n 1986, the market for 750cc sportbikes was extremely
competitive. Suzuki's GSX-R750, Yamaha's FZ750, and Honda's VFR750 were all
awesome machines. Bigger-displacement bikes had a dispensation to go porky, so
the 750cc class was the thing.
Kawasaki decided they had enough hardcore sportbikes (Ninja
600, 900, 1000) and made what today would be called a sport-tourer. With
higher bars and lower pegs than your typical race-rep, the 750R was
comfortable for long hauls and low-speed errands, while giving up little on
the sport end of things. Cycle World chose it as "best 750cc streetbike" for
1987 and 1988.
While aluminum beam and perimeter frames had become the rage
by the late '80s, Kawasaki chose to use a steel cradle for the 750R. They
claimed their steel frame was actually lighter than competitive aluminum
designs. This did make it harder for feature-obsessed moto journalists to get
fired up over the bike. It was obligatory in the reviews of the day to
apologize for the steel frame, as the Kawi was the only bike in its class
still using one.
The 18-inch rear and 16-inch front wheel sizes were also on
the way out in 1987, and by 1990 were seen as archaic, though even for
sportriding the handling is fine, the major drawback being limited tire
The 750R engine was all-new. This gave Kawasaki the ability to
make it lighter and smaller than other 750 mills, without skimping on power.
Putting out about 85hp at the rear wheel (you will see some reviews mention
the claimed crank output of 106hp), it was at the top of the class. This motor
formed the basis for the hardcore sporting ZX-7 which came along in 1989 and
which eventually led to the ZX-7RR racing superbike.
... and now
Motorcycles have come a long way since 1987. But for the
money, it's hard to beat the 750R if you can find one. For a mix of
sportriding and tamer riding -- including long-distance, two-up, or commuting
-- it's excellent. In terms of flexibility I often compare it to present-day
bikes like the Honda VFR, Yamaha YZF 600R, and Kawasaki's own ZX-6E.
The motor is very smooth from 2000 rpm into the low powerband
at 4500rpm and the high-end goose at 8500rpm. It has plenty of power for
aggressive sport riding, track days, and even two-up trips.
Tire selection is limited due to the odd-size rims and
bias-ply spec. However, there are several good options depending on your
riding style, many of which offer all-around performance which was only
dreamed of in 1987.
The transmission ratios are good and shifting is consistent.
Kawasaki's Neutral Finder can really keep you from looking like a dork at
stoplights. Clutch plate drag does seem to be a common problem, meaning a big
clunk when you kick down into first. The bike gets 40-50mpg, giving a touring
range of over 200 miles. Riding position is incredibly comfortable but doesn't
make you feel disconnected when the going gets twisty.
The narrow fairing offers good wind protection, yet is much
less obtrusive from the rider perspective than the fairings on later-model
Shame it's not better looking. The original Ninja, the
GPz900R, holds up aesthetically today, but the 750R plastic looks more like a
Hurricane knockoff. At least the color schemes were tame.
The thing that the bike benefits from most, besides good
tires, is suspension work. The stock suspension is somewhat squishy, and the
bike can weave mildly in high-speed sweepers. Most of the magazine reviews of
the day thought it was fine except for a dearth of rebound damping in back.
I bought my 750R in April 2002. I rode it over 12,000 miles
that year, including a 4,000 mile tour through eastern Canada, and used it in
an MSF Experienced Rider Course and a track day with great results.
It's probably the most comfortable bone-stock bike I have ever
ridden. (For reference, I'm 5'11", long limbed, 175 lbs., and have ridden
A few notes that might be of use to other owners:
The best tires I've found are the new Metzeler 330/550 combo.
The Metzelers feel great on the street or track. They're also great in the
rain. I got about 6,000 miles out of the rear and close to 8,000 out of the
front, which exhibited minimal cupping. If these didn't exist I'd probably run
the Bridgestone BT45. I can't recommend the Dunlop options (the GT501 or its
predecessor the K591), because while they're good in the dry they are
dangerously slippery in the wet. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of Avon
Supervenoms. (Update: I'm told that the 330/550 combo has already been
discontinued. Can anyone confirm?)
The headlight bulb is a standard H4 and so can be upgraded
with many aftermarket options (many of which are illegal for on-road use of
The stock speedometer is about 6-8% optimistic. I learned this
by installing a Sigma BC800 bicycle computer.
If your windscreen is decomposing like mine was, JC Whitney
sells a tinted replacement, as does MCW.
Front suspension: I have gold valve cartridge emulators
installed, stock springs and about 3" of PVC preload spacer. I think the front
is about as good as it's going to get.
Rear suspension: I recommend putting 20-30psi in the rear
shock (check to see that it still holds air) and setting the rebound damping
to "4" (maximum). This was suggested in many of the old reviews, and has
worked well for me.