These Kawi guys sure have some chutzpa. Every now and then, they take on an established displacement category and suddenly invent some new numbers (or recycle old ones), while driving all of the industry's marketing guys mad in the process. Back in the 80's they invented the 600cc class, when everybody else was doing 550's or 650's.
Just a few years ago, they played a nice trick by taking their 600 Supersport to 636cc's. Betcha that more than one manger at Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki must have cursed upon reading that news. Damn! How dare they! The truth, as long as it kicks ass, who really gives a ...? Now they're at it again.
Who said nakeds have to be 600 or 1000cc's? What's wrong with a good old 750, if it sells for the same price as a Honda 599 or Yamaha FZ6? You've gotta wonder what would be the outcome of our last middleweight comparo with this new Z750 thrown in.
As it turns out, Kawasaki hit the nail on the head. A quick look at the Italian sales parade shows a serious upheaval. After more than three years of Honda 599 reign with more than 10K units per year (in Italy alone!), the new Z750 is nipping right at its heels sales wise, even though it didn't start shipping until February.
So, even before I start dealing with the Zed 750 itself, one thing is clear. You can't deny the pull of taking a "seven-fifty" home for the price of a 600. In Europe, people are clearly voting with their wallets. A dealer in the hood' says he can't get enough of them and there's a nice long waiting list.
"Kawasaki's formula for the Z750 is dead simple."
Take one Z1000, relieve it of its fancy components such as the USD fork, fully adjustable shock and classy brakes, then change the weird 4-4 exhaust system to a classic 4-1 and slightly lower the overall finish quality and detailing. You won't find color accents on the 750's engine cases. Radiator covers are much simpler and passenger pegs now attach to the rear sub frame.
The polished, hollow spoked wheels are gone. Simply put, the paid-for tools and molds of the Z1000 can now cheaply yield another bike. The only new plastic part I found on the 750 is a smaller windscreen, without the Z1000's clear section. So, the visual impact isn't as rich or refined as the 1000, but all of big brother's aggressively sexy lines are intact.
There's plenty of mass and volume weighting down the front end, while the slim ZX6RR tail section accentuates the "weight forward" impression. IMHO, the classic 4-1 system on the 750 beats the bizarre four cannon design of the 1000 big time. It doesn't hurt to add that the Z750 has an aggressive, no-nonsense edge, when parked next to Honda's sophisticated and softly shaped 599, or Yamaha's FZ6. Even though I find the faux aluminum "frame covers" of the Z750 (and Z1000) a little hard to swallow, Kawasaki's designers still deserve big thumbs up.
Mechanically speaking, it's pretty much a smaller bore Z1000. Stroke remains the same at 50.9mm while bore is reduced to 68.4 instead of 77.2mm. The engine castings are basically identical, save for smaller valves in the 750's head. Based on the good ole' ZX9 mill, the Z750's engine architecture is a bit "old school", with all shafts on one level (The FZ6 uses the advanced R6 engine with stacked tranny shafts) but with a claimed 110 HP, who cares?
The fuel injection shares the same double butterfly system of the 1000, but with throttle bores reduced to 34 from 38mm. The last engine related tidbit is that the 750 is geared shorter than the 1000, something that I learned to appreciate later on, while road testing. Cycle wise, it's worth mentioning that Kawasaki did not cut too many corners while creating the 1000/750 frame.
While Honda's 919/599 use a simple rectangular backbone frame that's not much fun to look at, the Zeds use a multi tube open cradle that seems to have a much beefier grip on the steering head and swingarm pivot. A progressive shock linkage is another touch of class, in this budget-oriented segment. The Hornet and Fazer 600 have simple, non-progressive set-ups. If there is one place where you really see the bean counters in action, it's in the dated looking fork and front brake calipers.
After my pre-ride examination, everything is looking good. However, five minutes into my ride and I am fuming! What's wrong? I feel like giving the Z750 seat designer a big kick in the nuts, that's what. Yes, I know it sounds nasty but how would you react if somebody mashed YOUR dear pair a dozen times, without asking for permission? The forward cant of the cool looking ZX6 seat got me sliding into the gas tank every time I touched the brakes, accompanied by a loud OUCH! Even without braking, it's putting unneeded stress on my worn out lower vertebras.
"At 6,000 you are in full-on grin mode, by 8-9,000 it turns out that this candy is of the fizzy type."
This seat might work OK with rear sets and low clip-ons, but it's totally out of place on a naked bike. I plan to ride this bike down to the GP at Mugello and then head over to Provance in France. That's over 2,000 miles in four days and I want to give my reproductive glands a fighting chance at survival, so I take off the seat and drive a small wooden wedge under the front attaching tongue and re-fit the seat with its front end 3/4" higher. Now it is horizontal and what a change!
I also rotate the tubular handlebars a tad forward to give me more arm room. Great, with the ergos sorted I can start enjoying this Zed and as it turns out, there's plenty to enjoy.
Let's start with that candy of an engine. Don't know how Kawasaki manage to do it but EPA SCHMEEPA, this engine sounds good, 1979 Z-1 good, emitting all the right frequencies and undertones, your aural joy is ensured. The Z1000 got its share of criticism for a slightly weak low to mid range pull. Not this one, from 3-4,000 rpm, the pull is nice and full. It's not arm stretching, but healthy and it grows and grows with the revs.
