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Smaller Z looks like big value

Published: 07 January 2004

Updated: 19 November 2014

YOU could be forgiven for thinking that Kawasaki’s new naked 750cc roadster is destined to occupy a class of its own, but Kawasaki has set its sights squarely on the hotly-contested middleweight market.

The firm revealed an on-the-road price of around £5500 for the Z750 at its launch in Malaga, Spain, last week. This means that despite the Kawasaki’s larger capacity it will be competing directly with the FZ6 Fazer and its all-rounder rivals such as Honda’s Hornet and Suzuki’s SV650.

If the price is confirmed – and MCN expects it will be at next month’s NEC Show – then the Z750 is likely to be something of a bargain. You get the funky, streetfighter looks of its Z1000 big brother as well 750 performance – and all for 600 money.

Middleweight bikes aren’t the economy class machines they used to be. The Z750 offers first-class thrills. Handling and braking are good, but what really defines this bike is the engine.

Kawasaki has pulled a masterstroke by giving us a Z1000-derived 750 – the motor is a sleeved-down version of the 1000 – rather than lifting the 636cc motor from the ZX-6R, which had been widely predicted.

The result is a torquey motor with strong drive, no matter how you ride. Open the throttle at any speed, in any gear and you are rewarded with instant, yet controllable power.

The engine offers plenty of grunt at low revs. And with a bulging mid-range and a claimed 110bhp top end, there is plenty of performance to be had.

Watch the revs climb past 6000rpm on the now trademark Kawasaki digital dash and you’ll find a rush of power that sees the bike charge towards the horizon as the LED bars build around the circular display, flashing towards the 11,500rpm red line. Keep it pinned and you’ll see 13,000rpm before the rev-limiter stops play, and forces you to cog up.

The motor is typical hardcore Kawasaki. It idles with a rough, almost uneven tickover. The vibes from the motor send a tingle through the bars, slightly blurring the mirrors. This rough-hewn nature continues when you’re on the move. No matter what the engine speed, good vibrations pulse through the bike. These aren’t the kind of shuddering shakes that become a pain in the butt, more of a pleasing judder. It’s just the motor’s way of letting you know that it’s there and it’s working. The Z750 lacks the smoothness of bikes like Honda’s Hornet, but for some it will be all the better for it.

The bike sounds rough and ready too. Somehow, despite a wad of EU directives, Kawasaki always produces seriously loud bikes. This is no exception. The firm has always been known for its wailing ram air systems but the aural assault from the Z750 comes via the exhaust system. Stainless steel from tip to toe, the 4-2-1 pipe emits a deep boom at low revs that turns into a insistent snarl as speed increases. Back off or change down for bends and the over-run sounds fantastic. It makes for a huge laugh and – best of all – the rozzers can’t touch you for it.

Kawasaki have worked hard to keep the price of the Z750 down and it’s obvious the first time that you look at it. Much of the eye-candy that made the Z1000 such an attention grabber is now missing. Big brother’s adjustable upside down forks and twin shotgun exhausts have been binned. It still looks good though, even if it does lack some of the visual clout of the Z1000.

The chrome and polished aluminium of its litre-class relation have also been replaced with a black satin finish. You could argue that it adds to the lean and aggressive looks of the 750, but this was done to keep costs down – the list price of a Z1000 is over £7000.

Paint finish could be better. Some of the bikes’ tanks on our test were crazed with tiny scratches. One bike even had chipped paint. But these were pre-production models.

The two-piston sliding Tokico calipers first saw light of day in the late ’80s and they feel their age. They do a decent job of halting the 195kg bike, but prompt stopping involves squeezing rather than stroking the lever and two-fingered brakers could find themselves with trapped digits. Fade shouldn’t be a problem on the road though. During a high-speed mountain run with countless hairpins, stopping power was predictable and strong, but could never be described as mind-blowing.

And any more stopping power would overwhelm the forks. Panic braking sees the front end dive like a submarine under attack. It’s not a problem on smooth Spanish roads, but emergency braking from high speeds on British B-roads could be more unsettling. With no adjustment in the 41mm units, the only real way to change the characteristics would be to have them re-valved or resprung.

