I always try and keep an open mind before I test a bike. However, sometimes, even before swinging a leg over the beast, I might feel that it's just not going to work for me. Initially, that's what I thought when I arranged to grab the 'new' Kawasaki ZR7S.
Despite the fact that I own (and enjoy) a late 70s GS750, with its inline four motor, double overhead cams, a measly 8 valve head and air cooling, I couldn't really see the point of making a bike for 2002 with essentially the same spec sheet. Sure, the ZR7S has relatively up-to-date suspension and brakes, but there's no getting around it - its motor and steel cradle frame is a not-to-distant cousin of the venerable KZ650 of the late 1970s.
But I'm a open-minded soul with a big heart (and unfeasibly large feet), so I brushed my preconceptions aside and trundled up to Kawasaki to pick the bike up.
Okay, at first sight it actually looks quite sharp. It's very similar to the Suzuki Bandits. The pointy frame-mounted fairing wraps around the forks and blends into the tank. The motor's a well-finished gloss black, from which four golden brown (in a good way) pipes swoop down and under, exiting in a well-polished stainless steel can. Hmmm, not too shabby, even if I do say so myself.
But low and behold, what's this? Scuffing on the alternator cover and rear left plastic cover? Could Kawasaki be pre-scuffing their motorcycles now? Apparently not, it appears that Cycle Canada had managed to get their grubbies on the poor sod just before us. Tsk tsk, Mr. Zambotti - you buy the beers next time and I'll forget about the other Kawis waiting for new parts ...
The riding position is pretty good as well. I'm lanky, and probably dwarfed the bike, but the bars didn't double me over, the pegs didn't force my knees into my helmet and the seat felt like a seat and not some piece of hardwood covered in vinyl.
WHAT'S AIR-COOLED, BUZZ FREE AND FULL OF HOLES?
Because the motor's carburated, it needs a good dose of choke in order to get started, and because the motor's also an old air-cooled design, it revs wildly after a couple of seconds, but then dies when you let the choke off slightly. No problem, I remember how this works. Once warmed though (which takes a few kilometres - illustrated by a smoother off-idle power delivery) it still never quite feels comfortable at idle, needing to sit at 1400 rpm to be sure that it won't stall out at future stops. But these are just nuances, and once you start to push the ZR, it largely forgets that it's born of the 70s and performs like a .. well, 90s bike.
Where I was expecting that old pre-balancer inline-four buzz, I got silky smooth, thanks to the fitment of a pair of chunky rubber mounts at the front of the motor (mental note: Must find some to fit to my GS). However, slap a foot back onto the rhs passengers peg (no rubber damping and directly connected to the exhaust pipe) and you get the full monty of uncontrolled engine buzz. Although this shows just how well Kawasaki have managed to isolate the vibration, it also means that passenger comfort would probably only apply to one legged (the left) companions.
Power delivery is what I'd expect from this kind of motor - smooth, progressive and not too tardy. The eight-valve head (two per cylinder) is like Honda's V-TEC but without adding valves, ensuring a steady power delivery off idle but with no sudden kick-ass surges later on. It's predictable and reliable. Although a steady climb will not see you pulling any power wheelies, it's not boring either.
By keeping the revs up you can tap into some of the available 70 horses, up till the 10,000 rpm redline. It's really very usable for the real world of everyday motorcycling, although quick passes either had to be planned ahead or require a jab down a gear to loft the revs closer to that 70 horsepower peak.
And that brings me to one of my major concerns - I kept finding false neutrals. Specifically between 3rd and 4th and 4th and 5th. I'd just be riding along, minding my own business, when "rrrraaaahhhhhhh", the revs go through the roof and I'm slowing down! I would eventually get used to it and give it a bit of a harder prod, but still. Oddly, when I graciously allowed CMG photographer, Mr. Seck, to borrow the bike for the day, he said he never found them! I'm either going mad, have a limp left ankle or Mr. Seck is a buffoon. Whatever the explanation, I should have known better than to lend the bike to a buffoon.
By modern standards, having a five speed box would seem to be a bit deficient (by about one gear), but Kawasaki have a good spread of ratios going on in there, as I never found myself searching for one more, or feeling that I had changed too soon. Oh, and despite those mysterious false neutrals, it's a pretty smooth changer.
Top speed is about 200 km/h*, before the motor gives up the pull, although the ZR will hold a happy 140 on the highway. This is also about the point at which the screen gives up doing an otherwise excellent job of wind deflection (I'm always impressed by those small screens).
With touring (but quite fast) riding, I could get up to 300 km before having to hit the reserve switch, thanks to the large 22 litre tank and good fuel economy of the motor (18.5 Km/l). Sadly, although the ZR comes with a fuel gauge, it spends the first 100 km telling you it's over full. The next 150 km it sinks quickly to zero, then shows it's emptier than George W's head for another 50 km before you finally hit reserve.
Despite the unreliability of the fuel gauge, the instrument cluster is pleasingly laid out with a large speedo on the left and the tach centre with that fuel gauge to its right, joined together by a polished aluminum plate. It's a small thing, but I like it.
The double cradle frame suits the retro package well and is more than sufficient in keeping the ZR in line on the twisties. Although it has pretty basic and non-adjustable suspension (except for preload and a bit of rebound on the single shock rear), Kawasaki have come up with a good balance, so it's not too soft it feels vague when pushed, and not so hard that your spine splinters on the rougher side-roads.
The standard fitting Battleaxe BT 020s proved themselves and gave good feedback, allowing me to push hard into corners without fear of any mid-corner lurid slides. However, if I did find myself overcooking it slightly, the twin discs up front provided enough power to bring it back to Sanityland. The twin piston sliding calipers give pretty good feedback as well, although there's not that two-finger sensitivity, the lever requiring a relatively hard squeeze before you can feel some significant retardation. The rear uses the same caliper set-up, albeit only one.
Kawasaki promotes the seat as "thickly padded for two", however, it does leave you a bit sore by the end of the day. Although, it's significantly softer than most, and instantly more comfortable with the addition of a deceased sheep's hide (finally a use for that old Afghan coat you've been hiding). The mirrors are so-so, giving you a view half of the road behind and half of your riding jacket, but this lost practicability is balanced by incorporating a very useful centrestand to the package.
* As testified to by a very reliable man in the local pub, who obviously has no respect for the laws of the road ... unlike CMG who NEVER speed. Except maybe three times in total, all of which we were deservedly caught and graciously offered to pay off our debt to society in the form of cold, hard cash. Thank you, sir, can we have another one?
YER BEST PAL?
Where the ZR does excel, is on all-roundabilty. Happy to zip around town, push through the twisties or sit at 130 on the highway, the ZR is not a thriller, but it ain't boring either.
It's a good, friendly bike you can rely on and know that you'll always have a good time with when you go out on the town. And like any good friend, they're not going to break the bank. In fact, the ZR is a steal at a MSRP of $8,399.00, making it the cheapest four-cylinder bike on the market. Even the budget Suzuki Katana 750 is a lofty $1600 more, and their 600 Bandit another $300.
Unfortunately, the package (at least our tester) did have a couple of problems, namely the false neutrals, long warm up time and passenger peg vibration. But then it boasts all-roundability, with a real capacity for touring (you can even get an accessory rack and hard bags from Kawasaki) and at a budget price. Hell, at least you'll have the option of a whole load of accessories dating back to the late 70s!
Shaggy perm and sideburns anybody?
Some additional detailed shots ...