Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 Review (1989-1990) + Used Buying Guide

Kawasaki ZXR750 1988 Review Used Price Spec_thumb


1988 was a huge year for sportsbike fans. The fledgling World Superbike championships had quickly stretched its wings and proved a hit, and it became clear that from now on, anyone who wanted to sell a road-going 750 needed to be near the front on the track. Honda hit it with a bang with the RC30 – a hand-built road-going version of their prototype F1 series RVF750, with a pricetag reflecting its build quality and rarity. Yamaha took an extra year to come up with the OW01 – also a hand-built homologation special, based on their YZF750 F1 bike and designed purely for racing (and also with a breathtaking asking price). Kawasaki took a different route by developing a mass-produced, competitively priced, road-going version of their F1 bike, the ZX-R-7 – itself based on the engine from the fast but flexy GPX750R, wrapped in aggressive bodywork and featuring a chunky twin-spar aluminium frame. It was developed in plain view, mostly in endurance racing, but with some outings in F1 as well, and when the road version arrived, sporting the same green and white livery as the race bikes (red and black was an option too), it really looked the part. Unfortunately it didn't really set the racetrack on fire – with no factory team in 1989 it was left to Kawasaki France to field a pair of outclassed ZXRs in WSB in 1988, and the bike didn't get the results it was capable of until the fearsomely brave and talented Robbie Phillis started scrapping at the front in 1990. Even with Phillis aboard it was a struggle, with a distant fourth place in the championship achieved through a run of late season good form – including two wins – at the Aussie's 'home rounds in Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. It was down to an American – Doug Chandler – to give the ZXR its first word class win though, as a wild card at the US round. Long before this, though the ZXR had revealed its limitations as a road bike – it was an era when Kawasaki hadn't got the hang of making suspension that worked, and the H1 was horribly harsh, especially at the rear. The H2 was significantly revised, with a completely different swing arm, but it was still too harsh for the road. The H2 got a host of engine mods too – bigger valves, wider ports, lighter pistons and rods for higher revs, bigger 36mm carbs, a new airbox, new radiator, and a different exhaust system. None of which made a great deal of difference on the road – it was all designed to better take advantage of the optional race kit for track use.

Despite its flaws the original ZXR still had considerable appeal. It looked awesome, it sounded even better, and despite the rough ride quality, it steered, braked and handled with a composure that you could only have dreamed of a couple of years earlier. And while later versions of the ZXR may have got gradually more civilised, refined and useable, there's always something about the first version of any long running model that will attract fans.


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Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 (1989-1990) Price

In 1989, the all new ZXR was priced at £5299, which looked pretty good next to the £9499 tag on Honda's RC30, and practically a giveaway compared with the astronomical £12,700 you'd have needed to put your name on the log book of a Yamaha OW01. But the RC and OW were very different propositions – hand-built in limited numbers, designed to go racing with the minimum additions and modifications, and always intended to be premium products. The ZXR was much more basic, almost rough and ready – a road bike first and foremost, even if it had been developed on the track. A fairer comparison would be with Honda's road-going VFR750 and Suzuki's GSX-R750. When the 1990 ZXR-H2 came out, the price had gone up to £5799, exactly the same as the far better-finished Honda, and five hundred quid more than Suzuki's all-new GSX-R750, which was a far better-developed road bike, with far better suspension in particular.

Thirty or more years later, the ZXR H1/H2 looks a rather better investment than it did back then. You can pick up a tidy-looking late 80s VFR for under 1500 quid, but you're unlikely to find a ZXR-H much under £2500, and if you do it'll want a lot of work. As for contemporary GSX-Rs, few of them survived the streetfighter scourge of the 90s so really good ones command good money, but a really good H1/H2 still commands more. At time of writing there were very few ZXRs up for sale nationally, but they went from £2795 for a 40,000 mile H1 with non-standard paint and in need of some work, through a 43,000 mile one with standard paint and looking quite tidy, all the way up to a 13,000-mile clean example with a quality repaint in standard colours, with an optimistic asking price of £6495. It's significant that all the ones we saw for sale were recently-imported Japanese domestic market models rather than official UK imports – a lot of UK models failed to make it through the 90s, falling victim to road crashes, track thrashes and the steady decline that goes with riding in a wet country with heavily salted roads.  


