9th April 2024

Kawasaki's ZX-7R could be the one for you

"Name an upcoming under-the-radar modern classic." Almost before the question was finished Ben Birney and Dean Smith of Moto Resurrection in Cheshire said in unison "the Kawasaki ZX-7R".

It's always a sign when several bikes of a particular make or model are stashed away at the back of the workshop under sheets, in varying states, and have been for some time: that belief that one day they'll ease on to the radar of enthusiasts, if not collectors.

The boys at Moto Resurrection believe the ZX-7R's time is just about here.

It's the classic scenario: bikes that weren't that enthused about back in the day when they reached a certain age ended up being either modified, turned into track bikes or run into the ground. That inevitably cut their numbers, and means good original bikes are starting to become rare and desirable. And those of us who have the money now that they didn't have back then - or had a ZX and want to bring back memories - are starting to splash the cash on nostalgia.

The Kawasaki ZX-7R was in production from 1989 to 2003. It stayed largely the same, other than for detail aesthetic changes and mechanical improvements introduced as engineering and technology advanced.

It followed the common format of racer-lookalikes, but, frankly, wasn't quite a match for the Suzuki equivalents of the era - the GSX variations - when it came to performance and dynamics. For that, Kawasaki fans had to wait for the '96/'97 ZX-7RR, a limited run of 500 homologation specials, with a range of enhancements aimed at allowing them to be rolled out of the showroom and onto the race circuit as superbike racing grew in popularity.

"There's a few fake ZX-7RRs out there. As they were homologated as race bikes, that's where a lot of them will have gone, and many won't have survived. They have flat-sided carbs - which didn't like being asked to deliver smoothly on the public roads - as well as more advanced adjustable suspension and steering, a close-ratio gearbox, and a solo seat," said Dean.

"The ZX-7R is much nicer to use on a daily basis - and looks really cool," he added.

Whereas a ZX-7R doer-upper could be as cheap as £1,000, the good ones are around £3,000 - £4,300. ZX-7RRs, if you can find one, are going to be well into five figures. Typical of a good ZX-7R are a 13,800 mile 1997 model at £3,995 at classic vehicle dealer Hodgson Specialist Cars in Ormskirk, and a 15,000 mile 2002 bike at Slipstream Motorcycles in Skegness at the same price, both in green. More rare-coloured bikes come up in online searches, but check for signs that the paint is original.

Kawasaki's 250, 350, 500 and 750 race bikes, known for decades as 'the Green Meanies', were real standouts on the track for decades, both for their colour and performance. That green became the house colour, and when it came to race replicas the opinion of most was there was really only one colour they should be.

Nearly two-thirds of all ZX-7Rs produced were green, around 16% red and 14% black. In the UK, there's 688 MOTed, mainly green - 108 are red, 98 are black. The ZX-7RR was green and purple. Distinctive might be one word...

But such was Kawasaki's association with green that original bikes in other colours are sometimes wrongly considered to be aftermarket paint jobs. Colour combos were sometimes an acquired taste, but it's worth swotting up on genuine paint schemes.

Kawasaki fans are like football fans. Everything in their lives seems to be green; they're probably the most partisan of Japanese bike enthusiasts, probably because the race bikes somehow felt like underdogs doing well - after all, Kawasaki is the smallest of the big four Japan-based bike makers, and often when they won back in the day there was a sense of the big boys being turned over.

The road bikes reflected that: they had always been a little bit mad - whether the wild three-cylinder two-strokes, or the pioneering big capacity early superbike in the form of the 900cc Z1, in each case trumping their competitors.

As for the ZX-7R: "They were just good bikes, good handling, good performance, good reliability - if you looked after them - but overall not exceptional. Maybe a bit heavy, but fast enough, but with their sportbike riding position they're not really distance bikes," said Ben of Moto Resurrection.

Probably reflecting the ZX-7R's status as an almost-but-not-quite bike, Ben has modified his - fitting Aprilia RSV front forks and rear swinging arm.

What to look for when buying one? "Originality is always important on classic bikes," says Ben, "no matter what the age. Fairings and bodywork hide a lot of areas that may be susceptible to corrosion, and the carbs will likely need setting up. Fairings are vulnerable, so check they're original. If it has a pillion seat and a ZX-7RR sticker, then it's probably not going to be a genuine ZX-7RR," said Ben, "but the various Kawasaki experts, owners and riders clubs are always worth consulting to check on originality and authenticity."

Those of us green to collectable-spotting should maybe start researching an appropriately more often than not green machine.

What are your thoughts on the Kawaski ZX-7R? Let us know in the comments below.