KAWASAKI ZEPHYR 550 (1991-1998) Review

Published: 23 November 2006

"An OK commuter but undepowered, too soft and rots far too quickl"

Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding

"An OK commuter but undepowered, too soft and rots far too quickl"

  • At a glance
  • 553cc  -  50 bhp
  • 40 mpg  -  125 miles range
  • Medium seat height (765mm)

Overall Rating 2 out of 5

Launched the same time as the bigger 750 and 1100 Zephyrs, the Kawasaki Zephyr 550 never really caught on in the UK and once the Zephyr's reputation for corrosion spread, and the rival Suzuki Bandit 600 arrived in 1995, the 550 was doomed. It makes an OK commuter in the summer, but it is undepowered, rides too soft and rots far too quickly.

Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5

For a summer Sunday ride, pootling around country lanes, the Kawasaki Zephyr 550 is fine and dandy. But if you decide to press on then you'll soon discover that the softly sprung forks dive too much and the twin shocks are almost as mushy, even when the preload is jacked up to the max. The bike is comptetent, but uninspiring. Nice low seat height however for short-in-the-leg riders.

Engine 2 out of 5

Let's not mince words here, the Kawasaki Zephyr 550's engine is based on the GPz550 of 1981 - but detuned. That spells slow baby and there's little point in revving the hell out of the eight valve antique, as it delivers peak torque at just 6000rpm. Compared to a Bandit 600, or even Suzuki SV650, the Zephyr feels like it's from another age. Which in terms of its engine, it is.

Build Quality & Reliability 2 out of 5

The Kawasaki Zephyr 550's lamentably short front mudguard allows road crud to coat the bike from the gas tank downwards, which soon leads to furry, discoloured alloy and rusting steel. The fork legs usually go blotchy on the Zephyrs too. It is a reliable engine, but the cycle parts don't wear too well.

Value & Running Costs 3 out of 5

You can buy them cheap, although the reason is that anyone wanting a secondhand versatile 600cc class all-rounder is spoilt for choice these days. If you can stretch another few hundred quid then the 750/1100 version of the Zephyr is simply loads more fun for the extra money.

Find Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycles for sale here

Insurance group: 8 of 17 – compare motorcycle insurance quotes now.

Equipment 2 out of 5

The Kawasaki Zephyr 550's box-section swingarm looks nice, the saddle is comfy enough for two and the 300mm brakes are outstanding - if anything, the brakes are too good for the rest of the chassis in fact. But otherwise, the Zephyr 550 is a spartan, 70s style, no-frills motorbike. No centrestand by the way.

 

Owners' Reviews

9 owners have reviewed their KAWASAKI ZEPHYR 550 (1991-1998) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

We’re currently improving the way this section works, which means we’ve had to suspend the submission of new owners’ reviews for a short period. Please check back soon.

Summary of Owners' Reviews
Overall Rating 4.3 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3.6 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3.9 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4.4 out of 5
Equipment 3.4 out of 5
4 out of 5

It's fun

28 September 2014 by Anonymous

I changed my KLR 650 to Zephyr 550 this summer. I bought it with faulties (among other things idle speed temperature sensitive and ugly looking led blinkers, bad carb synchronisation) and have not regretted. It is fast turning light and bloody good... Read more looking bike. During winter it will get new paint job carb synchronisation, free flowing air filter, brake hoses... Handlebar is already changed to LSL. Ok, it has a little bit cramped riding position, but it still makes me feel 10 years younger. Sound is nice (silencer is slightly modified) and it sips fuel only 4,5 l/100km. I like it much more than my previous 750 Zephyr, even if engine produces more noise than power. It has 660000 km on the clock and maybe after next summer it will get 615 cc Wiseco pistons.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
5 out of 5

Buttery-smooth

23 August 2014 by zephyrer

This MCN review is a joke. The zr550 is not a "detuned" gpz550. All engines are "tuned"; they're just optimized for different conditions. The zr550 just happens to be tuned for maximum low-midrange performance versus the high rpm/high speed... Read more performance of the gpz. Fundamentally, both engines put out the same power, the Zephyr is just maximized for low-midrange performance. It can't compare to modern sportsbike, but it's a peppy little ride in its own right. Overall, the Zephyr 550 represent a refined take on the KZ550, with the addition of an oil cooler, rear disc brake. and other minor modifications. It's a beautiful bike with a nice, linear powerband. It also happens to be my favorite ride of all the bikes I've owned. It's not the fastest or best handling, but it's gorgeous, well-balanced and buttery smooth.

