For a motorcycle built to suit the needs of American riders, it’s a shame the Kawasaki Z 750S, the topic of this week’s Church of MO, failed to resonate with American consumers. By all objective measures it was competent machine for someone looking for the modern day Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Maybe it was lost in the shadows of its bigger sibling, the Z1000. Here, we travel back to 2005, and the Z 750S press introduction. Our very own Gabe Ets-Hokin got to burn some miles with the naked bike, where he had this to say. Also, don’t forget to check out the three-page Z 750S photo gallery for more pictures.
The motorcycle in question is Kawasaki’s new-for-America Z750S, introduced to the press this month in Irvine, CA, where I overheard the above quote. The Z750S was specially engineered for American tastes after much market research – it’s clear Kawasaki wants to cash in on the middleweight do-it-all “standard” market.
Kawasaki’s research into ZR750 buyers shows how different this demographic is from middleweight sportbike buyers. The sportbike guys (yes, they are almost all guys) are mostly between 19-29 years old and place performance and styling above comfort, value or economy. That’s why the torture-rack CBR600RR outsells the cheaper, more comfortable and much-discounted CBR600F4i, and why the ZX6R outsells the value-priced ZZR600.
It seems that sporty-standard buyers have an even distribution of ages, riding habits, incomes and other factors. According to Kawasaki’s press briefing, the standard owners are likely to commute, ride to their vacations and carry passengers.
So why are there not more sporty standards offered by the industry? Sporty standard buyers tend to be a frugal bunch- in the Kawasaki research, ZR750 buyers said their number one consideration was the price or deal offered. One could assume this means they just want a decent bike for a low price, where sportbike/dirtbike/cruiser buyers will pay for high-tech performance and fresh styling, even at a premium. Who would you want to sell motorcycles to? It’s not surprising Honda didn’t change their 750 standard for 10 years!
So I am always excited and pleased when a large OEM like Kawasaki introduces a motorcycle that is designed to be ridden everyday by the everyday rider. I rode and enjoyed the FZ6, the Honda 599, the SV650, DL650 and liked the Triumph Speed 4 so much that I actually purchased one.
The Z750 is based on the Z1000 “naked sports”, which has lots of good features but isn’t truly an all-around machine. I liked the Z1000’s styling, performance and handling, but I don’t care much for its thin, high and strangely shaped seat.
The Z is replacing the ZR7S for 2005. The ZR7S was a very competent motorcycle- it was regarded by at least one motojournalist as being the best handling bike he’d ever ridden, and it has a large following of contented buyers.
However, that old ZR7S was heavy, and its ancient powerplant was derived from the 1980’s GPZ750, making it a hard sell in today’s power mad market.
Kawasaki addressed these issues with the U.S. model Z750. Unlike the European version, which is essentially a smaller, cheaper Z1000, the U.S. Z750 has a lower, softer, single-piece saddle with ergonomic grab handles and an aggressively styled (If a tad Fugly! -Sean) half-fairing. The motor is a sleeved down Z1000/ZX9R mill that should be plenty entertaining, and the suspension is labeled as “performance tuned”.
So if value is the most important thing to these customers, how much will this motorcycle cost with all of these features? $7,099 will get you on a new Z750, which makes it a little pricey compared to the FZ6 ($6,499), the SV-650S ($6,449) the VStrom 650 ($6,699) or even the Triumph Speed 4 ($6,499). I asked why they wouldn’t price it at $6,999.
Kawasaki’s people told me $7,099 was where they wanted to be, to make enough money to cover their costs and allow the dealers to make a bit of money, too. I reached into my wallet and offered them $20, since they sounded so hard up, but my offer was politely refused.
Mechanically, the Z750 is a now modern design, with a liquid-cooled 16 valve dual overhead cam inline four pumping out 97 rear-wheel horsepower and 53 foot-pounds of torque on MO’s Dynojet dynamometer. The motor shares components with the Z1000; including the cases and radiator, but instead of having a 77.2mm bore; it has been sleeved-down to a 68.4mm bore.
Stroke remains the same at 50.9mm. Since this powerplant was originally designed for the ZX-9R, it should be very understressed as a 750, especially with the milder camshaft profiles Kawasaki uses for the Z1000’s little sister.
With the briefing concluded, we went out to claim our rides for the day. A sea of identical blue motorcycles greeted us in the parking lot- Candy Plasma Blue is the only color being offered for the few thousand units Kawasaki plans to sell in the US this year.
