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2005 Kawasaki Z750S First Ride

Wednesday, July 20, 2005
If you could have just one bike in the garage and it has to cost below  7100  it would be tough to beat the Z750S.
The Z750S is a bike that will satisfy experienced riders, but is tame enough for riders new to sport riding.
In this modern era of two-wheeled technology, manufacturers continue to divide classes in the hope of better honing in on specific niche markets. The process of fracturing each market segment into several smaller sub-classes has seemingly produced a bike for everyone.

Perhaps you've heard the expression regarding the past of "when men were men." Some longtime motorcycle riders might be wondering what happened to the days when motorcycles were motorcycles, bikes that were able to handle nearly anything that was thrown at them.

Such a machine is Kawasaki's new Z750, a contemporary vision of the old UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) that was the mainstay of Asian manufacturers during motorcycling's halcyon days in the 1970s and early '80s when bike sales were at their highest points in history.

The Z750's predecessor, the ZR750, was first introduced in Europe in 1999, and a version of the 738cc bike was sold in the U.S. from 2000 to 2003. Built on old parts-bin technology, the ZR750 was a decent all-rounder that was held back by a meek two-valve, air-cooled engine (from an old GPz) and an antiquated chassis.

For 2005, the parts-bin philosophy remains but the Z750S is an all-new conglomeration. This new Z borrows heavily from the Z1000 naked musclebike, including its steel frame and four-cylinder motor. The 953cc Z1000 motor, itself a variant of the ZX-9R's, but is drastically sleeved-down in bore size to yield 749cc through its unchanged stroke. Precious little else was changed aside from the pistons, although its fuel-injection throttle bodies are 4mm smaller than the four 38s on the Z1000. Remaining the same as the big Z are the valve timing, radiator and gearbox ratios. Adding a tooth to the rear sprocket and taking one away from the countershaft lowers the overall gearing for improved in-town squirt.

The Z750S borrows heavily from the Z1000, including its frame and motor, the latter sleeved-down to yield a 749cc displacement.

The Z750S has its own unique countenance (modern yet fairly clean), but a careful observer can see where Kawi engineers dipped into the corporate parts bin to help lower build costs. You'll recognize the fuel tank from the Z1000, and the taillight is borrowed from the ZX-10R. Turnsignals are from the new ZX-6R, as is the design of its wheels.

Instead of the dual seat pads from the Z1K, the Z750S has its own one-piece seat, and its narrow forward section allows shorter legs a straight shot at the ground, despite its claimed height of a fairly tall 31.7 inches. The one-piece seat gives a rider plenty of room to move around, although it slopes annoyingly forward, and it makes for a lower, more comfortable passenger perch. Also aiding your pillion are dual grabrails mounted on the side of the tailsection. Bungee hooks and storage below the seat aid the Z's versatility.

The Z750S fires up accompanied by an exhaust sound from its attractive four-into-one piping that is meaner and louder than expected, but in a good, healthy way. Clutch pull is fairly light, and the new Z's clutch has a beginner-friendly clutch with easy take-up modulation. Buttery action from the gearbox keeps the intimidation factor low.

Although not designed exclusively for newbies, the Z750S includes less experienced riders in its demo profile. For example, a Kawasaki rep told us that the old ZR750 had between 11% and 17% split among six 5-year demographics that stretched from 20-24 all the way to 45-49. Conversely, more than 70% of its ZX-6R customers are in their 20s. 


The Z750S offers neutral handling that riders of all skill levels can appreciate.
We expect the Z750S to cut a similar wide swath among buyers and predict the older age groups to grow even more, thanks in no small part to the greater performance from this new engine. We've seen dyno charts that show horsepower numbers in the high 90s, which is quite impressive for a low-stressed engine like this. Newbs will like how acceleration is aided by an expansive torque curve that peaks above 50 lb-ft; aging hooligans will like how that torque will carry the front wheel.

The Z750 has impressive easy-to-ride manners, thanks to its rider-friendly powerband and a very neutral-handling chassis. Its 25-degree rake is one degree lazier than the Z1000 and it has a bit more trail, making for handling that is much less nervous and much more neutral than the odd-handling Z1000, and the front end feels significantly better planted in corners. The tubular handlebar is mounted fairly high for comfort and offers good leverage to get the Z leaned over in a decent hurry. Grip from the front Bridgestone BT019 and rear BT012R is commensurate with the bike's handling.

The Z turned out to be a decent corner-carving companion, and it offers a level of performance that far exceeds the capabilities of lesser-experienced pilots. However, with a racetrack veteran at the controls, the price-point suspension components can be overwhelmed. Up front is a 43mm conventional fork that is devoid of any adjustments, and it lacks sufficient rebound damping for aggressive riding. The rear shock is better able to handle different loads/riders, thanks to its seven preload positions and a 4-position rebound damping adjuster.

