The ST1300 and FJR are now mainstays in the sport-touring genre, but the ZZR enters the fray for 2004, boasting a motor built from ZX-11 and ZRX1200 parts.
When Honda first let us loose on its big ST in 2002, I summarized the bike by writing: "If someone told me I had to ride two consecutive 12-hour days over all sorts of roads, there's no bike I've tested that I'd choose ahead of the ST1300." Now that we've sampled the ZZR and put more miles on the FJR, would that statement still hold true?
We begin this test with a quick look at the freshest face to the MCUSA garage.
The ZZR1200 comes in to this contest as a bit of an oddball, and we're not just talking about the alien-like headlamps and taillights. What it lacks among the 1300s is a shaft final drive and integrated hard luggage. Kawasaki was aware of the company the ZZR would keep in this test, so it outfitted our test bike with its optional Givi-built saddlebags and a taller windscreen from its accessory catalog in order to bring it closer to the specs of the others.
Knowledgeable readers that you are (hey, you're on MCUSA!), you've probably already guessed that the ZZR is the sportiest way in this group to go sport-touring. With a motor based on the retro-rod ZRX1200 and the esteemed ZX-11, the first production streetbike to top 175 mph, the ZZR comes by its class-leading power honestly. The Zizzer enjoys an extra 112cc over the potent ZX-11 via a tidy stroke job from a ZRX1200 crankshaft to yield 1164cc. A brace of 40mm Keihin carbs with a throttle-position sensor is used instead of the electronic fuel-injection systems on the 1300s.
Kawasaki's ZZR1200 emphasizes the sport part of the sport-touring equation. Givi-made bags from Kawasaki's accessory catalog helped it make the prerequisites for this class.
Ergonomically, the riding position of the ZZR is fairly accommodating, especially in comparison with most sportbikes. But, make no mistake, this is the torture rack among this posterior-pleasing pack. The ergos might not be as comfy as its rivals in this test, but they do have their reward. While ST and FJR riders assume the sit-up-and-beg position, the ZZR rider is in a nice tuck that puts more weight on the bike's front end for added front-wheel traction and more direct feedback. The stock bike has a bullet-shaped windscreen that seems a bit too low for this crowd, so our test bike was fitted with a $79.95 windshield from Kawasaki's accessory catalog that is about 3 inches taller than stock.
The ZZR uses a 43mm cartridge fork up front, but it's adjustable only for spring preload. Out back is a more tunable single shock that features a handy hydraulic preload knob and rebound damping adjustability. The fork is set at a 25.0-degree angle, which is 1.0 degree steeper than the lazier steering 1300s, while trail, at 4.1 inches, is right in the middle of the others. Its 59.3-inch wheelbase, too, is the middle of this S-T road.
Although saddlebags are not included in the ZZR's base price, a set of Givi hard bags are available from Kawasaki. A set of bags and the necessary bracketry to mount them are priced at $779.90, bringing the bike's MSRP up to $11,379, the lowest of this trio, though not far behind the competitively priced Yamaha.
The Honda ST1300 is the feature-packed S-T of the bunch, boasting an adjustable seat, ambient air temperature gauge, a fuel mileage computer, and a height-adjustable headlight, all things not offered on the ZZR or FJR. Our bike was also equipped with optional ABS brakes.
The ZZR scores well in terms of its paint, which has a nice pearl in its silver base that makes it look as if it's changing color in different lighting conditions. For 2005, ZZRs come in a dark navy blue color.
This promised to be a great trek. Careful map exploration linked up some of the best roads on the way to Monterey, and some of my favorite people were coming along for the ride. An old friend from my Colorado years, Ken Nissen, flew out from Denver for this journey, while longtime MCUSA tester/assistant Mike Ngo would fill a second seat. My best pal (and wife), Carolyn, who has toured Italy and Australia with me, would be along for passenger accommodation evaluation. A couple of tankbags and backpacks augmented the copious cargo space offered by three sets of lockable hard saddlebags, as four people would need luggage for a total of six days.
Bags packed and tanks full, we left our Orange County home base and headed north. A few hours of freeway droning and Malibu stop-and-go traffic loomed before we hit the swervy roads, so Carolyn and I took first dibs on the plush Honda. We had taken it out for a day-tour the week prior, and we grew enamored of this mega scooter. Its broad seats maintains fresh buttocks, and its cushy, non-taxing ride makes you want to keep chasing horizons all day.
The ST's electrically adjustable windshield is excellent, providing plenty of options at the touch of a button. It offers exceptional coverage in its upper position; at its lowest, it lets plenty of fresh air flow over hot riders. We enjoyed how, at its higher settings, the windscreen deflects enough air to allow for open-faceshield riding. The Honda's mirrors are mounted unobtrusively low and offer clear images, but the handlebar ends partially obscure the view rearward.
The ST1300 proves to be the cushiest mount for long days in the saddle, and the first choice for your passenger. Its fairing and electrically adjustable windshield is the most protective of this group.
While cruising through the tony seaside town of Malibu, we noticed the ST takes a good squeeze of the lever to actuate its hydraulic clutch, and the prevalence of the V-4 engine's high-pitched gear whine is mildly grating at low speeds. And the seat, luxurious as it is, forces legs wide at stops, making for non-flat-footing with a 32-inch inseam in its standard position. Thankfully, Honda has engineered it to fit a variety of riders by allowing three positions fore and aft, and three settings up and down. I kept the seat in its standard position out of respect for my taller riding cohorts, even if the ridge at the forward portion provided an "uplifting" experience to my testicular region.
We exited the Pacific Coast Highway for a brief sojourn up Highway 101 before heading east toward Ojai, the quaint mountainside tourist town that is the refueling point for many motorcycle rides up the sinuous Highway 33. Presented with a dearth of other traffic, the FJR1300 Carolyn and I were now riding was in its element.