Can seeing 2 pipes that go into a gas tank, on a green motorcycle, in the early 90s leave in you love even 27 years later? Yes. Yes it can.
And just like that girl with curly hair, who made me go blind when I was 12, this 1991 Kawasaki ZX7 J-1 made me lose my head. At first it was the color scheme, with the “Ninja” logo in pure 90s RAD color gradation. Then the 2 big headlights, that were breaking out from a flowing ( at the time) silhouette. And then those pipes, a mistery, some people thinking they were for fuel back pressure (as they go in the tank), some saying it was an additional flow to the airbox, some other legends helped fueling my adoration for the ZX-7. Add the fact that most of the owners at the time were running an open can to make them as loud as possible, and for me the deal was sealed. Even 27 years later… the “Seven” is still cool as hell even today!
The picture above is from teh listing where I found the bike, east of Los Angeles. It’s an higher mileage at 38,000 miles and she has undergone some light restauration earlier in its life. The owner sent me a video of a cold start and I was in love. I wired $3,800, arranged delivery and I was the owner of my teenage dream. I agree, the ZX7R would have been better but I just wanted a bunch of pipes in the tank - I was happy!
I am tempted to scrap that huge stock muffler, but I like it’s original looks and apparently it is also very rare. I will just keep it like this…It screams 90s from every angle and it is probably the best looking Kwak of all times. RIght?
This past Sunday I went on my first ride. Sitting on the Kwack can leave any modern rider very skeptical. Are we sure this complies with the laws of physics? Why is it so low? Is it for max speed races? Did someone stretch it? Being used to my 2014 Aprilia RSV4, the ZX-7 feels incredibly long and at the same time spacious. This huge, metal cold tank in front of your…belly reminds you of a time when plastic tank covers were just a silly idea. The upper cowl is incredibly wide and the gauges are all there, with needls, not even a digital clock. Choke on the left handlebar, starter on the right, she starts right up. I feel less weight on my wrists than my Ducati 916, which is a good sign as after 80 miles on the 916 I am ready to get off…the pegs are naturally where you would expect them to be. Overall I feel I am sitting very “low” compared to modern bikes. Will this work? Is this how it’s supposed to be?!
Pull the choke (ah, memories!) and she starts right up. Idle can be adjusted using a knob coming out on the right but she likes to stay at 1,500rpms when cold. She is not a virgin with 38,000 miles on the clock but the engine and carbs work as a team and off we go!
I went for a ride with my good friend Alex and his recently acquired and definitely noisy KTM 1290 Super Duke: we could not have chosen more different bikes!
The clutch engagement is extremely smooth but forget about doing a 1-2: there’s a long pause before the 2nd gear gets in and you just need to be gentle. The carbs of a high revving 750 are, well, what you would expect: lumpy, lazy to respond if below 3,500 rpms, just plain weird if you are used to modern motorbikes. You feel a delay between the moment that you twist the right wrist and when something actually happens.
The Seven warms up fairly rapidly, it’s a cold morning in the 50s. I heard these bikes have issues running hot while in traffic, so she will like this weather - my knees a bit less…
In motion, stability is what comes to mind: it is amazing how rock solid it cruises on highway, probably thanks to a long wheelbase. The ZX7 cruises at 70mph at around 6,000 rpms without vibrations and actually being comfortable and quiet.
Now the bad: the suspension department SUCKS big time. Hit a pothole and the bike will make it feel like it was a crater. The front forks just don’t dampen imperfections and the rear shock is almost non existent. Granted, you could tell me that the fork oil is old and they would benefit a rebuild, but I doubt it is just that. Reading a review from back in the days they confirm my impression, citing any other bike currently on sale would be better.
On the backroads though, on a smooth surface, the feel of stability is repeated as the ZX7 gives loads of front end confidence (as long as there is not road bump), allowing you to push and enter at higher speeds at every turn. Just planted. Look where you want to go and she will follow. A pleasure if you like to stick to your line. On the change of direction of course the 430lbs (!!!) can be felt and it is not what I’d say a rocket…
Now on to the engine, ah what a joy it is to push to 12,000 a small carburated 4 cylinder! Truth to be told, the sweet spot of the ZX7 is really between 7,000 and 10,000 rpms, with mine having a slight hesitation at 8,000. Beyond 10,500 is only more noise as there is not more horsepower to be felt, with the peak being 106hp and who knows how much it is left in 2018… After all, the J-1 ZX7 is the “street version”. Its racing sibiling - the ZX7R - is a different animal, with large improvements made by Kawasaki to both the suspensions and the cams, making the engine more powerful and rev happy.
Overall I enjoyed the ride very much, I was pleasently suprised by the fun I had on some country roads. In motion the Seven is not as heavy as you think and while lacking power and agility, tyou really can’t judge the engine from a chat front end gives you confidence when opening up the gas.
As a bonus, the beauty of these old bikes is that they need to be ridden otherwise the carburators will stuck! I am already thinking about the next ride…!