KAWASAKI ZEPHYR 550 (1991 - 1998) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Annual servicing cost: £100
Power: 50 bhp
Seat height: Low (30.1 in / 765 mm)
Weight: Low (395 lbs / 179 kg)

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
2 out of 5 (2/5)

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

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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

Next up: Reliability
2 out of 5 (2/5)

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.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
2 out of 5 (2/5)

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 vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
3 out of 5 (3/5)

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

Equipment

2 out of 5 (2/5)
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.

 

Specs

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

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 40 mpg
Annual road tax £67
Annual service cost £100
New price -
Used price -
Insurance group 8 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term -

Top speed & performance

Max power 50 bhp
Max torque 30 ft-lb
Top speed 115 mph
1/4 mile acceleration 14 secs
Tank range 125 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

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

Other versions

Kawasaki Zephyr 400: grey import 400cc version.

Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI ZEPHYR 550 (1991 - 1998)

18 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.

Review your KAWASAKI ZEPHYR 550 (1991 - 1998)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 (4.4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.1 out of 5 (4.1/5)
Engine: 3.8 out of 5 (3.8/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.6 out of 5 (4.6/5)
Equipment: 3.5 out of 5 (3.5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £100
5 out of 5 Best £1050 I ever spent
01 June 2020 by Pedro67

Year: 1991

I've only just bought this 91 model, it's been looked after well, it's only my second bike, the first was a Honda VFR 400, I just love the Zephyr, the power is enough for what I need, a stunning looking bike

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Only had it for weeks, every thing works as it should, 38,000 on the clock, starts first time every time

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

Not owned it long enough to know

Equipment 4 out of 5

Buying experience: Bought from Gumtree, travelled from Bristol to Southampton, bought it & rode it home, amazing after 3yrs off the road

5 out of 5 Bloody lovely bike
20 November 2019 by Jimbo

Year: 1991

Annual servicing cost: £50

My Zephyr

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5

Still got my Zeph from 1990, speed rating is b/s, I've had far faster out of her. Lovely bike, it was known around Berkshire as the "People Eater", being sprayed Ford purple velvet metallic with gold Celtic knotwork design on the tank. Been sadly garaged for 20 years, but plan to resurrect her soon.... mind she is heavily customised, non standard air filters, bits sawn off... take a hacksaw to the tail light unit to start with and make the back end clean like a cruise missile is your first job, bullet indicators, smaller clocks, gas shocks etc. Seat rotted very quick so got a replacement made in Bristol. Front fork seals are crap, but all in all you can't go wrong with a Kwak.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5

Seat rotted quick. Get a replacement made before you start

Buying experience: Too many years ago to worry. About a grand from private owner.

4 out of 5 1991 Kawasaki zr 550
30 December 2018 by Gabe

Version: B

Year: 1991

Annual servicing cost: £100

I would recommend it if it is all original with low mileage.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Front brakes are way too good for such a small, light bike.

Engine 5 out of 5

You would think it is slow, from the specifications. It is not. Awesome sounding air cooled inline four.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

High quality build. No rust after 28 years (1990 October model).

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5

Very basic, like it should be.

5 out of 5
09 December 2018 by Tyr

Year: 1991

Annual servicing cost: £100

Good looking naked bike. Light and nimble. Happily revving engine with Kawasaki noises, 6 speed transmission is great, brakes are awesome. Exhaust tends to rust.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5 Before mods: sweet little bike. After mods: hyper-responsive little torque monster screamer
30 July 2018 by Zaddict

Year: 1991

This is a great bike. In stock form, it's comfy and fun and plenty powerful enough for highway use. With a few mods though, it has the potential to be a dream bike. I upgraded the front shocks with progressive springs and adjustable preloaders and the rear shocks with Nitrons. The stock engine put out 46 hp at the rear wheel (according to period reviews). With stage 1 jetting, a performance exhaust and a K&N filter that number went to 52. Swapping in ZX550 cams (from a GPZ550) and an SPII ignition bumped output to 58hp. It's gone from a sweet little ride to a snarling beast. Dogs bark at me as I pass by because they think my exhaust is growling at them (not kidding). All of my ratings for this review are post mods. Even before I would have put all 4 or 5 stars. Webike has thousands of custom parts still available - just about anything for the zephyr 400 will fit the 550. I can't tell you how much I love this bike.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

Excellent brakes. Stock shocks are comfy but too softly sprung for aggressive riding.

