The Truth About Kawasaki Racing’s Green Color Choice 


Summary

  • Green vehicles have been believed to be unlucky and dangerous in the world of racing due to a superstition that originated in NASCAR and later spread to motorcycle races in the 80s.
  • Kawasaki motorcycles are primarily painted in lime green as a way to challenge the superstition and stand out from the competition, with the goal of winning races on Sundays and attracting buyers on Mondays.
  • Contrary to popular belief, green is actually a safer color for motorcycles, as it increases visibility for drivers and can help prevent accidents. Bright colors like lime green are recommended for riding gear to enhance safety.


Are motorcyclists a superstitious bunch? Yes, we are. You’ll find a ton of superstitions, local and international, all around you. Some bikers believe that hanging Guardian Bells on their Harley-Davidsons and others specifically wear their old undies during track days because it’s their lucky underwear. Heck, some bikers even have their own unique superstitions. A certain biker whose name is written under this article believes that talking about accidents on the day they ride is bad luck.

One such superstition that many bikers (and drivers) believe is the green superstition — green vehicles are unlucky and dangerous. This is why, before the 70s, it was hard to find race machines donning a green livery. It wasn’t until sponsors and regulations forced Formula One teams to wear specific colors that we started seeing F1 cars in green.

So, if green is an unlucky color, why does Kawasaki paint most of their motorcycles in lime green? This is a story of defiance and breaking conventions; a story of a motorcycle manufacturer who challenged fate, so to say, and painted their motorcycles in the unlucky color to stand out. Here’s why Kawasaki motorcycles are green.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Kawasaki and other authoritative sources, including Cycle World, Motorcyclist Magazine, Formula One, NASCAR, and Artists Network.

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Green Color: The Unlucky Charm For Racers

For centuries, green paint was made with arsenic and would literally burn into the canvas. The dye was so dangerous (often deadly) that some historians believe it was the green wallpaper that could’ve killed Napoleon Bonaparte. But green paint became a lot less dangerous as time passed, and new technologies emerged, yet, the color drew a similar flack from a different breed of artists, ones who painted tracks with tire marks. Thus began the superstition that the green color was unlucky for cars and motorcycles.

The green superstition has its origins in NASCAR, but with time, the superstition made its way into other ranks and races, including motorcycle races. The superstition hung around well into the 80s. No one is really sure how the superstition began — that’s the case with most superstitions, anyway. But its roots can be traced back to two crashes that occurred a decade apart from each other.

The Birth Of The Superstition

The first crash involved Lee Oldfield in his green car at the 1910 New York State Fair in Syracuse. The crash-landed him in the grandstands, claiming the lives of several spectators. The crash made Oldfield believe that green was unlucky. This is the same as a biker thinking their Scooby-Doo socks are lucky because they had a close call while wearing them.

For ten years, the superstition was limited to Oldfield, but it got turbocharged a decade later, in 1920. A race car driver, Gaston Chevrolet, who was also the brother of Louis Chevrolet, the co-founder of Chevrolet, entered a race at the Beverly Hills Speedway, a broad track. For context, broad-track racing was deadly for both drivers and bikers, and newspapers even referred to motordromes as murderdromes for the same reason.

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The speedway was a little longer than a mile in length and known for its fast-paced racing. On Lap 146, the green Chevrolet driven by Chevrolet (sorry) made contact with another car and shot up the ramp, claiming the lives of three people: Chevrolet, Eddie O’Donnell (fellow racer), and Lyall Jolls (riding mechanic).

The superstition was solidified and kept growing, reaching its peak during the 50s. In the car world, this superstition began to die out in the 70s as sponsorships became more prevalent. For example, Formula One drivers let go of the superstition in 1968, when the British team had the unlucky draw of driving green cars — the painted colors represented the driver’s nationalities.

Notable Formula One Cars That Are Green

  • Aston Martin DBR4
  • Jordan 191
  • Benetton B186
  • Jaguar R5
  • Lotu 25
  • Aston Martin AMR23

Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian On The Green Superstition

In the mid-60s, you started to have Formula One drivers and sports-car drivers who said, ‘What’s all this green nonsense about? I don’t know anything about that.’ I think it gradually went away.

