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2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS: MD Ride Review

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We brought you a report from the press launch of the 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS here. Kawasaki loaned us a test unit for a more thorough evaluation. Here is our report.

Take a look back at our report from the press launch for all of the details related to this motorcycle. In summary, this is a machine that has been carefully refined through years of development, and been the best seller for Kawasaki in the European market for quite some time. At the press launch, the refinement shone through, particularly with regard to how accurate the fuel injection responded to the throttle, chassis balance and the stock suspension settings.

After riding the Z800 on familiar roads near MD’s office, we can confirm our initial impression from the press launch. This is an excellent motorcycle that can perform many tasks for riders of many different skill levels. The 806 cc inline 4-cylinder engine offers a great combination of usable torque and power at street rpm levels, with a good pull at higher rpm levels when a rider is pushing either on the track or in the canyons.

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The ergonomics of the Z800 lend themselves to both commuting and sport riding. There is a decent amount of leg room, and the rider sits upright with a slight lean forward. Our only complaint is seat padding that seems adequate for short to medium length rides, but lacks support for longer distances. Not bad, but perhaps worthy of an aftermarket upgrade if you end up using the Z800 for touring or longer commutes.

For a mid-displacement motorcycle the engine performance is hard to criticize. It battles the inherent vibrations from an inline-four well, and offers a surprisingly broad spread of power. We have talked about this before, but it is worth emphasizing. You can short – shift the Z800, and still make good, swift progress at lower rpms. This is invaluable to street riders, particularly those who want to save on fuel. We averaged roughly 40 mpg — decent range given the 4.5 gallon fuel capacity.

Based on our experience at the press launch, we added one click of preload to the rear shock (to raise the rear ride height) and this seemed to solve the understeer problem. Stock suspension settings continue to impress, although they proved too soft at ten-tenths, but this is really a necessary compromise for a street motorcycle, and not really a criticism. The same could be said for the brakes, which are more than adequate for typical street riding, but not quite up to abuse at a track day by an advanced rider. For the price point, nevertheless, power and feel offered by the stock brakes is more than acceptable.

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The styling of the Z800 might be controversial, but it grew on us. The hard edges are in keeping with Kawasaki’s desire to depict an aggressive stance. The headlight and cowl are so low that you really don’t see them in front of you as you are riding. Instrumentation is thorough and legible, although we are not big fans of digital tachometers. The tach on the Z800 is interesting, because it rises vertically in the center of the instrument pod, and we found it more legible than most digital tachs.

Clutch feel and performance is good, and the transmission never missed a shift despite feeling a bit more notchy than some of the competition. Gear spread is good, but in our opinion, sixth gear could be a bit taller, particularly in light of the excellent engine performance at mid-level rpms. Nevertheless, at speeds below 80 mph, vibration is well controlled and not an annoyance to the rider.

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At an U.S. MSRP of $8,399, the Z800 is an excellent value. Perhaps its stiffest competition comes from Yamaha’s FZ-09, which is also an excellent value at $8,190. The soulful triple of the FZ-09 trumps the Z800 in sound and feel, but the Z800 comes off the showroom floor with better suspension and fuel injection tuning. Choose your poison.

The only color option available in the U.S. market for the Z800 ABS is pictured (Metallic Spark Black/Flat Ebony). Take a look at Kawasaki’s website for additional details and specifications.

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84 Comments

  1. Rudedog4 says:

    looks like a nice package, but it’s so much heavier than the FZ-09. I could probably live with the fueling and suspension issues of the FZ with a 414 lb wet weight.

    • mickey says:

      It also has ABS standard which is not even available of the FZ09.I’ve ridden multiple FZ-FJ 09s and the suspension issue never bothered me. The fueling issue on the other hand, was maddening. Better on the FJ09 in std mode. You’d think by it’s 3rd year Yamaha would have gotten both of those issues sorted out, and added ABS..

    • todd says:

      But in California, the nation’s largest market for standards and sport bikes, it’s not an issue. You can’t even get the Kawasaki here so Dirck and a handful of other journalists will be the only Californians to ride one for some time. Ironic since people in most other states won’t even be able to start riding them until spring. So the FZ is still king by default…

  2. Gary says:

    I see it as a commuting blade and a weekend canyon blaster. It’d be super for that. Touring? No way. I don’t think that’s its intent at all.

