Comparison Review: 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS vs Suzuki GSX-S750 vs Yamaha FZ-09

Hidden beneath neo-alien styling designed to get the attention of today’s 18-34 year-olds are the souls of versatile, low-cost bikes we used to call standards or UJMs—bikes that could do it all, in this case with about 100 horsepower on tap at their rear wheels. (Photography by Rich Cox)
Hidden beneath neo-alien styling designed to get the attention of today’s 18-34 year-olds are the souls of versatile, low-cost bikes we used to call standards or UJMs—bikes that could do it all, in this case with about 100 horsepower on tap at their rear wheels. (Photography by Rich Cox)

The question comes up all of the time: Where have all of the good ol’ motorcycles gone? Forget about nosebleed adventure bikes, cruisers that scrape in corners, supersports with Marquis de Sade seating positions or elephantine touring bikes. Is there a simple, multi-cylinder machine like the bikes we used to call standards, with upright seating, low weight, little or no bodywork and a reasonable price tag? And are decent handling and 100 horsepower too much to ask for? Where’s that one inexpensive bike for commuting, tossing around in the canyons or taking off for the weekend with some soft luggage?

Make no mistake, they’re still out there; they just don’t look like the Universal Japanese Motorcycles (UJMs) that we remember as being “all-bikes”—so good at so much. Try the Sport section of the Japanese OEM websites. Squint a little…right there, see the 2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS, Suzuki GSX-S750 and Yamaha FZ-09? All have liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 3- or 4-cylinder engines with about 100 horsepower at the rear wheel, what passes for “upright” seating and weigh 416-503 pounds fully gassed and ready to go. They have minimal bodywork, and the most expensive of these “naked” bikes is $8,399. Sure, the tubular handlebars are a bit low on the Kawasaki and Suzuki, but that’s easily fixed with bar risers from outfits like Rox Speed, SW-Motech and others. If you need wind protection, the aftermarket abides with numerous windscreen choices. Sorry, can’t do much about the Transformers styling—that’s what sells to the largest market for these bikes. No worries, you can’t see it from the rider’s seat!

Although its plumbing is bared when the Kawasaki is heeled over, the Z800’s designers used a few well-placed covers that conceal the ugly bits when parked.
Although its plumbing is bared when the Kawasaki is heeled over, the Z800’s designers used a few well-placed covers that conceal the ugly bits when parked.

Strangely, Honda doesn’t offer a 2016 machine that meets the light, cheap, upright, 100-horsies criteria like these three, and the matching Ducati and Triumph cost a lot more.

Once we had our three candidates, we put them to the test on our urban commutes, then stuck on some soft luggage and took off on a back-to-back, 2-day, 500-plus mile ride in cool fall weather to see if the inexpensive all-bike still exists.

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Same, but Not Same Same

Our three test bikes have much in common like liquid cooling, fuel injection, DOHC cylinder heads with chain-driven cams, 6-speed transmissions, chain final drive and a single muffler. All have wheel and tire sizes in common, 41mm USD cartridge forks and single rear shocks, and all have tubular handlebars, adjustable brake levers and cable-actuated wet clutches. There isn’t a centerstand to be found stock or as an option, though swingarm spools for a paddock or small portable rear stand are easily mounted.

New to the U.S. for 2016, Kawasaki’s Z800 ABS is the heaviest of our trio but offers smooth, quick handling, reasonable comfort (especially with some bar risers) and prodigious power.
New to the U.S. for 2016, Kawasaki’s Z800 ABS is the heaviest of our trio but offers smooth, quick handling, reasonable comfort (especially with some bar risers) and prodigious power.

Kool Kawasaki

Kawasaki’s new-to-the-U.S. Z800 ABS is distinguished by wild angular styling that is similar to but more subdued than its Z1000 big brother. Anti-lock brakes are included for $8,399; neither the Suzuki GSX-S750 or Yamaha FZ-09 offer ABS. The 806cc DOHC 16-valve in-line four was born as the Z750 for the 2003 model year in Europe and Latin America and was a bestseller there for years, though it was never offered here. The larger engine came along for 2013 with a thorough bike redesign, and we can probably thank the popularity of the 2014/2015 Yamaha FZ-09 that the Z800 ABS has arrived in 49 states for 2016. Kawasaki didn’t spring for the additional emissions equipment required to sell it in California, at least not yet.

Fit and finish are quite nice on the Kawi and, despite its “nakedness,” the designers made an effort to conceal ugly bits like hoses and exhaust collectors. A steel backbone frame and nicely styled steel swingarm enhance stiffness but contribute to the Z’s rather high 503-pound wet weight. There’s a little storage under the removable pillion pad, and the rider’s seat unbolts easily to access the battery or fasten a tank bag strap—plastic wings on the steel tank prevent using a magnetic bag. Tail bags are easily strapped or bungeed to hooks on the passenger peg mounts and under the seat. The bike comes in any color you like as long as it’s the Metallic Black/Flat Ebony you see here, accented with Team Green and Silver stripes.