A bike designed with city use in mind is always going to be a compromise, but the Z750 could handle anything up to serious track day abuse. The wide bars let you take the bike by the scruff of the neck and bully it into turns. It is particularly good in slow corners – a counter-steering nudge is all that is needed to slam the bike on to its side. The quick steering and grippy Bridgestone BT012 tyres give enough confidence and feedback to let you wrestle it round a bend without any fear of it biting back.

It definitely isn’t a sports bike though. It has soft suspension, which is great for a smooth Sunday back-road blast, but push it too far and, like many bikes in this class, the Z750 suffers from being under damped and that might prove a bit frisky over bumpy

B-roads. Mid-corner potholes can send the Kawasaki off line, the bike weaving slightly as it pogos on the underdamped front end.

Ground clearance is enough for normal road work, but the hero blobs would take a serious bashing if you ventured on to a track.

At extreme angles of lean the pegs do scrape and that suits the bike. The Z750 inspires hooligan antics and a scuffed set of hero blobs would be a badge of honour for the right rider.

The advantage of the relatively low pegs is that comfort is excellent. Better wind protection would improve comfort further. Kawasaki claims a pair of ducts in the nose fairing create an " air curtain " that deflect windblast, but at sustained speeds above 90mph I’d rather have something more tactile like a plastic screen to raise air flow. Grin and bear the wind blast and the bike is capable of some serious high-speed runs – I saw over 140mph on the clock.

Ride this bike flat out everywhere though and you miss the point – weekend blasts and town riding were equally important considerations when the Z750 was being developed.

Its Z1000 big brother is one of the best town bikes around, due to its perky power delivery and quick steering. And the Z750 is easier to ride in town, thanks to less snatchy fuel injection. The decent bottom-end power means there’s always enough grunt to go for a gap and the quick steering makes nipping in an out of heavy traffic a doddle.

The Z750 is a jack of all trades and it even manages to master some of them. The big-bore motor gives the Z750 a visceral and responsive ride that should separate it from the middleweight pack.

There’s a massive powerband to play with, so you can worry less about gear selection and more about getting the most from the quick steering and nimble handling.

It offers a non-threatening riding experience for those that need it but still has a lot to offer when confidence levels start to climb.

The Z750 also broaches the capacity threshold for a proper man’s bike. Owning a 750cc streetfighter-style bike sounds a lot cooler than a 600cc middleweight all-rounder when you’re down the boozer...

Exhaust: The 4-2-1 exhaust system is all stainless steel. The black-painted header pipes originally shown on the bike have been ditched after poor feedback from bike shows in Italy and France. A catalytic converter gets it through strict emissions regulations but also means a full race system should net a decent power gain.

Fake frame: This cowling is meant to look like an alloy frame casting, but it’s just a plastic panel.

Frame: Steel diamond frame is similar to the Z1000’s but doesn’t need to be as rigid because of the less-powerful engine.

Footrests: THE new exhaust system on the Z750 meant the footrests had to be changed. The Z1000 has an exhaust mounted on each peg hanger.

Front forks: 41mm non-adjustable telescopic forks replace the 46mm fully-adjustable inverted forks on the Z1000.

Engine: The Z1000 motor has seen significant changes to reduce capacity from 953 to 748cc. Bore has been reduced and there have been changes to the cylinder head, combustion chamber and porting to cope.

Fuel injection: 34mm throttle bodies with a dual-valve opening system and fine atomising fuel injectors are said to improve power delivery and throttle response.

Nose fairing: With no screen, Kawasaki have cut ducts into the fairing to create an updraft cushion of air to protect the rider from buffeting. But it doesn’t work so well at high speeds.

Wheels:

The six-spoke wheels are similar to those on the new ZX-10. The rear wheel is slightly narrower and runs a 180 instead of the 190 section rear tyre on the Z1000.

Brakes: A pair of 300mm discs are gripped by budget Tokico two-pot sliding calipers. The calipers were also chosen for their novice-friendly, progressive bite.

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