of his youth.
After restoring and riding a few Japanese machines, Onia decided he’d create a café racer. And although he admired the RE Continental and the BSA Starfire, he says he didn’t look too hard for one of them. “I was spoiled by the ultimate reliability of Japanese motorcycles – they were easy to get running and keep running,” he explains. “So I started looking for a small displacement Japanese bike that wouldn’t suffer too much under my customizing hand if I screwed it up.”
Onia found his ’78 KZ200 in Coeur d’Alene in the Nickel’s Worth newspaper, a classified ad resource serving the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. Upon spying the ad, Onia went online and Googled the KZ200 and liked what he saw and read. “They are different than either a Honda or Yamaha and they have a good reputation,” Onia says. He got pictures from the seller, and although the machine had been painted blue with a rattle can and there was a Harley-Davidson seat affixed, Onia decided the bike had some potential.