First Impression: 1996 Kawasaki Eliminator 600

The Bully Bike


Talking about tires, the ZL, lacking sporting pretensions, is shod with basic Bridgestone Exedra rubber. The combination of wheel sizes (a narrow eighteen incher on the front and a fifteen incher in the rear), and short suspension out back, make for a long, low look. The wheelbase, at an ample 61 inches, is plenty long enough to guarantee stability in a straight line.

The mix of components continues at the front end, where the single disc brake is gripped by a basic, twin piston caliper, and the steering head is kept aloft by your basic, no frills 38mm conventional fork, also quite conventionally lacking much in the way of damping. Funny that on such a long bike, one where the benefit of a decent back brake can actually be felt, the rear stopper is a single leading shoe drum.

Stopping is not the ZL's strong point. Although ease of use may be.

On first riding the bike, you'll notice you can bend your knees when you touch the ground. Seat height is an ultra-low 28 inches, and even given the number of cruisers available these days, there isn't much else available that's so low to the ground. With such a low seat height, the rear suspension cannot be ultra-long travel or ultra compliant, so it's no surprise the rider takes a few jolts through the kidneys over large bumps.

Ergonomics are plainly designed for the smaller rider. Large, lanky people will find their knees a little too close to their elbows to be comfortable. The pull-back handlebars are integral with their risers, so modifying the riding position is unfortunately impossible.

"You don't expect a machine with a 61 inch wheelbase to be easy to throw around, but the low-ish center of gravity and the machine's light weight makes it relatively easy to handle on almost any road."

The 600cc engine disappoints. It's so obviously a mid-eighties engine, unaffected by recent developments in horsepower creating technology. At low rpm, the four cylinder engine just doesn't make much power. At high rpm, it runs out of steam and still doesn't make much. For a drag styled bike, it's an embarrassment. We were seriously seen off on the street by almost any two wheeler with an engine the same size, or even smaller than the ZL's, even if the other guy wasn't trying.

Where the ZL does make up (somewhat) for its lack of muscle, is in back roads riding. You don't expect a machine with a 61 inch wheelbase to be easy to throw around, but the low-ish center of gravity and the machine's light weight makes it relatively easy to handle on almost any road, even if you do throw in some corners. It's not a sportbike: the low ground clearance and the wallowy suspension soon tell you that, but it has no pretensions of being a sportbike, and few bad habits either. Just don't expect it to out-drag anything on the straight.

So there you have it. A motorcycle with a big yellow stripe painted all the way through it. No good at beating anything, but OK at running away. If it were a cheap, bargain basement, entry level rider's bike, we'd say go for the Eliminator. It has an identity problem, it lacks discernible style and low end power, and it's kind of buzzy - but its saving grace is its ease of handling. But it's not cheap. At $6199 list price, the ZL is on the borders of 600 Sportbike territory, and priced above just about every entry level bike.

You can even, theoretically, get a Harley-Davidson Sportster for less, although you'd get laughed out of the Harley dealer's showroom if you actually tried: Sportsters command substantial premium over list prices. Eliminators don't. It's called the law of supply and demand.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Kawasaki
Bore & stroke: 60 x 52 mm
Compression ratio: 11:1
Valve train: DOHC, 4-valve
Carburetion: Four 30mm Keihin CV
Ignition: Solid state digital
Transmission: six speed, shaft drive
Suspension: Front 38 mm forks, 5.9 inches travel
Rear, Dual shocks with 3.9 inches travel
Brakes: Front, Single disc with two-piston caliper
Rear, drum brake
Wheelbase: 61 inches
Rake/trail: 29 degrees/105 mm
Seat height: 28 inches
Dry weight: 434 pounds
Fuel capacity: 3.4 gallons

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