It seemed like a pretty good comparison. Suzuki had just launched a revamped and boosted capacity Bandit 650, while Kawasaki had just introduced a half-faired, more touring-friendly version of their Z750, the Z750S.
Granted, the Bandit still retains the air/oil-cooled motor while the Zed uses a very sporty liquid-cooled unit and has an extra 100 cc to boot, but the styling is in the same genre and MSRPs are in the same park too (there's a $700 premium for the Kwak).
Yes, let's just call the companies and organize the test.
Well, you'd think that a new model like the Z750S would mean it would automatically get onto the press test fleet, but apparently this is not always the case. However, Kawasaki did have one of the unfaired Z750 models and would we like that instead?
Bugger. Okay, let's take it. At least that just about levels up the price tag difference. Besides, we'd already booked the track day.
REVAMPING THE BANDIT
Ever since Suzuki's move away from the air/oil-cooled motor in their GSX-R sportbike line I've wondered just how long it would be before the Bandit range does the same switch (typically in this class, naked bikes inherit the previous generation motor of their sportbike cousin). But instead of seeing a GSX-R 600 motor in the 2005 model, we get a 56cc capacity boost (thanks to a bigger bore) and a styling makeover.
On paper this seems to be a bit ridiculous, and a move on Suzuki's behalf toward becoming the ‘also-ran' in the naked class (a class that arguably they invented with the original 600 Bandit way back when). But then why mess with a good thing? There's something tres sexy and quite unique about the heavily finned Bandit motors (which are also still used on the Katanas, albeit hidden under all that plastic).
They've also done a good job on the styling update, accomplishing an overall more aggressive look and feel to the bike, while incorporating some neat features such as an adjustable seat and handlebar height.
The seat adjuster will offer either a 770 or 790 mm seat height (achieved by reinstalling the rubber under-seat cushions upside down), whereas the bars can be moved up and closer to the rider by 10 mm (by using spacers that come with the bike).
The length of the 20-litre tank has been shortened by 30 mm and the frame side rails tucked in, making the bike narrower and so easier for the rider to reach the ground. With that, there's a weight loss of 4 kg (now 208 Kg) over the previous model. Unfortunately (for me anyway) most of these changes signify a move in design towards a greater appeal to the female fraternity – which is all good – unless you're a 6'4” bloke …
What is most surprising though is that Suzuki chose the new Bandit to have the optional ABS. Our test model came with this fitted (more on that later), but it's not the first model that springs to mind that I'd expect to see this on. Still, it's the way that bikes are going, so why not?
THE FEROCIOUS ZED
Born of the Z1000 (and using an under-bored version of the thou's motor), the Z750 also lays claim to being the only middleweight naked with fuel-injection. Unlike the Bandit, it's a sportbike like liquid-cooled mill, tuned for midrange thanks to revised cams and a 4 into 1 exhaust. The motor is also hung from the steel frame (and used as a stressed member) and the suspension and brakes are of lower spec than the 1000.
Kawasaki have gone for a quite extreme look for their Z750, with an angular, squat and muscle bound styling. It's relatively unique and (in my humble opinion) looks sweet. I'm still not sure about the ZX10R LCD speedo with wrap-around tach, but it does fit quite well with the rest of the package.
For 2005 there's another version of the Z750 – the Z750S, but what exactly is different with that? Well, there's the obvious half fairing slapped on the front that should give you an extra dose of weather protection and a one-piece, 10mm lower seat (although according to test rides in other mags, neither is as big an improvement as they look).
The suspension and ECU both get some tweaking, and a more conventional pair of analog jobbies replaces the single speedo/tach. Oh, and there's a pair of grab handles for the passenger. Strangely, Kawasaki claims the same dry weight of 195 Kg (what about the fairing?) although the S will cost an additional $500 over the naked version.
THE NAKED KING?
Despite my previous moanings about the air/oil cooled Bandit mill, it's still a very competent and usable unit. Rubber mounting helps to keep the vibes at bay … well, okay, there are some noticeable above 7 thou on the highway, which will result in some tingling in the hands over the long haul, but if you get on the Bandit after the Zed, it feels bodaciously smooth in comparison.
