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2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS: MD First Ride


The demand for standard style motorcycles has continued to rise here in the United States for the past several years. Manufacturers have responded with both expensive, high-end models, mid-priced models and even budget models. Kawasaki has had a hole in its U.S. lineup. Below the powerful 1,043 cc Z1000, a bike that MD has thoroughly tested and rated highly, there has been an empty spot in the Kawasaki lineup.

To fill that spot, Kawasaki is bringing over the Z800 ABS, a bike that has been the best selling model for the brand in Europe for the past several years. MD just returned from the press launch in the Palm Springs area, and has the following report.

Let’s start by telling you what this motorcycle consists of from a technical standpoint. Priced at $8,399 in the U.S., the Z800 ABS is powered by an 806 cc, fuel injected, inline four-cylinder DOHC engine with four valves per cylinder. It features a six-speed transmission.



The chassis includes a moderate wheel base of 56.9″ and steering geometry slightly less aggressive than a pure sportbike. The frame itself is primarily a steel backbone design with aluminum elements to triangulate and stiffen the bike. Wet weight (including a full tank of fuel – 4.5 gallons) is a claimed 509.4 pounds.

The 41 mm inverted fork and the rear shock (with linkage) both feature rebound damping adjustments and spring preload adjustments. Two four-piston calipers grip 310 mm rotors in front and the rear brake is a single-piston caliper on a 216 mm rotor. ABS is standard. Tires include a 120/70 x 17 in front and a 180/55 x 17 out back (we like the fact that Kawasaki resisted any marketing temptation to fit a 190 rear).

So what is it like to ride the Z800? Believe it or not, refreshing is the word that comes to mind. Why? Because it seems we have ridden a lot of motorcycles with rough edges lately. Not just rough edges that are mildly annoying, but rough edges that significantly impact the riding experience.

The 800 is a polished, finished product. This reflects the fact that it is not a first year model (at least outside the U.S.), and the fact that Kawasaki has done an excellent job in a couple of areas that prove problematic, much too often, on “budget models”. These areas are suspension and fuel injection tuning. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The ergonomics of the Z800 are upright with a mild lean forward to the bars. Leg room is decent, and the pegs are further forward than some sporty standards. The seat is comfortable for short to moderate distance rides, but lacks support for longer rides.



After pulling out of our Palm Springs Hotel, we spent the next hour or so sampling city traffic, involving frequent gear changes, throttle position changes, and low-speed maneuvers. We quickly realized that the fuel injection offered smooth, predictable throttle response. Pick-up from a closed throttle was very smooth, and we did not detect any flat spots in the power band.

Although not the lightest naked, the Z800 felt reasonably light and nimble at low speeds. The bike has a nice balance and changes directions quickly in the city. A relatively low seat height doesn’t hurt in stop-and-go traffic.

We then climbed Highway 74 to the mountains above Palm Springs. A number of cars pulled over for us, and the pace was generally quick through the twisty roads, which featured more than a few switchbacks. This confirmed the impression left by the city ride, i.e., that the Z800 is well balanced and changes directions relatively easily. The bike did understeer, slightly, at higher speeds through the twisties, but we will put that down to the 210 pound test rider who should have dialed in more spring preload on the rear shock.


In the city, the suspension felt firm, but small, choppy bumps and pot holes were not too jarring. It felt as if Kawasaki had struck a good balance between a plush commuter and a stiffly-sprung sport bike. The elevated pace on the twisty roads climbing the mountain confirmed this. For a bike in this price range displacing over 800 cc, the standard suspension settings offered excellent control when riding with an experienced, fast group. I later checked with Kawasaki to determine the rebound clicker positions, both front and rear, and I was told that the fork was 10 clicks out (out of 24 clicks) from full hard, and the shock was exactly half-way (one and one-quarter turns out) between full hard and full soft. You really can’t ask for better stock suspension tuning in this price range.

The engine also left few complaints. It is smooth (a small amount of vibration through the footpegs, but less than typical of an inline-four), linear and pulls from as low as 3,000 rpm with useful power. Most of the day I was short-shifting my way up to sixth gear while keeping the revs below 6,000 rpm, but when needed the Z800 pulls hard all the way to red line at 12,000 rpm. The low-end and mid-range are dramatically stronger than the typical 600 cc supersport, while the top end probably falls slightly short of the shrieking pull associated with 600s. A very nice, real world power band for both commuters and guys who like to go fast.


The brakes are not cutting edge when compared with current superbikes, of course, but they offered good power and decent feel without fading. These were not track day demands, however. The transmission shifted positively (no missed shifts all day) without too much effort. The gearing spread, together with the strong low-end power, should work well for commuters desiring to maximize fuel economy (something we could not measure during the press launch).

This is a lot of motorcycle for $8,399. It doesn’t feel like a “parts-bin special.”  Far from it.  The Z800 ABS feels like a premium model with a refined ride consisting of smooth, strong power and confident handling. We intend to get a bike for a longer term evaluation on roads near MD’s office, but we can already recommend the Z800 if you are looking for a bike with an attractive price/performance ratio, that won’t leave you wanting in the suspension and fuel injection tuning categories.