Engine 5 out of 5

Stock engine is peppy, but could use a little more oomph.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

50K miles on the original engine and going strong.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5

Pretty basic equipment.

Buying experience: I paid $1K. The bike was in rough shape.

4 out of 5 The little gem
24 August 2016 by Feydon Bois

Year: 1996

Annual servicing cost: £150

A great small/mid sized bike with great classic looks, reliability and a fun ride.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

No good if you're taller than average - seat is quite low and footrests quite high. Brakes are excellent. Front suspension will dive a bit if you snatch at the brakes.

Engine 3 out of 5

Not that fast...but fast enough, I have not problems out and about with 800s on a ride out. You find yourself slipping up and down 6 gears a lot -but the gear change is accurate and smooth, so no probe.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

4 carbs can need some fussing and syncing, but otherwise mine starts instantly and is reliable. Don't buy one with rotting pipes and you're fine.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

I get about 140 miles for £10...pretty good.

Equipment 3 out of 5

Simple and effective...I love the dials - fuel gauge is a bonus.

Buying experience: I got a decent second hander for 1500 - with 18000 miles. Rides like new.

4 out of 5 Fun cheap poser-bike
16 July 2015 by Jens

Year: 1991

Soft suspension. WP progressive fork springs makes a huge improvement. Great '70 looks.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Exellent brakes(better than my'89 Honda vfr)Intuitive handling , no "surprises" . Upright riding position means ;no good on long fast highspeed roads, but exellent everywhere else. Two-Up no problem.

Engine 3 out of 5

Power as expected by the looks. Smooth. Changed the cam-chain tension thing. 15 minutes with a wrenchkey, away with the uneven rattling sound.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5

Added a windscreen. Ruins the look,extends the ride.

4 out of 5
22 June 2015 by IanWilWin

Year: 1995

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
4 out of 5 Back to the Future!
15 May 2015 by Dave A

Version: B2

Year: 1991

I bought this bike to do up and sell as it had been stood in a garage for a few years and the ignition and yoke was damaged from toe-rags trying to nick it! Couldn't sell it as every time I ride it, it makes me smile! :-) It's a different animal to my GSX-R1000 so no point comparing. It does mean I can ride when I want not just the 'hot' months and it reminds me of a number of 70's bike I've had (CB500, Z650). Oh and you won't find better for navigating rush hour traffic - low, maneouverable, light and good turning circle!

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

Worst-handling bike of my life - then I sorted brakes, fork oil, head bearings, rear pre-load and most importantly tyres. Now it's fine. Will never be a GSX-R so don't push it as it boings all over rough surfaces. Great for commuting or steady rides through the countryside.

Engine 3 out of 5

Needs more ooomph but smooth and torquey. As I said a smile every time!

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

It's a naked so is exposed to the elements. Main areas susceptible to corrosion are fork legs and paint on the rear footrest brackets as well as brake calipers requiring maintenance if used over winter. This bike has been very reliable (since new battery fitted) and is very easy to work on. A centre stand (remember them?!) would have helped too Kawasaki when changing the fork oil!

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Cheap as chips to run, maintain and fuel! Cheap insurance, tyres last, parts cheap, 50-60 mpg! What more do you want?

Equipment 3 out of 5

It's got a fuel gauge! Other than that very old school and none the worse for it. That's part of the charm - chrome analogue rev counter and speedo with basic ignition console for lights etc.

4 out of 5 It's fun
28 September 2014 by

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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 racy mood it can do it as a Z550 as well.Have a another 3 big bikes but this one is fun!

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 2 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 2 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
5 out of 5 I must be easily pleased!
08 February 2010 by

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 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.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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)...

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 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 given me grief and has paid for itself many times over. A real little sweetie.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 3 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5
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