Starting up the Bandit requires a good dose of choke and a few minutes before the throttle smooths out, but once warm, it's faultless. The power delivery is smooth and linear, with a bit of a surge around 7,500 – which is also the point when any vibration becomes more noticeable. However, if you're in top gear, you'll be seeing 150 km/h at this point, so they're not really intrusive.
The party will eventually come to an end around 10,500, with the parents coming home and kicking everyone out at the 12,000 redline.
In contrast, the Zed has a much more aggressive and direct nature to it with a more sportbike-like power and delivery compared to the Bandit's sport-touring air. The power delivery really comes on around 4,000 – with a noticeable boost at 7,000 – and continues all the way to 11,000 rpm, with a redline at 11,500 – although it will over-rev all the way to 13,000 if you let it.
But there's a but, and it's a big J-Lo type but. What is with that vibration??? Granted, the Bandit does suffer from some, but the Zed is almost tortuous in its high frequency buzzing – not helped by the fact that the motor is a stressed member (and so cannot be rubber mounted).
I'm not quite sure how to describe it, as thanks to a pretty hard seat, it's most noticeable right at yer testicles. Yes, I know what you're thinking – what could be bad about that? But it's a bit like dangling your parts on top of (not in!) a blender at high speed.
At this point I should iterate that I myself do not actually know that from experience, but it's the best analogy that I could come up with. Anyway, I guess this issue only applies to the sausage sex, although there were no ladies present to find out if blender-like vibrations actually work for the other half of the population.
The trick was to either keep it all below the 6,000 mark (where the vibes started) – which would translate to 130 km/h in top – or revs the knackers of it (it instead of you) and keep it above 10,000, which is when it would smooth back out again.
At this point it's probably worth throwing in a positive, and that's the scrumptious howl that it emitted from the sexy oval exhaust can. I'm not sure how some manufacturers can make a legal can that still sounds that good, but Kawasaki have with the Z750.
Both gearboxes are quite acceptable. The Bandit is the slickest of the two but would occasionally let itself get a bit sloppy and drop into a false neutral. On the other hand, the Zed proved to be a bit notchy in action (although you would get used to it fairly quickly), though it was always precise and with no missed shifts/false neutrals.
Swings and roundabouts really, with the occasional slide and monkey bars thrown in for good measure. No, I don't know what that means either.
SUSPENDERS AND BRAKES
On both bikes the front suspension comes with preload adjustability, with the rear getting both preload and rebound. I found the suspension to be perfectly adequate for what I expected the bikes to do, although the Zed shows its sportbike pretensions more, with a much harsher ride.
Not unexpectedly, this works well on the track, but on the rougher Canadian roads, it's a jarring ride that will have your bum out of the seat if you try to push it. In contrast, the Bandit is a much softer set-up, but has enough range to be able to absorb the bumps yet not get all squirrelly when pushed in the corners.
Brakes are good on both. Although not cutting edge, they both have a linear and progressive action and came through when needed. The Zed has a bit of an edge as the fronts would come on a bit quicker than the Bandit's, but this could be due to the ABS on the Suzuki.
Talking of which, it works really well … on a good surface! In the dry and on asphalt all you would feel was a slight pulsing at the lever, otherwise it just kept on braking. However, I did manage to get a lurid front-end slide while braking hard on a painted stop line (yeah, I left that one a bit late) and I did get the occasional squeal from the rear just before the ABS cut in.
The problem with naked bikes is that they are … err, naked. Well, there are varying degrees of nakedness and it doesn't take a voyeur to notice that our two bikes under test sit at opposing ends of the so-called naked spectrum.
By all rules of science, the Bandit should be head and shoulders (don't excuse the pun, I like it) above the Zed. It has a half-fairing as opposed to the Zed's plastic-around-the-headlight, and a reasonably sized screen. However, it seems to be significantly less effective than its previous design, with my neck muscles starting to feel a little worked at anything above 120.
Of course, I am a lanky bastard, but the Zed's minimal protection was actually enough to kick the main force up and over the rider, and what remained was linear enough to not be too bad. Still, the Bandit had the edge in protection, only not as much as you'd expect.
