Kawasaki Z800 vs. Yamaha FZ-09 - COMPARISON TEST

Midlife middleweights

How can a couple of boys in their mid-50s scratch the performance itch without an appearance of suffering midlife crises? The modern sport-standard offers a good answer that might even fly under the spousal radar.

Kawasaki Z800 and Yamaha FZ-09 group static
Kawasaki Z800 vs. Yamaha FZ-09.Jeff Allen

The Kawasaki Z800 and Yamaha FZ-09 are prime candidates at filling the moto mistress role. Both possess seductive styling and sporting capability yet are practical, affordable, and epitomize the contemporary multi-role platform that gives them the kind of cross-generational appeal few other bikes have.

To help find out which is the better overall choice, I enlisted Steele Kennedy, an executive jet pilot by trade and former WERA roadracer, to serve as my wingman on our flight.

While new to American soil, the Z800 pounded pavement abroad prior to arriving in response to one of Yamaha's best-selling Stateside models. Taking on a two-time Cycle World Ten Best winner is no small calling for the 816cc liquid-cooled inline-four-powered naked. "It's what I've come to expect in Kawis," came Kennedy's vote of confidence on a stint aboard the new Z. "Nice fit and finish, smooth power that is responsive and tractable, and suspension that inspires confidence in a variety of riding situations." While the engine produces less peak power than Yamaha's 847cc liquid-cooled inline three, delivery is ultra-smooth below 7,000 rpm and very linear throughout its entire rev range. Shift action is light and slick, and the positive neutral finder eliminates guesswork at stops.

Kawasaki Z800 static side view
Kawasaki Z800Jeff Allen
UPS + Electric smooth down low
+ Superb chassis stability
+ Cool vertical bar tach
DOWNS - Packing a few pounds
- Bedrock seat cushion
- Buzzy at high revs
PRICE $8399
DRY WEIGHT 482 lb.
WHEELBASE 56.8 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.5 in.
1/4 MILE 11.27 sec. @ 118.50 mph
0-60 MPH 3.0 sec.
TOP GEAR, 40-60 MPH 3.1 sec.
TOP GEAR, 60-80 MPH 3.1 sec.
HORSEPOWER 98.4 @ 10,160 rpm
TORQUE 56.3 lb.-ft. @ 7810 rpm
BRAKING, 30-0 MPH 32 ft.
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 126 ft.

One of our favorite engines in recent memory, Yamaha’s super category-stretching triple offers blockbuster performance with impressive torque that comes in early as well. “Wow!” Kennedy remarked. “The engine is incredible! Smooth, powerful, and what feels like never-ending torque.” Featuring YCCT ride-by-wire throttle control with selectable D-Mode, the FZ offers a choice of three engine response maps. The sharp response of A and slightly tempered Standard modes lend the FZ a playful character enhanced by a unique sound and tactile feel that are characteristic of its evenly spaced crossplane-crank 120-degree firing interval. The sense of thrust when hard on the throttle and working up through the FZ’s positive gear changes produces acceleration even a seasoned pilot can appreciate.

Ride quality and superb chassis control is where the Z800 stands out in this matchup. Its KYB fork has adjustable spring preload and rebound damping (as does the FZ), while the remote reservoir shock offers a better range of damping control than the FZ’s more basic strut. While weighing notably more than the Yamaha, the slightly heavier-handling Z800 delivers a very planted feel when tracking a bumpy surface. Cornering clearance proved more than adequate on both bikes when the pace was pushed.

Yamaha FZ-09 static side view
Yamaha FZ-09Jeff Allen
UPS + Heart of a young lion
+ An affordable affair
+ Gear-selection indicator
DOWNS - Nagging chatter
- Petite fuel tank
- ABS not available
PRICE $8190
DRY WEIGHT 396 lb.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 32.2 in.
1/4 MILE 10.97 sec. @ 122.58 mph
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec.
TOP GEAR, 40-60 MPH 2.8 sec.
TOP GEAR, 60-80 MPH 3.3 sec.
HORSEPOWER 104.5 @ 9940 rpm
TORQUE 60.5 lb.-ft. @ 8360 rpm
BRAKING, 30-0 MPH 33 ft.
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 133 ft.

Each bike is blessed with brakes that offer excellent power and feel, but Kawasaki’s ABS (accounting for the $200 price premium) kept its chassis more settled when charging bumpy corner entries. The FZ engine has less crank inertia contributing to its wheelie-happy nature but exhibits a greater engine-braking effect making the rear prone to skitter and hop when rushing those same bumpy entries. A slipper clutch would be a welcome addition.

At 6-foot-1, Kennedy found the two- piece Z800 saddle restrictive, feeling crowded by the rear seat step when tucking in. We both preferred the more relaxed riding posture of the FZ, finding its attractive taper-style bar positioned slightly higher in relation to the seat. The FZ’s one-piece saddle is flat and wide under your rear, offering more support and better long-range comfort than the rounded Z seat. It is also softer, allows unrestricted fore-aft movement, and is the more passenger friendly of the two.

Kawasaki Z800 and Yamaha FZ-09 on-road action
Kawasaki Z800 and Yamaha FZ-09 on-road action.Jeff Allen

From daily commuting to weekend flings, either of these sporting nakeds will bring pleasure without raising much suspicion. “I feel the Z800 comes in at a price point that is well within the budget of anyone interested in an all-around, everyday motorcycle,” our pilot for hire summed up. “But I’m really impressed with the compactness of the Yamaha. The bike felt good and responded well on the freeway, in the canyons, and making my way through city traffic.”

I share the former racer’s sentiment. The Kawasaki is a fine machine in all respects and a viable choice for any frequent flyer. But if it’s youthful spirit and vitality one seeks, the Yamaha’s wheelie-inducing snap and sharpness of handling can’t be denied.

Good luck keeping that under the radar.

Kawasaki Z800 on-road action
Kawasaki Z800 on-road action.Jeff Allen
Kawasaki Z800 engine details
Kawasaki Z800 engine details.Jeff Allen
Yamaha FZ-09 on-road wheelie action
Yamaha FZ-09 on-road wheelie action.Jeff Allen
Yamaha FZ-09 engine details
Yamaha FZ-09 engine details.Jeff Allen