The styling is great, though. It retains a lot of the Z1000’s aggressive, in-your-face burliness without going over the top and scaring away the more staid of prospective buyers (I’m scared anyway. -Sean). It is sharp and focused, but integrated, from the cat-eyed headlamps to the ZX-6R LED tail lamps. The Z750 looks like a very substantial and nicely finished motorcycle. There’s a minimum of exposed frame bits, and the paint and finish is very nice. The fairing’s insides are partially concealed by plastic panels, as are frame tubes and other areas. This gives the bike a finished, high-quality look that will hopefully justify the extra $500 or so over the competition.
With a 56.1 inch wheelbase, 430 pound *claimed* dry weight and reasonably low 32.1 inch seat height, the Z750 is a small motorcycle compared to its competition. Even a shrimpy guy like me can swing a leg over the Z and get both feet firmly on the ground. The sculpted gas tank fits nicely between my legs, even if it’s not as svelte as the press kit claims. Once you’ve experienced the nothingness that is a Honda Hawk 650’s gas tank, everything else feels fat, but for an inline-four standard, the tank is comfortable, not splaying your legs too far apart.
The bike is nicely appointed for a “budget” standard. A tachometer, speedometer, dual tripmeters and a clock are all included in the price. Thankfully, the confusing radial digital tachometer / speedometer was left in Europe. There is also the enormous radiator and ring fan from the Z1000 for extra cooling, which is lucky as Kawasaki forgot to add a temperature gauge, although there is a high-temperature warning lamp.
You also get bungee hooks, passenger grab rails, and a preload/rebound damping adjustable rear shock with aluminum linkage. The wheels are good-looking six spokers based on the ZX-10Rs. Fuel injection is also a nice touch, although it is quickly becoming universal, even on “budget” machines.
They had to save money somewhere, so the Z750 does include a few budget components. These might not be obvious to beginner or re-entry motorcyclists (“Disc brakes? When did they start doing that?”), but more experienced riders might notice the lack of suspension adjustment up front, especially if he weighs more than my own 145 pounds. The brakes are just adequate as well, with old-school two-piston, sliding pin calipers and dual 300mm discs up front, with a single piston caliper and 220mm disc on the rear wheel.
Now is the part where we ride. The engine fires easily, even on a 50-degree morning, without engaging the fast-idle lever. The bike is ready to ride after idling for about a minute. Pull in the adjustable (hallelujah!) clutch lever, tap the gear lever, and the bike pulls away from the curb cleanly and smoothly. The fuel injection on this model is quite good for a bike in this price range. It provides precise fuel delivery at very low RPMs and then pulls all the way up to the 11,500 RPM redline without a hitch or flat spot evident. Kawasaki uses a dual-throttle valve, which improves response and eliminates the sensitive feeling that can make EFI a turn-off.
It uses six well-selected ratios: the first three are closely spaced and relatively short for quick acceleration around town, while the top three are for high-speed freeway cruising and spirited backroads riding. Sixth gear at an indicated 80 mph has the motor spinning at about 5,500 rpm, which is great for fuel economy, but thanks to the nice fuel injection, doesn’t bog the engine when you go to pass one of SoCal’s many left lane hogs without downshifting first.
On the freeway, the non-adjustable 41mm forks absorb bumps and shocks just as they are supposed to, without masking too much feedback. The rear shock seems to be set up just fine as well. The seat, however, is not so great. It is very firm, slopes down towards the tank and is very narrow at the front, where we shorter riders tend to congregate.
The classy and attractive half-fairing does a good job of keeping wind off the rider, without buffeting and without too much wind noise. If it weren’t for the seat, racking up long hours in the saddle wouldn’t be so awful.
Once off the interstate, the Z750S does well on two-lane roads. On our intro ride, we attacked Mount Palomar in North San Diego county on a cold day with rain clouds looming overhead. The road up Mount Palomar twists and winds to the summit, creating many blind, decreasing radius turns through the pine forest on the way to the top.
At this time of year, there are plenty of hazardous pools of mud and wet sand in these corners, so I figured I would keep the speed down. As one of my companions put it, when you crash you either go into the mountain or off the mountain, and neither option sounded palatable for my very first press intro.
But I still found myself going reasonably quick on this bike. It has sure-footed, stable handling, but it still has a light and responsive feel.Ground clearance is great, and there is lots of grip from the Bridgestone BT-012 front and BT-018 rear radials.The Z750 is confidence-inspiring and doesn’t come unglued when you push it hard, like some other bikes in this category do. A heavier rider- or a rider with passenger would probably overwhelm the suspension, which is just on the soft side of sporty.
However, I do have two complaints about the bar: one is that it is rubber-mounted so squishily that you can see the bar move when you wiggle it. Also, at full lock your thumb can be squashed in between the bar and the fuel tank. This could be solved by rotating the bar a little forward in the mounting clamps, but that might put the bar at an uncomfortable angle.
