Kawasaki Z800 to USA – Review
Kawasaki has gone to great lengths to analyze the motorcycle market and find out who is buying what and why. According to the many charts the Kawasaki staff revealed to us, but did not allow out of the building, the calculations show that the average buyer is not bringing home any increase in income yet bikes in many segments of the market have increased in price by 10 percent or more.
Kawasaki had further determined that while the naked standard bike is only a tiny portion (about 2 percent) of the spectrum of bike segments, it is due for healthy growth over the next year. They also believe that the standard bike offers better bang for the buck as prices on these models have fallen slightly below the income average line on the chart.
These numbers, combined with the existence of the Z800 model that was sold only in Europe since 2013, allowed Kawasaki to decide that it’s now time to bring their Z1000 model’s middleweight sibling to the American market. The company’s quick decision to bring the bike to the US motorcycle market did not allow time for gestation from California authorities. With that said, the 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS will be a 49-state bike. This is surely a pity for Californians – the Z800 it turns out to be an excellent naked middleweight and is priced accordingly.
About the Naked Motorcycle Segment
Naked, standard motorcycles, according to Kawasaki’s chart and the seat of my pants, amounts to only a fraction of motorcycles models now available. The data illustrates, arguably, that the two segments found in the 70s (dual purpose and Universal Japanese Machines) has grown into a multi-striated list of 15 this year.
From track bikes to baggers to sport bikes to touring and several flavors of V-twins, and more, Kawasaki has outlined what’s popular, and even in this slim segment most manufacturers are now delivering middleweight naked standards.
Given the performance and handling available in a modern middleweight – and combine it with American rider’s new willingness to eschew open-class power and prices for a bike that can deliver precisely what they want and need – it’s no surprise to see this segment blossom. They can do it all and are a hoot to ride.
It’s no wonder that Kawasaki has chosen to quickly augment their lineup with this 806cc inline-4 cylinder machine to stand alongside their existing Z1000 offering. It’s also no surprise that Kawasaki couldn’t get California certification in time for the 2016 model year. The question of whether this model will become 50-state legal in 2017 was met with shrugged shoulders.
Kawasaki views this bike as a direct descendant of their legendary 1970s Z1, which lives on in memory as one of the bikes that really shaped the future of high-performance sport bikes today.
In this iteration the Z is more angular and modern with an aggressive look and feel. In 2003 Kawasaki released the Z750 in Europe where it was popular and sold well. In 2013 it was upgraded to the Z800 and now, for 2016, we can buy it in the U.S.
2016 Kawasaki Z800 Review – The Ride
If you’re looking for power, handling and genuine likability, this bike may belong on your short list. Yes, you can spend thousands more and win every bench race you enter but this middle Z performed flawlessly, and with character, on a recent ride from Palm Springs up into the mountains surrounding Idyllwild, Calif.
Not only was it a fun bike to ride but the character of the engine was entertaining and not bland as some other inline powerplants. It has nice pull from a stop and solid grunt all through the rev range. Throttle control is by mechanical cable and fueling is spot on. There are no modes to select nor any other electronic rider aids. The motor spits and snarls upon deceleration even with the stock short-style exhaust system that has an exhaust valve between the engine and muffler to enhance low and mid-range power.
The handling is excellent with its ridged, high-tensile steel backbone and steel swingarm with cast aluminum engine subframe. These parts help keep the bike pointed exactly where you want it to go, but also contribute to the Z800’s porky 508 (claimed) wet weight when compared to the Suzuki GSX-S750 (463 pounds) and the Yamaha FZ-09 (414 pounds).
Suspension duties are performed by KYB’s 41mm inverted front fork and KYB rear shock (with piggyback reservoir), and offered good feedback in the tight stuff. Both are fully adjustable for rebound and preload and felt very good as part of the bike’s overall handling package. On this ride I had no need to make any adjustments. Ride quality was extremely good and supple over bumps and at higher speeds and, as is usual in modern motorcycles, much of the excess weight seems to disappear as soon as one starts rolling.
I was able to enter turns hard on the brakes and pitch it into the turn with no jacking of the suspension, wobbles, noodles or other odd behavior. the 2016 Kawasaki Z800 felt planted and carved turns with grace and a solid feel. It was easy to ride to full lean and at our lunch stop I noticed that there was no sign of chicken strips on any of the test bikes with even wear all the way to the edge of the tire. Mile after mile, the Z800 handled well in all situations, the motor offered smooth power and it just did everything I asked of it without complaint.
My only niggle was related to a seat that is a bit convex and feels rather hard after 30 minutes or so. It’s a sure candidate for something aftermarket yet that’s the only negative aspect I recorded. As for options, Kawasaki offers no hard part accessories at this time so if you want to upgrade that plank you will need to go for a custom recovering or wait for the seat manufacturers to offer one.
Other than the seat, I found the cockpit to be comfortable, albeit just a bit tight for my 6- foot height. I did fit, and reach to the flat bars was good – my back was upright yet my knees were a bit high with my feet on the pegs. Ground clearance at full lean is good and there were no bits that scraped the pavement. There is little to no wind protection offered by the angular headlight/instrument panel cluster but that is to be expected with this design.
2016 Kawasaki Z800 Review – The Bike
The design is angular and quite modern. I happen to like the looks but not all riders will find it to their liking, which is typical of just about any bike. The designers have even engineered a double “Z” shape into the taillight pattern. Fit and finish are excellent and everything works as it should.
Braking chores were handled admirably by Nissin’s 4-pot front binders pinching 277mm petal rotors up front. The Z800 also features Nissin’s lightweight ABS unit as standard equipment. In the rear, a 216mm single petal-style rotor is clamped by a single-pot caliper. They are nothing to brag about but match the bike’s potential perfectly. They get the job done with excellent initial bite, good feel, linear progressive operation and no grittiness.
The cable clutch was easy to operate and smoothly launches the Z off the line as it eagerly rowed through six-speeds with silky smooth lever actuation. The final drive is also geared high enough to avoid high revs at highway speeds and it settles in around 6000 rpm (redline at 12,000) at 75 mph. There is little vibration at all on the handlebars and only slightly more vibes on the pegs. It was very easy to live with this machine on a 150 mile fast-paced ride, but for the saddle.
Dunlop Sportmax D214 buns are mounted on nice looking six-spoke cast 17-inch wheels with 120/70s up front and 180/55s in the rear. I found this to be a nice combination and the 180mm width offered lots of grip without being too wide. Kawasaki claims the wheels are manufactured using “the latest lightweight production technology” to help reduce unsprung weight but details are lacking as to actual composition.
The dashboard is small but adequate with everything you need but for ambient temperature. On hot days I like a thermometer to help me quantify my misery. There are two trips, odometer, fuel gauge, fuel range and clock but no gear selection indicator. There are left and right turn signal indicators and the tachometer area in the center of the 3-part panel allows change from light background with dark LED indicator to dark background with light indicator. An electronic immobilizer chip is built into the standard-type key to help prevent theft.
All-in-all, this new Z is a worthy addition to the segment and may be a popular choice for Kawasaki fans.
2016 Kawasaki Z800 Review – Price
The 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS will be offered at an MSRP $8,399, and only available in Metallic Spark Black with Kawasaki green accents.
2016 Kawasaki Z800 Review – Riding Style
- Helmet: Joe Rocket Speedmaster Carbon
- BT Communicator: Uclear HBC-200
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Hyperdrive
- Back Protector: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 2.0
- Gloves: Joe Rocket Pro Street
- Pants: Joe Rocket Stealth Sport
- Boots: Joe Rocket Speedmaster 3.0
Photos by Kevin Wing