The Kawasaki Z800 and Yamaha FZ-09 are prime candidates at filling the moto mistress role. Both possess seductive styling and sporting capability yet are practical, affordable, and epitomize the contemporary multi-role platform that gives them the kind of cross-generational appeal few other bikes have. While new to American soil, the Z800 pounded pavement abroad prior to arriving in response to one of Yamaha’s best-selling Stateside models. Taking on a two-time Cycle World Ten Best winner is no small calling for the 816cc liquid-cooled inline-four-powered naked. “It’s what I’ve come to expect in Kawis,” came Kennedy’s vote of confidence on a stint aboard the new Z. “Nice fit and finish, smooth power that is responsive and tractable, and suspension that inspires confidence in a variety of riding situations.” While the engine produces less peak power than Yamaha’s 847cc liquid-cooled inline three, delivery is ultra-smooth below 7,000 rpm and very linear throughout its entire rev range. Shift action is light and slick, and the positive neutral finder eliminates guesswork at stops. One of our favorite engines in recent memory, Yamaha’s super category-stretching triple offers blockbuster performance with impressive torque that comes in early as well. “Wow!” Kennedy remarked. “The engine is incredible! Smooth, powerful, and what feels like never-ending torque.” Featuring YCCT ride-by-wire throttle control with selectable D-Mode, the FZ offers a choice of three engine response maps. The sharp response of A and slightly tempered Standard modes lend the FZ a playful character enhanced by a unique sound and tactile feel that are characteristic of its evenly spaced crossplane-crank 120-degree firing interval. The sense of thrust when hard on the throttle and working up through the FZ’s positive gear changes produces acceleration even a seasoned pilot can appreciate.
Ride quality and superb chassis control is where the Z800 stands out in this matchup. Its KYB fork has adjustable spring preload and rebound damping (as does the FZ), while the remote reservoir shock offers a better range of damping control than the FZ’s more basic strut. While weighing notably more than the Yamaha, the slightly heavier-handling Z800 delivers a very planted feel when tracking a bumpy surface. Cornering clearance proved more than adequate on both bikes when the pace was pushed.Each bike is blessed with brakes that offer excellent power and feel, but Kawasaki’s ABS (accounting for the $200 price premium) kept its chassis more settled when charging bumpy corner entries. The FZ engine has less crank inertia contributing to its wheelie-happy nature but exhibits a greater engine-braking effect making the rear prone to skitter and hop when rushing those same bumpy entries. A slipper clutch would be a welcome addition.
At 6-foot-1, Kennedy found the two- piece Z800 saddle restrictive, feeling crowded by the rear seat step when tucking in. We both preferred the more relaxed riding posture of the FZ, finding its attractive taper-style bar positioned slightly higher in relation to the seat. The FZ’s one-piece saddle is flat and wide under your rear, offering more support and better long-range comfort than the rounded Z seat. It is also softer, allows unrestricted fore-aft movement, and is the more passenger friendly of the two.
From daily commuting to weekend flings, either of these sporting nakeds will bring pleasure without raising much suspicion. “I feel the Z800 comes in at a price point that is well within the budget of anyone interested in an all-around, everyday motorcycle,” our pilot for hire summed up. “But I’m really impressed with the compactness of the Yamaha. The bike felt good and responded well on the freeway, in the canyons, and making my way through city traffic.”