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"Fast Bikes", April 1, 2013

Kawasaki Z800

No matter what the weather, the Zed rides beautifully.

PIC BY: DOM ROMNEY

As jobs go, taking on the mighty Triumph Street Triple R is as tough as it gets. Peerless since its inception, nothing has come close – so far.

But that’s enough smoke blown up the Street Triple’s arse, because Kawasaki has addressed the deficiencies of its own bike. For a start, just look at it – this is no token refresh. Kawasaki’s designers have created a vision of style and aggression. What the Triumph tries to achieve in paint, the Kawasaki delivers in lines and you’d have to be blind to think that the Triumph is the better looking bike.

Revvy and full of buzz (although I dislike the blocky tacho), the motor fuels excellently, delivering a crisp response to your inputs. Unlike the Triumph, which feels too soft and cuddly to do anything with intent, the Zed revels in its revs, and spins up so readily to its 12k limit that this motor really should belong in something with fairings. The motor is essentially from a Z1000 of yesteryear. It’s also got a pot and a capacity advantage over the Trumpet, meaning the Brit bike fighting is a futile task.

We’ve long said that 100bhp is all you ever need on the road, and the Zed’s ton really delivers, as does 70Nm of torque. This equates to a bike that pulls away in top with two grand on the tacho, then fires its way to 145mph down the strip of your choice – you shouldn’t want for much more.

Given that Kawasaki has made an ‘e’ version – an easily restricted Z800 for A2 licence holders, it comes as no surprise that all the easy stuff comes easy. True, the ST-R is hardly taxing when it comes to urban riding, but the Kawasaki’s clutch, gear change and throttle all make riding a breeze.

Turn the wick up, and you soon notice that Kawasaki hasn’t only concentrated on updating the aesthetics. Given the shite strewn roads, this wasn’t a banzai blast, but even so the Z800 still surpassed expectations. Its steering is light, but forever positive. Winter roads always expose hesitant handling, but there was no evidence of this at all and it belies its non-sportsbike chassis. Though not fully adjustable, the front and rear units combine well and offer fantastic road holding. I’d like compression damping adjustment in the front, as it’s just too soft on the initial stroke and will get exposed as things warm up, but the ride was refined, even on the rough stuff.

I’m hazarding a guess here, but there may be ground clearance issues come July – although the stock Dunlop D214s may have to come off for this. Even so, I’ve seen enough here to seriously worry the Street Triple R. On the road, the Zed’s size works with it, and its weight never really becomes an issue.

Allied to improved stunt ability (although taking nothing away from the decent brakes, either), the Z800 is now a viable alternative. And I’ll go further. Given its ability on road, dynamic motor and incredible looks, I wager that it goes beyond a viable rival to the Street. Indeed, this is the bike that I would buy.

KAWASAKI Z800 £7,499

ENGINE

The 806cc engine is more an evolution than brand new, although it has been heavily breathed upon. Bore and stroke is now 71 x 50.9mm, (was 68.4 x 71mm). Throttle bodies are also larger, up 2mm to 34mm, while the exhaust and intake ports have been redesigned to match the extra capacity. The intake funnels are of two different lengths, and the now wider intake ducts are up from 36.4mm to 41.5mm.

CHASSIS

The frame is technically the same as the previous 750’s, however it has been braced in several areas. This has changed the rigidity balance significantly, lending to far more solid road-holding skills. A mixture of solid/rubber mounts allows a newfound sense of feedback through the chassis. The swingarm is 12mm longer to meld with the shorter gearing, while the Kayaba front fork is uprated, too.

Highlights

Striking new looks

Funky dash

Decent engine upgrade

ABS option

229kg (kerb)

100bhp

TRACK 7

Should be a stack of fun.

FAST ROAD 7

Impressive manners

HOOLIGAN 8

Just look at it!

NEW RIDER 6

Get the new ‘e’ version.

DESIRABILITY 9

Stunning looks, good ability.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY

The now defunct 750cc version. Unless it’s really cheap, it’s not a patch on this new 800. Believe it!

Verdict 8/10

The Triumph may have the chassis, but the Big T has neutered the motor. The Kawasaki has the looks and the muscle to win, so don’t see the Trumpet as the default.

+ STRONG MOTOR, STABLE HANDLING, SUBLIME LOOKS

- ODGY DASH, FUEL ECONOMY, MUCKY DOWNPIPES

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