Only one color scheme is offered in the United States for 2016 (you are looking at it – Metallic Spark Black/Flat Ebony). For additional details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site.

See more of MD’s great photography:





  1. Ron says:

    Man, the exhaust plumbing under the bike looks like a section of 1930 boiler room piping. Nice bike though. They should give it some more classic styling

  2. beasty says:

    More ugly from the big 4.

  3. Jamo says:

    I don’t care for the idea of a European hand-me down. It’s probably being brought here because it isn’t selling well there and they have extras.

    I don’t think it’s “standard” looking in any sense. It’s an unoriginal, dated “futuristic” look that is tiresome and that no longer has any appeal. Four cylinders is too many for an 800.

    Leave it in Europe.

    • mickey says:

      “Four cylinders is too many for an 800.”

      whaaaaat? lol

      Guess all those guys with 650 and 750 sport bikes should what ? Pull a spark plug?

    • Selecter says:

      The Z750/Z800 has been one of Kawasaki’s best-selling models in Europe for going on 10 years now. Hand-me-down it is not.

      I had a Z750S. It had the typical cheap suspension and brakes of the category of bikes at the time, but those have been more than rectified since then. Power delivery was strong – any comparably-sized twins were passed like they were tied to trees. And no, you did not have to wind the engine out to get power – these deliver a pretty wide spread of power (4000 to 11,000rpm), and at least mine ran smoothly down to 1500rpm; clutch slippage from a stop was entirely unnecessary. Four cylinders certainly isn’t too many for a 750/800. I’d argue it’s just right. My only complain was BUZZZZZZZZing through the bars at higher rpm. Tiresome for a 500-mile day, but Z800 reviews from “the other side” indicate that this just isn’t an issue anymore. The Z750S was actually the best overall bike I’ve owned, especially with new fork springs and a ZX-6R rear shock swapped in.

      This should be a tough, reliable, quick, decent-handling bike for not a whole lot of money. The GSX-S750, though, makes a hell of a counter-point – it’s cheaper, lighter, makes about the same power, and is apparently quite the handler. All of which count for a lot if you’re actually riding, and not just sitting and staring at your bike all day…

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      “Four cylinders is too many for an 800.”

      I don’t get that. So you are saying they made it too powerful?

    • Mr.Mike says:

      “European hand me-downs” means a proven design with the bugs worked out. It costs a ton of money to bring a new model to market in the US so the manufacturers don’t do it lightly and certainly not to dump some models that aren’t selling in Europe. Kawasaki will have to create marketing collateral, train mechanics, stock parts for years. They must be fairly confident they will recoup this investment or they wouldn’t try.

  4. Tim says:

    This is not an attractive bike as pictured but it would undoubtedly look a lot better with a different muffler. It will never be a Brutale, but it could be made to look a lot better without that factory muffler. I actually like the bend of the down-pipes.

    I second the comment about the photos. Excellent job Kevin Wing.

  5. Another “Bug” bike. This is a look that will not stand the test of time. Why does the back end have to be jacked way up in the air. Must be 2 feet between the top of the tire and the bottom of the rear fender.

  6. mwagila says:

    I will definitely be riding one next spring. I think it looks great with the angular styling. If you want a rounded look there are plenty of throwback models to be had. This is the future.

  7. Rocky V says:

    I don’t get it ?

    They close out the Zrx 1200

    and make bikes like this ?

    Someone beat this bike with the ugly stick

    3cylinders of a Zrx 1200 gives you a sweet 900

  8. todd says:

    So I don’t get it. They do a press release in California and the bikes aren’t even legal to sell here… Isn’t California something like 25% of the US market?

  9. Butch says:

    “Holy crap, Batman,
    Is that a heat shield on that muffler or a cutting board” ?

  10. kjazz says:

    Whomever designs these machines for Kawi needs to get his/her head out of the coffee table book of shogun masks…way too stylized.

  11. Dave Joy says:

    Why do all these new bikes have to be so goddamn ugly?

    • Tank says:

      Then when it doesn’t sell, they’ll say it’s because Americans don’t appreciate performance bikes (B-King).

      • Brian says:

        I like the looks, myself. I do NOT like the B-King. That thing (or its tail section, anyway) makes this look positively subdued in comparison.

        Not everybody wants something styled like a Harley, a ’60s Triumph, or a ’70s UJM.

  12. Kevin C says:

    One thing that Kawasaki gets right is reasonable fuel capacity. I HATE bikes that have <3 gallons in the tank. I commute on my bikes during the summer and I don't like filling up 3 times a week. its just stupid.Even the little ninja 300 holds 4.5 gallons.

