Comparo – Yamaha FZ1 vs. Kawasaki ZRX 1200, Part 2

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Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck, Wilfred Gaube & Rob Harris

Okay, so last week we talked about where we went, who we went with and what Art thought of the bikes, but what about that wanker ‘arris?

THE FRENZIED FZ1

That’s not ‘arris or Art, it’s Barb. She was kind enough to sit in for the photo shoot while the rest of us were, err .. working hard. Yes that’s it, working hard.

For the majority of the Pennsylvania ride I’d bagged the FZ1 and was super impressed by it.

When I rode the R1 a couple of years back, I was very impressed by the motor, but the ergonomics that went with it proved to be too radical for any kind of comfort past the half hour point in the saddle. However, the gods must have been listening, because the FZ1 got the R1 motor AND sensible ergonomics.

The R1 powerhouse is now in a slightly detuned form, with a new head and heavier flywheel. The net result is a greater midrange, but with a loss of twelve horses at redline. But what I really like about it, is that it’s just soooooo smooth, thanks to the use of balance shafts and rubber mounting.

However, and maybe more importantly, the FZ1 gets an ergo-friendly chassis to boot. There’s good spacing between the seat and the pegs (and for the passenger too!) and a seat height of 820 mm, making it a bit on the tall side (which is fine by me). The seat’s unfortunately a tad on the hard side and despite the vibration isolation of the motor, there is a bit of a buzz getting through to the bars.

FZ1 lights are also taken from the R1

Combine all this with a very effective fairing, and the FZ1 will devour the highway miles with ease. Okay, your head does get exposed to some wind, but it’s not turbulent and therefor allows for surprisingly comfortable high speed miles.

Get off the highway and turn down a road like the 666, and the FZ is biting at the bit and wants a spanking. The motor requires to build up some rpms before it gets grunty, but once achieved, it winds itself up frighteningly fast without pause, all the way to the 11,000 rpm redline.

Thankfully, the front stoppers are lifted directly off an R1 and are superb. Although they’re only four piston calipers compared to the six pot versions on the ZRX. They have such good feedback and progressive action that they feel and behave significantly better.

When it comes to style, most people who offer an opinion are generally not kind to the FZ1. It’s definitely distinct, going with a sharp, pointy theme from front to back. Admittedly, the fairing looks a bit removed from the rest of the bike, but I think Yamaha has done an excellent job with showing off their chiselled R1 motor, in a flowing chunky tubular cradle frame.

Some luggage and a dead sheep are not a problem for the FZ1

One note of concern was because of some noticeable warping of one of the front discs, indicated by a telltale pulsing of the front brake lever. On a bike this new, (even with some careful mileage at the hands of much respected journalists – oh yes, I’ve seen the libellous comments on the Soapbox), things like this shouldn’t be anywhere near happening.

The suspension is a tad on the soft side, which gives a bit of a remote feel, but it never gave me reason to doubt where it was going. The front and rear are both fully adjustable for preload, compression and rebound.

The bike carries luggage quite well, thanks to many bungee hook points and a spacious layout, although by the end of the trip, the plastic at the rear was showing some signs of scuffing. Since the passenger grab-handles are on the large side, it would be nice to see them wrap over the back to make a small rack. Or I’m I just being a sad, anal and practical motorcyclist again?

THE ZOOMY ZXR

Only fifteen minutes later and ‘arris was rear ended by Mr. Seck. The rest is history.

Kawasaki decided to give the ZRX a bit of a makeover last year, increasing its engine capacity by 112cc, to 1,164cc. They also slapped on a stylish tubular braced swingarm, but otherwise, it remains essentially unchanged.

Where the FZ1 goes for the long pointy look, the ZRX opts for an altogether stocky and blunt look. It’s supposed to be styled after the Eddie Lawson Replica of the eighties after all, and there were no pointy bikes back then.

In keeping with the retro edge it also uses twin shocks at the rear. Surprisingly, I’d have to say that the handling was superior to the FZ1. It was definitely on the harder side but gave great feedback through the bumpy Pennsylvania side roads.

“Yap, yap, yap, grrrrr” It’s a pitbull I tell ya, a pitbull

The style matched its character well, as the ZRX is simply THE motorcycle version of a pitbull – all muscle, along with a tendency to veer off its path and attack old ladies. No it didn’t, that was just the evil thoughts it planted in my head while cruising down main street.