Power and torque

The ZXR was never particularly powerful in standard form, with a claimed 107bhp equating to a reality somewhere in the mid-90s (it varied by as much as 5bhp from bike to bike even when new). But it delivered it in an entertaining way – a bit rough low down, a fair bit of midrange, then a slight dip around 8000rom before coming on strong again with a howl and a kick in the last 1500rpm before the harsh rev limiter cut in around 10,000rpm. It was a delivery that made it tempting to dance up and down the gearbox, keeping the revs high and pushing, pushing, pushing. Happily that also meant you were likely to be pushing the suspension hard enough to start working. Basically it was a thrasher's delight. Three decades later, the biggest difference is likely to be fluffy carburation lower down – like many Kawasakis of the era, they can suffer quite badly from wear to the carburettor internals, mucking up the fuelling. Fixable (try www.allensperformance.co.uk for parts and advice) but can be costly.


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Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Essentially a tweaked version of the older GPX engine, in standard form the ZXR's motor is relatively understressed – the modifications from GPX spec were more intended to be exploited in race trim than on the road. As an example, the ZXR was one of the first production bikes to be fitted with a slipper clutch to reduce lock-up on the way into turns. But as standard it's set so it does practically nothing (you can modify/adjust it to work as intended – see andys-kawasaki-zxr-zx7r-tribute-site.net for some good advice on that, and other tips). That means you're unlikely to encounter serious mechanical problems on a bike that's been looked after, even if it's been ridden hard in the past. The standard automatic camchain tensioner has a habit of sticking in one position – better to replace it with a manual one and give it a tweak as and when necessary. One thing to be aware of is that changes to the H2 engine, although not giving any more power in road trim, do mean that you can't rely on parts being interchangeable between the two. Water pump seals can give up and leak. In theory you can't replace/service them, but clever owners have found you can replace them with a seal kit for a late 90s VN800 cruiser... It's been a long time since genuine exhaust parts have been available from Kawasaki, and aftermarket pipes were the single most common modification back in the day, so if you find an H1/H2 with its original exhaust (rare) in good condition (even rarer - usually dented, rusted out or both), be prepared to pay extra. Worth noting as well that the exhaust system is one of the bits that's not interchangeable between models as well..  Aftermarket pipes also tend to screw up the carburation, making it run lean in the midrange in particular and causing flat spots. Budget for a dyno setup if you're in any doubt. The gearbox should be pretty slick, with easy, positive changes. Any reluctance to change gear or jumping out of gear under load is cause for concern.


Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 (1989-1990) Economy

Never an issue back then, and not really of that much interest to most owners now. Back in the day, if you thrashed your ZXR mercilessly (and we did...) it was easy to get well under 30mpg. Legend had it that at the other end of the scale, it was possible to dose out the goodness gently and get 50mpg. No one would ever admit to that though. These days, a realistic average of low 40s is about right. With a four-gallon tank that means you'll be rummaging around for the reserve tap at around 140-145 miles, and then you've only got twenty-odd miles before you'll be on fumes.


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Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

This was always the ZXR's strong point and its Achilles heel at the same time. It had proper racetrack poise, an immensely stiff frame that could take far more than the standard engine and tyres could throw at it, quick, precise steering (at least when you'd raised the back an inch or so from standard to sharpen it up), and a riding position that just invited you to play at racers. But it also had seriously flawed suspension, which overlaid every aspect of its behaviour, especially on the road. The front forks weren't too bad, if a bit oversprung and overdamped. These days that can easily be improved by a specialist with better oil and springs and revised valving (upgrade to the fork seals from the later J/K model fork seals while you're at it – less prone to leaks/failure). The rear, though, was a similar combination of too much spring and damping, made worse by a rising rate linkage that rose too quickly, effectively removing the bike's ability to cope with small bumps, so absolutely everything went through the suspension and straight to the riders backside. As well as compromising comfort, it also compromised control – instead of the suspension riding the bumps, letting the wheels move while keeping the bike steady, it was always moving, making it hard for the tyre to keep contact with the road. There's not much to be done with the rear shock, especially with three decades of wear factored in - best to ditch it and fit something better. The ideal extra refinement is one of the aftermarket rear shock linkages made in the 90s by NWS, but good luck trying to find one.


Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 (1989-1990) Brakes

By 1989 road-bike standards the ZXR's Tokico four pots and big 310mm discs were shockingly good – loads of power, plenty of feel, and they worked in the wet! They're still pretty good if they're in fine fettle, but keeping them that way takes work – even when new they needed almost constant cleaning and attention. A simple upgrade is to fit later calipers from early K model Suzuki GSX-Rs, which share the same spacing.



Original bodywork in good, clean, un-cracked condition is very rare. It was never the most robust, and age-related degradation will be taking its toll by now, especially on all-weather bikes. That means brittle panels, so you need to be doubly careful removing and refitting them. If you can't find replacements for damaged panels, try Skidmarx (www.skidmarx.co.uk) – they can supply good quality replicas of fairing panels including the often-damaged V-piece that sits under the radiator.


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Nothing fundamental, mostly age-related. Dodgy connections, brittle wiring, burnt-out switches, decomposing insulation and, especially, poor earths. Add in thirty years' worth of poorly-executed repairs and modifications (aftermarket alarm installations and subsequent removal are a particular source of both) and problems ensue. No easy way round it - well worth working your way through the whole loom and sorting it properly. The generator is reliable, but the rubber belt that drives it is a bit weedy. Cheap enough to fix though – don't over-tension it when you fit the new one.


Comfort over distance and touring

Comfort. Hmmm. Not really the ZXR's strong point. Even without the over-stiff suspension it's just not built for bimbling about. Having said that, the riding position's actually not too extreme by modern standards, although it's a bit of a stretch to the bars. But really, if you want to put in big miles in comfort, maybe look elsewhere....


Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

It goes without saying that the ZXR is from a time before rider aids had been invented. ABS was only found on big fat tourers, and didn't actually work very well. No one dreamed that one day it would be good enough to help you go faster, rather than just stopping you falling off when you tried an emergency stop on a diesel slick. It was a time of aftermarket accessories though, and a good many ZXRs were blighted with the usual anodized crap that passed for 'upgrades' in the 90s. Thankfully with values climbing, these days you're more likely to find previous owners have spent time and money making them look closer to standard again.


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Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 (1989-1990) verdict

It may never have had the cachet of the OW01 and RC30, or the refinement of the GSX-R, but an early ZXR750 is still a very desirable place to park your bum. More than thirty years on from its original launch, it's moved from cutting edge to modern classic, and unlike the Honda and Yamaha, you've got some chance of affording a ZXR – in fact you could buy eight or nine H1s for the price of a good RC30... Find a tidy one, give it a good service, put a bit of time and money into subtly upgrading the suspension and you've got a very useable road bike that still looks fast standing still – and will still turn heads wherever you go.


Three things we love about the ZXR750…

  • The looks
  • The sound
  • The memories


Three things we don’t…

  • The rear suspension
  • Age-related woes
  • Brakes need lots of care and attention


Kawasaki ZXR750 H1/H2 (1989-1990) spec

Original price


Current price range

£2500 – £6500



Bore x Stroke


Engine layout

Inline four-cylinder four-stroke etc

Engine details

DOHC, 16v, liquid cooled, carburettors

Power (claimed)

106bhp (79kW) @ 10,500rpm

Torque (claimed)

56 lb-ft (75.6Nm) @ 9000rpm

Top speed



6 speed, chain final drive

Average fuel consumption

42mpg tested

Tank size

18 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

168 miles

Reserve capacity

21 miles (2 litres, manually switched)

Rider aids

Wash your mouth out...


Aluminium twin spar

Front suspension

43mm conventional forks

Front suspension adjustment

Preload and rebound adjustable

Rear suspension

Uni-Trak rising rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Preload and rebound adjustable

Front brake

310mm discs, Tokico 4-piston calipers

Rear brake

230mm disc, Tokico 2-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 VR17

Rear tyre

170/60 VR17




2090mm x 755mm 1170mm (LxWxH)



Ground clearance


Seat height


Kerb weight (approx)



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