2 April 2013 Z800: Kawasaki reveals its super middle-weight secrets

As trend-setters and sales leaders in the vibrant middle-weight naked class, Kawasaki has enjoyed unrivalled success with its Z750 super-naked Streetfighter style machine with over 125,000 units sold so far in Europe.
Bringing the new Z800 and Z800 e version to a fiercely competitive marketplace, the company has drawn heavily on its engineering and styling expertise to create machines that look set to continue Kawasaki’s class dominance.

Now – in response to significant media and public interest – the engineers and designers have stepped into the lime-light to add a new and interesting dimension to the Z800 story. In their own words, they have been keen to explain what the very essence of Z means; and how the forty year dynasty of the Z family blends with their approach to a cutting-edge machine expected to lead the market in terms of style and sales.

Matching the traditional Japanese notion of team work with an additional focus on highlighting individual talented engineers and designers, the Z800 project has pushed the Z family boldly forwards without losing the essential Kawasaki DNA as Head Designer, Keishi Fukumoto, explains.
“With the Z750 as a starting point, we wanted to take a step aside and consider the meaning of Z for Kawasaki. As one of the most popular bikes in Europe – and a machine that many other manufacturers have tried to emulate – the Z750 deserved a worthy successor.

Because of this European focus, we considered key words in several European languages that we felt described the attributes of the Z family and started our thinking from there.

Two key words emerged over all others, form and ferocity. These words helped dictate the image of the bike as a whole, its entity and personality; in other words its reason for existing”.

As Project Leader in charge of engine and development, Hideheko Yamamoto was keen to integrate the design ethos into the way the engine and chassis performed.
“Already the Z750 had established a reputation as easy to ride around town and on sporty twisting raids. European customers told us that power and acceleration is a key attribute so, with an increased engine size and short gearing, we improved the acceleration feeling in some key areas such as low and intermediate road speeds.

By increasing the bore rather than the stroke of the engine we have delivered even more Z power feeling and enhanced the character of the machine.

In terms of the chassis we concentrated on the rider ergonomics and suspension settings. While the Z800 and Z800 e version may look extreme, we wanted a natural riding position so that every ride would prove enjoyable.

As an example, by ensuring that the area immediately behind the fuel tank was narrow, the rider’s knees are brought closer together which gives excellent response, feedback and manoeuvrability.”

For Mr Fukumoto (who has worked in the field of motorcycle design for 25 years) and the Kawasaki in house design department, the narrow mid-section of the machine was also important as they wanted the centre of the bike – particularly the fuel tank area – to accentuate the trademark Z forward inclined stance. Ultimately this would provide the perfect backdrop for the essential “face “ of the machine, its headlamp and instrument cowling. Having resolved this, Fukumoto asserts that the rest of the design began to suggest itself.
“In total up to 300 design sketches were made with many amendments and rejections…. I kept asking myself “is this good enough?” – we did not simply rely on our own opinions, we also asked other staff members to contribute.

Our target customer is European and in their 30’s and has a keen eye for motorcycle design – our research showed that they would use a Z800 or Z800 e version for everyday riding and for touring at weekends.

For use as a commuting machine we took usability into account. We tried to keep the design elements simple as this is a naked bike. All parts, surfaces and materials need to harmonise – as an example the sub-frame on the side of engine needs to integrate with the engine even if it is made from a different material.”
Naturally with a considerable Z heritage – and a highly successful machine in the form of the Z750 - the perception of the new machine would be crucial to its success as Fukumoto explains.
“Of course we study trends but, equally, we don’t want the machine to have only short term appeal – the design must be an evolution of Z not a revolution.

Following the Z750 this bike has very big shoes to fill, the design had to have substance and integrity so we were not obsessed necessarily with what looked simply “cool” or “trendy”.
With the design direction signed off and scale models sculpted, the early physical manifestation of the latest machines in the Z line were built and testing began, as Hideheko Yamamoto explains.

“A clear goal was to deliver even better handling and stability than the Z750. The suspension components, their action when riding and general settings were all improved, so too rider comfort. In fact, even first test model showed good engine and chassis performance which was encouraging.

As these goals were quickly attained we spent a greater part of the time focusing on comfort and ride feeling. The whole team are happy with what we have achieved.”

As spokesmen for an enthusiastic and dedicated team of designers and engineers, it is clear that Fukumoto and Yamamoto have a shared passion for creating new and innovative motorcycles.

Equally, their desire to reflect the Kawasaki’s heritage and Z family spirit has obviously influenced the design direction of the Z800. Undoubtedly Kawasaki fans will be just as eager to see the fruits of their labours in terms of the next generation of machines currently under development.