ZR-7 Super Standard 

by Larry Mastbaum

It’s been 16 years since I picked up my first street bike at the Kawasaki dealer a shiny silver GPZ750 that – for all its sporting pretensions – essentially straddled the line between the fast-disappearing “standards” of the time and the emerging high-tech class of liquid cooled sportbikes personified by the Honda Interceptors and Kawasaki’s own 900 Ninja.review36a[1]

The revamped GPZ series that hit the streets in 1984 never really got the respect they deserved. Too many Ninjas, Interceptors, FZRs and GSXs out there, I guess. But that whole line nonetheless struck an enviable balance among comfort, power, and corner-carving ability. My favored riding world has always been that of the blue-lined, high-speed sweepers preferably far from home and as deserted as possible. And, Superbike roots aside, that was also the world where my GPZ was most at home, and we completed many journeys, including one especially memorable 7500-jaunt that brought us through the Canadian and U.S. Rockies.

Sparing you the life story and moving to the new millennium, I would have to say things have changed quite a bit in the motorcycling world, but not as much as some moto-marketing types would have you believe. Sure, motorcycles have become ever-more specialized: cruisers, hard-edged sportbikes, sport tourers, dressers so big and plush they require a reverse gear, retro bikes… you know the drill. But, along with this inbreeding of bike lines, the standard is staging a comeback. Oh, sure, now they’re called “naked” bikes. I guess the marketing guys found the old term too, um, standard but look closely and you’ll see a class of bike that can be virtually whatever their owners desire.

review36b[1]Look real closely at one in particular, the Kawasaki ZR-7 on these pages, and you’ll see something else: a lean, flashy, purposeful machine with the soul of my old GPZ. It’s no accident the ZR-7’s curved gas tank evokes its sporting/standard ancestors. It certainly should. The versatile air-cooled inline four cylinder engine slung beneath it is nearly unchanged, save for updated ignition and fuel system, and though the frame and running gear are vastly improved (both mechanically and geometrically), they share the same basic double-cradle, tubular steel design and UniTrak lineage.

The ZR-7’s eight-valve DOHC power-plant sports a 9.5:1 compression ratio and a bank of four Keihin CVK32 carbs, nearly identical to its KZ/ GPZ ancestors, along with a 21st century digital ignition with electronic throttle sensor (dubbed K-TRIC, for Kawasaki Throttle Response Ignition Control) that varies valve timing in response to engine load to improve response and fuel economy, according to company literature. The result is 738 cc’s of usable power that, once you clear a fairly wide flat spot at the bottom end of the curve, builds from a mellow rumble to a banshee wail if you let it build to full potential. And that comes on quickly, I don’t have a drag strip at my disposal, but 0-to-70 mph comes in roughly five seconds, give or take a tick, even in my untrained hands, and roll-on power is impressive for a bike of this size.

Sure the low-end gagging can be annoying, K-TRIC notwithstanding, but otherwise this bike can cruise the boulevards in comfort if that’s your thing; eat some serious interstate with only a slight shudder over expansion joints; or suck you toward its tubular handlebars as you near its 10,000 rpm redline to fight a suddenly light front wheel and the unfaired wind-blast. In other words, the ZR-7 is a jack-of-all-paved-trades, a bona fide albeit naked standard that can trace its lineage clear back to the Jimmy Carter years.

Still, at a moderate 75 horsepower and 445-pound dry weight, according to Kawasaki, the ZR-7 seems happiest when being put through its paces on a fast, curly but, not too tight, section of two-lane. The ZR-7 will happily grab any lean angle you choose with its stock Dunlop 205 series rubber, though it sometimes sits up for just a moment as you enter the turns, especially if you’re careless with your right hand on either throttle or brakes. At the same time, its neutral handling courtesy of 17-inch alloy wheels and a 57.3 wheelbase combined with moderate geometry make the ZR-7 a bike you can flick about until your brain starts oozing out your ears and messing up your helmet. Be sure to wear some earplugs!

Wind the ZR-7 up as you approach a pair or more of sweeping, lightly banked esses, hit the clutch for a quick downshift, a dab of brakes, then crank the metallic blue beast over, close your eyes, and indulge your favorite Wayne Rainey fantasies… Well, I guess it’s probably best if you keep your eyes open.

