YZF V ZX-7R
When you’re talking bang-per-buck, few road bikes come close to rivalling 750 sportsbikes from the 1990s. Fast, robust, drop dead gorgeous – and absolute steals compared to anything else out there
Sports 750s are the best value bikes on the market. These two are ballistic bargains
It staggers me what people pay, or more pertinently charge, for 250 two-strokes. Not that there’s anything wrong with quarterlitre strokers; I love ’em and have long rued the day I sold my MC18 NSR. But six, seven and in some cases almost 10 grand for a highmaintenance race rep? You have got to be kidding, surely.
I wish I was.what makes the 2T situation even more bizarre is the fact that you can instead have something with more than twice the power, and the same race-bred pedigree that won’t need its top end refreshing every 6000 miles for less than a quarter of the dough.who would say no to all of the above for a mere two thousand quid or less?
Not us, that’s for sure. In the last 12 months we’ve added not one but two 750cc superbikes to the PS fleet – my ’93 Yamaha YZF750 and Mick Smith’s ’96 Kawasaki ZX-7R. I paid just over £2000 for my YZF, Mick a grand for his 7R. Both required work, but nothing bank breaking. In terms of value per grin, three-quarter litre race reps like these are in a class of their own. Nothing else gives so much for such modest outlay.
And today proves the point. It’s the first time Mick and I have had these bikes out at the same time, and the first time we’ve ridden together for over 11 years. Despite it being mid-november the weather is kind; the sun has burnt away the early cloud, and any moisture that covered the road has all but gone.the air is crisp, with just a nip of autumn to its temp, both bikes inhaling huge gulps of the stuff as we carve our way through the rolling topography of the Lincs/leics borders to rendezvous with snapper Paul ‘Smiley’ Bryant. Inside our lids we’re both grinning like loons.
These bikes were the guv’nors back in the ’90s. Honda’s Fireblade had more
cubes, but it wasn’t a true race rep; back then ‘superbike’ meant 750cc. In the hands of WSB head-bangers Nori Haga and Anthony Gobert the YZF and ZX-7 did extraordinary things, only adding to the appeal. But at the time you needed deep pockets to own one. A new YZF cost £6999 in ’93, rising to £8899 by ’96. Kawasaki’s offering peaked at £8850 in ’96; six years later a new ZX would rush you £6795.They were proper bikes at proper money. Now they’re still every bit as engaging as they ever were. Only the money has changed.
Obviously the homologation spec models of both (the YZF-SP and ZX-7RR) cost more, but in the real world flatslide carbs, tall first gears and single seats were of no benefit to road riders. In fact these pricey extras often made the bikes worse to ride on the road than the cheaper cooking models.what they really needed was a race-kit and a track to make sense of their existence.
In many way 750cc is the perfect capacity. Torquier and pokier than a 600, less ferocious than a litre bike, and – with these two at least – a precision chassis to take full advantage of everything on offer.two decades of use and neglect can easily blunt a sharp chassis however so, like most newly purchased oldies, both Yam and Kwak have required attention. Just service item stuff (tyres, brakes, suspension, carburation, etc.) but it’s made a massive difference to both bikes.
What I like most about the YZF is its neutrality; it’s so easy to ride fast. The EXUP valve – which artificially alters the tuned length of the exhaust to deliver both top and bottom end – makes what would potentially be a peaky delivery into a seemingly never ending tsunami of forward motion. For a race rep this 20 valve Yam is surprisingly flexible. It’ll pull a gear higher in situations where rival 750s demand a stamp or two down the ’box before they’ll get off their backsides.
There’s still room for improvement in the Yam through the lower numbers on its tacho (a session on the dyno will sort that). Richening the idle circuit has already produced noticeable results. Between 6000-7000rpm the motor starts to stand to attention, only an occasional hesitation in that range spoiling the drive – that again can be ironed out on the dyno.top end is strong; 13K was a heady number for a redline on a 750 at the time (even the three years younger ZX-7 only revs to 12,500). Peak power’s at 12 so that’s as good as any number to snick another cog.
When I do I never use the clutch.the gearbox is slick yet precise and allows the next ratio to take up motion with just the slightest roll of throttle and nudge of
“THE ZX’S CONNECTION BETWEEN ‘BARS AND TARMAC IS FULL COLOUR”
lever. With 30,000 miles under its belt the gearbox is nicely run-in. Like most older Yams though, it does like a drop of oil; not a huge thirst, but it gets a slug of Yamalube semi-synth after every fourth or fifth ride.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so smooth,” declares Mick on his return from a 20 minute spin on the Yam. “Especially compared to my Kawasaki. That feels raw, whereas this is silky and refined. It reminds me a bit of my old 4XV R1.” Some compliment. He goes on. “But it’s not just the motor that’s smooth.the handling really responds to accurate and considered input. It flatters you. I sometimes feel as though I’m coaxing the Kawasaki through a turn. This thing just glides. It usually takes me a while to feel comfortable on a bike I’ve not ridden before, but this felt natural straight away – knee-down on the third corner.”
It didn’t feel quite this way when I got it, but new Dunlop Sportsmart tyres, chain
and sprockets, a Nitron shock and freshly greased rear linkage have really elevated the YZF’S ride. The A151 from Bourne to Colsterworth is an old favourite of ours. It winds, rises, dips and contorts its way over 21 miles of rural Lincolnshire like a mini-tt with fast, open turns, 90-degree bends, off-camber direction changes and blind crests: a test for any bike. The YZF is up for a boogie (who isn’t?) and as I push harder and ask more from the bike, it simply shrugs and wonders what all the fuss is about. Nothing seems to unsettle the steering, even rough overbanding and poorly finished surface changes. The Yam remains stoic.