    I also Kawasaki announced they have a new small displacement street bike on the way. Some think its a Versys 300, but I'm hoping for a Ninja 400 based on the 300 engine design (NOT the sleeved down 650 sold in some markets). When KTM went to 375cc with the little duke you knew the other MFG's would have to follow. The KTM 500cc parallel twin promised by KTM's CEO might appear with the 800 @ EICMA later this month (he also said this would be a purposed build platform, NOT a sleeved down 800). This are getting interesting in the small displacement category!!

  13. Yoyodyne says:

    I actually started laughing when I saw the exhaust can, they’ve got to be kidding…

  14. Frank says:

    Seems like that big exhaust and cat should be enough to satisfy Ca’s clean air requirements. Guess they don’t think it would sell well here. Too bad. The bike looks nice and ‘reads’ very well. All things considered, it’s a more completely sorted out and better overall street bike than the FZ-09. Hope Kawi changes their thinking on this one.

  15. Don E says:

    Kawasaki needs to update their color palette. For the last few years black has been the only color available any many of their models. These aren’t Model T’s but the color choices seems as if they were.

  16. Gary says:

    I have heard that this bike will not be available in California. True?

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      True, according to Kawasaki. At least for now.

      • Stuki Moi says:

        That’s bizarre. CA has got to be the place where sporty nakeds make the most sense; narrow enough to split, and the weather is generally naked friendly. Combine that with an exhaust canister large enough to fit equipment capable of scrubbing emissions from an entire China’s worth of coal fired powerplants……

    • Dirck Edge says:

      At launch, it is not available in California.

  17. North of Missoula says:

    The FZ-09 is close to 100lbs lighter, puts more horsepower to the ground, is cheaper and has that fantastic motor.

    I am sure the Z800 will sell to die-hard Kawasaki fans, however the mid size bargain-basement naked sport bike crowd is younger without the brand loyalty of the higher end buyer.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Most bikes in this category are a tough sell next to the FZ-09. The Z800 does have ABS. I don’t know how much that feature influences buyers of these bikes if at all.

    • xLaYN says:

      I remember suspension and FI are tough on the FZ-09, which on the other side as per Dirck report are nice on this one.

    • mg3 says:

      Not to mention that you could park the FZ in public and not be ashamed by its styling. The Kawasaki however – whew..

    • kawzies says:

      I sat on a FZ-09 at the dealer and it felt like a flimsy little death machine. Sure the motor is great but the rest of the bike is cheap crap and I would never buy one nor recommend it to anyone who weighs over 120 lbs. If you’re horse ockey sized it might be ok. I own a Z750s and it is a rock compared to that bike. Not to mention that at 41000 miles it still runs perfe4ct.

  18. Jeremy in TX says:

    It is a nice bike, but a little over-styled for my tastes. The GSXS-750 is a much better looking bike in my opinion, though perhaps not as much motorcycle.

  19. Tom S. says:

    I have a few comments about the styling. Overall the bike’s proportions are really nice, but a couple of things detract from its looks IMO. The first is that enormous muffler/catalytic converter cover, which looks horrible. The second seems to be endemic with the Japanese manufacturers currently: the emphasis on insectile styling with all sorts of cut lines and angles everywhere you look, and to me this clutters up the visual especially on nakeds. I don’t advocate a return to ’70s UJM simplicity but current styling trends are emphasizing style over function more and more.

    Those nits aside, this looks like a really nice ride, especially for the price.

  20. The Spaceman says:

    Kawasaki (& Yamaha) are defining the Japanese motorcycle industry’s recovery from the ’08 recession. Honda and Suzuki simply aren’t keeping pace.

  21. Serious Sam says:

    As always, some really nice shots from MD… I’m going to use one as my desktop wallpaper even though it seems to exaggerate the actual looks of the bike! The ‘real’ bike doesn’t seem THAT sexy in person! Consider it a genuine compliment from a fellow photography enthusiast!
    Anyhow, just for size comparison, can you tell me about the test rider’s height? And ideally, his inseam length too?
    I’m almost 6’3 so, how I look on my bikes matters a lot to me. The last thing I want to look like is a Clown on a tri-cycle!
    BTW, Great value at a great price… And definately a notch above GSX-750 in the same price bracket…

    • Butch says:

      @ 6’5, I never really thought about how I look on a bike, more like how the bike made me feel while I was riding it.
      Comfort is always and issue, though.
      Out of the 25+ bikes I’ve owned only 2 were really a good fit. A DL1000 and an LC4 640.
      And yes, the photography, as usual, is top notch.

      • Andy H. says:

        Couldn’t agree with you more! Still have my K4 DL1000 which is near perfect, and truly miss my LC!

    • Tom S. says:

      I agree – beautiful shots, particularly the one with the bike against the sunset!

    • xLaYN says:

      Include me on the group of admirers.
      Bike on focus with motion blur on the first and second, beautiful sunsets, the wind farm one it’s beautiful!

    • Dirck Edge says:

      5’11” with a 32″ inseam. Credit Kevin Wing for the photos.

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