Kawasaki Z800 much improved

19:52, Feb 10 2014
Kawasaki Z800
KAWASAKI Z800: Looks like it has leapt from the pages of a Manga comic.

If the Yamaha MT-09 reviewed last week was let down by its fuelling, the new Kawasaki Z800 is redeemed by it.

Yamaha could take a few notes from the way the four-cylinder Z800 delivers fuel injection mapping lessons to the MT-09 triple.

Engine: 806cc liquid-cooled dohc 16-valve inline four with electronic fuel injection; 83kW (113bhp) at 10,200rpm and 83Nm at 8000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Tubular steel spine frame with die-cast aluminium double-sided swingarm, 41mm inverted front forks adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping with 120mm of travel, preload and rebound-adjustable rear monoshock with 137mm of travel.
Price: $15,995
Hot: A huge step forward from the previous Z750, the new Z800 is possibly the most refined middleweight streetbike in the segment.
Not: Could have been styled by a psycho with a knife fetish, other sporty nakeds have better power-to-mass ratios, slightly pricey.
The Kawa's torque is delivered in a wonderfully smooth and linear fashion, with absolutely no glitches or stuttering hesitations, making it easy for the Z800's rider to dial in just the right amount for the occasion.

Kawasaki Z800
COMIC BOOK DESIGN: Quirky execution even extends to the instrumentation.

Take the politically-incorrect example of wheelstands. A little mono-wheeling action is a fundamental part of any "naked" streetbike's repertoire and both the Kawasaki and the Yamaha are extremely eager to lift their front hoops off the road surface. The difference between them is found in what happens next.

It's easier to find the Z800's balance point and keep it there because of the Kawasaki's instantaneous and more dependable throttle response. Sustaining the Yamaha in a vertical attitude is much more a hit and miss affair as you have to constantly ride around the hiccups in the fuel delivery system. Not that I should be encouraging such socially-irresponsible yet immensely-satisfying behaviour here.

The wheelie, wheelie great attributes of these two rival motor-bicycles are mentioned merely for investigative purposes only, your honour.


The message delivered by the above is that maybe it's worth paying the extra two grand charged by Kawasaki for the Z800 rather than being instantly seduced by the Yamaha's wallet-opening $13,999 pricetag. This despite the Zed's more polarising looks and the fact that it is the middleweight streetbike that won the pie-eating contest.

That the Z800 looks like it has leapt from the pages of a Manga comic into real life won't be to everyone's taste, nor will the fact that it weighs a whopping 47kg more than the bike it is most likely to be compared with - the 675cc Triumph Street Triple that shares the same $15,995 price position. Despite these visual and on-paper handicaps, it's definitely worth taking the Z800 for an exploratory test-ride before anyone scratches it off their shopping list.

For the edgy, over-designed bodywork of the Z800 disguises a highly-refined and dynamically-superb motorcycle. When placed in a more historical context by using the previous Z750 streetbike as a comparison, the new 806cc replacement represents a huge step forward. It's faster, more incisive, more comfortable, and more economical, and all by meaningful margins. But the best bit is that, apart from letting the comic-heads loose on the design, Kawasaki got everything basically right with this bike. With the Z750 you were always more aware of the areas Kawasaki got wrong instead of the stuff they got right. With a change of exhaust to something less aesthetically challenged, I could live with the 800 and ride it happily - not something I'd ever admitted about the previous 750 four from Team Ninja.

Even the Zed's gaining of 12kg in the transition from 750 to 800 sits well with me. At 229kg, the Z800 is still more voluptuously athletic than generously-sized, still more like a Serena Williams than a Paula Bennett. Some pretty frisky steering geometry (24 degree rake, 98mm trail) does the trick of making it feel as flick-able as both its lighter rival streetbikes from Triumph and Yamaha, and the bike's wheelbase occupies middle ground for the class at 1445mm. It therefore hunts down corner apexes with similar agility helped by one of the best unsprung-to-sprung mass ratios in the segment. For some riders, the huge expense of adding lighter wheels to their bike is worth paying to reduce steering inertia. Kawasaki has achieved the exact same desired effect simply by adding more mass to the midriff of the new Zed.

An increase in bore diameters adds the extra cee-cees to the engine, lifting power output by further seven horsepower and taking maximum torque to a healthy 83Nm. The increase in accelerative energy combines with lower overall gearing to make the Z800 feel substantially quicker than the older Zed despite the weight increase. Better still are the reports of improved fuel economy now filtering through owner forums on the web, with many able to extract 300km of travel from the 17-litre tank.

The suspension of the new Zed is relatively basic, with simple adjustments to spring preload and rebound damping on offer at either wheel. However, this is not a bike that encourages fiddling as the out-of-the-box set-up feels perfectly dialled in for riders of average weight. I'll take a better set-up with less adjustment over a flawed set-up with more adjustment every time, and the Kawasaki holds a key advantage over its Yamaha and Triumph rivals in this area.

So much so, this is the middleweight four-cylinder streetbike that the coming new Honda Hornet must beat when it arrives later this year.

The Press