Kawasaki Went Green Long Before It Was Clean

Kawasaki KR250 Racer
PekePON, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Motorcyclists can be a superstitious bunch, and folkways and superstitions are common on the track and the road even today. You can imagine the case a few decades ago. This included Daytona, where no rider would dare race a green bike. But Kawasaki had a goal in mind — win on Sunday, sell on Monday in the US market — so Kawasaki broke the convention and raced the 1969 Daytona 200 with green motorcycles.

When the gates opened, in came the Kawasaki factory team with bright green A1RA and A7RA motorcycles. These bikes were raced by Ken Araoka, Art Bauman, Walt Fulton III, Cal Rayborn, and Dick Hammer (ouch) and the day marked the first showcase of the new popular Kawasaki’s lime green livery. The color was designed to challenge the status quo, and even today, green Kawasakis still do that.

So, how did this color help Kawasaki win on Sunday and sell on Monday? The 1969 Daytona 200 race was to air on TV in color — who knew color TVs were so old, by the way? To make the motorcycles stand out from the rest, as a marketing stunt, Kawasaki decided to color their motorcycles bright green. They’d catch the eye of the viewer. The motorcycles didn’t win the race, no sir, but Kawasaki leaned into it nonetheless.

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Goodbye Superstition, Hello Sales Figures

Kawasaki Z1
Mecum Auctions

When money talks, everyone listens. That’s exactly what Kawasaki did. Kawasaki’s green motorcycles at the Daytona 200 drew many eyes. The motorcycles were easy to identify and stood out quite starkly among the competition. Shortly after, Kawasaki responded with the 1969 F21M Greenstreak, a 238cc scrambler, in the same color. Interestingly, the Flying K logo of KMC, designed by Nick Nichols, also made its debut at the 1969 Daytona 200 race.

In the 70s, the green color became synonymous with racing and performance in the motorcycle world. Kawasaki’s H2R Green Meanie, a 748cc two-stroke inline triple, ridden by Gary Nixon, won the 1973 AMA Road Racing Championship. At the same time, the Kawasaki Z1 was taking the world by storm. And between 1978 and 1982, Kawasaki’s green color almost always graced the GP250 and GP350 podiums.

The green color may have been a marketing gimmick not meant to stick around much, but it worked so well for Kawasaki, that the Japanese brand never looked back. Ever since the 70s, Kawasaki’s Lime Green has been THE color for Kawasaki products, including motorcycles, ATVs, and jet skis. Today, the green color represents the soul of Kawasaki — it is the lucky color for the Japanese brand.

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Irony At Its Finest: Green Is Anything But Cursed

Rukka CE-approved Vis Vest
Rukka

Let’s be honest, superstitions hang around far longer than they should, and the same happened with the green color. But that didn’t hold back Kawasaki from challenging the conventions. The green color was considered unsafe, but strangely, it may be one of the safer color choices for your motorcycle. Without getting into the technicalities of it, green is the first color our optical sensors read (unless, of course, you’re color-blind).

Ask a driver who’s run into a motorcycle and most of them will tell you, “I didn’t see the motorcycle.” It’s true. A study documented that around 40% of all motorcycle crashes occur when a driver fails to see a motorcycle. Here’s another not-so-fun fact: black cars are 10% more likely to crash compared to white cars. Bright colors, like lime green, are much safer. They can increase visibility for drivers. High-viz, yo! Don’t believe us? A New Zealand case-control study found that one-third of motorcycle accidents could’ve been prevented by wearing high-vis gear.

So, next time someone tells you that the green color is not safe for motorcycles or cars, open this article on your phone at full brightness and make them read it. Green was never unsafe — it’s not the bike or supernatural powers, it’s the biker. This is the reason why riding gear comes in neon green color and why you’ll find veteran bikers donning neon green helmets on their Gold Wings. The color may look goofy, but it is the safer option.

Best Lime Green Kawasakis You Can Buy Today

  • Kawasaki ZX-10R
  • Kawasaki ZX-14R
  • Kawasaki H2 SX
  • Kawasaki KX-450 SR
  • Kawasaki ZX-4RR

Statistical sources:

  • The Vehicle Colour Study, conducted by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), 2007
  • University of California-Berkeley and the California Highway Patrol, 2015
  • The Hurt Report, 1981
  • Motorcycle Rider Conspicuity and Crash Related Injury: Case-Control Study, 2004



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