RIDING DIFFERENT BIKES. RACING SOME
Next up in our Classic Crush series is the Kawasaki ZXR-750. And with it the ZXR750R. Of course we could not forget about this fourth Japanese brand and their famous midrange sport bike. It was a direct competitor of the Honda RC30, the Yamaha OW01 and the Suzuki Slabby. Let us tell you all about this infamously green colored superstar.
I’ve had my eye on one for quite some time. Did not buy it eventually. My wallet said no. The less rare models aren’t that expensive, but I just had to give priority to other things. But I still have a major crush for those chubby cheeks and the cute fox eyes of the 1996 and up model.
The original Kawasaki ZXR-7 was introduced in 1988. From 1989 up to 1995, Kawasaki named the bike ZX7 Ninja in the United States and named it ZXR750 in Europe and everywhere else. ‘Cause you know, that makes things simple.. not.. The homologation version was called the Kawasaki ZX7R and the ZXR750R.
Of course, Kawasaki could not stay behind in the 750 sport bike game. So they created their 750 cc Ninja. The ZXR-750 had a 749 cc in-line four cylinder four-stroke engine. It rivaled the 750’s of the other Japanese brands quite well in popularity. But it was hardly a match for bikes like the Suzuki GSX-R 750. It was just too heavy compared to its rivals. But it handled well, felt stable on the roads and looked really good. And with that, it got a very decent following of fans.
Engine: 749 cc Transverse 4 cylinder four stroke
Power: 105.3 bhp @ 10.500 rpm
Seat height: 30.3 inches / 770 mm
Fuel system: Carburettors
Dry weight: 205 kg / 451.9 lbs
Top speed: 152.5 mph / 245.5 kph
In 1989 the ZXR H1 was introduced (called the ZX7 in the US). The H1 looked like the first model of the ZXR-7. It had 105 bhp and a dry weight of 205 kg. The model stands out with its iconic double round headlights, like many other famous sport bikes of that time.
After the H1, the H2 was introduced in 1990. Although it looked similar to the H1, both the engine and frame underwent quite some changes. As a consequence, lots of parts were not interchangeable with the H1, make it hard to find spare parts. It had 107 bhp and a dry weight of 200 kg.
In 1991, Kawasaki renewed the ZXR. The ZXR J1 and J2 models saw the light between 1991 and 1992. Fact of note; the J models were restricted by Kawasaki to 100 bhp. Normally, this isn’t too hard to derestrict, but with those two it seems like an impossible thing to do somehow.
The J models were the first ZXR versions with upside down forks. And were overall a bit lighter in weight than the previous models. They had a dry weight of 195 kg.
The race versions of the J models got the letter K. K1 and K2 can be found. Those were the homologation super bike specials and were built in limited numbers. It had the same frame as the J models, but had a full power engine. Giving it 121 bhp and a dry weight of 190 kg. It also had flat side carburettors, a close ratio gear box and fully adjustable suspension.
The ZXR L models started to show up between 1993 and 1995. The L models were the first ones to have Ram-air. They had one intake on the left hand side of the headlights. The engine that was found in the racy K-models was fitted into these L-models. They had 119 bhp and a dry weight of 205 kg.
The race versions of the L-models got the letter M. Between 1993 and 1994, this resulted in the ZXR-R M1 and the ZXR-R M2. Remember what we told you about the ‘R’ in previous Classic Crush articles? The more R’s you’ve got in the name, the faster it automatically gets. Which is no scientific statement by any means. It’s just how it works in the sport bike world. The ZXR-R M1 and M2 had 121 bhp and a dry weight of 200 kg.
In 1996, Kawasaki dropped the ZXR name and went with ZX-7R in both Europe and the US. The range of models got the letter P and went from P1 in 1996 to P7 in 2003. The new ZX-7R had a shorter stroke and wider bore engine. This resulted in more midrange power. It had air intakes at both sides of the headlights and the suspension on the road bike was fully adjustable too.
Again, Kawasaki came with a homologation model to be able to participate in the Superbike world championship. This model was named the ZX-7RR.
The 1996 Kawasaki ZX-7R might have been heavy compared to its rivals, but it stood out in front end precision. If you wanted, you could put that bike anywhere you’d wanted in a corner. The front end gave so much feedback. You knew exactly where that front wheel was going. It wasn’t the quickest bike to turn, but one could fix that by raising the rear ride height. And by putting it on tyres with a sharper profile.
Engine-wise, it didn’t really raise the bar. It was just a good, reliable liquid cooled inline four engine. But having 110 bhp at the rear wheel still made it a pretty quick bike. Especially for those days, in which motorcycle suits with airbags [ LINK] weren’t the standard yet.
In 1996, the Kawasaki ZX-7R models still had carburettors.. Some jump with joy when they hear that. Others not so much. A bike with carburettors has a special kind of magic over it. But if you are not familiar with them, they might be a bit of a mystery to own.
It basically meant; it funs super smooth and nice when well kept and maintained. It stalled as soon as it got cold outside and the cold and damp conditions made it ice. And it could give complicated problems as soon as the bike reached a high milage. To some, that sounds like a nightmare. To others it sounds like an adventure.
The Kawasaki didn’t stand out for its quality. Over time, the suspension could wear faster than you’d like it to. Pipes would rust and paint would drop off the wheels or calipers. But it wasn’t made to just look pretty. It was made to be ridden. And raced. So I guess Kawasaki didn’t made them to last multiple decades. Though many of them survived pretty well, despite the flaws of flaking paint etcetera.
The racing roots of the Kawasaki ZX-7R are very present. It does what is should. Ride fast. It might have been less successful in racing than the Honda RC30, but it still offers plenty of fun during your average track day. The seating position has race vibes all over it. Which means head down and butt up. And squeezing that butt on a thin layer of material which they called ‘the seat’. Some found the ZX-7R comfortable, most did not.
The pillion grabs on the back of the bike might look inviting. But don’t be fooled. There isn’t a lot of space to fold your legs as a pillion. So don’t expect comfort.
One thing the Kawasaki ZX-7R did stand out with, is its mediocrity. It all wasn’t as good as it could have been. It could have been better build. With a higher quality. The clocks on the dash could have been less cluttered. The mirrors could have given more visibility. And the headlights could have worked better. Been brighter. But they did look good and cute.
The ZX-7R wasn’t all that exciting. And that’s why I love it. The Yamaha OW01 might be a better race bike in general, but one thing it shares with the ZX-7R is the cute looks. It just kindly asks for your attention when it stands in the corner of the room. Or in the garage. Put a room full with bikes and it just stands out. Because it looks that good.
Do you buy a bike solely because it looks good? Maybe not. Not always, at least. Not when you are looking for a bike you’d actually like to ride. But if you don’t mind giving it the attention it gently asks for, and giving it some extra TLC because you can’t help yourself.. then the ZX-7R is a perfect motorcycle. The Kawasaki shows that a bike doesn’t have to be the lightest, most powerful or the latest to be extremely popular.