First Ride: 2005 Kawasai Z750S

Striking a blow for rational rides

Rational motorcycles--bikes with livable ergos, street-sensible power, non-intimidating styling, flexible manners, prices that don't involve a second mortgage and insurance rates that don't require a third--can be hard to come by. Here in the States there hasn't been such a bike in the 750 category for several years, which left an obvious hole between bikes such as Suzuki's SV650 and Honda's 919. In Europe, Kawasaki had such a bike--its Z750--so the company tweaked it slightly, added the S designation and brought it to the U.S. for a palatable $7099, less than any of its 600cc streetbikes.

To keep its price reasonable, the Z750 gets a steel frame, a non-adjustable 41mm fork and simple preload and rebound adjustments for the Uni-Trak system's single shock. But there are nice touches, too, including lightweight six-spoke wheels shod with radials, an anti-tamper ignition lock, full instrumentation including an LCD clock and dual tripmeters up front, an LED taillight in back and a fuel-injected inline-four in the middle. The 748cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve engine is essentially a sleeved-down Z1000 motor, with the same radiator and many of the same dimensions.

The Z750S avoids some of the Z1000's polarizing styling elements, with a single muffler instead of four, and a larger fairing that works elegantly with the bike's relaxed, sit-up riding position. It creates an impressive bubble of still air encompassing your helmet, which helps make the Z750S suitable for day-long rides. Although 6-foot-3 Carrithers will likely want more legroom, it accommodated my 5-foot-10 frame perfectly, with room to fidget and a pleasant absence of pressure points. My only complaint concerned the seat's angle, which creates that 32.1-inch minimum height. The tendency to slide forward--plus the non-slip cover--made me feel like I was getting a full-time wedgie. The suspension rates suited me splendidly, and what little vibration there was--in the pegs and, to a smaller degree, the seat between about 7000 and 9000 rpm--arrives well above highway cruising speeds, where it's turning about 5000 rpm in sixth gear.

The engine's been tuned to respond robustly at lower rpm, but there's plenty in reserve if you want to downshift. Although the Z might fit in the same pigeonhole as your dad's Nighthawk 750, your dad won't know which way you've gone when you pin the 34mm throttle bodies wide open and tap dance with the smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox. Still, the Z750's engine and drivetrain feel just as relaxed as those older standard bikes' in city traffic.

It also delivers a more modern riding experience beyond the city limits. You won't mistake it for a ZX-6R, but the Z750S is plenty nimble for any paved road beyond the racetrack. I got to ride it during Southern California's monsoon season, and the midcorner mud surprises sometimes meant you had to zag when you expected to zig. But the Z750 was unfazed. It also delivered generous cornering clearance, solid traction and reassuring front-end feedback. The strong brakes played along too, with more progressive engagement than a racetrack-oriented sportbike.

Kawasaki emphasizes the everyman's character of the Z750, projecting customer acceptance through a wide age demographic, from the young 600cc sportbike buyer to the more mature, cruiser-age range. The new Z750S delivers as promised, with performance and handling to please the younger crowd and comfort to accommodate the young at heart but older of body, whether the assignment is traffic, travel or careening roads. You just have to like blue--the only available color for '05.

Kawasaki Z750S
MSRP $7099
Type l-c inline-four
Valve arrangement dohc, 16v
Displacement 748cc
Transmission 6-speed
Weight 430 lb. (claimed, dry)
Fuel capacity 4.8 gal. (18.0L)
Wheelbase 56.1 in. (1429mm)
Seat height 32.1 in. (815mm)