Birth of the Super Standards

Not your father's UJM

The birth of the super standards.Kevin Wing

Back in the Motorcycle Dark Ages, before market segmentation gave us stiletto-sharp sportbikes, station wagon-sized touring rigs and chrome-laden cruisers, the owner of a motorcycle determined what niche it fit into. If a rider had a sporting bent, lower bars and rearsets were added. Tourers received windshields and bags. Old timers often recall this era of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) with more than a bit of rose-colored tint. Yes, you could do it all on a UJM, but you can roost better on a sportbike, superslab better on a tourer and pose better on a cruiser than you could on any ol' UJM.

Kawasaki ZRX1200Kevin Wing

Still, enough riders crave the UJM--or standards, as we prefer to call them--that the manufacturers began to see them as another niche market. While true standards are bare-bones motorcycles with no fairings, luggage, racer ergos or other items that might force them into another category, we at Sport Rider have been watching the birth of another class within the standards category. Super standards offer the traditional riding position of a standard, yet step beyond the minimalist, naked bike. These machines can don a coat and tie during the week, but given a chance, they'll shake off the business clothes, enabling you to ride like a hero on the weekends. And you don't need to use your X-ray vision to see the engines.

When super standards are compared to standards, such as the Honda Nighthawk 750 or Buell XI, the similarities and differences are immediately visible. But super standards are more than just a standard with a half fairing. They need to provide a little something extra while still offering the flexibility (and customizability) of standards and the UJMs of old. In this comparison of the Kawasaki ZRX1200, the Suzuki Bandit 1200S and the Yamaha FZ1, two of the bikes are clearly super standards while one misses out on that little something extra to differentiate itself from the modern-day UJMs.

It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's a super standard.Kevin Wing

The plain truth

A quick once-over glance at these bikes (and their spec sheets) gives the initial impression that they have quite a lot in common. And they do. Take a gander at the frames; no aluminum perimeter frames or engine cases acting as swingarm pivots here. Double cradle tubular steel construction is the norm. The FZ1 wins the thicker-is-better award for frame backbone tube diameter with a 48.6mm diameter. The ZRX steps up with 42.7mm, and the Bandit with 37.0mm. The payoff of the stoutness is additional rigidity. In our canyon thrashes, only the Bandit displayed the slightest bit of flex--nothing bad, just noticeable. The trio's rake figures are similar--with the Bandit and ZRX measuring 25 degrees while the FZ1 stretches out a tick further at 26 degrees. Additionally, you won't find any high-tech inverted forks on these bikes. All make do with beefy 43mm traditional forks to keep their front wheels in-line. Again the Kawasaki and Yamaha differentiate themselves from the Suzuki with their fully adjustable front ends--although the Bandit sports a cartridge fork and preload adjustment only. Expect the same type of breakdown in the rear suspenders. The FZ1 and the ZRX get units with all the bells and whistles (except ride height adjustment)--the Kawi with its two piggyback shocks and the Yamaha solo unit with a reservoir. The Bandit wears a non-reservoir shock with preload and rebound controls.

Similarly, the engines powering these motorcycles range from distant relatives to siblings of their manufacturers' current sporting machinery. The Bandit's engine traces its lineage to the early GSX-R line--those with the air/oil cooling. Add some current-tech ignition trickery, like a throttle positioning sensor, and a bullet-proof 1157cc powerplant with a known history of hot-rod-ability. The ZRX only reaches down as far as the ZX-11 on its family tree for motor-vation. Remember when this engine powered the King of the Hill in the top-speed wars? For 2001, the ZRX's 112cc displacement bump puts the Kawasaki at the top of our trio in capacity. While the FZ1 may be the pip-squeak of the bunch with a mere 998cc, the retuned YZF-R1 engine delivers a punch that easily can level the playing field with a twist of the throttle.

The great super standards!Kevin Wing


By virtue of being broadly focused motorcycles, this trio is as versatile as a Leatherman. Need a knife to slice through the twisties? No problem. What about a can opener to deal with those cages on the morning commute? These bikes have the ability to perform a variety of tasks because they lack the specialization of other classes of motorcycles. Consequently, we were impressed with how easily they acquitted themselves to the situations we tested them in.

