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Open wide and say R!
3:00pm Tuesday 4th January 2011 in Motorcycle News
THE Z750 has been a best seller since its introduction in 2004, even though it was not without faults.
Many Z750 owners choose to solve these shortcomings themselves but according to Kawasaki, the biggest problem with sorting the issues independently is that customers then risk losing their warranty. To meet the demands of these riders, and to keep the sales of the Z750 on the increase, Kawasaki have introduced an R version of their already successful formula.
Why they waited so long to do so isn’t very clear. The competition has become more fierce than ever. The FZ8, Monster 796, Honda Hornet and especially the Triumph Speed Triple R could all be used as references in the naked middleweight class and Kawasaki have positioned the Z750R between the existing Z750 that still remains available and their beefier Z1000.
The differences between the basic model and this ‘R’ version are more comprehensive than expected. The 41mm upside down front forks are carried over from the previous generation Z1000. Preload is adjustable, as is rebound, on both fork legs. Radial four pot calipers in combination with a radial master cylinder and steel braided hoses offer improved braking. Rear suspension is upgraded and the swingarm is new, 2 kg lighter and more stylishly designed. The same goes for the small fairing that is slightly revised from the standard version.
The dash board gets a dark background for the rev counter while the engine remains the same except for the black finish. The R’s final details are new foot pegs and twist grips. The Z750R has retained its visual appeal, it looks strong, but playful at the same time. It also feels quite compact, something that’s perhaps exaggerated by the short fuel tank. It also feels quite high, even though the floor is an easy two-footed reach away for someone of average height.
Wind protection is of course non existent and the engine still feels full and powerful in a real world way. It’s not really keen on extremely low revs but from 3000 rpm onwards you have a decent amount of power at your disposal. However, the Z never delivers a knock out punch. With one eye on the rev counter, you can wait for the point where things really get lively but there isn’t marked stage in the revs where the Kawasaki really flexes its muscles. It just pulls in linearly fashion to the limiter. While it’s not overly impressive, the 106bhp is undoubtedly more than enough to have fun with.
The biggest question is how the Z750R handles and brakes with its new chassis. The test route is far from easy, it’s littered with blind bends and challenging corner combinations which curve through the mountainside. On a ride like this, it’s easy to make mistakes and unless you are definite on the steering and throttle, the Z750R feels a tad nervous. Its behaviour seems to mirror that of the rider. If you’re unsure, so is the bike. And although the new brakes are clearly more powerful, they don’t offer the best feel, which means you sometimes scrub more speed than you intended to. The more precisely you use the brakes, throttle and line through a corner, the better the Kawasaki becomes. Nevertheless, it still feels rather nervy and heavy. The 224 fully fuelled kgs are at their most obvious when you have to throw the bike from one side to the other, which suggest that the centre of gravity is quite high.
The forks and rear shock is clearly better than on the standard Z750 so the only remaining niggle that some riders might notice is the stocky bike’s top heavy feel. More twisties come with more grip and the Z750R becomes more enjoyable as a result, with the one exception of hairpins. They can often be tricky at the best of times, and with the Z750R insisting on diving into a turn the moment you shut the throttle, it doesn’t offer the most confidence inspiring ride for the slower speed stuff. The bike seems to naturally draw you to ride around the 9,000 rpm mark and dropping the revs by upping the gears seems to unsettle the chassis. Sometimes, keeping the revs dancing towards the top end of the rev range can make a bike harder to steer, but the Z750R actually needs high revs to calm things down.
It is a fun bike and it is without doubt, much better than the standard version as far as the brakes and suspension are concerned. But whether it can out perform the superb, equally competitively priced Triumph Street Triple R remains to be seen.