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

Practical Sportsbikes (UK) - - Contents - Words: Jim Moore | Pic­tures: Paul Bryant

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


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


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


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

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