Long-term test (Introduction): Kawasaki Z800 ABS

Kawasaki is one of those do-it-all Japanese companies. From ships to helicopters and trains, Kawasaki Heavy Industries builds them. But, most visible to petrolheads is the motorcycle division.

The company started building bikes in the 1950s, but things moved into top gear with the purchase of Meguro Motorcycles in the 1960s. There was competition right from the start, not just from the Europeans and Britons, but from Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. Nothing has changed, of course, and all still compete strongly for their slice of the market.

These days, motorcycle styling is pretty much like car designs: manufacturers mostly employ variations of the same theme.

Only the retro designs take a few steps back in time. With this Z800, however, the stylists have at least tried to offer something a bit different. Could another word for different be alien? There are distinct ribs, scales and pointy bits that give it an artistic, edgy flair.

The Z800 is a naked bike without a windscreen and just a cowling for the headlamps. It’s also naked in that there is no added wizardry such as traction control; it’s all up to you. Our test bike is fitted with ABS braking, however, which is great.

So far we’ve been suitably impressed by the smooth and torquey engine, coupled with an easy-shifting gearbox.

One annoyance is digital instrumentation that’s small, making it tricky to know what’s going on unless you take your eyes off the road for a second or two.

For the first 100 km, we have been asked to keep the engine revs below 6 000 r/min. After that point, the bike will go in for an oil service before we start exploring the upper reaches of its rev counter.

After 1 month
Mileage now:
155 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km):
6,67 L/100 km
We like:
super-smooth engine and gearbox
We dislike: hard seat

Long-term test (Update 1): Kawasaki Z800 ABS

I have a friend who has a Kawasaki ER-6N (we tested one in September 2014), so we decided to take a scenic trip and explore some back roads. The two bikes are very different – the ER is a parallel-twin, whereas the Z800 boasts a transverse four – but both are liquid-cooled. The ER has a 180-degree crankshaft, which means 180 degrees followed by 540 degrees. This affords the powertrain some offbeat character and some vibes, too.

On the other hand, our Z800 is super smooth but always sounds as if it is revving too high; the engine emits a high-pitched whistle.

It is quite feasible to whizz through the gears into sixth at below 60 km/h and, from there, you can choose your speed by simply applying throttle. What surprised me was that, for a completely naked bike, there is little wind noise.

The braking is excellent and, although the forks have a small rake angle (so much so you cannot see the front wheel when seated), the steering is precise and user-friendly.

We rode through Philadelphia, Klipheuwel and Malmesbury before passing farmlands in Paardeberg and on to Wellington. Then it was a bumpy ride over Bainskloof Pass, where we stopped for breakfast.

Returning via Wolseley and Malmesbury, we covered a total of 250 km. On return, the range to empty had reduced to below 50 km. The following day, I filled the tank and it took more than 10 litres. Consumption came to 5,2 L/100 km, with speeds mostly in the vicinity of 110 km/h.

With the Z800’s mileage up to 1 000 km, it was also time for its first oil change and check-up, which was done by Rob Cragg at Mad Macs motorcycles in Somerset West.

After 3 months
Mileage now:
1 860 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km):
5,50 L/100 km
We like:
trip computer and range to empty display
We dislike: digital rev counter