The Suzuki GSX-S750’s engine is based upon the GSX-R K5 engine from 2005, with smaller throttle bodies, milder cams and reshaped exhaust and intake tracts. It’s the least expensive bike of the group.
The Suzuki GSX-S750’s engine is based upon the GSX-R K5 engine from 2005, with smaller throttle bodies, milder cams and reshaped exhaust and intake tracts. It’s the least
expensive bike of the group.

A Suzuki that Satisfies

The GSX-S750 is essentially the base bike in this comparo at $7,999, offering just enough style to hang with the others while leaving a lot of plumbing exposed. There’s little to distinguish its powertrain besides Suzuki Dual Throttle Valves (SDTV) on the throttle bodies and the Suzuki Exhaust Tuning Valve just aft of the collector, both of which help smooth throttle response. Suzuki likes to boast of the 799cc, DOHC 16-valve engine’s GSX-R sportbike heritage, though it has been retuned for midrange rideability with much smaller throttle bodies, milder cams and reshaped intake and exhaust tracts.

The GSX-S750 has been offered in Europe since 2011 as the GSR750 and, like the Kawasaki Z800 ABS, California emissions equipment was not in the budget, so don’t look for the bike in the Golden State. The engine is mounted in a steel twin-spar and tubular-steel hybrid chassis designed to look like an aluminum sportbike frame, though Suzuki stopped short of giving the box-section steel swingarm any pizzazz, and those ferrous metals contribute to its middling 463-pound wet weight. Nylon loops under the pillion pad and hooks on the passenger peg mounts enable mounting a tail bag, and magnetic tank bags cling to the steel tank like a remora to a shark. It’s available in Pearl Glacier White that glows ice-blue in the right light. For an extra $250 you can get the GSX-S750Z edition, which has special finishes.

Introduced for 2014 with the new crossplane Yamaha triple, the FZ-09 stole the hearts of hooligans everywhere with its prodigious torque and racy wail. Upright seating, great brakes and fierce looks are cool, but it needs better suspension and fuel mapping.
Introduced for 2014 with the new crossplane Yamaha triple, the FZ-09 stole the hearts of hooligans everywhere with its prodigious torque and racy wail. Upright seating, great brakes and fierce looks are cool, but it needs better suspension and fuel mapping.

Yahoo Yamaha

Yamaha’s FZ-09 took the bargain-blaster genre by storm when it was introduced for 2014, with a rowdy new “crossplane” 847cc in-line three-cylinder engine and aluminum twin-spar frame and swingarm that make it both powerful and light at just 416 pounds wet. Styling is sexy supermoto, with the right side of the swingarm curved over the stubby muffler for a unique look, though Yamaha didn’t put much effort into the left side’s styling. Instead of “semi-upright” seating as found on the Kawasaki and Suzuki that puts some weight on your wrists and a bend in your back, the FZ-09’s tubular handlebar raises your hands about even with your belly button and its footpegs are lower. Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) throttle-by-wire enables three Drive Mode engine maps—A, Standard and B—with varying levels of response. In its first year, many complained the throttle was too abrupt in either A or Standard modes, leading to a herky-jerky riding experience, so for 2015 response was softened.

The Yamaha’s only accommodation for a tail bag in back are loops on the passenger peg mounts, and some creativity is required to attach the bag’s rear bungees or straps; a magnetic tank bag will grip the steel tank like a vise. The FZ-09 comes in Raven or Impact Blue.

Those seeking even more relaxed seating, higher fuel capacity, some wind protection and factory luggage should consider the FJ-09, which is based on the FZ-09 platform. The FJ does have a higher seat, though, and runs $10,490 for 2016.

By having the lowest seat, narrowest handlebar and highest footpegs among this group, the Suzuki is best suited to average or smaller riders. It also runs on regular gas and has the largest fuel tank.
By having the lowest seat, narrowest handlebar and highest footpegs among this group, the Suzuki is best suited to average or smaller riders. It also runs on regular gas and has the largest fuel tank.

Off and Riding

Tire pressures checked, dynamometer runs made and suspensions set to their standard settings, we set out in search of the all-bike, a cheap motel and good Mexican food somewhere in Central California. All three motorcycles make generous power and torque and shift easily. The GSX-S750 offers smooth, linear power delivery that makes it easy to ride, and it revs briskly on top with that classic GSX-R howl, though it’s smaller displacement makes it the weakest off the bottom and in the midrange. Throttle response on the Kawasaki is snappier everywhere without being abrupt, and it grunts along nicely at lower engine speeds while snarling like a racebike at higher ones. For the most part all three bikes are smooth and civil down low and don’t start getting buzzy until about 5,500 rpm, well above their engine speeds on the highway in top gear.

