After nearly 2000 miles on the 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS, zipping around town and commuting to and from work, we’ve found a bike completely at home in urban environments. There’s been a few longer excursions, a track day and a night at the dragstrip too, but the Z800 ABS was born to spice-up the tedium of the standard road grind. A Z800 roaming surface streets or carving back roads is like a fish in water.
We tossed on some upgrades during our time with the machine as well, which only sweetened the deal. For more road feel and grip we grabbed a set of Dunlop Sportmax Q3 tires after demolishing the OE Sportmax D214’s after a day at the track. The looks were cleaned up and the exhaust note dramatically improved with a Yoshimura Alpha Stainless Steel slip-on exhaust system. Finally, a set of Cortech Super 2.0 saddlebags gave the Z800 some much needed carrying capacity. Together, these improvements have made a great bike even better.
Starting From A Solid Base
We’ve previously observed the impeccably smooth nature of the 806cc Inline Four engine, but it’s a characteristic that can’t be over stressed. The mill’s responsive and well-proportioned character immediately draws you in and it’s not long before you’re moving through traffic with near unconscious precision and dexterity. You’re like old friends after a few hundred miles.
The bike’s torque delivery, with 55.53 lb-ft at 7900 rpm serving as the high water mark, contributes significantly to this feel. Near peak pull, above 50 lb-ft, is spread across a broad span of the rev range starting as you approach 4000 rpm and it holds steady up to 10,000 rpm. It’s not shoulder-popping pull on the 509-pound bike, but it’s even and predictable and allows for spirited jaunts.
It’s also enough to quickly pass at highway speed, too. At 75mph the Z800 sits squarely at 6000 rpm, leaving 4000 quality revs to play with when needed.
The greatest aspect of this type of muscle is the sweet spot between about 4000 and 5000 rpm, a fuel efficient range that’s just below the onset of slight vibration at 6000 rpm. Here you have immediate and sustained pull. This is where the bulk of our day-to-day riding takes place in the powerband and makes weaving up through a packed multi-lane, one-way road at the close of the workday a joy.
Those initial impressions were reinforced the longer we lived with the motorcycle. With such balanced power delivery mated to the bike’s refined fueling, throttle response and transmission, the Z800 effortlessly accords to the mood and intentions of the rider. Want a mellow pace, or to just follow the flow of traffic? The Z800 abides without a complaint, steady and smooth at low speeds. Have some open road ahead? Crank the throttle and you’ll be up near license-suspending speeds before you hit fifth gear.
Another way to put it is the Z800 has a sport spirit for those that want to access it, but it doesn’t guilt the rider that stays within the confines of the speed limit. Sometimes on high performance bikes rolling down the road at 45mph can feel like a punishment, akin to forcing a greyhound to walk through an open field. It needs to stretch its legs to truly feel alive. The Z800 is simply happy to be out in the fresh air.
This is not to say that it’s a dull bike however, not by a long shot. Our time on track with the bike at Thunderhill Raceway Park confirmed the Z800 has no trouble reaching mid-triple digits down the six-tenth of a mile start/finish straight. During our night at the drag strip, the Z800 touched 117.1mph in 11.44 seconds. Get-up-and-go is definitely there.
In addition to moving forward, the Z800 ABS stops well too. Its dual Nissin four-piston calipers out front provide ample braking power, which is nice since the rear single piston set-up’s soft bite leaves a little to be desired. It’s reassuring to know the anti-lock system is there for emergencies, but it’s basically been unnecessary during routine riding in dry conditions over the summer. We appreciate the five-position adjustable brake lever, since we ride with our index and middle finger over the lever while in town. That small, customizable bit allows a very comfortable set-up and the front brake’s progressive bite is modulated easily with a two-fingered approach.
With 3299 miles on the clock, brake pad wear is negligible and the front brake still feels nice and sharp. There is a slight squeak coming from the rear brake at times however, particularly in the morning at the first few stop signs we encounter on the way to work. The sound stops once things are warmed up though. We keep the machine parked inside a garage overnight, so it’s likely due to small amounts of condensation developing now that temperatures are cooling off a bit more in our neck of the woods.
The rebound-adjustable front and rear suspension are well-equipped to handle most minor road imperfections. Cracks and potholes are soaked-up well, even more so with the addition of the Q3 tires. On unmarred asphalt the Z800 shines, tipping quickly into corners and tracking lines with predictable grace. The only time we ever found ourselves asking for more performance from the suspension was on track, where the high-speed conditions finally unsettled the otherwise stable and tractable chassis.
The Z800’s standard-though-slightly-sporty ergonomics fit our temperament nicely. The foot pegs are tucked back ever-so-slightly and the single-piece backswept handlebars have a rise low enough to demand a bit of forward lean, so that the rider assumes an attentive and engaged riding position. This can easily be changed for higher bars, but we like the near-sport set-up for the fact that it puts the rider in the bike instead of on top of it.
At six-feet-tall, we never felt cramped in the cockpit. The only complaints about the ergos have to do with some slight tension in the arms during longer stints owing to the forward cant of the riding position and a seat that becomes uncomfortable over time. These are minor inconveniences, easily remedied with a new bar, gel pad or full aftermarket seat upgrade if so desired.
Our everyday-living, around-town riding has averaged 31.72 miles per gallon, the Z800’s 4.5-gallon tank yielding just over 142 miles between fill-ups. However, if you spend more time at freeway speeds you’re likely to see close to 40 mpg. Even filling-up with Ethanol-free premium fuel at an average of $3.74 a gallon, we’re only spending about a buck-fifty a day on fuel with the Z800. That’s around $45 in gas over a 30-day month.
