The main reason for buying a 1981 Kawasaki Drifter 340 is to have fun. The other reason is that, although it isn’t an LTD or an Invader, it shares much of the same technology; not all the technology since this sled began life as a Sno-Jet and not as the new “K-brand.”

Why would we say it’s fun? The styling is dated — functional but dated. Steering is light and sometimes sloppy, leading to excessive over-steer on groomed trails in sharp corners. The brake is good, but under a series of high speed panic stops it starts to fade.

Those are “not-goods” or “averages” of the Drifter 340. The “above averages” and “goods” are that Kawasaki has taken the Drifter series — originally a Sno-Jet, remember — and made it into a Kawasaki. That means that it has an above average suspension system, responsive engine, powermated clutches, deep foam seat, high quality materials — like HSLA (high strength, low alloy steel) construction and aircraft quality aluminum tunnel.

All this also means that the Drifter is designed in the “Good Times” tradition. Good times in deep powder. Good times on groomed, or ungroomed, trails. Good times in ease of operation

— it’s oil-injected. And good times with the family. This is Kawasaki’s “lightweight, mid-priced, family-oriented, deep snow machine.”

Performance-wise the Drifter 340 fits in with the Arctic Jag 3000, Yamaha 340 Enticer and Ski-Doo/Moto-Ski Citation/Mirage with the 368cc engine and single carb. These are all family type, trail machines except for the Drifter which is designed for the deep stuff.

To Kawasaki’s credit the deep snow capabilities of the SnoJet have been retained. That is mainly the taper tunnel — frequently copied since its Sno-Jet introduction-—which Kawasaki engineers have refined over the years. The shape of the nose pan presents a good attack angle to the snow; like planing a boat on water. There is little area for snow to hang up on this sled as it glides through the powder. It’s extremely clean where the snow and the sled meet.

To be honest, other than the silhouette that’s all that remains of the Sno-Jet originations. Had that company done with this machine what Kawasaki has done, Sno-Jet might still be in business. But it isn’t and this Drifter 340 is definitely a Kawasaki.

Kawasaki power sits under the hood. A fan-cooled 339cc design with twin cylinders and a “square” measure of 60mm for both bore and stroke, it’s similar to the Intruder-type engine as is the cooling system. What you get is Intruder strength in the lower end on a lower horsepower engine. Combining the better cooling arrangement, you should get a near bullet-proof 340.

You also get oil-injection, which means that convenience is also standard since you needn’t mess with pre-mix. The Mikuni carburetorties nicely into the oil injection system

since the injection pump is of Mikuni design. The single VM 32 carb is the Power-Jet design with enricher system plus primer. It’s a calculated move to make cold weather starting easier.

To make certain that convenience is as permanent as can be made humanly possible, there are two fuel pick-up screens — one in the fuel tank and the other in the fuel line. The tank filter keeps large foreign matter from restricting the fuel line. The in-line filter gets those particles that are small enough to get through the tank filter. Because the in-line filter is clear, you can see the accumulation of “nasties” and tell when the filter should be changed.

This ‘80 Drifter was also noticeably quieter than early versions. Part of the reason is due to the rubber fan shroud (Kawasaki calls it Sealed Quiet). The rubber dampeners replace rubber dowels that are frequently used in other air-cooled engines. The resonance of the cylinder and head fins is lessened. And, since the shroud is all rubber, there isn’t any added vibrational “pinging” like those from screwed on metal shrouds. Rubber also insulates the engine compartment from heat, rather than radiating heat like a metal shroud. The seal is also better with a rubber shroud, keeping cooling air from escaping under the hood.

Care has also been taken in the clutch department. The drive clutch is pure Kawasaki. Basically the same design as the Invader/Intruder drive clutch, the Drifter clutch reflects a smart cost reduction program by utilizing a screw-on spider similar to Comet’s design. Designed for low maintenance, the Drifter .Jutch incorporates self-lubricating bearings. Self-cleaning grooves on the fixed sheave shaft collect belt dust and other dirt. The screw-like configuration of the grooves carries foreign material away from critical bearing surfaces in the moveable half. This adds to clutch life and should keep clutch operation smooth and consistent.

While the suspension on the Drifter 340 isn’t as high-tech as the Invader or LTD, it works well. The double parallel rail slide suspension is adjustable front and rear. Eyebolt adjusters at the front affect ski pressure, and, thus, steering. To accommodate ride stiffness, there is a three position spring notch arrangement. Setting the spring ends in the top notch gives you a ride geared for two people. Set up in the middle gives the “normal” ride. The bottom setting is for a soft ride.

Circling the slide system is an involute drive Yokohama rubber track which features side sipes for side-hilling stability. Assist wheels in the suspension keep the sliders from wearing out prematurely during marginal snow operation. And the four rear idlers insure proper alignment.

Smaller top idlers permit added clearance (translate that engineering-ease to mean increased travel>. There is a standard cantilevered hydraulic shock that dampens both the rear suspension and the front suspension arm, too.

What you get with this longer travel suspension is a sled that sits slightly higher, but with no noticeable shift in center of gravity, and a decidedly improved ride.

Of course, part of that ride comfort comes from the multilayered foam “King/Queen” seat. Seat design has come a long way in the past few years and Kawasaki produces one of the best. You almost get LTD comfort with this mid-priced family machine.


That’s not the only “K-brand” improvement that you get with the Drifter. There’s a full-size nine-gallon fuel tank; Invader-type footrest for an improved toehold when riding in the rough; ski wear plate at the ski’s rear for longer ski life; adjustable handlebars; self-adjusting drive chain; longer lasting metallic brake pucks; and a list of options that includes tachometer, speedometer and electric start.

There is nothing left out except your enthusiasm and quest for fun with the Drifter 340. It replaces the Drifter 340 Free Air (FA) and nicely complements the Drifter 440. These Drifters are the transition sleds from Sno-Jet to the “K-brand” of Invader, Intruder and LTD, but are definitely Kawasaki. Definitely fun. And on the trail, definitely entertaining.

With all the high-powered sleds to ride at the test session, including the new LTD, you might think that we’d let the Drifter sit unused. Not the case. The hot dogs on our staff flogged the little 340 all over the trail, charging blindly into corners, hanging out the tail, and just having fun, enjoying the responsive handling of this sled. No match for the high horsepower sleds, this sled holds its own against the Jags, Citations and Enticers. Maybe when you go down to your Kawasaki dealer to take a look at the “K-brands”, you might want to sneak a peek at the Drifter 340. Sit on it. Bounce up and down on the seat a couple of times. Picture a mountain of fresh powder and envision what this sled is built for. Envision some fun this winter.

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