Like virtually all branches on the KZ/Z-1 family tree, the ZR-7’s bulletproof powerplant has ample room for a bore job and is overbuilt enough to accept other mods, should you feel the need. Relatively minor jetting work would probably net a quick 5-10 additional ponies, and you may not even have to replace the stock exhaust pipe a trick stainless steel 4-into-1 unit with crossovers near the exhaust ports and a huge-yet-relatively-light canister. A decent-sized oil cooler helps keep the ZR-7 from overheating too readily, though as with any air-cooled bike in Minnesota, all bets are off should you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic on the way up north come July.

The suspension is one area where the ZR-7 really shines compared to its ancestors, and to most other modern bikes save the full-tilt sporting models. Its Kayaba monoshock in the rear features a progressive linkage, seven-way adjustable spring preload and four levels of rebound damping. The 41-millimeter Kayaba forks up front are not adjustable, but their stoutness combined with decent stock tires inspires confidence, and the tubes don’t seem to flex at all at medium-to-high speeds. Of course, if you plan to engage your hyperdrive and skin some knees in the tight twisties, you will likely exceed the ZR-7’s limits in short order, but hey, if that’s your scene, you’re probably going to be happier on a Hawk, Ninja, FZR, etc. though your spine and knees may not share the sentiment after an hour in the saddle.

When it comes time for a break, the ZR-7’s binders will slow you down in a hurry, thanks to twin-piston calipers squeezing a pair of 300-millimeter rotors up front and a single 240-millimeter unit in the rear. It takes just two fingers, and virtually no effort, to engage the front brakes; indeed, after a couple of bikeless summers riding a friend’s spare BMW, I found them abrupt until I racked up enough miles to get used to them. The rear brake provides good feedback and is easy to control without locking up in panic-stop situations. I have yet to notice any appreciable fade when giving the brakes a workout. Of course, I have yet to throw a fully loaded ZR-7 around a twisting mountain road in mid-July, though I’ll be glad to provide updates if MMM wants to bankroll such a crucial test.

A nearly-but-not-quite upright riding position and 5.8 gallon tank make the ZR-7 a more-than-acceptable long hauler. The comfortable-but-firm seat sits a humane 31.5 inches above the pavement but has a steep step and thin padding in the rear, which means any two-up plans are likely to include frequent “butt breaks” for your passenger.

Instrumentation on the ZR-7 is a step above spartan, including a large tach and speedometer, inset trip odometer, fuel gauge, and all the usual idiot lights. For some reason, though, the backlit tach and speedo are difficult to read once dusk arrives. The clutch and brake levers can be adjustable so that they’re closer the handgrips. A nice touch, I suppose, but not something I’ve ever felt a need for in the past. Kawasaki offers a windscreen (about $90) but no fairing for the ZR-7, an oversight I hope to see remedied soon, though the aftermarket already has some options available.

So far, my gripes about the ZR-7 are relatively minor. Despite an advanced ignition, it tends to hesitate a moment when you crack the throttle at sub-highway speeds, requiring a crisp throttle hand and decisive clutch work. The aforementioned jetting should address this, however. I’d like to see an aluminum swingarm straddling the rear wheel in place of the braced steel box section. While we’re at it, how about some of those slick eccentric drive chain adjusters that I remember so well from Kawasakis past and present, such as on the ZRX-11 and various members of the Ninja family? The engine seems overly busy at highway speeds, making me wonder if a taller fifth gear, or better yet a six-speed transmission, might better serve it.

Overall, this is a well-finished bike, but a little extra clearcoat over the sultry metallic blue paint wouldn’t hurt, nor would steel or aluminum grab rails. The plastic ones it came with don’t exactly inspire trust, and seemingly scratch if you look at them to hard, let alone throw a bungee hook their way.

But these are truly trifling matters when you consider how much bike you’re actually getting for the retail price of $5,699. That’s right, just $700 more than the Ninja 750 I bought after stupidly selling my old GPZ 750 a decade ago. With a price like that, Kawasaki may be aiming for the less experienced, perhaps even conservative end of the market, but make no mistake, ZR-7 is a whole lot more motorcycle for the money than any other member of the 750 class. It will never be a Ducati Super Sport, a Wide Glide, or a Gold Wing, but for less than a third the cost of any of them, the ZR-7 will cover all the road in between.

by Sev Pearman

It’s been 16 years since I picked up my first street bike at the Kawasaki dealer a shiny silver GPZ750 that – for all its sporting pretensions – essentially straddled the line between the fast-disappearing “standards” of the time and the emerging high-tech class of liquid cooled sportbikes personified by the Honda Interceptors and Kawasaki’s own 900 Ninja.

