It may seem odd to some that a review is being given to a motorcycle that's more than 10 years old but in fact, one of the great things about 'bikes is that regardless of age most of them (with few exception to the exotics) are just as viable today as when they were brand-new. The reason for this is that little has changed in motorcycle technology. Sure, newer bikes have fuel-injection rather than carburetors and the ultra-high-end sport-bikes have engine and frame technology that's become completely high-tech, but at the end of the day does all this expensive technology make for a more enjoyable ride? No, it's still just a motorcycle with 2 wheels, a seat, side-stand, mirrors, brake and gear-shift levers.
To wit, the 1992 Kawasaki Zephyr 750 remains one of the best all-around "standard" style 'bikes ever produced. Based on the bullet-proof oil-air cooled engine in use for more than 40 years and frame designs going back to the 1970's legendary "Z1" the Zephyr 750 combines classic design with modern touches, such as the three-spoked, brushed lip magnesium wheels, a 4-into-2 chrome exhaust and updated emissions controls for EPA regulations.
The Zephyr isn't a sport-bike by design but it's no slouch either; twist the throttle on the rev-happy motor and you'll be greeted with plenty of low-end torque for full-stop starts and even more pull from a roll-on power-up. And unlike it's Ninja cousins it's not top-heavy with the power-band giving the rider a very usable boost right in the middle about 5000rpm.
The decades-old engine design is not only rock-stable reliable but glass smooth too; since the compression ratio of this older motor design isn't pushed to the limits like the ZX series the engine doesn't have to work as hard nor rev as high to find it's usable power, making the Zephyr as playful in town as it is comfortable on extended high-speed freeway jaunts. And unlike it's typically buzzy Ninja cousins you won't find any annoying bar or footpeg vibrations killing your desire for long rides.
The exhaust note from the dual pipes is equally pleasing, with a very smooth purr at idle up to low-level rpms and opening up with a slight growl with hard acceleration or high-end rpms.
From the cockpit the retro-style chrome plated gauges are easy to read and adds to the nostalgic effect the bike produces from onlookers. And from the seat, the handlebar and footpeg distance and positioning are near-perfect, making the Zephyr 750 the most comfortable and best ergonomically designed bike I've ever ridden or owned. Great ergonomics is something Honda totally missed the boat with on their earlier Nighthawk-S and later "Nighthawk" 750 as their footpegs were positioned too far forward to properly setup a natural balance between your hands, feet and butt.
But the overall riding experience in the Zephyr 750 is so good it's almost hard to describe. The combination of ultra-smooth motor, predictable and usable power-band, superb riding position and retro-yet-gorgeous looks really sets this bike apart from everything else on the road, even today in 2009. In fact, there's no bike in current production today at any price that comes close to the near-perfect riding experience from the '92 Zephyr 750. None.
So how is the ride on the 750 Zephyr? I've always said that riding a 'bike is the closest thing to flying while stuck on the ground and riding the 750 Zephyr certainly falls into that same feeling of freedom and a general sense of excitement.
Because the frame is the "old-school" dual-downtube design which cradles the engine rather than making it a stressed member there's plenty of flex when you bank the Zephyr hard-over into a corner. You can definitely feel the swing-arm bend to outside of the corner you're in but at the same time the frame is transmitting 100% feedback from the road and tires; you know *exactly* the point just before either tire starts to lose traction and can either back off throttle or unwind the lean-angle before you start kissing precious metal to the road.
In most standard and even low-end sport-bikes one of the major complaints from aggressive riding is that the stock fork-springs become easily overloaded and even bottom-out during hard braking. I never found that to be the case with the 750 Zephyr and never did any alterations to the front-end.
Similarly, the dual-shock rear suspension had ample spring pre-load to adjust to my regularly aggressive jaunts through the twisties and never seemed to get out of sorts. I often wondered how the 'bike would handle if it did have a box-section aluminum frame rather than the decades old dual downtube but I'm sure it would have made for a more ZX-7-type stiffness rather than a compliant ride that could handle being tossed around.
One of the great things about the bike is that because of it's retro-meets-modern look most other riders dismissed it as being lethargic and not much of a performer. I can't tell you how many times I got surprised looks from Gxx'er, Ninja and YZF riders who couldn't believe that not only could I gain on them in corners but often pass. Of course in a straight-line it was no-contest as the pure sport-bikes would out-muscle the Zephyr with greater horsepower. In fact even the '92 ZX-6 E model made more horsepower and was more fuel efficient than the 750 Zephyr. But again, being the fastest wasn't the point of owning a Zephyr.
And speaking of performance there's yet another benefit to not having a pure sport-bike: Insurance rates. My '92 750 Zephyr cost about 1/10th the amount of my '92 ZX-6 to insure for a year. And honestly, the Zephyr was a lot more fun and, much more unique.
CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I haven't seen any of these on the road in more than, geez... 10 or 12 years now. Kawasaki never sold these in great numbers because the American public never fell in love with the "naked sportbike" or even retro-bike concept to the level that cruisers or sport-bikes have enjoyed. Which is really too bad since some of the worlds best motorcycles fall into the standard or "naked-sportbike" categories such as the Bandit 400, Nighthawk-S/Nighthawk 750, CB-1, CB1000, Kawi ZRX, Yamaha Fazer, GPz1100... the list goes on.
If I could find another '92 Zephyr 750 even in fair condition I'd jump on it, restore it and keep it until my bones are too old to swing over the seat. The 750 Zephyr is by far the best looking, most enjoyable motorcycle I've ever owned, without reservation. And that's saying something since I've owned more than 100 motorcycles in my lifetime - so far!
RIDE SAFE: ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET AND USE THE HIGH-BEAM DURING DAYLIGHT.