Triple Trouble: Framecrafters / Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

“I put a tricked out H1 engine with the left and right cylinders reversed into a Framecrafters road race frame and put lights on it.”

This was the cryptic message we recently from Mike McSween of Fort Pierce, Florida. Of course, we were instantly intrigued. The Kawasaki H1 Mach III — aka the Kawasaki Triple — was a 500cc, two-stroke, three-cylinder street machine with 60 horsepower and a quarter mile time of 12.4 seconds. The bike quickly earned a fearsome reputation as a “widowmaker,” a bike capable of biting inexperienced and veteran riders alike. In “Song of the Sausage Creature,” gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote:

“I still feel a shudder in my spine every time I walk into a public restroom and hear crippled men whispering about the terrifying Kawasaki Triple… I have visions of compound femur-fractures and large black men in white hospital suits holding me down on a gurney while a nurse called ‘Bess’ sews the flaps of my scalp together with a stitching drill.”

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

The bike’s brakes and handling have been criticized by various reviewers. Says MC News:

“The brakes [were] questionable and the handling decidedly marginal in every situation — except when the bike was stopped with the engine switched off. Not for nothing was the H1 known as, ‘The triple with the ripple’.”

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

That said, the H1’s braking performance was second only to the Honda CB750 in Cycle magazine’s 1970 comparison of the seven top bikes of the time — so modern writers may have a tendency to overlook the poor brakes of all bikes of the period.

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

In any case, few bikes have attained the near-mythical status of the H1. Motorcycle historian Clement Salvadori — who wrote about the bike in the Guggenheim Museum’s 1999 The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition — says the H1 sold well in the heyday American muscle cars, when quarter mile times were paramount, because:

“It could blow just about anything else off the road — for less than $1,000.”

Of course, this high power-to-dollar ratio helped contribute to the fearsome reputation of the H1, as did the loud, smoky, violent nature of the beast. The bike was not a favorite with the nation’s law enforcement authorities — or polite society at all — which earned Kawasaki more of a rebellious, outlaw image than the squeaky clean, “nicest-people”  character of Honda. Due to everything from pollution enforcement to noise regulation, the H1 was never fated for a long production run — nor were many of her owners. Said Salvadori in the Guggenheim exhibit:

“Motorcycle lore has it that very few original owners of the Mach III survived.”

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

Enter Framecrafters, the well-known performance motorcycle fabrication shop located in Northwest Illinois. Since 1994, they’ve built replica frames for many marques — Bultaco, Champion, Trackmaster, just to name a few — along with the repair and modification of stock and aftermarket frames for motocrossers, road racers, and flat trackers. Over the years, they’ve expanded their focus from frames to the entire motorcycle.

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

Mike McSween of Florida took one of their road race frames and fitted a tricked-out H1 engine and just enough lights to make the bike road-legal. Below, we get more details on how Florida’s Mike McSween transformed his ’71 Kawasaki H1 into the machine you see here.

1971 Kawasaki/Framecrafter H1: In the Builder’s Words

I used a full tilt Framecrafter S2RR Road race frame. The engine is a 500cc H1 three cylinder two-stroke engine. It has 34mm Mikuni carbs and advanced porting by Half Fast Racing in Fort Pierce, Fl. The chambers were custom made by Framecrafters.

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

It has a stock ignition with a battery eliminator. Scitsu tachometer. The gas tank is all handmade aluminum and the seat is from Airtech. The rear sets are hand made for this bike by Jimmy Purnell of Half Fast Racing in Fort Pierce, Fl. He also tuned this bike.

Kawasaki H1 Cafe Racer

Hear it roar…


1972 Road Race Monster

This is my bike when I just completed the restoration. I bought the bike in Japan coming back from Vietnam in 1972. I brought it back on the USS Constellation. It is now a 130hp full road race monster. It was built by Jimmy Purnell of Half Fast Racing in Fort Pierce, FL.


  1. Fantastic bikes! Long live the triples.


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