The revamped GPZ series that hit the streets in 1984 never really got the respect they deserved. Too many Ninjas, Interceptors, FZRs and GSXs out there, I guess. But that whole line nonetheless struck an enviable balance among comfort, power, and corner-carving ability. My favored riding world has always been that of the blue-lined, high-speed sweepers preferably far from home and as deserted as possible. And, Superbike roots aside, that was also the world where my GPZ was most at home, and we completed many journeys, including one especially memorable 7500-jaunt that brought us through the Canadian and U.S. Rockies.review36c[1]

Sparing you the life story and moving to the new millennium, I would have to say things have changed quite a bit in the motorcycling world, but not as much as some moto-marketing types would have you believe. Sure, motorcycles have become ever-more specialized: cruisers, hard-edged sportbikes, sport tourers, dressers so big and plush they require a reverse gear, retro bikes… you know the drill. But, along with this inbreeding of bike lines, the standard is staging a comeback. Oh, sure, now they’re called “naked” bikes. I guess the marketing guys found the old term too, um, standard but look closely and you’ll see a class of bike that can be virtually whatever their owners desire.

Look real closely at one in particular, the Kawasaki ZR-7 on these pages, and you’ll see something else: a lean, flashy, purposeful machine with the soul of my old GPZ. It’s no accident the ZR-7’s curved gas tank evokes its sporting/standard ancestors. It certainly should. The versatile air-cooled inline four cylinder engine slung beneath it is nearly unchanged, save for updated ignition and fuel system, and though the frame and running gear are vastly improved (both mechanically and geometrically), they share the same basic double-cradle, tubular steel design and UniTrak lineage.

The ZR-7’s eight-valve DOHC power-plant sports a 9.5:1 compression ratio and a bank of four Keihin CVK32 carbs, nearly identical to its KZ/ GPZ ancestors, along with a 21st century digital ignition with electronic throttle sensor (dubbed K-TRIC, for Kawasaki Throttle Response Ignition Control) that varies valve timing in response to engine load to improve response and fuel economy, according to company literature. The result is 738 cc’s of usable power that, once you clear a fairly wide flat spot at the bottom end of the curve, builds from a mellow rumble to a banshee wail if you let it build to full potential. And that comes on quickly, I don’t have a drag strip at my disposal, but 0-to-70 mph comes in roughly five seconds, give or take a tick, even in my untrained hands, and roll-on power is impressive for a bike of this size.

Sure the low-end gagging can be annoying, K-TRIC notwithstanding, but otherwise this bike can cruise the boulevards in comfort if that’s your thing; eat some serious interstate with only a slight shudder over expansion joints; or suck you toward its tubular handlebars as you near its 10,000 rpm redline to fight a suddenly light front wheel and the unfaired wind-blast. In other words, the ZR-7 is a jack-of-all-paved-trades, a bona fide albeit naked standard that can trace its lineage clear back to the Jimmy Carter years.

Still, at a moderate 75 horsepower and 445-pound dry weight, according to Kawasaki, the ZR-7 seems happiest when being put through its paces on a fast, curly but, not too tight, section of two-lane. The ZR-7 will happily grab any lean angle you choose with its stock Dunlop 205 series rubber, though it sometimes sits up for just a moment as you enter the turns, especially if you’re careless with your right hand on either throttle or brakes. At the same time, its neutral handling courtesy of 17-inch alloy wheels and a 57.3 wheelbase combined with moderate geometry make the ZR-7 a bike you can flick about until your brain starts oozing out your ears and messing up your helmet. Be sure to wear some earplugs!

review36d[1]Wind the ZR-7 up as you approach a pair or more of sweeping, lightly banked esses, hit the clutch for a quick downshift, a dab of brakes, then crank the metallic blue beast over, close your eyes, and indulge your favorite Wayne Rainey fantasies… Well, I guess it’s probably best if you keep your eyes open.