The eccentric chain adjuster looks as trick as the shock looks retro. Note the new swingarm bracing. The rear wheel is fattened up to 5.5 inches.Kevin Wing
For 2001, the ZRX received a more than 10 percent bump in displacement on top of its ZX-11 based predecessor. The quartet of 79.0 x 59.4mm cylinders adds up to big numbers low down on the dyno.Kevin Wing

The urban jungle can play hell on riders of narrowly focused sportbikes. Remember what we've written about almost every iteration of Ducati superbikes? Super standards, on the other hand, live for the city. All of these bikes leap off the line with authority. The FZ1 is the quickest with the ZRX right behind until approximately 50 mph, where the FZ1 takes off, but don't rule out the Bandit. The Suzuki makes up for its comparative lack of jam by having the easiest to modulate throttle. In the roll-on, hold it neutral, roll it off and then back on world of the evening bump and grind, this feature pays more dividends than just snapping off the line. Of course, weight also plays a factor in directional changes--both forward and side-to-side. The Yamaha, with its light weight, not only launches quicker, but also feels a bit more maneuverable. On Main Street, where situations can change in the blink of an eye, being able to change lines or slow down immediately pays big dividends. The ZRX feels like the smallest of the bikes, thanks to the short reach to the bar afforded by the narrow, classically styled tank. So, even though the ZRX weighs 30 pounds more than the FZ1, it can turn almost as quickly. The Bandit, despite having the shortest wheelbase by almost one inch, feels the longest and steers slower than the others.

In the whoa department, the FZ1 also reigns supreme with the most powerful brakes of the trio. The progressiveness of the Yamaha's four-piston calipers makes it easy to generate the braking force to stay out of trouble. While the ZRX's six-piston calipers provide enough friction to slow the bike briskly, the extremely linear nature of the power delivery makes panic stops an arm-pumping affair. Again, the Bandit comes up short in comparison to the others. Initial application of the brake lever is soft and the overall feel of the Suzuki's braking is spongy--not that it does anything wrong. Just when you need to stop right now, the Bandit adds a little vagueness to the mix.

Get outta town

Beyond Gotham, on the open road--the wide, flat, straight kind--only one of these bikes' fairings didn't leave us wanting, particularly in windy conditions. The Bandit offers the most realistic weather protection and roomiest ergos of the bunch. Factor in a comfy pillion that isn't too high (which makes some passengers more at ease than being perched above the rider), and the Suzuki would be a great mount for racking up the miles. While the ZRX's little bikini fairing gives respectable wind protection despite its diminutive size, we were a bit battered by headwinds on the Kawasaki. Folks who plan to travel on the FZ1 will most likely want to pop for the Yamaha Accessories windscreen that stands two inches taller than the stocker. (A six-inch version is in development.) Over the long haul, our certified SR passenger found the Bandit to be her favorite with the ZRX a close second--although she rated all three bikes as comfortable.

If you ever removed the bodywork of air/oil-cooled GSX-R1000, you'd have seen something like this—only with 1mm smaller pistons on the inside. The bottom end tuning can be felt off the line, but it tapers off quickly.Kevin Wing
Although the reach to the Bandit's bar falls between its competitors, it feels longer. We suspect this impression is caused by the fairing being so long.Kevin Wing

But super standards aren't about the super slab. Get these machines on a twisty road, and things start to happen. All three bikes have decent ground clearance. Thanks to the forward riding position, the Kawasaki feels the most responsive to handlebar inputs. However, that quick steering can turn into bump steering if pavement irregularities are encountered while the front is loaded under deceleration. Although this sapped some confidence on corner entries, the ZRX made up for this shortcoming with easy to modulate brakes, allowing precise control of entry speed. The Suzuki felt ponderous and slow steering by comparison. The minimally adjustable suspension exhibited an overall stiffness. The Bandit also wanted to stand up on the brakes. Combine this with high effort binders and you need to work pretty hard to keep up with the pack. Even after the brakes had some heat (we could actually feel them coming in as they warmed), one tester said that he was slowing with four fingers (instead of his usual two) at times. The FZ1 is the softest sprung of the bunch, yet this didn't keep it from being the easiest to ride. Neutral steering coupled with the powerful, progressive brakes (that required less pressure than the other two bikes) made the Yamaha a pleasure to hustle along. The primary limitation was its soft suspenders that let the FZ drag earlier than the others. A couple testers also felt that the riding position was a bit too close to sit-up-and-beg and needed a slightly lower bar.