The Z800 owner’s manual indicates the first service is recommended at 600 miles, and parts and labor come out to about $170 in our neck of the woods. Apart from routine maintenance items like chain inspection and lube, oil and other fluid changes and filter replacements the major service intervals fall every 6000 miles (or thereabouts). To date with us, all bolts and plugs and fluids and filters are still good to go. A little chain lube has been the biggest maintenance item we’ve encountered to date.
Making Something Good Even Better
There were a few things we were keen to update however. The stock Dunlop Sportmax Q214 tires were nearly dead soon after we started riding the Z800 ABS, thanks to a track day at Thunderhill. We ran every C group and a few B groups that day in high temps and the suspension needed to be refined for the more aggressive riders, so the Q214’s had little chance of survival.
We also wanted to improve the look and sound of the bike with a slip-on exhaust kit and give the machine some carrying capacity.
We stuck with Dunlop and upgraded to the Sportmax Q3 sport tire (MSRP – Rear $219.40; Front $170.64). The Q3s have carbon fiber reinforcement in the sidewalls, adding carcass rigidity and corning stability, and make use of different compounds in the center and sidewalls of the tire to improve performance across a variety of conditions.
The Q3s have turned out to be a great choice for the Z800 ABS. The more rigid aspect of the tires improved the ride quality and grip is available in spades in both dry and damp conditions. After 1500 miles there’s still lots of miles to go before needing replacement.
The stock exhaust had to go as well. Primarily from an aesthetic position, we weren’t entirely pleased with the set-up from the factory. It was just a little bulky and plain. Something like the flared mufflers currently on the Z1000 would be a nice upgrade to any forthcoming Z800 models.
The sound of the stock pipes isn’t bad, especially as the revs rise, but down low the Z800 sounds a bit tame and quiet. Decibel readings at idle put the Z800 exhaust note at 84 dB, but more than increased volume we were looking for an aggressive character from the new exhaust.
So we sourced a Yoshimura Alpha Stainless Steel Exhaust system (MSRP – $519.00). It’s part of the Yoshimura Street Series and as such is 50-State emissions compliant. It’s a sharp looking system that promised to clean up the look of the bike, cut some weight and improve the sound.
We charted the install here. Yoshimura provides clear instructions for each step of the process and in less than an hour we had the new system installed and ready to go.
The sound from the Yosh pipe is phenomenal, as if we’d unleashed some sportbike soul buried under the engine covers and sparse bodywork beneath the tank. It opens with a low growl and builds to a scream that could contend with race machines on a hot track. Our decibel reading rose to 86 dB at idle, so not a huge difference in volume, but the cadence is so much more enticing now.
The fueling of the Z800 was near perfect to start with and wasn’t affected in the slightest by the addition of the new pipe. We also find ourselves constantly standing back and admiring the view from the right side of the bike with the Alpha system in place. The carbon fiber tip and gleaming stainless steel muffler are indeed eye-catching.
To give the bike more practical appeal, we decided that it would be wise to improve the carrying capacity of the Z800 ABS. A set of Cortech Super 2.0 Saddlebags (MSRP – $159.99) did the trick.
The Cortech bags are easy to mount and each has 36 liters of space inside. Expansion elements open the saddlebags to their full potential and heat shields underneath keep your investment safe from melting if the going gets too hot. There’s waterproof covers included, reflective piping and a low-profile design that fits well with the look of the Z800.
The narrow openings of the bags do not accommodate a helmet, which was disappointing, but nine-inch rectangular to-go boxes sit flatly on the bottom of either side when extended out. We’ve also been able to stuff a full backpack of gym clothes into one side.
These bags have made it possible to really do just about anything apart from a Costco run on the Z800 ABS. Rather than just relying on what we can carry in a backpack, we can now do any number of necessary chores and enjoy them so much more for the fact that we’re on two wheels, able to dart in and out of traffic with agility and then take the long, winding way home.
Since the Z800 ABS is new to the States in 2016, the selection of aftermarket items may take a bit of time to catch up. If we had the bike for longer, we’d definitely upgrade the seat and get our hands on a removable windscreen.
We love the look of the embossed stock perch, but it’s just not comfortable after a long time behind the bars. A bit more padding, even just a temporary gel cover, would do wonders for the long-range capabilities of this machine.
The same goes for the removable windscreen. If multi-day, cross country touring was on deck then we’d also want a bit more wind protection than the sport naked currently affords.
Despite its contemporary aesthetic, the Z800 has a clear connection with some historic bikes. There’s the relation to Kawasaki’s Z motorcycles, which started with the 1972 Z1, a DOHC Inline Four-powered bike that sought to be bigger and badder than the Honda CB750. This standard-styled, four-cylinder, disc-brake-equipped, electric start type of bike quickly caught on and later earned the moniker Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Machines like CB750s, Suzuki’s GS750s, the line of Kawasaki’s Zs all fit into this mold (more or less) and were powerful, popular bikes through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s.
In a time just before the wave of design specialization and technological sophistication that followed in the late ‘80s and on through the ‘90s, UJMs were the realization of high(ish)-performance and practical function. Adept road bikes with mass appeal and decent price tags.
It’s nice to see so many machines on the market that fit a similar bill today. The Z800 ABS won’t break the bank at $8399 and it provides an incredibly high level of road-going prowess for the cost. It’s in its element weaving through traffic, bombing up and down the freeway for short stints and exploring long, winding back roads. A little investment in tires and some touring amenities expand the range of the Z800 and there’s no question this bike can serve well as a rider’s one and only.