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

Fun sexy little beast

29 July 2013 by zaddict

Bought my Zephyr 550 for $1000 bucks and I still can't get over how much joy it's brought to my life for so little money. It's a fun, comfortable sexy little thing. Great first bike. Read more

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5

cool bike

15 June 2012 by honzapatrik

Aaah what a review?Someone must had a bad day?LOL. .:)It's a lovely pretty old school bike and you get attention from chicks!:)ridding my froggy everyday and it's noisy, revvy bullet proof thing.Comfy,softer suspension,good breaks,and if you have... Read more racy mood it can do it as a Z550 as well.Have a another 3 big bikes but this one is fun!

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

New owner

14 August 2011 by ossieend

After 8 years without a bike, I bought my 550 Zephyr off a mate at work for £300.00. The bike had been stood in his garage for 5 years, so needed the clutch freeing off, a battery and the left front caliper cleaning up. Up to now, it's been a... Read more cracking bike to ride, and it looks great too, though it still needs more polishing and some of the frame paint touching up. We all love a bit of power, but realistically, it's got plenty for what I use it for. Maybe a long motorway journey would make me rethink. But, my riding is done on A and B roads and a bit of duel-carriageway. It has a great riding position, is very agile and comfortable. Yes, if I was to go on a trackday, a GSXR might be a better fit, bit I ride on normal roads and want to keep my license.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5
3 out of 5

Noobs!

20 February 2010 by skellyjelly

Who are these non-owning noobs who write this shite for MCN? If I don’t want to ride at 200mph, have the latest environment-robbing alloy frame and hit 62mph in less than 2 seconds, whilst still pulling a wheelie for the front cover for those... Read more so-called bikers, where should I turn. I’ll tell you where, the owners opinions. These are the guys who parted with their hard-earned and who use it like you bought it. Check Warren Pole doing his best as a TV presenter on some obscure TV channel to see how they view motorcycle journalism. We’re just a step up for the ambitious. Be who you are, and ignore the power rangers. They’re part-timers, at the best.

Overall Rating 3 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 2 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
5 out of 5

I must be easily pleased!

08 February 2010 by Anonymous

It was the look of the bike that grabed me, I still look at it now when it is parked up and just love the look of the bike. I can't say that I have a problem with the power provided by the engine, as everyone says, it is a little disconcerting when... Read more you listen to the engine on tickover but I was advised by a dealer mechanic to lift the revs slightly as this eliminates some of the labouring, it does. With regard the handling, I have not found it to be poor, yes not a sports bike but I have done a couple of track days at Cadwell and have enjoyed the experience very much and the riding position is very comfortable. I would recommend this bike to anyone, female riders may like this bike, as previously mentioned the seat hight is that little bit lower so may help with ride comfort and confidence. Whatever you ride, remember enjoy and stay safe.

Overall Rating 5 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 4 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

zr550

07 September 2008 by regline

Bought this for when i passed my test so i know no different in terms of bike handling, has taken a week to get used to the limits of the bike i.e speed etc. Engine does sound rough when cold but once warm runs very well(no superbike)... Read more

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 3 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
4 out of 5

Zephyr 550

25 September 2007 by bladeboys69

Purchased as commuter as does this job fantastic, mines done 76000 miles now and only with oil and filter changes it has never missed a beat, no its not a sports bike but it is easy and comfortable ride and live with not once in 5 years as it ever... Read more given me grief and has paid for itself many times over. A real little sweetie.

Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Ride Quality & Brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Build Quality & Reliability 5 out of 5
Value & Running Costs 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
Read all 9 owners' reviews in full

Facts & Figures

Model info
Year introduced 1991
Year discontinued 1998
Original price -
Warranty term (when new) Two year unlimited mileage
Running costs
Insurance group 8 of 17
Annual road tax £58
Annual service cost -
Performance
Max power 50 bhp
Max torque 30 ft-lb
Top speed 115 mph
1/4-mile acceleration 14 secs
Average fuel consumption 40 mpg
Tank range 125 miles
Specification
Engine size 553cc
Engine type 8 valve, in line 4, 5 gears
Frame type Steel tubular cradle
Fuel capacity 15 litres
Seat height 765mm
Bike weight 179kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload, rebound
Front brake Twin 300mm disc
Rear brake 245mm disc
Front tyre size 110/80 x 17 in
Rear tyre size 140/70 x 18 in

History & Versions

Model history

1991: Kawasaki Zephyr 550 launched in UK.
1998: Model discontinued.

Other versions

Kawasaki Zephyr 400: grey import 400cc version.

Photo Gallery

  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Rear view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Engine
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Rear view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Engine
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Riding
  • Kawasaki Zephyr 550 motorcycle review - Side view