  3. Vrooom says:

    No windscreen, no real way to accommodate even soft luggage, and 180 miles till it’s flat empty, you’re not going to tour on this thing.

    • mickey says:

      Did you think it was designed as a touring bike for some reason?

      Not the first year for this bike, just the first year in the U.S. Very popular in Europe from what I understand.

  4. TexinOhio says:

    This thing is a mishmash of parts and it’s ugly. People talk trash about my 2014 Z1000 but at least the lines flow from a looks standpoint on the Z1K.

  5. Norm G. says:

    paint it orange and add double shotgun pipes on each side and its a Z1000 circa 2003. we’ve seen this movie,

  6. Dave says:

    I love Kawasakis but this one is ugly.

  7. Dino says:

    Maybe this bike will look good ten years from now… And I know it doesn’t look bad while you are riding it (and can’t see the whole front end anyway), but good Lord, you gotta see THAT when you get on it.

    Other than styling (Most all complaints are based on that headlight and muffler, are you listening Kawasaki?) it seems to be just what most are wanting… Decent size, basically simple (in a good way), comfortable and good handling. Seriously, how about a Cafe-Tribute model, inspired by traditional cafe racers, but not full retro..

  8. david says:

    Nice that you tested it in california…. to bad you can’t but it there.

  9. Jim says:

    Looks like an ok bike. I think it’s main competitor would be a Z1000 which you can pick up a last year’s model for well under msrp.

  10. Tommy See says:

    Cramped leg position. I want the an all in one ! Touch of Versys, V.Strom. KLR FZ 07 09 along with a mega scooter feel and ease to ride. Please tell me the one perfect ride.

  11. Dave says:

    I wonder if times have changed enough for bikes like this to do well. I don’t recall Yamaha’s FZ-8 being popular at all and it’s very similar.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      That is what I keep wondering, too.

      No doubt, they are all trying to get in on the action that the FZ-09 generated for the class. FZ-09 has been a popular bike so far, but Yamaha broke really broke the mold by creating a ground-up design with a powerful engine for the class, a relatively unique engine configuration (for Japanese bikes anyway), and a killer price tag. Suzuki used that exact same formula 15 years ago with the SV650, and it is unsurprisingly the only other Japanese naked I can think of that made an impact in the post Y2K market.

      Those bikes are successes I think because they were fresh, somewhat unique, and good performers for their price category. I think these warmed over parts bin bikes going up the FZ-09 will ultimately falter, just liked the warmed over parts bin bikes brought to market to compete against the SV650 did all those years ago.

      • mickey says:

        Interestingly, Rider magazine just tested the 2016 Z800 ABS, vs the 2016 Suzuki GSX750 VS the 2016 Yamaha FZ-09 and declared the Kawsaskai as the winner and “very close” to the ” do it all bike” they were searching for. Feb 2016 issue.

  12. mechanicus says:

    Transformers. More transformers. Why cant we have purity of form to go with performance? Why all the pixelated angularity?

    • yellowhammer says:

      It comes from the Japanese mindset. Anime, Manga, Shueisha, etc… It’s what they think looks cool – there is no function to it – it is an artistic style emanating from their life experiences. So, we are stuck with it. Learn to like it or do without because its here to stay.

      • Geoff says:

        I’ll do without. My Triumph was 47 years old when I got rid of it. My Sportster is 23 yrs. old, and my Klr was 26. Would like a new Jap bike, show me one please.

    • Brian says:

      You win the “most original comment” prize.

  13. skybullet says:

    Probably a pretty good bike for its intended audience. However, the ergos look a little too tight for long rides and the V I B R A T I O N would be a deal killer for me. I had a inline 4 Suzuki that would put my hands, feet, butt to sleep in that order, depending on the length of the ride. The lower frequency of BMW and KTM twins vibes… no problem.

  14. North of Missoula says:

    The Z800 is $3k cheaper than the Z1000. That is a big price difference. It is however also a whole lot less of a motorcycle. the Z1000 weight 487lbs wet and has over 140HP where the Z800 is 509lbs wet and puts out 108HP?

    The Z1000 is a current generation motorcycle, the Z800 is the from the previous generation.