The Z750S is adept at whatever pavement rolls beneath its wheels.
The Z750S is adept at whatever pavement rolls beneath its wheels.
Similar in performance to the Z's chassis are its twin-piston caliper brakes with dual 300mm rotors; they're sufficient for most any street rider but are a bit weak for demanding sportbike duty, especially when hauling ass down a mountain road. After all, the Z750S scaled in at a slightly porky 464 pounds (tank empty) on our electronic scales, one pound more than the Z1000 with its 4-piston caliper brakes. But, like the Z's chassis, its maximum braking capability is only a concern for old racer guys who like to beat up on Gixxer punks in the canyons.

One of the key differences to its big brother is that the littler Z has a fairing that actually does something. It offers a protective, non-bustled cockpit thanks to its patented Center-Duct Air Curtain windscreen. Its design is similar to that on several Honda sportbikes like the VFR in that ducting at its base allows air to follow the windshield's inner surface to smoothly integrate with air flowing off its outer surface, resulting in less turbulence for the rider. It really seems to work well, no matter where I put my head, there wasn't any air commotion to be felt. And even a tall guy like Car & Driver's Barry Winfield said wind protection was great for his six-foot-five frame. 

Behind the fairing is an attractive and nicely finished cockpit. Dual analog gauges for the speedo and tach are augmented with a clock, fuel gauge and dual tripmeters in their titanium-colored faces. Although we're glad the Z1000's (and ZX-6/10's) hard-to-read LCD tach is absent, we'd appreciate larger numbers or a digital display on the 750's speedo, as the small digits are tough to discern at a glance. Adjustable brake and clutch levers allow for hands of all sizes.

The Z750S works well at a slower pace  but Duke Danger demonstrates its sportier side.
The Z750S works well at a slower pace, but Duke Danger demonstrates its sportier side.
Freeway cruising is helped immensely by the excellent fairing, but higher-speed drones also reveals niggling vibration that might bother some riders. Although not much time is needed at higher rpm because of the engine's torquey response, vibes cause the rubber-mounted handlebar and pegs to liven up at 6000 rpm and up. The Z's engine is turning 5700 rpm at 80 mph indicated, so vibration is rarely intrusive. Its mirrors offer a decent rearward view, although they will blur a bit at speed. The vibration wasn't strong enough to deter me from enjoying the Z, and riders who want to put on long distances can swap sprockets for taller gearing that will provide more relaxed high-speed cruising.

Not only are the Z's riding characteristics amiable, but this scoot's a looker, too. Although Kawasaki's hot Candy Plasma Blue is the only color offered in the U.S., it's a good one. And with its swingarm-mounted inner fender, LED taillight, and attractive motor and exhaust, the Z750S won't be seen as a simple bargain bike.

At a list price of $7099, the Z750 has a premium over some of its likely competitors, including the Yamaha FZ6 ($6599), Triumph Speed 4 ($6499) and Suzuki SV650S ($6449), or even the $6699 Suzi V-Strom. However, none of these bikes has the Z's combination of power (hp and torque), wind protection and rider-friendliness.

The Z750S looks more expensive than its  7099 MSRP might suggest.
With a usable powerband and comfortable ergonomics, the Z750S will likely find its way into the garages of newbies and vets alike.
Being called "nice" is usually the kiss of death for a bike with sporting pretensions, but that would be unfair to the new Z. Although it's a bit large (in power, size and weight) for the requirements of a neophyte rider, especially a small one, the Z750S should appeal to nearly any non-cruiser buyer. It won't intimidate the newbs and yet has enough performance for the vets. It's very cooperative and fun to ride, and its dynamic personality can be likened to a 10%-larger SV650, one of the most playful bikes ever built.

A beginner bike could use a digital gear indicator, automatic choke, a lower seat height, and bars that don't squish thumbs with its steering at full lock, but these are small quibbles that don't take away from what is a multitalented and authentic motorcycle, one that is a willing, good-natured companion to most any on-road task you could think of.

I predict the Z750 will be a small-scale hit for Kawasaki, and I'm sure there'll be hundreds of Gixxer squids wondering how some old dude just blew past them down racer road on a Candy Plasma Blue bargain bike.


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Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Jack of all trades
  • Willing yet friendly motor
  • Feature-laden for the price
Lows
  • Vibration might not please all
  • Slopey seat can be uncomfortable at times
  • Kawi's ZZR600 costs only $200 more

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