Like virtually all branches on the KZ/Z-1 family tree, the ZR-7’s bulletproof powerplant has ample room for a bore job and is overbuilt enough to accept other mods, should you feel the need. Relatively minor jetting work would probably net a quick 5-10 additional ponies, and you may not even have to replace the stock exhaust pipe a trick stainless steel 4-into-1 unit with crossovers near the exhaust ports and a huge-yet-relatively-light canister. A decent-sized oil cooler helps keep the ZR-7 from overheating too readily, though as with any air-cooled bike in Minnesota, all bets are off should you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic on the way up north come July.

The suspension is one area where the ZR-7 really shines compared to its ancestors, and to most other modern bikes save the full-tilt sporting models. Its Kayaba monoshock in the rear features a progressive linkage, seven-way adjustable spring preload and four levels of rebound damping. The 41-millimeter Kayaba forks up front are not adjustable, but their stoutness combined with decent stock tires inspires confidence, and the tubes don’t seem to flex at all at medium-to-high speeds. Of course, if you plan to engage your hyperdrive and skin some knees in the tight twisties, you will likely exceed the ZR-7’s limits in short order, but hey, if that’s your scene, you’re probably going to be happier on a Hawk, Ninja, FZR, etc. though your spine and knees may not share the sentiment after an hour in the saddle.

When it comes time for a break, the ZR-7’s binders will slow you down in a hurry, thanks to twin-piston calipers squeezing a pair of 300-millimeter rotors up front and a single 240-millimeter unit in the rear. It takes just two fingers, and virtually no effort, to engage the front brakes; indeed, after a couple of bikeless summers riding a friend’s spare BMW, I found them abrupt until I racked up enough miles to get used to them. The rear brake provides good feedback and is easy to control without locking up in panic-stop situations. I have yet to notice any appreciable fade when giving the brakes a workout. Of course, I have yet to throw a fully loaded ZR-7 around a twisting mountain road in mid-July, though I’ll be glad to provide updates if MMM wants to bankroll such a crucial test.

A nearly-but-not-quite upright riding position and 5.8 gallon tank make the ZR-7 a more-than-acceptable long hauler. The comfortable-but-firm seat sits a humane 31.5 inches above the pavement but has a steep step and thin padding in the rear, which means any two-up plans are likely to include frequent “butt breaks” for your passenger.

Instrumentation on the ZR-7 is a step above spartan, including a large tach and speedometer, inset trip odometer, fuel gauge, and all the usual idiot lights. For some reason, though, the backlit tach and speedo are difficult to read once dusk arrives. The clutch and brake levers can be adjustable so that they’re closer the handgrips. A nice touch, I suppose, but not something I’ve ever felt a need for in the past. Kawasaki offers a windscreen (about $90) but no fairing for the ZR-7, an oversight I hope to see remedied soon, though the aftermarket already has some options available.

So far, my gripes about the ZR-7 are relatively minor. Despite an advanced ignition, it tends to hesitate a moment when you crack the throttle at sub-highway speeds, requiring a crisp throttle hand and decisive clutch work. The aforementioned jetting should address this, however. I’d like to see an aluminum swingarm straddling the rear wheel in place of the braced steel box section. While we’re at it, how about some of those slick eccentric drive chain adjusters that I remember so well from Kawasakis past and present, such as on the ZRX-11 and various members of the Ninja family? The engine seems overly busy at highway speeds, making me wonder if a taller fifth gear, or better yet a six-speed transmission, might better serve it.

Overall, this is a well-finished bike, but a little extra clearcoat over the sultry metallic blue paint wouldn’t hurt, nor would steel or aluminum grab rails. The plastic ones it came with don’t exactly inspire trust, and seemingly scratch if you look at them to hard, let alone throw a bungee hook their way.

But these are truly trifling matters when you consider how much bike you’re actually getting for the retail price of $5,699. That’s right, just $700 more than the Ninja 750 I bought after stupidly selling my old GPZ 750 a decade ago. With a price like that, Kawasaki may be aiming for the less experienced, perhaps even conservative end of the market, but make no mistake, ZR-7 is a whole lot more motorcycle for the money than any other member of the 750 class. It will never be a Ducati Super Sport, a Wide Glide, or a Gold Wing, but for less than a third the cost of any of them, the ZR-7 will cover all the road in between.

 

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