    All that said I am sure it is a great bike. Unless you are a motorcycle fanatic, one could argue that the differences, in the real world, are splitting hairs and that the $3K difference in price out weighs the difference in performance.

    Being a motorcycle fanatic I would go for the Z1000 over the 800 all day long.

  15. TexinOhio says:

    I love my 2014 Z1000 and people hate on it’s looks, but this thing is hideous. One ugly little brother.

  16. PN says:

    I like it. The previous generation European version had a nicer headlight but I can live with this. A 750-800 is a good engine size.

  17. mickey says:

    My favorite type of bike ( I-4 Naked) close to my favorite displacement (liter bikes) just not my favorite styling excercise.I have sat on this bike but was more comfortable on the new Suzuki 750 Naked which I have also sat on. Don’t think I will be test riding either one though,again styling for me is the hang up. Bet they are nice bikes though and the prices on these new offerings is pretty good.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I find the blue/white Suzuki GSX-S750 to be a very attractive bike. The Z800 isn’t working for me, though, but I might feel differently once I see it in person. I never buy aftermarket exhausts for my street bikes, but I’d have to if I bought a Z800.

  18. Bob says:

    I’m sure it’s a decent bike, but it certainly is a stylistic mess. The exhaust, in particular, is hideous.

  19. Grover says:

    A guy could make a lot of money selling “Headlight Lift Kits” to KAWASAKI owners that love the performance but find the appearance odd.

    • LarryC says:

      It’s the truth. My wife and I made a trip to our local Big 4 + KTM dealership yesterday and commented on the same thing. It’s not just Kawasaki that’s succumbed to the drooping headlight syndrome. How do these ridiculous concepts become styling paradigms?

    • Dino says:

      +1
      I just don’t get that melted headlight look… What, is it so HOT that it is melting itself?? Should we be impressed or scared of it??

      Voted most likely to be improved with the headlight from a golf cart.

  20. Neil says:

    As I always say, the degree to which the legs come up, the bars need to be down as if the ergos were controlled by a parallelogram. I had a Nighthawk 750 and never scraped the pegs, even suddenly ditching it into a parking lot in traffic. That being said, I like these naked bikes. I saw it in the local dealer and it looks sharp and feels comfortable, with the seat being much better than the 1000. For reference, I had the ZR750 back in 2000. Given that I see so few riders on the road, this is a MUCH better value than the weekend miles most put on their sport bikes.

  21. North of Missoula says:

    The Z1000 weighs 487 lbs and has over 140hp, the Z800 weighs 509 lbs and puts out 108 hp.

    The Z1000 is about $3k more expensive than the Z800. The difference in price reflects that they are two different generations of motorcycle.

    If you are good with previous generation design and performance you will save a lot of money stepping down to the 800.

    To me the choice would be clear. I would step up to the Z1000.

  22. Nick says:

    This bike looks great and offers many refinements and features we have been asking for. The people who are very negative about this bike never rode one, have eyes that are getting old, or are just plain buffoons and are the reason we don’t get more of the bikes we want. The miserable type that are just so pathetic they want to take the joy out of things from everyone. This is an excellent offering Kawasaki that I would consider selling a street triple just for a different experience but not much of a loss. Thank you for the suspension and ABS (where are you yamaha).

    • Grover says:

      It’s a KAWASAKI.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      Call me an aging, miserable, pathetic buffoon if you want, but I think the bike is over-styled. Otherwise, it is an excellent bike with a nice combination of power and features for its class.

    • KenHoward says:

      Yamaha is utilizing the absolutely-lowest-cost strategy. ‘Seems like they could at least offer optional ABS to U.S. buyers, though.

  23. ABQ says:

    The rider looks cramped. I like this bike, and I like that it is an 800. I like the size of that gas tank. But I won’t buy one. I’m old and disabled.
    The Vulcan S is the one for me. I just wish that they would put this 4.5 gas tank on it. Then I will be happy.

    • beasty says:

      Yeah, he does look cramped, but maybe he’s a tall guy. Like you, this riding position never works for me, gimme the standard foot peg placement. That being said, from the left side, this is a good looking bike. I noticed vibration was mentioned twice in the article, but soft peddled. I guess it vibrates.???

