We found the Kawasaki Z750S such an affable mount during a day with a 2005 model that we decided a second helping was in order, this time sampled by both our experienced vets and progressing newbies.
In a motorcycling age where a 1400cc, 200-mph production bike can be found on the same showroom floor as a 50cc scooter, wouldn't it be nice if there were an intermediate street machine approachable for progressing newbies yet nasty enough for seasoned vets to have some grownup fun? Enter Kawasaki's mid-sized streetfighter - the Z750S.
We first encountered the Little Z almost two years ago when Editor Kevin Duke evaluated the Kwacker in our First Ride
article. Yet despite the bike's excellent versatility and modest cost, its sales volume was quite low. Whether that was due to a lack of advertising or because of an American bias against bikes without a fairing, we weren't sure, but Duke believed the smaller-displacement sibling of the Z1000 deserved some extra ink. As a do-it-all machine, it could be used by all the riders in our office, including some of the progressing novices like myself and fellow street beginner JC Hilderbrand.
With its Inline-Four proffering up some sinister growl, my first impression riding the Z750 was that it is a quantum jump up the food chain from the small-displacement beginner bikes with which I was most familiar. Being the first four-cylinder machine I'd ridden on an extended basis, I was a little in awe at first, but the adaptable Z's powerplant was a pleasant surprise for even one of the most experienced riders in our MCUSA entourage such as Editorial Director Ken Hutchison.
"The first thing you notice about this bike is that the motor is actually pretty spunky," said Hutch. "It will get the bike moving in a hurry, pull wheelies, do burnouts... Hey, is this a beginner bike or a streetfighter?"
The Little Z's 748cc powerplant spit out enough horsepower to catch the interest of even our most experienced testers.
The Little Z's rambunctious nature is generated by its liquid-cooled, 16-valve powerplant. Cranking out close to 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, the Z impressed us on the tight canyon roads just a few minutes outside of our Medford, Oregon HQ. Getting up to speed in a hurry, the torquey motor emanates literal vibes up through pegs, seat, and handlebars - enough vibration to get you excited about the experience. The buzz only gets intense at the upper ranges of the tachometer, so it's not really bothersome at typical cruising speeds.
The configuration of the Z750's mill is a slight deviation of the Z1000's from which it is based. The little Zed's 68.4mm bore is reduced from the 77.2mm of the 1000, with the 50.9mm stroke remaining the same to yield 748cc. The 750 further deviates from its larger-displacement sibling by nixing the bigger bike's wild 4-2-4 exhaust configuration for the more standard 4-into-1 setup.
The sweet-sounding bark of the Z's engine is accompanied by a refreshing bite, exhibiting an accessibly friendly powerband that makes it easy for a newb to handle. The affable motor is aided by a pliant clutch and transmission, which are in no way intimidating. JC found the transmission a trifle bit irksome at first before realizing he wasn't letting the shifter fully return in between shifts. He modified his style and had no further problem.
Our resident newbie and author of this article spent a good portion of the summer riding Kawasaki's Ninja 250 before trying out the 750's bigger feel and thrilling Inline-Four power. The bike's rider-friendly nature posed no problem for our Mr. Madson.
Sitting astride the 750 was a welcome change after spending a good portion of the summer riding and testing Kawasaki's entry-level beginner bike, the Ninja 250. The overall larger ergos were a better fit for my 6'1", 205-lb frame, while 32.1-inch seat wasn't too tall for my shorter cohorts here in the office thanks to its narrow front section. The 750 eschews the hyper-aggressive riding stance of its sportier superbike/supersport cousins; and the rider experiences upright ergos with a slight forward pitch thanks to a high, rubber-mounted handlebar, relaxed footpegs placement and sloping seat. With knees clutching the sides of the Z1000-sourced gas tank, we found the riding position to be comfortable. But the forward-sloping seat was deemed problematic by two of our riders: Editor Duke found the seat's crotch-snuggling tendencies annoying, as did Hilderbrand, albeit it in a more expressive, colorful manner.