The motor is tuned quite differently from the FZ1, with grunt almost directly off idle, a very strong midrange but wheezier up at the top end, although the carburation was very crisp throughout the rev range. You could find yourself with the throttle pinned to the stop, especially with only five gears to choose from, although you’d be motoring pretty fast at that point.

The short bikini fairing keeps the ELR style, but doesn’t deflect nearly as much of the wind blast as the FZ1. It’s good till 120Km/h, at which point, sustained higher speeds start to workout the neck muscles – all part of Kawasaki’s sinister plot to transform the owner into a human-pitbull-mutant, no doubt!

Unfortunately, Kawasaki didn’t redesign the bar to tank clearance. As a result, tight turns are known to cause pinched thumb syndrome – there’s that pitbull, pain theme again. Oh and while on the complaining streak, the signal button fell off, one of the speed illumination bulbs blew and the front brakes squealed. But then we did … errr, have that minor mishap, so I guess we’re even now. Huh Kawasaki, huh?

CHOICES, CHOICES

Overall, I’d opt for the FZ1, mainly due to its roomier design and more functional fairing, but I also preferred the motor. It looks ‘the biz’ and although it’s been detuned a tad, still has the addictive madness of the R1. There’s also a weight saving of 15 Kg and a 13 mm shorter wheelbase, which may seem minor, but translates into better flickability.

The smaller (but coincidentally pitbullish), Art Kernaghan, preferred the Kawi, finding the Yam’s bars too high. Built like a god, I preferred everything about the Yam’s ergonomics. It reminded me very much of the Suzuki Bandit with the more tour-oriented feel.

There’s good spacing for the pegs and none of those silly heel guards that the ZRX uses – the ones that prevent you from tucking your heels in, to allow the balls of your feet onto the pegs just prior to dropping it in for the next gnarly corner. Hey, even the mirrors work, unlike the Kawi’s, which made it impossible to see anything other than the splattered bugs on your arms.

The FZ1 also has the edge in the braking department, even though it’s down four pots at the front over the ZRX. The only drawback was a lack of feel, which the Kawi had in excess.

Something seemingly minor, but pointed out by a few of the other riders in the group, were the disappointingly small tail lights of the FZ1. Of course, I say you shouldn’t be riding slowly enough to allow a car anywhere near you on a bike like this, but in comparison, the Kawi’s tails were large and bright enough to use as a tanning bed.

I’m not sure why the ZRX has only 5 speeds compared to the 6 of the FZ1, but it may have to do with the extra ratio for highway cruising. That said, the ZRX is super smooth, whereas the FZ1 is on the notchy side and would occasionally need a couple of jabs to get it to change.

I think that’s enough to justify the additional $500 for the FZ1. Oh, and you even get a centrestand thrown into the deal…remember those? Overall, there’s not a great deal of sleep to be lost deciding between the two, as they’re both very competent and fun machines.

If you’re around or above the 6′ mark then I’d say consider the Yam (the seat is also taller by 30 mm). But if you’ve always wanted an ELR, are vertically challenged, answer to the name Killer and have a tendency to run after cars and attack old ladies, then you’ll be well happy with the ZRX.


Some additional detailed shots (FZ1 top, ZRX bottom)…

Ass Ends
Motors
Front Brakes
The view from here

 

Bike

Yamaha FZ1 Kawasaki ZRX 1200

MSL

$11,999.00 $11,499.00

Displacement

998 cc 1164 cc

Engine type

Inline dohc four, liquid cooled Inline dohc four, liquid cooled

Carburetion

4 x Mikuni 37mm 4 x Keihin 36 mm

Final drive

Six speed, Chain drive Five speed, Chain drive

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17 120/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17 180/55 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 298 mm discs with four piston calipers Dual 310 mm discs with six piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 267 mm disc with two piston caliper Single 250 mm disc with two piston caliper

Seat height

820 mm (32.3″) 790 mm (31.1″)

Wheelbase

1,450 mm (57.1″) 1,463 mm (57.6″)

Dry weight

208 Kg (458 lbs) (claimed) 223 Kg (492 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Silver Metallic, Blue, Black Lime Green/White, Passion Red/Galaxy Silver

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