“I had a desire for a classic bike that could actually be ridden hard…”
Introduced in 1976, the Kawasaki KZ750 twin was a big twin designed to compete with the Triumph Bonneville and Yamaha XS650. Though the Norton, Royal Enfield, and BSA machines had gone the way of the dinosaurs, the desire for a stout, torque-heavy vertical twin was still alive and well:
“While the days of Rule Britannia were over, there was still a sizeable community of riders who wanted a big twin. For that group, the new fours were too much. They had two too many cylinders, too many camshafts, too many carburetors and too many spark plugs. For these riders, the best bike wasn’t defined by quarter-mile performance, it was defined by ease of maintenance and dependability. And on that score, the KZ750 delivered.” —Motorcycle Classics
The bike was no throwback, however — the 55-hp 745cc twin boasted double overhead cams, shim and bucket valve adjustment, a Morse Hy-Vo primary drive chain, and a pair of chain-driven counter balancers, helping to offset the big twin’s vibration.
“If ever a machine was worthy of Under the Radar status, it’s the big twin Kawasaki KZ750. “
At this year’s Handbuilt Show, we came across a Kawasaki KZ750 scrambler from Taylor Klugman of Classic Octane — a classic car and motorcycle shop headquarter in Austin, Texas. For Taylor, cars and motorcycles were always a family affair:
“My grandfather had a ’60s BSA that he would take my mom for rides around the neighborhood on when she was a toddler. I started with classic cars. My first car was a ’67 Camaro. Then moved on to motorcycles in my early 20s. I have been working on and building bikes for right at 10 years now.”
Taylor picked up this ’78 KZ750 twin for a few hundred bucks at an estate sale. It had been sitting since the 1980s, but he had it running again in no time and decided to build it into a vintage scrambler:
“I had a desire for a classic bike that could actually be ridden hard and could take me anywhere I wanted to go.”
He looped the end of the frame, installed longer rear shocks, and designed a one-off seat that his friends at Tuffside made a reality. Next up were new bars, modified CB550 fenders, a custom under-seat battery box to hold the electronics, and a scrambler-style exhaust that he cut and shaped from the stock unit. The finished bike looks tough as nails, and Taylor says it performs just as he hoped:
“This bike is a riot. The 750cc twin has a ton of torque, so kicking the rear end out on some dirt roads is no problem at all. The exhaust note is low and throaty.”
Below, we talk to Taylor for the full details on the build.
KZ750 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Cars and motorcycles have been in my family for a long time. My grandfather had a ’60s BSA that he would take my mom for rides around the neighborhood on when she was a toddler. I started with classic cars. My first car was a ’67 Camaro. Then moved on to motorcycles in my early 20s. I have been working on and building bikes for right at 10 years now. I went full time with my shop and YouTube channel Classic Octane in 2019.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
1978 Kawasaki KZ750.
• Why was this bike built?
The bike is a personal project of mine. I came across the bike at an estate sale. It had been sitting since the mid ’80s. I picked it up for a few hundred bucks and had it running again in an afternoon. This one will stay with me for a long time.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wanted to do a vintage scrambler. I had a desire for a classic bike that could actually be ridden hard and could take me anywhere I wanted to go. (You can see in some of the pictures that I’m not afraid to get it dirty and take it down some single track trails.)
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I chopped the rear of the frame and added a hoop to work better with my one-off seat that I designed and had made by my buddies at Tuffside. I added longer shocks for more ground clearance and swapped out the ape-hanger-style handlebars for something more off-road-oriented. Cut up the stock exhaust and made it into a scrambler-style setup.
The tank is actually still the factory paint that just needed a cut and polish. It has a cool late ’70s vibe that I definitely wanted to keep. Threw on some knobby tires. Modified and installed some CB550 front and rear fenders. Installed a mini speedo to get rid of the huge factory gauge cluster. All the electronics are hidden in a custom battery box under the seat.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Not really, I just call it the KZ750 Scrambler.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
This bike is a riot. The 750cc twin has a ton of torque, so kicking the rear end out on some dirt roads is no problem at all. The exhaust note is low and throaty. The riding position is surprisingly comfortable as well. I have done a bunch of full day rides on it and it doesn’t beat you up.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I love how the exhaust came out. I really didn’t want anything off the shelf, so I just took the stock pipes and cut them into little pie shapes and started twisting and welding until I found the shape I liked.