Another weak spot is the brakes. Although they didn’t fade on the trip back down the mountain, they still require a very firm two or three finger grasp to slow the bike, even at a moderately brisk pace. More experienced riders would probably benefit from experimenting with pad compound and swapping out the bulgy rubber hoses for more upscale brake lines.
This bike does very well out on the twisty roads, thanks to a lightweight chassis, stable yet responsive steering and a kick-ass motor. There’s adequate torque to leave it in fourth and work the throttle through the flowing, higher speed curves, and fun high-RPM power if you want to play racer boy and chase your buddies on their race-replicas. 750cc engines were such a popular engine size, thanks to a nice blend of high-rpm power and low-rpm torque that 600s can’t match, with maneuverability that larger displacement bikes have trouble duplicating.
In fact, the consumer gets two engines with this bike: a docile, low-rpm powerplant for commuting and trips about town, and a hairy, high-rpm race motor for when you want to blow off some steam or drag race a Z06 Corvette. However, this motor can be buzzy at high RPMs, but it’s not too annoying for short periods and it does produce a nice kick in the rider’s pants. The Z750 is fast enough that I wouldn’t really recommend this bike to inexperienced motorcyclists.
Our Dynojet revealed a peak horsepower reading of 97 Hp, with a broad, flat torque curve that peaks over 52 LbFt. These are very respectable numbers for a 750 standard, and help to explain why this engine is so user-friendly at lower RPMs. There isn’t really a reason, in a practical sense, for requiring more power or torque for everyday riding. Although we didn’t have a chance to measure quarter mile times or top speeds, I imagine they are plenty fast enough to allow any rider to stay ahead of the psychotic middle-aged guy on Hawthorne Boulevard in Palos Verdes driving his wife’s beige-on-beige Jaguar. You know who you are… Prick.
This brings us to around-town errand running and commuting, which is what the prospective Z750 buyer will be doing plenty of. The Z shines in city traffic. Its wide bars and short wheelbase allow you to nip in and out of traffic easily, and the short first three gears and smooth torque curve mean you can accelerate smoothly and quickly away from our nice but inattentive four-wheel driving brethren.
Once at our destination, we want to lock our helmet up. The Z obliges with an old-fashioned helmet latch by the left passenger footpeg, and a groovy little cable lock under the seat. Removing the seat requires playing “where’s the seat lock” for about 10 minutes before you find it, very well hidden, in a tiny hole underneath the tail section. You also find a small storage box, which will fit two PB&Js, or maybe a pair of summer gloves, a sequined thong and a pamphlet on Latvian folk music. Just not all four at the same time.
Passengers are not forgotten on the Z750, since Kawasaki made a few accommodations for them. First, the seat is a single piece unit, unlike the stepped two-piece affair on the Z1000 and Euro-market Z750. This should put the pillion in a lower and more comfortable position. The passenger also has contour-molded grab rails for their grabbing pleasure, and passenger pegs are placed slightly lower than you would find on more hard-edged bikes.
However, a sit-on and brief ride as passenger did not impress me much- the passenger portion of the seat is small, thinly padded and not truly butt-shaped (Not all butts are shaped the same, and none are nearly so hairy as Gabe’s -I’m quite embarrassed to know this- Sean). Motorcycle seats should be shaped like human seats, not with the contours of whatever the current design trend is. This seat is crowned at the front, and then slopes back, narrowing to a thinly-padded point right where your tailbone rests. Maybe somebody at the Kawasaki factory is married to a penguin? Judging from the Z1000 and the ZX-6R, that would explain a lot. Again, it is nothing a trip to a good motorcycle upholsterer won’t fix.
It will happily perform commuting, sport-riding and in-town hooliganism with equal aplomb, and all this for less than the price of a second-string sportbike. Maybe this really is the motorcycle American motorcyclists should ride: a dependable, versatile bike that doesn’t sacrifice handling, power or character to accomplish it’s mission of being a budget all-arounder for the masses.
Maybe you will get an additional $500 discount if you bring a penguin into the dealership, bringing this bike into the same price range as an FZ6 or SV 650S. However, even if you can’t get a penguin, stop by your Kawasaki dealer and give serious consideration to this machine, if you are in the market for an all-around motorcycle that will still get you excited about motorcycling for motorcycling’s sake.
|** SPECIFICATIONS PROVIDED BY KAWASAKI **|
748cc, DOHC, 16-valve, In-line, Four-cylinder Four-stroke Engine
Digital Fuel Injection
Adjustable Rear Shock
Lightweight Disc Brakes
Wheels and Tires
Defining Bodywork and Ergonomics