In the top-end there is serious power, a true 100 RWHP was measured by the Italian publications (the Honda 599 / FZ6 hover around the 85-90 mark). In the case of the Z750, that shorter gearing equals some serious stomp. Believe it or not, in roll-on acceleration, the 750 has achieved better results than the Z1000 and it is only in the quarter mile, that the Z1000 manages to beat the 750, by 0.1 second that is. It seems like someone at Kawasaki has been paying attention and decided to tune the 750's engine in a more fitting way for a naked bike.
Heading south on the Autostrada, I stabilize cruise at 100 mph. Though seating position is erect, the excellent spacing between the bars, seat and pegs allows me to effectively counter wind pressure. Kawasaki claims that the little slots in the windscreen smooth airflow, but I guess I'd have to be a foot shorter to notice the effect. After my seat modification, I find the Zed comfortable enough to do the 200 miles down to Mugello with just one stop for gas. Surprisingly, my girlfriend finds the rear seat acceptable too.
If you are used to covering long distances without a fairing (like me), you'll find the 750 OK. Personally, I often prefer to cut through clean undisturbed air, rather than through badly deflected turbulence. The only concern while cruising is that vibration management isn't that great between 6 and 7,000 rpm. It's more of a tingle rather that real vibes and it is felt through the seat. The short gearing and resulting higher revs don't help.
For the trip back north after the race, I persuade my girlfriend to jump in a friend's car and now I'm free to gas it through the surrounding hills. Zed has behaved like a good boy on the straight highway and the after-race traffic jams. Now, it is equally happy to change its mood. ÊIts efficiency on a proper mountain road is nothing short of superb, the wide bars are a big time help to flickability.
Not that the steering is extremely light, like a naked 600. There is quite a lot of weight over the front, and lacking that pinch of quickness pays large dividends in mid-corner stability and front-end feedback. Just as fun, is the proper pull from the 750 engine while powering out of turns. It doesn't really matter if you downshift or not, throttle response is superb and you can keep a very brisk pace, even without stretching to more than 7-8,000 rpm. Another pleasant surprise comes from the suspension set-up. In these times of adjustable everything, it's easy to forget how efficient simple but well tuned units can be (The Zed only has pre-load adjustability on the front and pre-load + rebound in the back).
On really bad surfaces the lower quality of components can be felt, as the back end responds harshly over nasty stuff. Other than that, there's a good balance between sportiness and comfort out of the box. Flicking into turns, the rear ends tracks without much distraction while front end is spot on as it is. Most of the Italian stuff I test here has Ohlins this and Showa that, so it was a rather nice to ride something that doesn't filter out every tiny ripple for a change.
"I was planning to review a do-it all, budget "anti Honda 599", and I ended up not wanting to give it back."
The Zed does require a rider that knows how to work with it when pushing and I ended up liking the involvement required to ride it hard. Give it a nice sharp input on the bars, and after an instant to settle down, it carves hard through corners making you feel really good about yourself and life in general.
Though seat to pegs distance isn't huge, there was plenty of cornering clearance, even after "cleaning" all of the rear tire thread right to the edge. Talking about tires, the 012 Bridgestones supply a linear, neutral response and plenty of grip with their rounded profile. My complaints after putting the thing under some pressure? The so-so looking brakes did not hold any surprises. They get the job done and that's about it. They won't supply the kind of power and feel that'll have you postponing your braking until the very last moment. Well, Kawasaki did have to cut costs somewhere. Shifting quality wasn't a big hit, even though it could be improved at no extra cost and was more of a concern in slow traffic rather than when sport touring.
I hit the Autostrada back home, check top speed for a few seconds and think I saw a very blurry 135 on the awful Nintendo speedo, but who really pushes a naked bike to those speeds? Stupid journos, that's who. It might be worth noting that the fuel consumption was never worse than 40 mpg (if I got the Metric/English conversion right) even after prolonged stints at 110 mph.
Back home, I have some errands to do before heading back into the mountains and the Z750 copes quite well. You sit so far foreward, that it feels more like a large scooter around town. Lock-to-lock angle isn't that great, but it didn't stop me from effectively filtering through city traffic. In the tight and slow, you do notice that the seat height is a lofty 32", so height challenged riders, consider yourself warned.
After another Autostrada drone, I am in the Savoy area of France. The good impressions in the medium-slow roads of Tuscany continue while attacking the faster roads of this area. With plenty of tarmac fast flowing next to sweeping rivers and a perfect field of view I attack 80-100 mph sweepers with abandon. Again, the weight on the front end pays off and I can be quite aggressive while the whole plot remains stable.
OK, we are not talking Aprilia Tuono / MV Brutale levels of accuracy, but as said before; this slight looseness actually makes the riding more entertaining in a way. I guess we sometimes grow tired of scoots that are so much better than us. Not that the Z750 isn't better than most riders. Au contraire, the way the 41 mm right-side-up forks cope with fast road work never fails to amaze me.
This Z750 caught me a bit unprepared. I was planning to review a do-it all, budget "anti Honda 599", a middle of the road thing with just a pinch of pose and I ended up not wanting to give it back. Yes, although I get to ride plenty of exotica, a $7,000 bike (sold bellow Honda 599/FZ6 prices in Europe) made my day.
However, it is far from perfect, in addition to those brakes and the seat deal, I'd like to add that the high silencer prevented me from throwing my soft saddlebags over the seat for the trip. A plain stupid move on such a do-it-all scoot and all in the name of dubious fashion. At the end of the day, when $7,000 gets you a true 100 rwhp, plenty of torque to play games with and a more than decent frame, the aftertaste at the end is sweet, sweet and fizzy.