Comfort wise it's a similar story. The Bandit looks wayyyy plusher, but in reality it still causes arse pain within half a day's ride. The Zed causes arse pain almost immediately though, so another point for the Bandito.
Another thing to note about the Zed is its Buell-like riding sensation. Because there's nothing up front except for the speedo/tach clock, you don't see much of what you're riding in front of you. It gives a kind of cool flying sensation, only without the need to drop acid first.
The mirrors were a bit of a mixed bag, with the Zed being relatively useless thanks to mix of poor positioning (the lhs one being almost totally obliterated by my arm) and blurring when you hit the vibey patch. On the other hand, the Bandit's mirrors come on long stalks, so the view's all there.
ON THE TRACK
Both bikes proved to be very entertaining on our stint at Shannonville's Nelson track, with not as big a gap between the two as I was expecting. The main difference showed up in the suspension area, where the Z750's harder set up gave it the edge in the corners, resulting in a best lap time of 1.05.5 seconds – a second and a half better than the Bandit.
The Bandit feels altogether a bit looser, not helped by its fitted centre-stand that would occasionally dig in on the sweeping corner before the home-straight, resulting in some entertaining sideways action. Well, entertaining to onlookers anyways.
The Z750 is unencumbered by such practicalities however, and the extra clearance, stiffer suspension and more ferocious power delivery gives a much better point and shoot ability out of the corners. However, if pushed hard enough, things do begin to touch down and eventually you do find the limit of the tires, albeit with a relatively controlled sliding behaviour. Remember Harris – street tires!!!
Braking on both bikes proved to be more than adequate in track scenarios, with the ABS on the Bandit proving to be predictable and subtle enough not to spoil the moment.
With the riding position (arms out with the wide bars giving good steering effort) being almost identical between the two, the only noticeable difference was with foot positioning as the Zed's muffler on the rhs would tend to get in the way of the heel when trying to put your toes up on the pegs. Not a deal killer, but it would occasionally mess up what should have been a perfectly glorious corner.
Overall the Zed has the feel of a stripped-down racer – purposeful, but demanding. In comparison, the Bandit has a friendlier air to it. Sure, it'll bite into the ground quicker when you really push it, but I felt somehow more relaxed on the Bandit – safer, even if I really wasn't.
At the end of the day the Bandit's more ease of use came into its own. Tired, with the hips of a 90 year old, the spaciousness and friendly nature of the Bandit shone through. It was just a delight to ride – slower than the Zed for sure, but that is exactly where I was at.
It was the “massage and a beer sir?” type of bike, whereas the Zed was more a “c'mon you fat feck, let's go”. If the Zed had been a person, I'd have bitch-slapped him.
To sum it up, I was slightly faster on the Zed, but slightly happier on the Bandit.
The Z750 is a naked sportbike – fast and furious power delivery, with stiff suspension and an all-round aggressive feel. In contrast, the Bandit feels like a lightweight sport-touring machine – the power is still there, but it's less furious and runs out of steam earlier. You also end up using the gearbox a lot more.
The same goes for the overall ride – the Bandit being more comfy, relaxed and happier to do the miles (though it is let down somewhat by a less than perfect fairing and seat). I can ride slow(ish) and still enjoy myself on the Bandit. I can't do that on the Z750 … although that may say more about me than the bikes.
Keeping in with the sport-touring feel and greater real-world usability, Suzuki have also thought about a passenger with a decent peg height, seat and grab rail. The Zed would leave your passenger with their knees around their head and arse well and truly spanked – providing they didn't fall off first thanks to the lack of grab rail.
Overall, if you haven't already guessed, I preferred the Bandit, as it still has real-world usability and could be wicked up just enough if the need arose for a more sporty experience. The Zed would probably be best suited to an urban environment, but hitting anything other than a wide, sweeping smooth back-road (a rare happy place) isn't something you want to try too often.
Comfort Inn - 200 North Park St., Belleville, Ontario, Canada, K8P 2Y9. Phone (613) 966-7703
Thanks again to the friendly folks at the Comfort Inn in Belleville for providing us with accommodation on the night before our track day at Shannonville.