Perhaps the best combination of style and function of this test, the FZ1 offers all the amenities we've come to expect from a sportbike. It only took a short ride to re-accustom ourselves to analog speedometers.Kevin Wing
Good looking and powerful, too. Despite being the smallest engine in the comparo (by 159cc), the retuned R1 mill stomps the others in the top end. While the Yamaha lags behind in the bottom on the dyno, you'd never know it on the street.Kevin Wing

In the tight stuff, the Bandit's soft power delivery worked in its favor. Rolling on the throttle produced buttery smooth motivation regardless of where in the corner the volume was turned up. The FZ1 and ZRX both required a more careful throttle hand. While the FZ1 was responsive to the point of being snappy--or just a hair overly eager--the ZRX was abrupt when shifting from off throttle to on. Although a careful rider could get smooth acceleration from the FZ1, the ZRX preferred to have the throttle moving in a positive direction before entering a corner. In less cramped confines, the differences might not have been as noticeable since faster, more sweeping corners would de-emphasize side-to-side transitions and better mask abrupt off/on throttles.

Back on the straight and speedy, the FZ1's clutch and tranny won high praise. While the ZRX1100 felt like it needed a sixth gear, the upgraded 1200 never felt as if a gear was lacking. Five gears also suited the Bandit, but its acceleration was clearly muted in comparison to the Kawasaki and Yamaha.

The stopwatch confirms our gut feeling: The ZRX is king of midrange, but once it stretches its legs, the FZ1 takes off. An R1 was included for comparison.

The wrap up

These three motorcycles can do almost anything you'd ask of sporting machinery and a few things you might be afraid of asking harder-nosed bikes. But which of these super standards works best? That depends. Strictly by the numbers, the FZ1 rules the class. Hands down. However, the ZRX is close in enough important categories that it ranks on the heels of the Yamaha. Unfortunately, the Bandit doesn't measure up in several places, putting it in the difficult position of straddling the line between standard and super standard. As it stands right now, the Suzuki doesn't offer that little something extra that we expect from a super standard.

SR Opinions

"...I was looking forward to the ZRX1200..."Kevin Wing

One of my favorite bikes that has been through the SR shop was the 124-horsepower Project Z-ReX (October '99), built from a Kawasaki ZRX1100. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the ZRX1200 and expected it to be everything our project bike was. Imagine my dismay, however, to find that the ZRX has lost its appeal to me. It could be that the swingarm pivot was loose and I was still wary after tightening it. Or maybe it's that the engine overpowers the stock chassis a bit too easily now. Another one of my favorite bikes was Motorcyclist's Bandit 1200, a test bike I hogged a lot last summer. But our bike just doesn't seem the same for some reason. It feels slower than I remember, and the suspension doesn't work as nicely. Maybe it's because we just finished testing 600s and open-class bikes, and these bikes simply don't do it for me anymore.But I think the real reason that the ZRX and Bandit have lost some of their shine is sitting down in the shop right now, and the key is in my pocket--the FZ1. You just can't argue with the R1-based engine and how light the Yamaha is--although the Kawasaki and Suzuki do an admirable job trying. Now that Yamaha has upped the ante with a recent-generation motor though, I can't stop thinking that someone has to step in with a stiff chassis and inverted fork soon. Hmm, project FZR1, maybe?

