Used Bike

Road Test - Honda CB750 v Kawasaki Z900 p2

It’s 1974. Honda rule the world with their CB750, the first modern-day superbike. It’s taken Kawasaki three years to respond but now they’ve done so in style with the Z900. This scrap could be the most signifi cant in motorcycling history...

Sitting side by side, there is no mistaking the respective characters of these machines. Whilst the Honda is undoubtedly a state-of-the-art sports bike and positively futuristic compared to anything made in Britain, there is an approachable, non-threatening look about it. Conversely, the Kawasaki looks like it wants to kill and eat your children. It’s sleek, menacing and fast at a standstill – perhaps just a little too intimidating for some.

This view is reinforced from the saddle. The 750Four seems stubby and practical while the 900 feels as though it is preparing to launch you into next week the moment you turn the key. Both speedos are marked up to 140mph – enough to send many a schoolboy into a fit of excitement, and a prospect to get my own heart racing. The riding positions are similar though there seems to be more of the Z1 underneath – it is somehow sleek and hefty at the same time and we already know that it’s carrying 24 more pounds than the CB. But it’s also packing a much bigger punch, 90bhp compared to the Honda’s 65 horsepower.

It’s worth a moment to admire the sheer quality of both of these machines. Never before have we been spoilt with such incredibly high standards of machining, finish and fit. They look as though they have been built my robots, not bespectacled, pipe-smoking engineers in white coats. They absolutely scream quality and gleam silently, safe in the knowledge that no other country can currently produce anything to match them. Even the early ‘sand cast’ (permanent gravity mold cast actually) CB’s oozed more class than anything from Germany or Italy.

The CB is running but it’s hard to tell. The compact motor fires a split second after touching the starter button and settles into a quiet, sophisticated purring. Though God only knows why the Japanese decided to locate the ignition under the left side of the fuel tank. Mechanical noise is minimal and it retains its quiet dignity when taking the revs towards the 8,000 redline, though the exhaust note changes and takes on more of a howl.

Into first and away through the gears, it takes no time to acclimatise to the 750. The gear change is smooth and accurate, requiring little in the way of foot pressure. The power delivery is smooth and becomes stronger as the revs increase with a sweet spot between 6,500-7,500rpm. This engine is happy to be revved and downshifts at high revs are still fast and accurate. The rider is happy to oblige because it’s just so effortless to ride fast on the Honda.

After a few miles it becomes irresistible to up the pace to the point where deficiencies become apparent. The single front disc isn’t spectacular but is more than adequate and only begins to tire of its duties (admittedly by a mere fraction) after a prolonged spell of relentless hard braking and cornering. Perhaps Honda will consider upgrading the rear drum in due course, or even add a second disc at the front for fade-free performance braking.

As the straights on our test route shorten and the corners become more frequent, it gives time to focus on the handling. Overall, the Honda can cope with whatever is thrown its way. Our road surface is consistent and generally smooth so the bike only has to deal with braking and carving through corners at various speeds and cambers. The front end is quite soft for a sportsbike but composed and not easily unsettled, though there’s a weakness at the rear that seems to be down to the swing arm rather than the shocks. It’s possible the swingarm is flexing, although it’s difficult to tell. The harder the bike has to work, the more the rear seems to wallow and struggle to cope as the throttle is fully opened on corner exits.

Continue the 1974 road test 3/3

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