  24. Starmag says:

    What does it transform into?

  25. GreyHairedRider says:

    How do the FZ-09 and the Z800 compare performance-wise? The two are logical competitors, and you told us that the FZ-09 sounds better, but what we really need to know is how HP/torque compare between the two.

  26. North of Missoula says:

    I am sure it is a nice bike, but the Z1000 weighs 487lbs wet, the Z800 weighs 509. I’d spend the extra three grand and go with the Z1000 if I was after a naked Kawasaki.

    Or if the depth of my pockets was not an issue I would go with the 2016 MV Brutale 800RR which puts out 140HP and weighs less than 400lbs wet.

  27. GearDrivenCam says:

    I’ve heard of inherent vibrations on large displacement singles – and experienced them too. But inherent vibrations on an inline four? What makes an inline four likely to vibrate more than a parallel twin, or any other multi-cylinder bike?

    • PatrickD says:

      I can’t say exactly why the vibrations should be severe, but I know an in line four isn’t inherantly balanced and requires some engineering to counter that.
      What I can say for sure is that the 2003 (?) Z1000, which I really liked the look of, had such chronic vibrations in the midrange that I lost all feeling in my hands after 30 miles after I took a spin on a freinds Z1000, and having exchanged an Aprilia Falco for the breif run, I was expecting things to be the other way around.
      I’m used to smooth running (perhaps too smooth for the purposes of rider involvement) in line fours, but there was something inherantly wrong with those bikes, which was reflected in *some* press reveiws.

    • Bill says:

      My thought, as well.
      My wife rode a Z750 for some years. while the motor wasn’t as smooth as my FJR, it never struck me as “vibey.” She rode it pretty much everywhere you can go north and west of Texas and never complained about vibration.

      • KenHoward says:

        I guess it’s a personal thing: I test-rode a Z750 before deciding on an SV 650 in ’06, and hated the buzziness. The SV’s engine felt much smoother.

    • saddlebag says:

      “Vibrate” is probably a bad term to describe inlines. Twins tend to vibrate (the bigger ones) at frequencies that are enjoyable and give the engine some character. The intensity tends to increase linearly with engine speed making the need for a tach somewhat unnecessary.
      Inlines OTOH, while generally counterbalanced and smoother at certain rpms, tend to have places in the power band where they buzz at high frequencies. This is generally annoying and it tends to come and go, so its more difficult to gage where you’re at in the rev range. My current inline 4 buzzes around 4k rpm and if I didn’t look at the tach, I’d think I should be shifting. I rev it up another 1000 rpm and its smooth as glass.

    • KenHoward says:

      It’s not the amplitude of the vibrations, it’s the “character;” inline-4s are known for being “buzzy.” That’s the high-frequency kind of vibration that numbs hands and feet. My Bonneville (with its counterbalancers) produces a vibration that is similar to a 90-degree V-twin, like my old SV 650, for instance, and never unpleasant, no matter how long the ride.

      • Selecter says:

        Smoothest, most vibration-free motorcycles I’ve ridden:
        1) Kawasaki ZX-14
        2) Honda CBR1100XX
        3) Kawasaki GPz1100
        All inline-fours. So, that by itself doesn’t bear out how much a bike will vibrate. There literally isn’t a production twin that can even come close to these from a “complete lack of vibration/buzz”, though my SuperTen comes within spitting distance below 80MPH. The so-called “perfectly balanced” (not exactly true) 90 degree twin on my Guzzi V11 would put my hands and feet both to sleep. I hated it, but loved the same basic engine, isolated differently, on the Breva 1100. Go figure.

        What is a bigger factor is whether or not that engine is properly balanced and counter-balanced, and how it’s isolated from or connected to the chassis. All of the above are counterbalanced, with at least one balance shaft. The Z, if it’s still like my old Z750S, lacks any sort of real counterbalancing or balance shafts, and on the old bike especially, it showed. It was also solid-mounted via steel tabs to the steel frame – making for a great environment for transmission of certain vibration frequency bands. Smooth in certain ranges, as you say, and chainsaw-like buzz for a couple thousand rpm at a time.