Just as well. Nine miles into our ride a deer jumps out of a hedge in front of me as I’m hard on the gas in fourth. Instinctively I hit the anchors, the front end dips violently and my life flashes before me.a second deer appears in my left peripheral vision, checks itself, loses its footing and slides sideways from the verge on its hindquarters towards me and bike.we miss both by inches…
Composure restored, I run back through what just happened. It was over in the blink of an eye, all emerged unscathed, the bike remained utterly composed throughout. Much more than me; my heart still banging away like a bass bin. We shed a lot of speed very quickly, yet the bike never twitched, squirmed or protested once. This thing will be a weapon into Mallory’s hairpin…
A few miles later we stop. I’m surprised to learn that Mick prefers the neutrality of the Yam’s steering compared to that of his own ZX. For me the Kawasaki wins out. Although the YZF’S steering is light and unflustered, there’s a point through a corner between turn-in and apex where feedback becomes a touch vague for me.the ZX on the other hand is all about that front end.the connection between ’bars and tarmac is full colour, plus it steers more accurately than the Yam too. MCT Suspension do a cartridge replacement for YZF forks using Triumph 675 parts that apparently transforms the front end – top of my list for mods.
Considering they’re made to the same recipe, this pair feel very different.while the Yam radiates refinement (unexpected, I know), the Kawasaki is typically, well… Kawasaki.all Kwak sportsbikes are a bit raw, and that’s part of their charm. Hunched forward like a silverback gorilla in threat mode, the ZX exudes menace. It’s sharp shark-like lines still look fresh, and the head-down-arse-up ergonomics leave no doubt that this thing is up for a scrap. If you’re going to potter about, don’t bother, the ZX ain’t interested…
I’m more than pleasantly surprised by the Kawasaki. Considering it cost less than many rusting, non-running projects, and it’s not taken much to get it back on the road, it really shouldn’t be this good. But it is. After an afternoon with Big G’s carb balancers Mick’s got the fuelling to 90 per cent of where it should be. He’s still not quite happy with the low rpm running but to be fair he’s nit-picking. The motor’s really strong, pulling smoothly from low numbers to 8000rpm where it really starts to take off. The stock Keihin carbs have a reputation for wearing over time, so new needles and emulsion tubes should iron out those final niggles.
The riding positions are as fundamentally different as the two bike’s characters. You sit perched on the Yam, whereas you’re plugged into the Kawasaki – there’s much more of a connection with the ZX, a one-to-one coupling with feedback flowing back from the chassis. There’s a price to pay though, as Mick was quick to point out.
“My legs aren’t as crunched up on the YZF, plus the ’bars don’t feel quite as low. I could do distance on the Yam.” I have, and while it’s admittedly a tad more relaxed than the green bike, 100 miles is about the absolute limit you’d want to be in that position before crying to get off – I know I was.an ageing carcass doesn’t help, obviously, but neither are for touring unless you’re a masochist…
Despite an old shock and fork oil of unknown vintage the 7R is remarkably taut, but the ride is typically harsh. This can be smoothed out with a better shock, springs and rear linkage. British roads being the state they are, I’d want to
“I HAVE TO RIDE THE YZF HARD TO KEEP THE KWAK IN SIGHT”
address this if it were mine. Mick seems to have similar plans.when he does that I’ll have to ride the YZF hard to keep his Kwak in sight.
The YZF and ZX are four years apart in terms of development, so it’s hard to compare them exactly like for like.the earlier ZXR was the true rival of the Yam, and Suzuki’s 1996 SRAD GSX-R is the contemporary sparring partner to the 7R. In terms of looks and handling the Kwak has the edge, and so it should – it’s next generation. Performance wise they’re fairly equal; the YZF was already two steps ahead of its rivals when launched in ’93. So picking a favourite isn’t so straightforward.
“I like both but for different reasons,” muses Mick. “I’m really surprised by the YZF, I didn’t expect it to be that good. I thought it’d be big, a bit blunt, perhaps a bit of a handful, like an EXUP 1000, but it’s not at all. It’s really well balanced. If Honda hadn’t launched the Fireblade in
“IF A 250 STROKER IS FOUR TIMES THE PRICE OF OUR 750S, IT CERTAINLY WON’T BE FOUR TIMES THE FUN”
1992 this would have been the sportsbike of the early ’90s, no question.
“There’s more to come from the ZX. It’s a hooligan bike compared to the Yam and it’s always exciting to ride. My last bike was an R1 and I think that made me lazy. With all that power you don’t need to be in the right gear all the time. But you can’t afford to be lazy on a 7R. It needs revs and a commited rider to make it deliver.when it does, it’s brilliant.”
It’s just not possible to be disappointed with our buys. If a 250 stroker is four times the price of our 750s, it certainly won’t be four times the fun.after a shakey start as its faults have been ironed out I’ve really begun to gel with the YZF. And the more I ride it, the more I like it. She’s a keeper. Same for Mick. “I’ve always wanted a ZX-7R. I love the looks, and the aim is to get it to ride as well as new ones I rode back in the day. Mine’s getting there. Besides, what else am I going to find that does what this does for this money?”
There’s no denying it, these things still pack a fair punch visually and dynamically
The only kind of clocks you need: round ones with numerals Either call it patina, or geneal wear and tear. Nice new drive line though
Do be careful of the catseyes old chap
We keep saying it, and for a reason. Few front ends compare with a ZX-7R’S (still)
That’s not very nice, is it? Squeezing your mate into the hedge
Pipes by Terry Vance and Byron Hines, and Jack Black and The Curse Of The White Widow
Yamaha never bettered the first pink, white and blue version
“That’s enough for two sausage rolls and a pastie then.”
Keeping it all nice and simple. These were very much the days
Paint the wheels green and you’ve nearly got a Gobert rep
Do the maths, find a proper 750, then go get your kicks