The Yamaha FZ-09 offers the most power and torque of the bunch, with a raspy howl from the triple at full song that delights speed junkies and plenty of urge at low rpm and in the midrange. With its low weight and little of the rider’s weight on the handlebars like the Z800 ABS and GSX-S750, it picks up the front wheel on command, even too easily at times. Throttle response is still too abrupt in all but B mode and there’s some driveline lash, all of which make it hard to ride the bike smoothly without practice.

web-3up-far-7L1O1141Comfort-wise at first the bolt-upright FZ-09 seemed like the standout as we navigated traffic and secondary roads at lower speeds, where the GSX-S750 and Z800 ABS riders complained about the weight on their wrists. When the pace picked up in the land of straight backroads and zero police presence, however, the FZ-09’s high bar became a liability, as the rider has to fight the wind to stay upright, once again tiring the wrists and shoulders. Here the seating positions on the other bikes become neutral and comfortable as the weight is lifted from the wrists by the wind, yet you’re still braced against it with some forward lean. None has a particularly low or comfortable seat though the Suzuki’s is adequate and lowest. Its high footpegs and narrower handlebar suit it to average-size or smaller riders best.

In addition to covering some of California’s finest sport-touring territory, there’s a six-mile stretch of road between California Route 58 and the little town of Creston that will test any bike’s handling to the limit, and we rode it several times. While the light FZ-09 is the most nimble of the bunch, its undersprung and underdamped suspension, strong front brake and abrupt throttle combine to make a decisive “brake, point and shoot” approach to cornering mandatory, as its fork dives under braking, the front gets light under acceleration and the suspension chatters over bumps. Adjusting the spring preload and rebound damping front and rear helps some, but this bike is badly in need of better fuel mapping and some quality suspension components. The other two machines have suspension with firm compliance that helps you carve corners smoothly, with the Kawasaki getting the nod for rebound adjustability that the Suzuki lacks. Both could use more bite in their front brakes, and the Kawasaki’s rear brake was extremely mushy while the Yamaha brakes are quite good front and rear.

All three bikes come with reasonably good Bridgestone Battlax or Dunlop Sportmax OE tires in 120/70-ZR17 and 180/55-ZR17 sizes, yet all three would benefit from higher-quality sport or sport-touring replacement rubber.
All three bikes come with reasonably good Bridgestone Battlax or Dunlop Sportmax OE tires in 120/70-ZR17 and 180/55-ZR17 sizes, yet all three would benefit from higher-quality sport or sport-touring replacement rubber.

We weren’t making much effort to conserve fuel, but the Suzuki still delivered 43.9 mpg average, runs on regular gas and has the largest tank, giving it a potential range of more than 200 miles. Kawasaki and Yamaha fuel economy were OK at 39.8 mpg each, but both require premium, and the Yamaha FZ-09’s tank is dismally small at just 3.7 gallons and will have you looking for gas after just 120 miles.

After the ride, we concluded that while the Yamaha FZ-09 has a number of shortcomings that make it hardest to ride smoothly or long distances, neither the Kawasaki or Suzuki offer it’s three-cylinder engine character, agility and urban competence—an experienced rider looking for a rowdier answer to our all-bike question can’t really do better (except perhaps waiting for the bike to get ABS), and its ills can be addressed by the aftermarket. The Suzuki GSX-S750 is the FZ’s counterpoint—better suited to smaller riders, easy to ride and ready for anything, maybe more so with some higher bars. Finally, while the Kawasaki Z800 ABS could also use some bar risers, it splits the difference quite nicely. Its weight is not a liability, and it offers smooth engine performance and throttle response, good adjustable suspension and roomy ergonomics. While it’s not quite the all-bike out of the box, the Z800 ABS is very close.

web-insetA-IMG_70562016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS

Base Price: $8,399
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: kawasaki.com

Kawasaki’s meter is comprehensive but the central bar-graph-style tachometer is hard to read.
Kawasaki’s meter is comprehensive but the central bar-graph-style tachometer is hard to read.

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line four
Displacement: 806cc
Bore x Stroke: 71.0 x 50.9mm
Compression Ratio: 11.9:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,250 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ 34mm throttle bodies x 4
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.6-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical
Ignition: TCBI w/ electronic advance
Charging Output: 421 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8AH

Some of the Z1000’s “sugomi” styling has trickled down to Z800 ABS parts like its headlight.
Some of the Z1000’s “sugomi” styling has trickled down to Z800 ABS parts like its headlight.