"Call me weird, but having my junk tingling minutes into a ride and then pounded mercilessly on hard bumps seems to take away from the riding experience," explained JC with a deft subtlety. "It was possible to avoid the Pulsating Package Syndrome by moving rearward on the seat, but that left my reach to the bars a bit overextended for my taste." On the plus side, the one-piece seat is amenable for two-up travel. Grab rails give the passenger something to hold on to during a quick ride, but up front the rider's nether-region won't get any more comfortable with pillion. Again, I give Mr. Hilderbrand the podium:
"While my girlfriend reported a comfy ride from the passenger position, the extra pressure from her body made things much worse. Forget about sealing the deal after a romantic sunset cruise, Willy and the Boys will have lost their enthusiasm."
The 750's upright, slightly pitched forward riding position is quite comfortable, but we all disliked the forward-sloping seat.
Rider performance issues aside (oh, and JC, kudos for ruining CCR's "Down on the Corner" for me), the wisdom of tapping out the newer riders in our office to help test the 750 was apparent when it came time to evaluate suspension and braking. Both systems were more than adequate for the less experienced riders in our garage, but the long-time vets found their humble specifications to be a slight performance limitation.
The Z's steel frame and suspension components provided a steady and comfortable platform - the aforementioned vibrations aside. The majority of bumps get soaked up without notice (unless the family jewels are lodged against the tank). The rear shock allows the rider to zero in on the most appropriate setting thanks to its seven preload positions and a 4-position rebound damping adjuster. The limiting factor for our fast guys was up front, where the 43mm fork showed its limitations when pushed through corners at high speed. The real problem with the cushy suspension up front is that it can't be remedied with fine-tuning, as the conventional unit is non-adjustable.
"There's usually one weakness in every bike, and in this case it is the soft suspension," said Hutch on the Z's Achilles Heel. "It's hard to really gripe too much about that, though, because what it lacked in pure carving ability it made up in touring comfort, and that's what this bike is about."
Our faster riders judged the Z750's non-adjustable front fork a little soft for hardcore strafing, but our less aggressive riders liked its plush feel.
It was the same story when it came to the brakes. Like the suspension, they left our grizzled vets wanting more. The lone 220mm disc/single piston unit out back was adequate for low-speed maneuvers. Again, the problem in our expert's eyes was up front, where the pair of 300mm rotors with twin-piston calipers was deemed too weak for hyper-aggressive canyon assaults. For weekend thrill seekers on an up-tempo jaunt, they are A-okay; for the aging gentleman racer looking to stomp the guts out of those tattooed youngsters who just wheelied past on their fancy new literbikes, they can leave you wanting more.
"They are powerful enough to slow this bike down quickly, and that's enough to get them a nod of approval for anything shy of knee-dragging exploits through your favorite canyon," said Kenny of the Z's brakes, before summing up the little Zed's overall handling. "It rides great, handles decent enough for normal folks to have a good time riding it, and the brakes are good. You can get through the curves just fine, but don't try to hang with your buddy on the ZX-10 unless you have spurs and a bull rope."
Hanging with a superbike wasn't an issue with my burgeoning skills, but I found that the more time spent in the Z's saddle the more confident I grew in my cornering abilities. High ground clearance aided in that confidence, as did the front end which felt solid through the turns at my speed. With a tank-empty weight of 464 lbs, the Z is over 50 lbs heavier than some of its competitors like the SV650, but the bike is able to transition easily because of its high and wide handlebar. The Z showed true potential as a fun, challenging machine to bridge the gap between newbiedom and full-fledged intermediate. It's an all-around gamer.
Hutch fills the fresh mountain air with the pungent sweetness of molten rubber. Burn, baby, burn!
