This article was originally published in the April 1992 issue of Cycle World.
The question, posed around a characteristically unruly CW luncheon table, was this: What’s our favorite category of streetbike? Speaking strictly as private citizens and enthusiasts, what’s the displacement we’d want to own if we were sentenced, in contravention of laws against cruel and unusual punishment, to life with a single motorcycle?
Shocked right down to the soles of our riding boots by the heartlessness of this question, we all ruminated for a moment, gritted our teeth, rolled our eyes, then said, “750s.”
A miracle! It was the first time the Cycle World staff had agreed on anything in a long, long time.
The trouble didn’t stop there, though, for the next question was even more difficult than the first: “Okay, what’s the best 750?”
When you stop and think about it, the general enthusiasm for 750s isn’t really that surprising. The class offers a comprehensive cross-section of motorcycling, with a wonderful variety of engine configurations and tuning specifications.
A great many riders find 750s ideal because this engine size-three-quarters of a liter, 45 cubic inches—represents an ideal compromise between the intense, sporty lightness of the best 600s and the big-time, pavement-ripping energy delivered by the powerful but heavy and sometimes intimidating liter-class bikes.
A terrific compromise. And when someone then asks which is the best of the class, compromise again is the operable word. Picking the best overall 750 is a very different proposition from picking, say, the best 750 sportbike, or the best 750 standard.
We have selections for those classes and more, developed after an extended three-day trip on these bikes, with staffers Edwards, Thompson, Griewe, Canet and Miles, along with freelancer John Burns and roadracers Nigel Gale, Jason Pridmore and Danny Coe twisting throttles. But before we whip aside the Curtain of Secrecy to reveal the Enthusiasts Choice for Best 750cc Motorcycle in the Universe, allow us to introduce you to the 10 contenders, arranged in alphabetical order.
Focusing In On The Kawasaki Zephyr
This isn’t just a motorcycle, it’s part of a developing strategy that has its roots in the Japanese popularity of retrobikes. The Zephyr series, starting with the 550cc version, has sold so well in Japan that Kawasaki executives began shipping the things here, where the 550 and this bike, the 750, have bombed.
Too bad. The 750, especially, is an extremely satisfying motorcycle. It’s a member of the same standard category as Honda’s Nighthawk, but it’s better in every way—better brakes, better suspension, better engine, better riding position, and, as a result, much more fun to ride.
The Zephyr is a standard, but it’s equipped with a European-style low handlebar, better rear suspension than that fitted to the Honda CB750 Nighthawk, and an rpm-happy engine that invites the rider to twist its tail. The result is a motorcycle that is an absolute blast on a tight, winding road.
No, it isn’t as fast as a pure sportbike when the curves get serious. And, yes, if you’ve become used to a rich diet of four-valve-per-cylinder power, the charm of this bike might escape you. Still, it is exceedingly sure-footed, its steering is precise, its brakes very powerful. Okay, that aircooled engine sometimes does feel a little rough-hewn, and the chassis does suffer from a lack of clearance during hard cornering.
Which is to say, the stable, no-surprises Zephyr works like a standard is supposed to. We can’t imagine why this bike isn’t selling.
Best Standard: Kawasaki's Zephyr 750 gets the nod, mainly for the most elemental of reasons: It's a blast to ride. There are limits, though. If you've already experienced the power of a modern 16-valve 750, you may not be satisfied with the Zeph's engine. If you're a re-entry rider, though, this is the bike to help you recapture all those sensations of motorcycling you so fondly remember.