The ZR-7. By keeping the specifications basic and using an engine that it has had since the early Eighties, Kawasaki has managed to offer a machine that combines rugged good looks matched by sufficient potency and excellent handling. And all at a surprisingly affordable price (US$5,699, Lit 12.000.000 Italy, £4,000 UK).
The ZR-7 is anything but state-of-the-art. The motor is old-fashioned - and it shows. At 75bhp its peak power is low by modern standards, which is pretty low compared to the typical 90+ hp power output of competing 600cc machines. The motor compensates by pumps out hard hitting low and mid range torque, but the throttle response is always quite sluggish, notwithstanding the addition of the K-TRIC (Kawasaki Throttle Responsive Ignition control). At very low revs, such as you'll use riding through city traffic, there's a certain amount of hesitation from the motor, making smooth progress very difficult.
A certain buzziness from the motor is very much in evidence, not so much as any unpleasant vibration, but just a revvy, frantic feel when cruising which has you repeatedly searching for another gear beyond top.
Still, the motor is nothing if not well proven, so reliability won't be a problem, and the new carburetors (KEIHIN CVK32) have at least improved the fuel consumption of what was already a frugal power unit. This and the large, 22 litre (5.8 Us gal) fuel tank will help gentler riders see 400 kilometres (250 miles) between refills.
The frame, too, is traditional (a tubular steel twin-cradle design), but more modern in its performance. The steering is neutral and relaxed across the speed range, stability is exemplary and the suspension works better than you might expect on a machine with such a budget tag. It's too soft to enjoy really serious, fast direction changes, but comfort is good and control at medium speeds just fine.
The ZR-7 is pretty roomy, allowing two-up riding, even over the long distance. The riding position is semi upright, so sustained highway speeds are possible without permanent neck damage. The pillion rider meanwhile is equipped with useful grab handles and a footrest position which isn't too torturously high. However the downwards inclination of the seat makes the pillion slide forward into the front rider seat, making downhill riding and hard braking a little bit uncomfortable for both rider and passenger.
Although weighing in at about 219 kgs (on-the-road with 5 liters of gas) the ZR-7 is surprisingly agile and is pretty easy to handle in city traffic, thanks to a well-designed steel frame. Unlike other similar retro-style maked motorcycles, the ZR-7 lets the rider lean hard (but not too hard!!) into curves with a great sensation of security.
The budget-priced Kawasaki ZR-7 is a competent, useful machine a will appeal to the middle market that is looking for a gentle, touring motorcycle, however riders looking for an exciting track missile should probably look elsewhere...