The Z got mixed reviews for its front fairing. It was appreciated in cold weather and during highway running, as it offers surprisingly good protection without annoying buffeting. But there were repeated complaints of it being responsible for a buzzing sound at regular-speed rpm (6000-8000), explained here by the understated Hilderbrand: "After about my second ride I wanted to rip the entire front cowling off the bike because it made the most horrendous buzzing sound right around in-town and moderate highway cruising speeds." Perhaps the rubber-washer retrofit for the Ninja 650's fairing buzz might help (details can be found on this page
As for styling, the 750 is a sharp little semi-naked package. We liked the trim tailsection, exposed motor and ZX-style wheels. Less popular was a windscreen that one tester described as "heinous." But style is always a matter of personal taste. Duke countered that it's the wind protection offered by the fairing that makes the Z such a versatile bike. In Europe, where the 750 is a top seller for Kawasaki (second only to the Ninja 650), the Little Z has also been offered up sans windscreen.
The instrument cluster behind the screen is informative and attractive, but we do have a quibble with the speedo. The numbers are small, making it difficult to get information at a quick glance while at the controls. Otherwise, the dual analog setup is impressive, incorporating a clock, fuel gauge and dual tripmeters.
The Little Z's front fairing got mixed reviews; some were able to overlook the droning buzz it created at 6000-8000 rpm because it also provided effective wind protection, while others objected to it on a stylistic level.
The shining star of the 750 is its versatility. The Z was more than enough bike for me and my growing limits, but the 750 was also appealing enough to keep our more experienced test riders happy. Ken in particular was able to let out his dominant hooligan persona on the smaller Z, indulging in delinquent behavior like multiple wheelies and burnouts (see video). In fact, Hutch fancied the 750 could make a good project bike on par with its larger sibling.
"This bike has a lot of potential besides just being a commuter," mused Hutch. "Dump a little cash and upgrade the exhaust, figure out how to get a hold of a different front cowling and this thing could be as fun to own as a Z1000."
Although our senior test riders logged some performance complaints, they are perhaps misplaced when you consider who the 750 made for. Which begs the question: who is the 750 made for, anyway?
The Z, with its budget $7099 price tag, makes a case for itself as a great re-entry mount for those who haven't owned a bike in several years. It's also a good candidate for someone's second bike, a nice upgrade from a learner bike.
As a commuter, the small Z makes for a willing accomplice. Its comfortably upright riding position makes it easy to maneuver and see over traffic, its responsive powertrain makes a strong ally on the street and in the parking lot, and its fuel economy numbers in the low 40s rival a freeway-bound Prius hybrid.
Still, the question of who the machine is aimed at is valid. Too muscle-bound to be considered an ideal newbie mount and too budget-oriented to satisfy the extreme requirements of the high-performance set, the Z750's market falls somewhere in the vast middle. As we mentioned in our First Ride article, the demographics for the 750 are all over the map, and the versatile machine would suit a number of purposes.
At $7099, the Z750S is a lot of bike for the money, but lukewarm sales got it axed from Kawi's '07 lineup. Savvy consumers might find a remaining '06 for a bargain.
"I still believe the Z750S is one of the bargains of the bike world," noted Duke. "This is a bike that can do it all. It has better wind protection than expected from a pseudo-naked and its torquey engine has enough steam for even my power-hungry brain."
The problem for stateside fans is the bike hasn't met with the same success here as it has found in Europe, and the 750 won't make it to American shores for 2007. Consumers can benefit from this news, as any leftover Z750s are being blown out at screamin' deals.
Although the Z may not be the highest performing bike to ever enter our garage, this appealing road burner left us with smiles on our faces. And there's a new Z750 now being offered in Europe with bold styling similar to the upcoming Z1000
. That bike boasts a new fork, a sinister little flyscreen cowl and relocated engine mounts that are claimed to reduce vibration - basically addressing our main concerns about our U.S. tester.
If Kawasaki finds a way to bring that 750 to America, you can pencil us in for another test run.
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