This relatively poor
power-to-weight ratio makes the ZX-7R feel slower than its competitors, such
as Suzuki's GSX-R750. Even a modern 600 like Kawasaki's own ZX-6R is
lighter, faster and more lively, although the ZX-7R's larger engine produces
more low-down torque.
But the ZX-7R's chassis makes up
for some of its dynamic drawbacks. The front end is very stable, helped by a
forward weight bias, high-quality suspension and strong brakes. The fully
adjustable rear suspension works well too, and the stiff aluminium frame,
together with the compact mass of the bike, makes it fell planted in fast
corners. The six-piston brake calipers are disappointing though, and don't
have the power of many competing designs.
Despite its slightly lacklustre
road performance, the ZX-7R has performed better than expected in Superbike
racing. Japanese rider Akira Yanagawa was a common sight in the late 1990s,
dicing at the front of World Superbike races on the distinctive green
Kawasaki's WSB race bikes were
based around a race version of the ZX-7R, the ZX-7RR, equipped with
flat-slide carburettors and a close-ratio gearbox. This limited edition bike
was, like Honda's RC45, a homologation model - it was sold to the public
purely to make the bike eligible for WSB entries.
Kawasaki's ZX-7R is a perfect example of motorcycle
engineering refinement. In 1993 Kawasaki designed the new generation ZX-7R that
has, to this day, remained virtually unchanged. For 1997 Kawasaki continued to
refine rather than redesign. It's hard to argue against this approach as it is
obviously working on the racetrack. Doug Chandler's performance on the Muzzy
Superbike is proof enough that this machine is extremely competent.
The lack of obvious design changes or a new appearance may make it hard for
dealership salesmen to make their pitch, but knowledgeable consumers will
recognize the ZX-7R as an impeccable package needing no sales hype.
The ZX-7R benefits from having any annoying initial design flaws solved over its
four years of steady refinement. This makes for a pleasant ride with little to
complain about. Some of the issues Kawasaki addressed over the years were
unusable mirrors and providing an ergonomically correct cockpit.
One of the first things you'll notice when riding the '97 ZX is that its mirrors
are practical, allowing you a broader view than just your shoulders. Its cockpit
feels smaller and more compact than on early models, with subtle comfort changes
like adjustable levers to suit a wide range of hand sizes that previously were
"Pushing the ZX hard in the canyons rewards the rider. Predictable steering is
unmistakable due to its 25 degrees of rake and 3.9 inches of trail."
Kawasaki's preference towards racers is evident with the 1997 ZX-7R. Chandler
and Muzzy seemed to have influenced the changes, shaping it into a precision
Its chassis is very well behaved, never doing anything other than what's
Pushing the ZX hard in the canyons rewards the rider. Predictable steering is
unmistakable due to its 25 degrees of rake and 3.9 inches of trail.
The combination of larger than average trail numbers and peculiarly narrow
triple clamps require a heavy push on its handlebars to turn the bike quickly,
while the triangulated profile of the Dunlop tires complements the bike's
geometry perfectly, allowing it to reach maximum lean angle quickly and
Although initial input is heavy, once leaned over the handling is neutral and
the profile effect of the tires is very noticeable. Compared to early models,
the new ZX-7 has better throttle response and midrange acceleration. The main
reason for these improvements is the reduction of the intake ports by 4mm.
"Smaller ports allow for better intake velocity and fuel atomization."
The increased velocity pulls a better signal at the carburetor's needle jet,
allowing for excellent carbonation.
Other improvements over the original formula include Muzzy's touches in the form
of strengthened crankshaft, two springs per valve and a special baffle in the
joint pipe to maximize exhaust pulse effect for more torque. Low and mid torque
was improved with a balance pipe connected between the number one and number
four header pipes. The head itself was refined with straighter ports, aiming the
38mm carbs at 50 degrees into the combustion chamber.
Kawasaki has now fitted the ZX's transmission with
involuted splines on the input and output shafts, allowing for less backlash.
Suspension components are also fully adjustable in the front and rear and
control the chassis' attitude well. Adjustments include compression, rebound and
An experienced rider may now raise the rear to reduce front rake for quicker
steering, and its firm ride still will soak up the big bumps. Those interested
in commuting may choose to loosen the suspension settings for more comfort
around town. I would recommend adjusting the factory settings by reducing front
rebound two clicks, and dialing-in one less click of rebound and 3mm less
preload on the rear.
Brakes were improved for '97 by changing from four-piston calipers to
six-piston, with the result being increased feel and power.
New brake pad material also contributes to Grade-A stopping performance.
The initial bite isn't there, but a strong hand increases stopping power with
its rising rate. Improved from the original 1993-spec machine is the appearance
and sound of its exhaust system. The sleek looking pipe has a deep, powerful
tone -- louder than most stock pipes.
Minimal restriction allows the engine to breathe yet it still remains quieter
than an aftermarket muffler.
"Among the most noticeable changes in the new ZX-7R is the addition of another
ram air duct in the front fairing. Kawasaki's ram induction system is one of
best designed. A noticeable increase in acceleration is felt during top speed
From a distance the 1997 ZX-7R doesn't look different, but its refinements will
be noticed in real world riding. It feels small -- like a heavy 600cc bike, but
with noticeably more low-end grunt and a little more top end.
The power delivery is one of the most linear I've ever sampled, and its spot-on
carburetion, instant throttle response and impeccable chassis manners make the
ZX-7R a very logical buy.