I was asked to confirm a rumour that a KR once won it's class at the TT. This was an interesting concept that I'd not thought about - someone must have proddie-raced one at some point. Fairly quickly I managed to find out that in 1985 Sean Collister came 9th in the 100-250cc Production class at the TT on a "Padgett Kawasaki". This is far too early for it to be a KR-1 and there's no way a KH250 would have been competitive then so I was sure it must have been a KR. I asked Padgetts if they had any records and got back a very quick reply from Clive Padgett himself confirming that they had raced a KR at the TT with Sean and that they'd hung on to the bike as a keepsake. Later I got a copy of Motocourse listing the results (see below). I once took a day off work and went to see if Padgetts would let me see the bike - sadly it was tucked away in one of their secret warehouses but I had a nice long chat with Clive and he's promised that he'll give me a call sometime when it's migrated a bit closer to the door. Thanks to Tony Mason for providing the photo of Sean in action below. Later I discovered that Neil Tuxworth (later Honda Britain Race Team Manager) had raced the same bike in the same class in 1986 but got a DNF. I think I might have Sean's phone number somewhere...
The roadtest in Bike magazine said that Jamie Whitham had raced one of the original Huddersfield KR's on the Isle of Man in 1985. It sounded plausible as he's always been a local lad. Whilst trying to confirm this, someone (thanks Ian) told me that Jamie had been on a heavily-modified KR in the same race as a TZ250-mounted Carl Fogarty, so it couldn't have been in the Production class. Someone else (cheers Justin) later bumped into Jamie at a trackday and asked him - he said he did remember racing a tandem-twin once and it was in conjunction with Lee Bros bike shop in Sowerby Bridge and not Huddersfield Kawasaki Centre.
Lee Bros is still in existence and it now appears that the KR owned by Mark in South Yorkshire is the very same bike. Mark found out that they imported it from Holland and modified it for Jamie to race in the Newcomers Lightweight class at the 1985 Manx GP (not the TT as I first thought). He managed a 97mph lap in practice but then crashed it on the next lap and never started the race, which Carl won by the way. Mark is hoping to restore the bike to something resembling its race spec - it still has the cut-down footrest hangers and bits of lockwiring from that time but the expansion chambers were replaced with road exhausts prior to Mark acquiring it.
Mark pointed me at this photo below on one of James' own scrapbook webpages. It looks pretty stock to me - the sidepanel, sprocket cover, rear mudguard and seat strap are missing, as are the indicators and mirrors (as you'd expect on a race bike). You can see the lower exhaust is much bigger than stock, and the top-fairing sides have been cut down slightly. There's something extra across the bottom of the radiator too, maybe just to protect it from stones ?
I've also scanned a chapter from James' excellent 2008 biography "What a good do!" where he talks about that race, and says the bike is a KR250S though I can't tell from that photo. Bit cheeky posting it on here ? Yes, but I'm sure that once you've read - and laughed at - that, you'll want to buy a copy so you can read the rest.
I also got an email from Jeff Eeles who used to work for a Kawasaki dealer in Australia - apart from happy memories of riding the shop demo KR and having a collection of old KR brochures and manuals, he also confirmed that a bloke called Ian 'Buster' Saunders had great success racing KR's in Australia in the mid-80's. The copies of Australian Motor Cycle News that I found also contained the odd mention of KR's proddie racing Down Under.
I was lucky enough to be contacted out of the blue by someone called Nigel Mercer who sent me a photo of himself racing a KR in the 80's ! I quickly asked him for more details and this is what he sent me :-
"I owned and raced a KR for 2 years before swapping it for a GSXR400 and then a TZR250. This was in South Africa in the 400cc National Production class. I did pretty well on it and got a few wins. It had the best front brakes of any bike of that era - as I remember it, it would nearly tear the front tyre off the rim. It was a great little bike, except it had a tendency to tankslap a bit too much. It only let me down once when it cut out mid race. The worrying part was I could never find anything wrong with it. And it never did it again. Oh well."
"The pictures are of me leading a TZR250 and a few Gamma 250's in a proddy race in Cape Town South Africa (Killarney circuit). This was in about 1987 I think. I remember that one of the biggest problems when racing this bike was ground clearance. I used to set the bike up with the concentric chain adjuster to give as much ground clearance as possible - even so, I had to repair the bottom exhaust after a few races as it had a hole in it from scraping on the ground so heavily. It took me off the circuit a few times by lifting the rear wheel off the ground when banked over too much."
"The bike handled really well and turned in well, but compared to a Mk1 Gamma (which was what most of the competition were using) it was a real pig. I remember riding the Gamma back to back with my KR and thinking 'I wish the KR handled as well as this'. Then I tried to stop the Gamma at the same braking points as the KR and ended up running off the circuit wondering if the Gamma had any brakes at all ! The KR's brakes were some of the best I have ever known but only when using the original OEM sintered pads. These pads seemed to destroy the disks - it was worth it though."
"The KR did have a tendency to shake its head as well. One of the circuits in South Africa had quite a few bumps on some very fast sweeps. This made it rather interesting getting through safely on on the KR. I remember the method I used was to smash my chest into the tank just as the bars began to shake over a particular bump. This seemed to keep the shakes manageable. This bike also seemed to have a very good clutch. It could be launched very quickly and smoothly with little effort and smooth constant drive. I often managed to make up quite a few places at the start of a race just due to the nature of the clutch."
This is great stuff and exactly the sort of information I want. I'm very grateful to Nigel for taking the time to send me his KR racing memories and pictures. Anyone else with similar stories or photos, please get in touch. I'm particularly interested in the news that South Africa once held a one-make race series using KR's and that somewhere out there is a photo of five of them abreast across the track at Kyalami !
What about people still racing a KR250 in the 21st century ? Well, I've found a couple ! Big thanks to Mark Boddy of the PCRA New Era racing sub-committee in NSW Australia. He sent me the pictures just below, of a KR racing in the 2006 New Era 1 250 class, up against a great variety of bikes like TZR and TDR250's, early RGV's plus four-strokes like CBR/FZR250's. The paddock shot was taken at the PCRA One Hour race in 2005 and the action photo is of it racing at the last meeting at Oran Park. Mark asked the rider - David Miller - to get in touch so hopefully there'll be some more details and pictures on here soon. Maybe we could sponsor him and get the bike running in KR250.ORG colours ? There are more meetings scheduled for this year and next at Wakefield Park and Eastern Creek GP circuit. For more details, see Post Classic Racing Association.
Ashley emailed me to say that there'll be another KR racing in New Era in 2008. He just picked up an ex-race bike, last raced a few years ago but originally built back in 85/86. The engine is F2-spec built for the old Formula 2 class, set up with Mikuni powerjet carbs and factory Kawasaki rotary discs and with a supposed top speed of 230kmh. He also acquired 2 spare engines and "enough new spares to last a lifetime". Looks like I'd better get some KR250.ORG sponsor stickers printed...