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1980's KZ550 Kawasaki Motorcycle Timing

I had a head gasket blow out last fall. I have changed it, no problem there. My problem is getting the timing set. You have two cams that have a mark on each. EX on the front and Z/1 IN or something like that. Anyways what they say, going off memory, is not important. It is a super pain to get both these marks set exactly flush with the top of the motor like they need to be. You set both marks, then when you tighten down the cams with their holders and put in the chain tensioner, it always moves just a little. One may be exactly on but mostly the front mark is down a 1/8 or so inch. This seems to be the problem with the engine not wanted to start, backfiring out the back of the carbs, and when it does start after dumping gas in the air cleaner, it runs crappy wanting to stall and not revving up all the way. I have tried putting the tensioner in first then the cam holders and vise versa.

Is it just a matter of doing it 500 times until you finally get it right? Has anyone dealt with this problem and found any easy ways to set trimming? Beside taking it to a shop and getting charged a few hundred bucks?

The silly internet has forums for almost everything. Have you looked at the branded motorcycle forums?

I can’t answer your question as I’m not a Kawasaki guy.
I would imagine there are some special factory tools which locks everything in place during assembly.

You might fish around on the internet and see if this is so. If pics are available it may be possible to fabricate some homebrew tools that are workable.

I did not find any forums for bikes like cartalk. Youtube was no help either.

I did find a motorcycle forum and put my questions in there. Hopefully it works. I tried about a dozen times today putting cams in taking out in out in out. Always off just a few hairs. Even tried to start the mark a little ahead or behind. Still did not work. One time when I set it behind it actually stayed in that same spot when tightened up. Go figure.

Stretched timing chain?

That was my thought or could it have somehow have jumped a link when I forgot that something had to hold it up when I changed the head gasket and had to fish it out with a wire? Seems like that would be unlikely for the entire chain to move a spot yes? It does have a lot of miles, no clue how many. I have to have a certain amount of links from mark to mark and the book says it has to be starting at a link in the front and in the middle of the link on the back cam. Between 43rd and 44th pins on the chain. I cannot move it up any more for the front cam because then it would also be in the middle of the link on front cam also and cause it be to less than 43 and 44. But could I try that?

Maybe this will help

I will look at this. I do not think the chain is stretched out because for one I do not think it would have ran good before and for two I can get both lines to line up, it is just that it is not on the T1 mark. Mostly ends up just a little past it. When I put it at T1 then the marks are off a bit.

OK I read the website. One thing that the book does not say and I find strange is it says:
Because the valve cover is part of the timing chain guide system, the final intake timing cannot be known with the valve cover off. In order to see the final intake timing, a valve cover with a window in it will be needed.

I do not see how the cover does anything with adjusting, but what the heck. I may try this tomorrow. I have nothing else to try. Will suck if I have to put all together to find out I have to take it all apart. Of course I can do it 10 times faster than the first time.

Having raced every known brand and type of motorcycle there is…AND doing my own engine work on all of them since I was 14…Ive done many of these.

You may find that your T chain is stretched out…that is something to consider. But if she ran fine prior to you doing this… We wont continue down that long Stretched out road.

You need to have the cams phased perfectly…there is no prize for “close enough” here… If you need to revisit…then revisit…I know its not fun but…its a fact and many have had to go there.

When you redo the cam phasing…make sure the cam chain tensioner is OUT of the picture…you cannot properly phase them with the cam chain tensioner in play. After that its just a matter of hooking them up…you may find that you need to be one tooth off on one cam and let the cam chain tensioner pull it into allignment…if that makes any sense to you…it should…


I do not know what you mean by one tooth off on the cam. I know about the tensioner has to be out and trust me I know about revisiting. I’ve revisit over 20 times perhaps.
What is this thing about site saying the cover has to be on before you put in the tensioner and that it works to keep the chain tensioned?

What I mean by one tooth off… Which ever cam is on the slack side of the chain…which is usually the intake…depends on where the tensioner is located but its almost always under the carbs on the intake/slack side.

You would line up the exhaust perfectly and leave one tooth worth of slack BETWEEN the two cams…then when the tensioner is installed…it pulls the intake with it…into alignment. Make sense?

The tensioner usually eats up about 3/4 to 1 tooth worth of chain slack when it fully engages…at least that is my experience. You almost need to fudge the job to allow the tensioner to correct it if that makes sense…


The book says it has to be set to a specific link on the mark. There is always slack between the 2 cams when i put it together. That is part of the problem. Please tell me what is this deal about the cover have to be on in order to set it correct? It was on that website someone sent above. What the heck is that about.

The valve cover is part of the cam journal hold down system. The article pretty much nailed it…you need to count the number of pins between the cam marks…and that number invariably is almost too many pins…which is why the diagram is drawn with slack appearance at the top…when the tensioner and cam cover are installed that slack is pulled out and the lines should be lined up… But you wont be able to see it with the valve cover ON…

Basically it was just like I said…you almost need to fudge it…with slack between the two cams so that the tensioner…and in this case the valve cover “correct” that slack and line up the marks. I recalled that from memory but the article sums it up pretty dern good also. Just make sure you count those pins between the cam marks…and button it up in the correct sequence in regards to cam cover and tensioner.

How does your timing mark look on the CDi viewing area?

Not sure what your running symptoms are that you are trying to correct but you need to consider that you are messing with the tensioner…and probably removing tension that existed prior…so now the ignition timing can be out of phase a little… you may be experiencing the beginning of the effects of a stretched chain…and if no compensation is available on the ignition, it will run like poop.


I want to thank all you guys. Barkydog thanks so much for the website. The useless Clymer book never said anything about having to have the valve cover on then put the tensioner in. It never explained that it can never never never be accomplished without the cover on. The entire thing can only go together one say. You count the pins line them up as close as it will get to the top of the surface. There is no way to do it any other way. The chain sits where it sits, nothing can change that. You have it at top center T!, it can never go any other way.

My problem was I never put the cover on. When I would turn it over it would have to much slack in the chain causing the crank to turn and the cams to not turn until tightened. The cover hopefully should take this problem away. I hope to finish up putting it together on Wednesday and hope that it will run well. I do not like that you cannot see if it is set. Was blown away when I seen the cover had a chain guide. Thanks. I will be calling Cylmer tomorrow and giving them a word or two.

Hope all works well when the job is done!

Haha…Clymer and Chilton are BOTH overdue for a check on their procedural information. In fact I believe one of those companies is the next town over. Ive thought of seeking employment there a few times.

I remember getting so angry with a Chilton book one day, long ago that I suddenly threw the book on the ground, squirted fuel on it and lit it up… It was more useful as a Campfire than an instruction manual…

I can still recall the look on my buddy’s face when I did it…it was his book…


Clmer is now Haynes. I called them today to complain, they said they bought them out a few years ago. Did you buy him another book?

Buy another book? No…cant says I did, but I have repaired many of his cars as a favor…I figure we are over square if he wants to count beans in that manner…