      • mickey says:

        Funny how these things affect people differently. I have been riding I-4s from 750cc-1100cc since 1976 and have never been bothered in the least by any “buzziness”. I’ve also had 2 V twins of the same displacement and the vibes in those things drove me absolutely nuts making going anything over 55 mph just a miserable experience. It wasn’t “character”… it was hand, butt, feet annoying as heck juddering vibrations.

        • Brian says:

          That’s been my experience too. With I4s, I’ve also found that in some cases tuning (like carb or throttle body sync) or just break-in will significantly impact the buzzy places.

  28. MGNorge says:

    Am I seeing an exhaust equalizing tube between 3 cylinders but not the 4th? Interesting.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I found that interesting, too. I understand the purpose of crossover tubes, but I don’t know near enough about exhaust tuning to guess what they are accomplishing by connecting just three of the four headers. The “unhitched” header also seems to be materially shorter than the other three.

      • MGNorge says:

        And that may be just it? The header do all converge further downstream of course but with the one header being shorter there may be less or no benefit more upstream? Exhaust tuning must be an art which blends with all kinds of factors such as valve timing and lift plus rpm range, etc.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Yeh, I could be wrong, too. It is hard to tell in the picture. They may be the same length.

    • Trent says:

      On my Z750S the exhaust is like that to make it easy to remove the oil filter. Probably the same thing here.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        Looking at the picture, it does provide perfect access to the oil filter. I’d love to know the tuning challenges that maintenance convenience presented to the engineering team.

    • Roger says:

      No, you’re seeing a coolant hose.

  29. tom says:

    Man I am so jealous. Not necessarily of the bike, but look at all that California sunshine! A sight for sore eyes from where I sit in the bleakest of Ohio winter.

    • KenHoward says:

      CA is a love it – and hate it – proposition. It’s expensive and crowded and stressful, but yeah, after leaving 13 years ago, I sure miss the sunny “winter.”

  30. ROXX says:

    Why don’t they just mount the headlights on the front fender and get it over with!
    Styling is just horrible and so are the passenger accommodations.
    For a “standard” style motorcycle that’s just unacceptable.

  31. Butch says:

    A small fly screen would maybe balance things out a little, along with tossing that hideous muffler.
    Other than that, I kinda like it.

  32. Sentinel says:

    Put that engine in a lighter weight bike with reasonable passenger accommodations and offer an integrated luggage option and I’ll buy one.

  33. Duc Dynasty says:

    Thanks but I’ll stick with my 08′ Suzuki SV-650 naked. It does it all too and IMHO looks much better.

    • todd says:

      And gets better mileage.

      It’s probably your round headlight that makes your SV look so much better.

    • Larry K says:

      I hear you. I’ve got an ugly-as-sin naked-ized V-Strom 650, so sorta like an SV only roomier and a bit more suspension travel, and really can’t find anything else to replace it that works as well overall.

    • Sentinel says:

      There isn’t another middle-weight in production that I’d trade my SV650 for. Id’ love to see Suzuki make a new SV1000!

  34. Jeffrey Jones says:

    Agree with the styling. Good style is good style. Update the 1990 Kawasaki 550 and 750 Zephyr look. Beautiful bikes (minus the tailpieces).

  35. Jeremy in TX says:

    I’m not really taken by the styling either, and I’m not one of those guys who takes issue with modern Japanese motorcycle designs. For some reason, the Z800 just doesn’t come together for me.It might look better in person

  36. larlok says:

    That styling doesn’t grow on me.

    • Mark says:

      I once had a ’10 Z1000. Loved the plush suspension, turbine power and brakes. Hated the lack of aftermarket..and the looks. Whatever genre of Japanese design that is, I don’t like it.

    • Snake says:

      Some bikes do not photograph well and look better IRL, this may be one of them; give it a chance and check it out at a dealer

      • Stuki Moi says:

        It looks good in person. Until your eyes catch the Z1000 next to it….. The 800 looks well enough put together, but the Z1000 wouldn’t look out of place with an MV badge (and price tag) on it.

      • Kagato says:

        True–some bikes are just not photogenic. When you see them in person you may be able to sense a kind of unique “presence”. only way I can describe it.

    • Tyler says:

      Agreed, having sat on one recently the “sloping caveman brow” really does not do any justice to any otherwise fine looking bike.