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Old 12-14-2015, 11:20 PM   #1
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First Ride Review – 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS

After decades of never really catching on with the American buyer, the naked standard motorcycle category appears to have finally taken hold in the US. Much of this long-awaited resurgence is due in part to Yamaha’s bombshell FZ-09 that offered unrivaled bang for the buck, and the other OEMs have obviously noticed its sales success. Suzuki was the first to challenge the FZ-09’s price-point/performance combination with its GSX-S750, and now Kawasaki is jumping into the middleweight standard fray by bringing its Z800 to the US market for 2016 (well, for 49 states for the time being; California residents unfortunately won’t get the bike yet due to the added emissions requirements for legality).

Kawasaki is jumping onto the mid-size, low-price, good-performance bandwagon by bringing over its Z800 ABS from the European market where it's been on sale for the past year.

Available since 2013 across the Pond, the Z800 is powered by a liquid-cooled DOHC 806cc inline-four that is basically a bored-out/upgraded version of the old Z750 engine. A 2.6mm-larger bore with 10-percent-lighter pistons getting their undersides cooled by larger oil jets, revised intake/exhaust ports, longer intake manifolds, and a staggered intake funnel setup along with 2mm larger throttle bodies (now 34mm) not only boost peak horsepower by a claimed 6 hp to a 111 hp peak in European tune (Kawasaki USA wasn’t specifying any power figures), but also provide a major increase in midrange grunt. Helping in this regard as well are longer header pipes on the exhaust, along with equalizer tubes between cylinders and an exhaust valve in the under-engine chamber. Other minor internal updates include wider-radius journals on the crankshaft and a new cam chain for less frictional losses.

The Z800's 803cc inline-four-cylinder engine is basically a bored-out/upgraded version of the old Z750 engine that puts out a claimed 111 hp in European trim.

Our European cohorts have had plenty of good things to say about the Z800’s engine, and after a day spent riding in the streets of Palm Springs and up in the canyons of the San Jacinto mountain range towering above the desert city, we’d have to agree. There’s plenty of responsive low-end and midrange acceleration, aided in part by the change to a two-teeth-larger rear sprocket that shortens the gearing slightly. While not quite in the league of the sprightly FZ-09 as far as overall power in the bottom half of the rev range, the Kawasaki is light years ahead the GSX-S750 when it comes to response from the engine room. Power continues to build as rpm rises into the five-digit zone before tapering off slightly as the Z800’s engine approaches its rev limiter around 12,000 rpm, but there’s enough top-end power to be had without revving it that far, and wheelies are but a clutch-snap away.

The conventional two-piece Nissin calipers and 310mm petal-style discs may appear to be parts-bin pieces, but their performance is surprisingly good. The same could be said for the 43mm inverted KYB fork.

The Kawasaki has a traditional non-electronic cable throttle and no ride modes or traction control, so it’s fairly old school analog in that sense. And that feeling extends to the throttle response, as there’s none of the abruptness that plagues much of its ride-by-wire competition. Getting on the throttle at any rpm in any portion of the corner rewards you with smooth acceleration that doesn’t begin with a jerk or hesitation.

Kawasaki engineers revised the Z750’s steel backbone frame with two bolt-on aluminum subframe sections running across the engine that allow the Z800’s front engine mounts to be positioned behind the cylinders. In conjunction with a combination of rigid and rubber engine mounts, Kawasaki says this allows the vibration from the inline-four to be isolated more effectively. While we’re not so sure the primary objective of the frame design was fully accomplished—some tingles can definitely be felt through the handlebar and footpegs above 7,500 rpm—the overall handling characteristics of the chassis can’t be faulted.

Square-section steel swingarm holds a 5.5-inch-wide rim shod with a 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 OEM-spec radial. The wedge shape of the muffler hides a complex cross-section that includes an exhaust valve as well as meeting strict noise regulations.

The Z800 has a nice, neutral yet fairly agile feel in the corners, with little effort required to flick the bike into a corner. Line changes in midcorner are easily accomplished with zero drama, and the stock Dunlop OEM-spec D214 Sportmax tires provide good grip and fairly precise steering characteristics. There’s plenty of ground clearance, and only when you really start riding aggressively do the peg feelers touch down on tarmac.

The standard KYB suspension components on the Kawasaki certainly don’t feel like budget parts, with the 43mm inverted fork (adjustable for spring preload on one side and rebound damping on the other) and single rear shock (spring preload and rebound damping adjustable as well) providing good wheel and chassis control even when the pace heats up. The flip side for that aptitude in the corners is a ride that’s a little firm for pothole-ridden urban tarmac and highway superslab, but it’s nothing drastic.

The Z800 ABS's seat is embossed with the Z emblem, but more importantly, is nice and supportive with a narrow front section to allow easier foot placement at a stop. The padding is a little stiff, but not obtrusive.

Even the brakes—despite the budget-looking standard-mount two-piece Nissin calipers—work well. Response is a little flat, but power and feel are surprisingly good, with the 310mm discs likely helping by providing good leverage for the calipers. And the standard Nissin ABS works well too, with a fairly high intervention point and transparent action overall. Although we’d have to say that those capable brakes are a good thing, as they have some 509 pounds to slow down, which is our only real gripe with the Z800. Even though it carries its weight well for the most part, the Kawasaki is a good bit heavier than its competition.

At $8,399, the Kawasaki Z800 ABS is a touch more expensive than the Yamaha non-ABS-equipped FZ-09 ($8,190) or the Suzuki GSX-S750 ($7,999 for the base model). But its solid performance definitely makes it worth a look in the middleweight standard category.

Specifications 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS MSRP: $8,399Engine Type Liquid-cooled, DOHC inline-four, 4 valves/cyl.Displacement 806ccBore x stroke 71.0 x 51.9mmCompression ratio 11.9:1Induction Keihin DFI, 34mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.Chassis Front Tire 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214F JRear Tire 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D214 JRake/trail 24°/3.9 in. (98mm)Wheelbase 56.9 in. (1445mm)Seat height 32.8 in. (834mm)Fuel Capacity 4.6 gal. (17.5L)Claimed curb weight (90% fuel load) 509 lb. (231kg)

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