First Ride: 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS

Another delightful midsize roadster from Japan. Any questions?

They say: The Z800 is a legend in the making. We say: If by legend you mean ‘really nice little roadster,’ sure…

Not always a hotbed of activity, the "middleweight standard" segment has been hopping, largely because Yamaha dropped the cheap and raucous three-cylinder FZ-09 into the mix in 2014. Since then, Suzuki's rebadged its European 750 into the GSX-S750, and now Kawasaki makes it a trio with the Z800. Also brought over from across the Atlantic, where it debuted in 2013, the Z800 is intended to tackle inner city roads and tight mountain corners alike. A roadster's work, like we said.

A touch of green lets you know what team you ride for.©Motorcyclist

At $8,399, the Z800 sits at the top of the price range for the Japanese segment, considering the FZ-09 at $8,190 and the GSX-S750 at $7,999 (both, it should be noted, without ABS). Various versions of the Z are offered in Europe, including reduced power (to comply with licensing classes) and non-ABS models. We get the ABS model only, and you can have it in any color you like, as long as it’s black (with green accents, of course.) Oh, and by “we” we mean everyone but Californians. For now the Z800 is not available in the Golden State.

The Z800's ergonomic layout is similar to its big-bore counterpart but lacks the Z1000's jumpy throttle response. That's a good thing.©Motorcyclist

Powering this midsized streetfighter is Kawasaki’s DOHC liquid cooled 806cc inline four. It's a familiar engine, having debuted in the 2004 Z750, itself just a sleeved-down version of the contemporary Z1000 powerplant. Now it's an 800, carrying a 2.7mm-larger bore but retaining the Z750's 50.9mm stroke. Engine feel is smooth, with little vibration at the low end and in the midrange. Get it above 8,000 rpm, though, and it starts to get buzzy. Power output is plenty to have fun, without being overwhelming—we’d love to tell you how much, but Kawasaki doesn’t say. (The last Z750 we tested, in 2005, made 100.9 hp and 51.8 pound-feet of torque; the last Suzuki GSX-S750 we had made 95.3 hp at the rear wheel.) Thanks to conventional fuel injection with mechanical throttles (not ride-by-wire), response is even and accurate, thankfully not as jumpy as the 800’s big-brother Z1000. The Z’s six-speed transmission shifts smoothly and decisively, and the torquey engine allowed me to keep it in fourth gear almost all the way up moderately fast, open mountain road.

With properly adjusted rebound and damping, the Z800 will reward you with a firm, planted ride through sweepers without sacrificing around-town comfort.©Motorcyclist

Now let’s talk suspension. As an FZ-09 owner, I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the near pogo stick-like performance of its suspension, though taking on rough road surfaces (especially with some lean angle) often turns into a pucker moment. In contrast, Kawi’s Z800 is a welcome respite from the FZ’s bouncy ride, with appropriate spring rates and enough damping for the job. It gets there with a 41mm inverted KYB fork featuring adjustable spring preload and 26 clicks of rebound-damping adjustment. At the other end, there’s a KYB piggyback reservoir shock with 2.5 turns of rebound adjustment and stepless spring preload. This setup gave the Z a firm, planted ride through the sweeping turns of Hwy 74 out of Palm Springs, without sacrificing much comfort around town. Road feel over sharp-edged bumps transferred more to the seat than I would like, but over rolling bumps the Z800 felt just compliant enough to keep me in the saddle.

Four-piston Nissin calipers gripping 310mm rotors up front will have you stopping with confidence although more experienced riders might wish for more braking aggression.©Motorcyclist

Braking power on the Z800 is strong enough to bring the 509-pound (claimed, wet) bike to an assured stop. (Yes, that's 95 pounds heavier than an FZ-09.) The four-piston Nissin front calipers gripping 310mm rotors gave enough brake feel to invoke confidence in stopping power, without too much initial bite. Experienced riders might wish for more braking aggression, but the target market for the Z will likely think them just fine. The rear single-piston caliper squeezing the 250mm rotor felt softer than I would prefer, certainly softer than the rear brake I’m used to on the FZ-09. Given the Kawasaki’s ABS system, the Z never had me worried about stopping in time.

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A 32.8-inch seat height and narrow profile puts you in a slightly forward posture but still comfortably upright.©Motorcyclist

I found the riding position on the Z800 comfortable overall. The handlebar height allowed for a mostly upright stance, with a little more forward lean than the FZ-09, which is great for sporty riding. The Kawi’s 32.8-inch seat height and narrow profile were well suited to my 30-inch inseam, though the saddle was a bit on the firm side. Footpegs felt a little higher than my FZ-09’s, making the leg position feel slightly more cramped, though more appropriate for sporty riding once we hit the twisties.

A wide, flat handlebar gives plenty of leverage, and helps give an upright riding position. Three LCD screens provide basic bike info, and are customizable to invert screen from white/black to black/white.©Motorcyclist

So, has Kawasaki hit the mark of building an in-town bike that also offers sporty riding capability? My answer is a resounding yes, and that’s from the perspective of someone who owns one of its competitors. I am happy enough with my FZ—and the triple’s snarl is a big part of it—but in terms of overall capability, the Z800 is right there with it. Really, it’s a matter of personality, with the Z800 (like the GSX-S750), a somewhat mellower, more conventional offering in the class. Extra points for the better suspension and ABS. With bikes like these, it’s obvious why the middleweight roadster class is popular.

Lots of aggressive angular lines went into the design, giving plenty styling nod to "Z".©Motorcyclist

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION  
An updated version of the Z750S, the Z800 has been in Europe since 2013. Now we get it here in 49 states.
RIVALS  
[Aprilia][] Shiver 750, [Ducati Monster 821][], [Suzuki GSX-S750][], [Triumph Street Triple][], [Yamaha FZ-09][]
TECH  
PRICE $8,399
ENGINE 806cc, liquid-cooled inline-four
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER NA
CLAIMED TORQUE NA
FRAME Steel backbone
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 250mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0°/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 56.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.8 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 509 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [kawasaki.com][]
VERDICT  
A capable, well equipped Japanese midsize roadster ready to take on the Yamaha FZ-09 and Suzuki GSX-S750.
No dyno figures from Kawasaki but throttle response is smooth and accurate.©Motorcyclist
Upright but with a slight forward lean not only looks aggressive but will help to offset that wind blast coming over the LED headlight.©Motorcyclist
©Motorcyclist
With properly adjusted rebound and damping, the Z800 will reward you with a firm, planted ride through sweepers without sacrificing around-town comfort.©Motorcyclist
The Z800's ergonomic layout is similar to its big-bore counterpart but lacks the Z1000's jumpy throttle response. That's a good thing.©Motorcyclist
Lots of aggressive angular lines went into the design, giving plenty styling nod to "Z".©Motorcyclist
A touch of green lets you know what team you ride for.©Motorcyclist
©Motorcyclist
No dyno figures from Kawasaki but throttle response is smooth and accurate.©Motorcyclist
Four-piston Nissin calipers gripping 310mm rotors up front will have you stopping with confidence although more experienced riders might wish for more braking aggression.©Motorcyclist
A 32.8-inch seat height and narrow profile puts you in a slightly forward posture but still comfortably upright.©Motorcyclist
©Motorcyclist
A wide, flat handlebar gives plenty of leverage, and helps give an upright riding position. Three LCD screens provide basic bike info, and are customizable to invert screen from white/black to black/white.©Motorcyclist