The Common Denominator: Kawasaki ZR-7

My Generation

Even At first glance, Kawasaki's ZR-7 reveals a careful combination of both current and classic (or at least 1980s) styling. The swoopy tank and bodywork clearly marks the ZR as a bike that was introduced in 2000. However, details such as the engine's big oil cooler and superbike-style handlebar say that this bike has more depth than just following current fashion trends. Perhaps the best way to consider the ZR-7 is as the average guy of motorcycling. He's not a couch potato because he works out a bit, but he's not a professional athlete either. Still, he's comfortable in a variety of environments. Similarly, this bike was designed for general purpose motorcycling with a sporting bent—but on a budget. Call it your bike for the active lifestyle.

To build such a versatile bike, Kawasaki started with an all-new double cradle tubular steel frame. The headstock is raked to a moderate 25.5 degrees with 3.7 inches of trail. A pair of 41mm stanchions grace the non-adjustable fork. The Uni-track rear suspension utilizes a shock that is adjustable for preload and rebound damping. Dunlop Sportmax-shod 17-inch wheels are slowed by a pair of two-piston, single action calipers acting on 300mm semi-floating discs on the front, with a 240mm disc and a two-piston caliper in the rear.

On top of this sturdy, yet relatively inexpensive chassis, Kawasaki slipped on some curvy bodywork. The stepped seat is somewhat narrow at the front, giving those shorter in stature an easier reach to the ground from the 31.5-inch high seat. The tank also features a narrow rear that makes the bike feel skinnier than it is, which is sure to make the novice riders who purchase the ZR a little more comfortable. However, one tester felt, "The seat positioning was slanted too far forward. I felt like I was ready to slip over the bars, which put more weight on my hands." The bulbous tank doesn't look nearly large enough to hold the healthy 5.8 gallons of your favorite fossils that it does. A moderately pulled back, superbike-styled handlebar places the rider in a perfect, slightly forward canted riding position. Completing the ergonomic package, the comfortably low pegs reside directly below the rider for a relaxed riding position.

Since Team Green spent its development money producing a modern chassis, the engineers looked more to the company's history for the powerplant. Drawing on an engine line that can be traced back to the Z-1, the 738cc air/oil-cooled engine is hardly current—which may not be a bad thing. Without liquid-cooling, the engine is cheaper to manufacture, easier to maintain and lighter. Also, with as many years of production knowledge that has been accumulated about this engine configuration, it should be stone solid, particularly in this understressed form. The oversquare 66.0 x 54.0mm bore and stroke combined with the relatively small 32mm Keihin CV carbs mean that the engine is fairly slow revving with the bulk of the power arriving in the midrange. The only obvious drawback that can be found on the specification sheet is the five-speed transmission. With the job description that this bike was designed for, you'd think that a sixth cog would be wise to calm the jingles at highway speeds.

From the moment the starter is thumbed, the ZR-7 displays its amiable character. The engine fires easily and settles into a smooth idle. Rolling on the throttle produces a subdued, but pleasant, note. The engine sounds busier than liquid-cooled ones of similar displacement, though. The clutch engagement is linear with good feel—a boon to those who will spend many miles commuting on this bike. While the throttle response in the bottom end could be a little crisper, the engine answers any throttle input immediately from 3000 on up. Unfortunately, vibration sets in between 4500 and 6000 rpm-right where many city mounts will spend much of their time. While the vibration isn't exactly annoying in the grips and pegs, a good bit of the tingling gets transmitted to your...uh...nether region. This is compounded by the fact that the five-speed transmission makes the bike feel frenetic at elevated highway speeds. Commented one tester, "I kept trying to upshift when I was already in fifth gear."

Around town, the softly sprung suspension handles the task of absorbing pavement irregularities with aplomb. Moving out to the twisties, however, displays the suspension's limitations. On smooth pavement, the ride, while boingy, remains confidence inspiring until the pace gets ratcheted up into the aggressive end of the scale. In bumpier environs, the front end (in particular) gets upset easily. We attribute this to the fact that the ZR rides high in its suspension travel, and the minimal rebound damping allows the fork to spring back, topping out the suspension. Again, this only becomes noticeable in more spirited riding situations. At faster paces, the soft initial application of the front brakes may also cause some concern in newer riders who are not confident enough to give the firm pull required to get maximum power out of the binders. Perhaps bleeding the system would firm up the feel.

Our guest riders felt the easy clutch engagement and ample midrange made the ZR-7 an ideal city bike. The forward sloping seat and vibration were the primary complaints. All agreed that the Kawasaki was at home on winding roads.

All in all, giving your local Kawasaki dealer $5699 gets you a surprising amount of bike for the money. The good-looking, solid chassis works well in a variety of riding situations. The engine puts out usable power and has an impressive range thanks to its 5.8 gallon tank. Other surprises for a bike in this price range are the fuel gauge (once you've used it for a while, you miss it on bikes without one), a center stand and optional accessory hard bags designed specifically for the bike. While the ZR-7 may not have the street cred of the latest replica-racers, it will lead a long and useful life for novice riders, re-entry riders or anyone who wants a sporty, jack-of-all-trades motorcycle.

Suggested retail price: $5699
Engine type: Air/oil-cooled, transverse, inline, 4-stroke four
Displacement: 738cc
Bore x stroke: 66.0 x 54.0mm
Transmission: 5-speed
Rake/trail: 25.5 deg./3.7 in. (93mm)
Wheelbase: 57.3 in. (1455mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal. (21.9L)
Wet weight: 509 lb. (231kg)

This article originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of Sport Rider.