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A Mystery Wrapped up in a Conundrum - The KX 400 Clutch Cover

This month it would of been easy to talk about the final of the VMX series, the VMX AGM or the Santoft Sandshifter Vinduro but no - this month I will go ‘Off Piste’. 

You like me probably belong to a number of online forums for certain brands or models of bikes. As an example when I was racing Honda XLs I was a member of XL Board forum (now defunct it appears) which was an absolute wealth of knowledge from complete restorations to building hot rod VMXERs. In most cases the information shared amongst the riders is useful, interesting and in most cases correct. 

Over the last few years I have rescued and rebuilt a KT 250 trials bike. This was a one owner bike when I got it and had only been used for pig hunting. It had a huge steel rack attached to the back to carry pig carcasses with hard as hell super long Mulholldnd shocks on the back end, was seized solid through lack of use but was otherwise intact. So over a period of time I rebuilt this machine with the intent to ride a bit of vintage trials.

So far it’s been a lot of fun and I really enjoy riding it. The KTs were never considered to be top level trials bike being a little heavy and bit ponderous in the front end to be competitive in the A grade but they have a truly wonderful and strong power plant and are great entry level bike.  But as always as you read more on specialist vintage trails sites like trialscentral.com you can find all sorts of tricks of the trade to either make your bike more competitive or to overcome parts supplies problems.  On there I have learnt that if you put in a set of TY forks and front wheels into the KT triple clamps you have instantly solved the KT steering problem. Likewise with slightly longer rear shocks and a set of Rob Cochranes fork springs you will also have a far more responsive ride.  

But one thing that has been illusive to to KT riders on the forum is the fabled KX replacement clutch cover. What the heck am I talking about?  Well out of  either out of necessity or a desire for weight saving it is not unusual to find that KT have removed their oil pump and have converted to premix. For me this was a matter of necessity has the old pump was shot. This then requires that the hole where the pump was mounted in the clutch cover has to be sealed off before putting the external two cover unit back on. Which is just fine – but what if you you could retro fit a KX clutch cover to further reduce the weight and profile and in the process shift the clutch actuator from the front to the top of cover to get more protection from rocks.

Now we know this is possible as factory KT rider Don Smith clearly displayed in his book 'Ride It' a KT with a real slick one piece clutch cover. And then to further confound things there is a blurry image of standard KT (painted red) with the same set up. Well this issue has set the the vintage trials forums on fire for a number of years. What was is it that Don was using on his bike and what about that red KT? 

So the wisdom on the forum was that the clutch cover fitted to Don’s bike and the more conventional red KT was that it was off a 1974 KX 400/450. The actuator was at the top of the cover and it looked the same as Don’s and was of the right era.

And then yes people claimed that they had fitted it and it worked just fine and then …….. others piped up and said WTF this thing does not fit at all!   Then there was the off the wall claim that it was not a KX 400 clutch cover but one of a KX 420. Nice try batman – Don was a good trials rider and advanced for his time but it was unlikely that he was using a part on his bike in 1975 that would not yet be put into production by Kawasaki until 1981. Then there were others who said yeah na – it was a KDX 175 A1 clutch cover. Hmmm ok – but that has the same logic fault as the KX 420 idea. And then if one looks closely all that later 1980s KDX and KX stuff and an indent in the case for the brake lever – they didn’t even look the same as Dons bike! 

Now as sat back in my rocking chair with a tequila in hand I pondered the situation and my logic went like this...............

Ok Don’s bike was a true factory bike, it was actually 330cc and apparently based on a ‘shrunken’ KX 400 engine – hence its easy to jump to conclusion about KX 400 clutch covers. But actually, it really was shrunken KX 400 engine anf not a KX 400 engine - so it would be reasonable to expect that was hand crafted bespoke cover built just for him.  And a check partzilla quickly revealed that the clutch cover gaskets for the KX 400 and KT 250 were not the same - so let sleeping dogs lie and just put the whole saga down to being an X Files thing?  

But darn it - what about that red KT 250 and its clutch cover! 

My brain just exploded - I couldn’t help it. With the Monkees song ‘Im a believer’ resonating deeply in my mind I took the plunge. A frantic search on Ebay followed and to my surprise there it was a KX 400 clutch cover. Without thinking for a nano second I hit the buy now button and ordered it at an unobtanium eyewatering purchase and freight price!  

The said cover arrived from the US in good shape and I must say it is an absolute masterpiece.  However I didn’t fit it straight away as I had a few other small matters to attend too in the post Kiwi Covid 19 environment like - riding the Martinborough Enduro on the IT 98, rebuilding the TE 185 (and waiting weeks and weeks for a piston to arrive), getting round 4 of the Unfinished Business Vinduro Series at Santoft underway and a week later assisting with the final round of the VMX series at Kuratau followed by the AGM.  So yip it’s a been a little busy. 

But it was at the final round at the VMX at Kuratau that our club patron Lloyd Mckenzie caught up with me and spurred me back into action. However he advised me after reading my last blog that he was pretty darn sure that the KX 400 clutch cover would not fit and – “Here try this one” - a mid to late 70s magnesium KX 250 clutch cover he had kicking around in the garage. 

Of course Lloyds logic is crystal clear as he knows from experience that the Kawasaki 250 motor is a Kawasaki 250 motor and yes the 250 parts are interchangeable to a degree but not with 400s. I agree with this logic but here is the problem – the KX 250 clutch actuating arm sits out the front of the case and is not on the top like Don's bike the phantom red KT! Ok so now was the time to put this matter to rest. This damn clutch cover thing was becoming a bit like the Lochness Monster, Yeti and Bigfoot. So into the workshop I plunged with two clutch covers in my sweaty hand.  

First up the KX 400 clutch cover. Hmmmmmmm – nope, net, nein, nada, – it was not a fit. It looks about right but is at least 15mm too long – sort of like its designed to fit a KX 400 engine. Funny that! 

Then next on was the KX 250 clutch cover. Yip it’s a fit – but it’s not the same as the phantom red KT! But it will do and will be pretty trick. Thanks Lloyd and yes you were right! Case closed? 

Well while I can except Don’s bike was a trick factory works machine it still left left only one question – that damn red KT. After a few more hours of internet search I think I found the answer. The owner of the Red KT was a Welshman who goes by the handle of ‘hop, blip and jump’.

In his words “it was my red KT and it was a a real ex-works bike. The very first works bike were red and not green! It was in bad state when I got it, but it came up nice in the end. I sold it to someone down south”. And there the thread ended. 

I have a good KX 400 clutch cover for sale if anyone is interested!

Andrew