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First Ride: 2011 Kawasaki Z750R

Visordown heads to Spain to see if the new Kawasaki Z750R can live up to the hype and beat its way to the top of the naked middleweight class

When Kawasaki launched the original Z750 in 2003 it was a breath of fresh air in the naked middleweight market; an unknown 750 and not another 600.

The Zed flaunted the rules of the 600cc nakeds that stood before it. With a strong engine that was originally from a ZX-9R, sleeved down to 748cc, it had torque, stomp, pep and a little bit of shove in there too.

Unlike its 600 rivals, it wasn’t polite, obedient and neutered. Its engine was willing and goaded you on; despite the fact it had a chassis that - when the going got fast - struggled to keep up. But that was one of its charms; you really felt you were riding it on the edge at speeds that weren’t really edgy at all.

Now, 7 years on from the original Z750’s launch, the market has moved on and capacities have been smudged and nudged in all sorts of directions. Pick a number between 600 and 1000 and you’ll find a naked bike there for you. And that means the Zed is no longer unique, so, does the new Z750R offer enough to make the Z750 stand out from the crowd like it did in 2003? Let’s take a look at the facts and figures..

The Z750R isn’t massively different to the current Z750, the engine remains unchanged and power is therefore exactly the same. For me, the rest of the package has to work twice as hard to warrant the R badge.

Front to back the performance changes are as follows: a new front-end from the Z1000, featuring 41mm upside-down forks with adjustable rebound and preload, radially-mounted 4-pot callipers and twin 300mm discs, all connected with twin steel-braided lines. The rear-shock is an upgraded piggy-pack unit with adjustable rebound and preload. The swing-arm is a lighter unit, made from aluminium and not steel.

The other changes are cosmetic, from a revised bikini fairing, to engine shrouds and an all-black engine. It looks smart and there’s nothing it lacks as standard in terms of looks, it’s brutish and sporty without being a tart’s handbag.

At 3kg lighter than the standard Z750 and only 6kg lighter than a Z1000, before I rode the Z750R, I felt that its lack of extra horsepower was a clear Achilles’ heel and made it somewhat a pretender to the ‘R’ badge.

Sat on the Z750R, the 10mm taller seat height makes no difference to me, at 5’10” but might rule out a few shorter riders – that’s the price you pay for shorter tie-bars that Kawasaki say helps improve the Z750R’s handling.

Within a couple of miles what really stood out to me was how solid the front-end felt. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on where you’re coming from. If you’re a less-experienced rider, a sharp front-end can be disconcerting as its harder to interpret the feedback you’re getting and therefore harder to build confidence. To an experienced rider, if you trust a sharp front-end, you’ll know it can do what you ask of it.

We rode on twisty narrow mountain roads, with ultra-grippy tarmac. The Z750R’s front end felt like a switch, the brakes are incredibly powerful and haul the bike up with ease, giving me bags of confidence to push on.

However, around really slow first and second gear hairpins I didn’t have ultimate confidence in the front end in terms of handling. It felt a bit too sharp and direct. Definitely not the wallowy pliable front-end of the original Z750. Any changes of throttle or mid-corner braking made the front feel awkward and slightly unpredictable.

The new rear shock also felt too stiff. It’s like the Z750R is tense and nervous and just needs to relax a bit. Over changing road surfaces and through tight corners it was just too harsh which not only affects its handling but the amount of time you can spend on the bike before your aching to get off. It’s perhaps something that will improve with miles as the shock beds in, let’s hope so.

However, in the faster corners, the whole bike felt totally different, planted and smooth, it would hold a line without any head-shaking and was really impressive. Once you get the engine spun-up, the bike starts to feel at home.

The Z750R’s engine output does feel disappointing. It matches the Yamaha FZ8 for power, but then that’s like saying your girlfriend is ‘easily as good looking as Anne Widdecombe’. It’s not so much the outright power – although it is a good 30bhp down on a GSX-R750 – but it’s the delivery that really feels lacking. As with all modern bikes, it’s strangled at the bottom-end due to emissions laws, but it never really beats its chest at any point in the rev-range. For me, it’s lacking in character and desperately needs a bulging bottom-end or a fizzing top-end to really make it memorable. It shouldn’t need it, but it’s clear the Z750R would benefit from a Power Commander and the removal of any EU legislation.

I had a slight issue with the gearbox jumping out of second and a couple of other journos did too. However, not all of us did, so it’s hard to say whether that’s a problem with the bike or a problem with us journos. Probably the latter.

What hasn’t changed between the standard Z750 and the R model is the fact that it’s still a top bike to mess around on. A whinge of journalists (the collective noun for a group) at a photo-stop proved that the Zed’s lost none of its fun-factor when it comes to wheelies, stoppies, jumps and general larking about. We couldn’t wait to get out there and get the Z750R onto the back wheel, where it genuinely feels at home.

The Z750R is still a solid middleweight but it doesn’t live up to the hype.  At around £1000 more than the standard Z750, the higher price is roughly what you’d expect but I don’t think those extras are really worth it, unless you’re determined to be a little bit different to everyone else.

That £1000 would be much better spent freeing up what the engine’s got on offer, and seeing what Ken Summerton at K-Tech could do with the stock suspension. Then you’ll have a real street-sleeper and a bike that’ll do everything the Z750R was meant to.

Price: £7149