Les Holt’s custom KZ1000 mixes vintage power with modern components

Les Holt's custom 1977 KZ1000LTD

Les Holt’s custom 1977 KZ1000LTD.

Originally published in Accelerate magazine in 2012.

Les Holt rode his customized 1977 KZ1000 LTD to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Bike Show at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days expecting to do nothing more than be a spectator and scope out some restorations and customs. In the end, he left with a second-place plaque.

As Holt admitted, if he had known he was going to be entering his home-built custom KZ in the show, he would have at least washed it.

A tool and die supervisor by profession, Holt has a well equipped shop at his home in Kingman, Ind., and does customizing work on the side for himself and for others. The LTD project began when a long-time friend had ankle surgery and couldn’t ride, so he offered to sell Holt the KZ1000 LTD he’d owned for about 20 years.

The first thing most people look at on a custom bike is the paint job, but that’s the one element of this project that wasn’t Holt’s doing. His friend had already had the bike painted, but it was otherwise mostly stock. Holt had something else in mind for the KZ, a concept that mixed his long-time interest in drag racing with more recent styling cues.

Les Holt and his custom Kawasaki

Les Holt and his custom 1977 Kawasaki Z1000LTD.

“I like the old stretched, raked, slammed-in-the-weeds streetbikes, and with the streetfighter scene all coming about I figured I’d try to marry the two together,” Holt explained. But he also wanted a bike he could enjoy riding, not a show bike only good for putting on a pedestal, so he didn’t get too radical with the geometry. “It’s not quite as stretched, it’s raised up a little bit, yet it still carries a little of the old long and low look.”

front brakes and suspension

Nobody imagined front brakes and suspension like that in 1977.

Modern components added the streetfighter cues Holt wanted and also made the old KZ more fun to ride. The entire front fork, wheel and brake assembly, along with the rear wheel, are off a 2010 Ninja ZX-6R. But of course it takes a lot of special parts to make everything work together when you’re combining an air-cooled four-banger built during the Ford administration with radial-mount front brakes and wide, sticky tires from the smartphone era. So Holt got busy in his home shop.

“Basically I bought the bike and stripped it all the way down to the bare frame and then started putting everything back together with our components on it,” Holt said.


The gauges were part of the custom work.

Some mild tuning was done to the engine and it got a slight overbore, but most of the work went into the rest of the motorcycle. Holt raked the frame five degrees and made new triple clamps to accommodate the modern fork. New automotive gauges were cradled in gauge holders Holt fabricated, and he made rearsets that match the KZ’s drag racing stance. But one of the biggest transformations took place at the rear, where Holt built an extended swingarm four inches longer than stock and set up to handle a modern single-shock rear suspension. As soon as you start thinking about all the details involved in converting the dual-shock rear suspension of the original KZ1000 LTD to a single-shock setup, and getting it all right so that the bike isn’t a literal pain in the behind to ride, then you start to have more appreciation for Holt’s hours of work.

rear suspension and swingarm

Extended rear swingarm and converted, single-shock rear suspension. That took some work.

So, speaking of that, how does it work?

Since Holt finished the project, he’s done plenty of shakedown runs on the bike and he considers himself satisfied.

“It’s a very pleasant, very good-handling bike,” he said. “I’ve put about 2,500 miles on it in a month and a half. We take it out, we beat on it, we ride it, we play with it and ride it back and forth to work. It’s used very regularly. I went on a 250-mile ride a while back and we went through one town where it was 111 degrees. No problems.”

spectators at bike show

Spectators at the Bike Show check out Les Holt’s custom.

“It’s not a garage queen,” Holt added. “You can look up underneath and there’s asphalt in the fender, road grime all over the front of the motor. Yesterday’s actually the first bath it’s had in probably a month.”

At that point, as I snapped photos of the KZ, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum Operations Manager Katy Wood walked by and asked Holt, “Is your bike in the show?”

Holt explained he just came as a spectator. Wood quickly changed that situation and soon Holt’s LTD was signed up and had a yellow informational ticket hanging from the handlebar as it was parked in a line with the other contestants, all of which had been washed more recently and more carefully.

The judges gave Holt’s bike a second-place award in the Japanese Customs/Specials category. Maybe next year he’ll bring it back washed and waxed.