This year marks a marked a major landmark in the world of motorcycles: it's 50 years since the first Kawasaki motorcycle was produced. That 125cc B7, a two-stroke single, left the company's factory at Akashi, Japan in 1961, starting a line that has included great motorcycles from the mighty Z1 four to the latest ZX-10R and which has led to sporting success for countless machines with the famous lime green paintwork.
However, if you haven't heard of Kawasaki's plans to celebrate half-a-century of motorcycle production, you're not alone. The total number of 50th anniversary events, publicity stunts, limited-edition models, even special paint schemes, do not exist! Rarely can such a significant landmark for a major global company have passed so unheralded.
To be fair to Kawasaki, there are good reasons for this. For one things, the company's early history is complicated and not very clear. Although the B7 of 1961 is officially regarded as the first-ever Kawasaki motorcycle, even some of the company's own literature has accorded the honor to the following year's B8.
Kawasaki also built motorcycles earlier, under a different name. In fact, an almost identical 125cc single. Called the Meihatsu New Ace, was assembled in the same Akashi factory in 1960. Kawasaki's entry into the two-wheeled world was, therefore, very different from that of the other Japanese marques. That first Kawasaki wasn't built by a tiny, newly created company, but by a giant corporation that had taken over an established firm. Whereas Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha began with motorcycles as their major, if not only, product, Kawasaki also produced ships and airplanes. Kawasaki had built Japan's first steam locomotive in 1901 and traced its history back to 1878, when Shoju Kawasaki has founded a shipyard at Tsukiji, near Tokyo.