--Andrew Trevitt

"...the FZ1 feels faster in accelerating, turning and stopping. You'd be hard pressed to find a more balanced motorcycle on the market."Kevin Wing

Wow, add a third bike to a class, and suddenly you can do a comparison instead of single tests. Funny thing is that if tested individually, the Suzuki might have fared better. Although it's down on power compared to the last unit we rode, the Bandit's problems really show in this company. A few aftermarket refinements, and the 1200S would be right there with the others, though.The standout in this group has to be the FZ1. It plain dominates this gathering when all-out performance is considered. Although the ZRX makes more power throughout the bulk of the rpm range, the FZ1 feels faster in accelerating, turning and stopping. You'd be hard pressed to find a more balanced motorcycle on the market. Even with such a strong competitor in the FZ1, I'd still buy the ZRX if I were laying out my hard-earned cash. Everything about the bike rubs me the right way. I love the retro styling. The riding position is perfect. And around town, the engine can't be beat for in-your-face, bad-boy acceleration. Get it in the twisties and the fun-o-meter stays off the scale. Yeah, the wind protection isn't that great for the long haul, but sometimes you have to suffer for love.Last night, my wife asked me what bike I'd ridden home. I smiled and replied, "The bike I'm gonna get arrested on."

--Evans Brasfield

"With the possible exception of the Bandit, none of the bikes in the past really had the power that their overall appearance would have you expect..."Kevin Wing

I used to look at these "standard" bikes as just that--somewhat boring, sterile, stripped-down, pseudo-sportbikes. Not only stripped of bodywork, but also performance. With the possible exception of the Bandit, none of the bikes in the past really had the power that their overall appearance would have you expect, and I was often left a bit disappointed.However, the new FZ1 and ZRX12 change all that. Finally, some balls to back up the brawny looks, especially with the ZRX; the old 1100 just didn't have the jam when you wicked it up (unless you stuck in some ZX-11 cams, etc., like we did).That said, it really was tough for me to choose between the three. The Bandit's decent enough for backroad scratching as is, and the numb brakes could be fixed with aftermarket pads. Lowering the front end would cure its heavy steering, and its carburetion off of closed throttle is the least abrupt of the three bikes.But when it really comes down to swooping through some twisty pavement, I gotta go with Yamaha's FZ1. Its steering feel and lithe handling inspire more confidence than the ZRX, and although the Kawasaki isn't as softly sprung as the FZ1, the Yamaha's balanced chassis lets you drag hard parts without worry. Cool. When I get old (ha!), jus' gimme an FZ1, some soft luggage and I'm set.

--Kent Kunitsugu

In the bottom end and midrange, the ZRX dominates, but the FZ1 keeps building power after the others have given up.


Kawasaki ZRX1200 Suzuki Bandit 1200S Yamaha FZ1
MSRP $7,899 $7,399 $8,499
Type Liquid cooled, transverse, inline, 4-stroke four Air/oil-cooled, transverse, inline, 4-stroke four Liquid-cooled, transverse, inline, 4-stroke four
Displacement 1164cc 1157cc 998cc
Bore x Stroke 79.0 x 59.4mm 79.0 x 59.0mm 74.0 x 58.0mm
Carburetion 4, 36mm Keihin CV 4, 36mm Mikuni CV 4, 37mm Mikuni CV
Front suspension 43mm cartridge fork, 4.9; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping 43mm cartridge fork, 5.1 in. travel; adjustment for spring preload 43mm cartridge fork, 5.6 in. travel; adjustments for sprin preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension Dual shock absorbers, 4.6 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping Single shock absorber, 5.3 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload and rebound damping Single shock absorber, 5.3 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Front tire 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone BT020 120/70-ZR17 Michelin Macadam 90X 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone BT020
Rear tire 180/55-ZR17 Bridgestone BT020 180/55-ZR17 Michelin Macadam 90X 180/55-ZR17 Bridgestone BT020
Rake/Trail 25.0 deg./4.1 in. (104mm) 25.0 deg./4.1 in. (104mm) 26.0 deg./4.1 in. (104mm)
Wheelbase {{{57}}}.6 in. (1463mm) 56.3 in. (1430mm) 57.1 in. (1450mm)
Weight 544 lb. (247kg) wet, 512 lb. (233kg) dry 530 lb. (240kg) wet, 498 lb. (226kg) dry 514 lb. (233kg) wet, 480 lb. (218kg) dry
Fuel consumption 35.5 to 43.9 mpg, 39.9 mpg avg. 33.8 to 37.2 mpg, 36.6 mpg avg. 35.1 to 38.5 mpg, 37.3 mpg avg.