Used Bike

Road Test - Honda CB750 v Kawasaki Z900 p3

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...

Once the adrenalin has subsided and the pace levels off to a fast cruise, it becomes apparent you can make bloody good progress on the Honda without all the revving and gear changing. Swapping only between 4th and 5th and using the available torque is fun and relaxing without ever becoming tedious. The seat is as comfortable as you could wish for and there is so little vibration through the handlebars and footpegs that it would be possible to cover hundreds of miles in a day with the minimum of rider fatigue. This is a truly sophisticated machine that offers plenty of accessible performance without rider exertion.

The Kawasaki waits its turn and looks classy and confident as it burbles into life, it’s truly beautiful and certainly more desirable than the 750K in the looks department, thanks not only to its teardrop tank, but also the colour-matched rear tail unit. I already know which one I would want to turn up at the local pub on, and which one the ladies would want to be taken home on. Good looks alone are not enough though, but the Z1 actually sounds smoother and sexier than the CB before we even set off.

The first shock is how incredibly smooth it is. Not only is the gearbox a gem – silky, slick and deadly accurate – there seems to be absolutely no need to use the clutch once on the move. Even changing down without a clutch is easier than with a clutch on any Ducati I’ve ever ridden. That’s not something I expected with a cold motor. Open the throttle slightly at low revs and there’s an instant warning of what lurks underneath. As the revs pick up it loses some of its Japanese politeness, growls and takes off at a rate that is almost alarming after the smaller 750.

Rather than becoming accustomed to the 82bhp over the next few miles, I can’t resist it. I snap the throttle open in second and hang on for dear life, and hang on you must for with the high set handlebars it becomes harder and harder on the neck muscles as another gear is grabbed at the redline and fuel is forced through the system. Let’s be clear about this: the Z1 is a very fast bike indeed. The ton arrives in an instant and progress doesn’t ease off until the 120mph mark where it’s very necessary to get down and out of the windblast. It’s so exhilarating that I’m laughing in my lid. Kawasaki were right not to produce a 1,000cc Z1. That would have been beyond irresponsible.

Time to calm down and start again, as this is not a drag strip. In these cool, dry conditions the Zed glides nicely along and I’m thankful that it’s not wet and bumpy because I think you’d see a slightly different beast. It’s more important to ride smoothly and prepare for the corners, though, as Kawasaki don’t appear to have given enough consideration to the chassis. Both the frame and forks could be beefed up to cope better with the extra stresses incurred, as the bike shows a tendency to wallow when asked to change direction through sweeping left to right corners at speed. The Z1 is also under-braked. Feel and progression is absolutely spot-on but there isn’t enough power to haul its bulk down from high speeds.

Yes the Z1 is a beast, but it is equally happy (like the Honda) just cruising effortlessly along at low revs. It can do everything that the 750 can but is far more of a man’s bike, or a lunatic’s, depending on your viewpoint. But whichever you want to do, the Z1 will happily oblige.

The Kawasaki is offering a lot more than the Honda in style, attitude and performance, but at a much higher price. The engine is faultlessly smooth and powerful and will have your arms leaving their sockets in a traffic light Grand Prix. There is a chance it will frighten more customers than it will attract and Honda has found the most harmonious balance, but that’s not our concern. We need a winner and the Kawasaki is clearly that, and top marks to them for having the balls to make such a missile when politicians are crying over the cost of fuel. The Z1 is King and I expect it will be quite some time before there is another pretender for the throne.


Honda CB750 Specs

Price now: £5,500
736cc Air-cooled, in-line 4 cylinder SOHC 4-stroke
Power: 67bhp @ 8,000rpm
Top Speed: 125mph
Weight: 218kg
Seat Height: 800mm 

Kawasaki Z9001A Specs

Price now: £8,000
Engine: 903cc Air-cooled, in-line 4 cylinder DOHC 4-stroke
Power: 82bhp @ 8,500rpm
Top Speed: 135mph
Weight: 232kg
Seat Height: 810mm

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