So, you want a four cylinder sportbike, but money´s a bit tight, insurance is tricky and carrying a pillion passenger in comfort would be good as well ? That´s where these three four cylinder midrange machines come into play, each of them a bargain in its own right.
A used Bandit 600 offers great value for money, the Fazer has a genuinely surprising amount of speed and braking, and the ZZR600 is a tried and tested design from the early 90s that makes a pretty good occasional tourer.
Insidebikes.com took a ride on all three to try and pick a winner.
I must be getting senile, because I actually liked the two-tone beige colours of the Kawasaki ZZR600. Yep, it´s only a matter of time now before a Sprite Musketeer 14 foot caravan adorns my driveway, with matching tea/coffee/sugar jars inside it, plus a one-way ticket to line-dancing hell in a Welsh seaside resort. Scary.
OK, so you might not agree, but I reckon the ZZR600 looks almost modern in its brighter paintwork than some of its older designs, and I have to confess to secretly enjoying riding it, despite its early 90s antique feel and performance.
The reason? Simple really, it´s still a motorcycle that you can have fun on, without trying too hard. Maybe it´s heresy to say it, but not everyone needs to push themselves to the limit of their ability when riding for pleasure at the weekend. You can go slower than John Reynolds into roundabouts and wear leather clothing that doesn´t have strangely shaped armour and knee sliders attached y´know…
For general pottering about then, the ZZR600 will do very nicely, especially if you are on the tall side, as this is one of the longest stretches from saddle to handlebars in the world of motorcycling. Of course, being a bit 5 foot 8 ins average myself, that stretch can get a tad tiring after 60-80 miles or so, but at least the Kawasaki´s gas tank offers a big, flat resting place for your beergut. Or tankbag, if you have a mind for touring…
You see the ZZR600, once a flagship sports motorcycle for Kawasaki back in 1991, is now, in 2001, one of the better touring motorcycles in that company´s product range. A silky smooth engine, plush seating and touches like a good sized grab-rail and pop-out bungee hooks, all combine to make the ZZR a bit of long distance runner.
True, the liquid cooled, four cylinder DOHC motor needs a good revving to actually get things moving rapidly, but be honest, how often do you nail the needle past 10,000rpm when on holiday? The only real criticism you can level at the ZZR motor is that there is still (even after all these years of production) a yawning chasm of a flat spot, around 5,000 revs.
What that boils down to in the real world is that when overtaking traffic on a typical A road, the ZZR needs a quick change down from top gear, as 5,000 revs equals roughly 65-70mph in 6th gear. It´s something you get used to, and the Kawasaki´s gearbox is nice and slick, but it eventually begins to spoil the riding experience for you.
On tour, slipping deftly down empty roads, the ZZR600 would feel great. Stable, predictable, with just enough power. But in busy traffic, it´s a bit wearing, as you constantly rev it up to make good progress, then discover that the brakes aren´t quite up to stopping all that weight (195 kilos, yet slightly lighter than the Bandit) repeatedly.
Trouble is, if Kawasaki did beef up the front stoppers on the ZZR600, then the softly sprung front forks would simply bottom out even faster, effectively tying the bike in knots.
I have to admit that riding the ZZR relatively fast along a country road wasn´t really anything like fun, as the mushy suspension, slow steering characteristics and wooden brakes made life a little bit too exciting. Fact is, the ZZR is from another era and a spin along a genuinely twisty road on the Bandit, or the Fazer, at anything above 70mph, exposes its ancient roots pretty quickly.
The biggest difference in its roadholding from the Bandit or Fazer, is that the ZZR seems to be so reluctant to turn into corners, which is really noticeable on roundabouts. You can ride around the problem by adopting a Whitham `hang-off´ style, using your bodyweight to drag the bike down in terms of lean angle, but it doesn´t really want to play ball with you.
The odd thing is that the ZZR feels about 10 kilos heavier than the Bandit, although the manufacturer´s brochures say it´s the other way around, with the Suzi weighing a portly 208kgs dry. Yet the Bandit simply rolls into corners far smoother, with less upper body effort, end of chat.
But like I said at the start of this section, the ZZR isn´t for someone who has something to prove when it comes to cornering. It´s a great old bus, a soft sofa, a solidly made weekend toy. In some ways, it´s even more retro than the other two retro class machines, purely because Kawasaki have done very little to change the ZZR range since its introduction back in 1990.
For all that, I liked the comprehensive package that the ZZR offers, for relatively low amounts of money. The finish seems good, problem areas like the forks, footrest hangers etc look less likely to discolour than on Kawasakis of old. Details like the mirrors (superb rear view and positioned nice and wide), the comprehensive dashboard display and the sensibly large, fairing mounted, fuel tap, all add up to make life seem pleasant on the ZZR600.
In a funny kind of way I started to like the ZZR600 after two weeks getting used to its old fashioned ways, and given the amount of speed revenue cameras on our roads these days, I didn´t miss the ballsy, more visceral performance of the Fazer as much as I expected to. In the end however, I´d still spend my 5K, or just under, on the Yamaha, because as nice as it is to visit the past, I don´t want to live there.
Get Kawasaki motorcycle insurance for the kawasaki 600s zzr600.
|Engine||Liquid cooled, 600cc four stroke, four cylinder, 16 valves.|
|Claimed power (bhp)||100bhp|
|Chassis||alloy twin spar frame.|
|Suspension||41mm front forks, monoshock rear, multi adjustable.|
|Brakes||Twin front discs, four piston caliper. Rear disc, twin piston caliper|
|Wheels||17 inch front and rear. Wheelbase; 1430mm|
|Top speed||140mph (est)|
|Fuel capacity||20 litres|
|Current price||Approx £3,000 – used `99 model|