Chassis
Frame: High-tensile steel backbone w/ engine as stressed member & box-section steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 24 degrees/3.9 in.
Seat Height: 32.8 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Single reservoir shock, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 5.4-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 277mm petal-type discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 216mm petal-type disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 503 lbs.
Load Capacity: 303 lbs.
GVWR: 806 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 35.6/39.8/49.4
Estimated Range: 179 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,200

2016 Suzuki GSX-S750

Base Price: $7,999
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: suzukicycles.com

Suzuki’s meter is clean and well thought-out, with a large easy-to-read analog tach.
Suzuki’s meter is clean and well thought-out, with a large easy-to-read analog tach.

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line four
Displacement: 749cc
Bore x Stroke: 72.0 x 46.0mm
Compression Ratio: 12.3:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ 32mm throttle bodies x 4 & SDTV
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.8-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical
Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 400 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH

All three bikes have 41mm USD cartridge forks. The GSX-S750’s is only adjustable for preload.
All three bikes have 41mm USD cartridge forks. The GSX-S750’s is only adjustable for preload.

Chassis
Frame: Twin-spar & tubular-steel w/ engine as stressed member & box-section steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 57.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.1 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. for spring preload, 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload, 5.3-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 310mm discs w/ 2-piston floating calipers
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 1-piston floating caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 463 lbs.
Load Capacity: 417 lbs.
GVWR: 880 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 4.6 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 37.3/43.9/53.6
Estimated Range: 202 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,200

2016 Yamaha FZ-09

Base Price: $8,190
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: yamaha-motor.com

Yamaha’s meter is compact and stylish but the graph-style tach is hard to read.
Yamaha’s meter is compact and stylish but the graph-style tach is hard to read.

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line triple
Displacement: 847cc
Bore x Stroke: 78.0 x 59.1mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 26,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ 41mm throttle bodies x 3 & YCC-T
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.9-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical
Ignition: Digital TCI
Charging Output: 415 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8AH

The Yamaha’s small 3.7-gallon fuel tank puts it at a disadvantage on long rides.
The Yamaha’s small 3.7-gallon fuel tank puts it at a disadvantage on long rides.

Chassis
Frame: Aluminum diamond type twin-spar w/ engine as stressed member & cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 56.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.0 degrees/4.1 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 5.4-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping, 5.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual discs w/ radial-mount
opposed 4-piston calipers
Rear: Single disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 416 lbs.
Load Capacity: 389 lbs.
GVWR: 805 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.7 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 32.7/39.8/47.5
Estimated Range: 147 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,200

2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS
2016 Kawasaki Z800 ABS
Single muffler is the evolution of a style that began with the Z1000’s upswept silencers in 2003.
Single muffler is the evolution of a style that began with the Z1000’s upswept silencers in 2003.
2016 Suzuki GSX-S750
2016 Suzuki GSX-S750
Little effort was made to conceal the unattractive parts of the Suzuki’s exhaust system.
Little effort was made to conceal the unattractive parts of the Suzuki’s exhaust system.
2016 Yamaha FZ-09
2016 Yamaha FZ-09
A 120-degree crank in the FZ-09 triple gives it perfect primary balance but it gets buzzy at higher rpm.
A 120-degree crank in the FZ-09 triple gives it perfect primary balance but it gets buzzy at higher rpm.

5 COMMENTS

  1. “Strangely, Honda doesn’t offer a 2016 machine that meets the light, cheap, upright, 100-horsies criteria like these three, and the matching Ducati and Triumph cost a lot more.” – I see what you did there, dissing Honda, however might I point out that the CB1000r is only a thousand or so dollars off the triumph street offerings and about 1-3k less than the speed triple depends on the trim. It’s not like the cost is astronomically different. That isnt cool. Also Define what you mean by cheap? because sub 9000’s is still pretty expensive for a bike. /endrant

    • Ronnie, the CB1000R is $11,760, about $3,300 more than the most expensive bike here. It also displaces 150cc more than the largest. Not sure what your point is. We would have happily included a Honda if a comparable 2016 existed.

      • I believe he was referring to Triumph’s Street Tripple 675. Smaller displacement but same HP, ABS, and within $1,000.

  2. I bought a fj-09 in August to go with my concours 14. It’s a great mid-sized bike and lots of smiles when you don’t want to get the big iron out.

  3. Bought a 2015 FJ09 last June and I’m still smiling! Great MPG and if you are a experienced rider don’t let all the nonsense you read sway you away from this bike about mapping and suspension. This bike is a no brainer for the money! Still smiling!

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