“I decided to build a café racer with knee-down potential.”
Introduced in 1999, the Kawasaki ZR-7 (aka ZR750F) hit the market as an affordable naked bike that harked back to the inline-four UJM machines of the 70s, albeit with swoopier modern styling.
“The ZR-7, from my perspective, is a modern interpretation of the UJM. Sure, it retains an air-cooled (and oil cooled), two-valve engine fed by carburetors — just like the UJMs of old, but its styling is a modern evolution of the standard motorcycle, and the machine features some modern engineering touches, as well.” –Motorcycle Daily
The bulletproof 738cc engine put out 75 bhp and 47 lb-ft of torque, good for a quarter-mile time of 12.4 seconds. While it wouldn’t win any races or style contests, the ZR-7 was highly versatile, affordable, and reliable:
“While the ZR-7 may not have the street cred of the latest replica-racers, it will lead a long and useful life for novice riders, re-entry riders, or anyone who wants a sporty, jack-of-all-trades motorcycle.” –Cycle World
Enter our friend Roman Juriš grew up beneath communist rule in his native country of Slovakia, which made it difficult to pursue his biking dreams. Now he’s making up for lost time:
“In middle or slightly advanced age, I am fulfilling youthful dreams that were not allowed to me by the communists who ruled our country for a long time.”
Roman is a man who likes to indulge in spirited riding, but many of the contemporary café racers he began seeing around 2010 betrayed an emphasis on form over function:
“Almost all of them had an ugly huge window in the subframe where the side cover used to be. The small suspension strokes and narrow tires signaled that these were motorcycles more for standing in front of a cafe rather than for riding. So I decided to build a café racer with knee down potential.”
Starting with a ’00 ZR-7, he ditched the soft stock suspension for the forks, subframe, and single-sided swingarm from a Ducati Monster SR2.
“As I jokingly say, Monster in front, Monster in the back, Kawasaki in the middle…”
At first, the shorter USD fork was a disaster in the handling department, causing the bike to fall in too quickly in the corners, but Roman ended up extending the forks 60mm to achieve the correct geometry.
The front fairing, tank, and tail section were chosen to give the bike an English-style look, while the paint is the British Racing Green of the Team Lotus days, matched with gold lines of Roman’s own design.
“I admit that I also found part of the inspiration on the Tullamore Dew whiskey bottle.”
This ZR-7 is a far cry from the original, reminding us more of a Honda GB500 in style and silhouette. More importantly, it performs well on the twisty roads that Roman loves:
“It took some patience to tune the front fork, but now it’s a great bike for cornering on country roads and serpentines. That bike pulls through corners effortlessly. Knee down is no problem. It is about 15 kg lighter than the original.”
After his first test ride, Roman home smiling so big that his wife thought something was wrong with him…ha! He calls the ZR-7 his “Bike of Joy,” while she calls it “that green motorbike.” We just love to see a home-built bike carving up the roads like it should.
Below, we talk to Roman for the full details on this ZR-7 café racer.
Kawasaki ZR-7 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
As an amateur creator, in middle or slightly advanced age, I am fulfilling youthful dreams that were not allowed to me by the communists who ruled our country for a long time.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
Kawaski ZR750F (ZR-7), year 2000.
• Why was this bike built?
Around 2010, café racer motorcycles were all the rage. Almost all of them had an ugly huge window in the subframe where the side cover used to be. The small suspension strokes and narrow tires signaled that these were motorcycles more for standing in front of a cafe rather than for riding. So I decided to build a café racer with knee-down potential.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wanted to make an ordinary motorcycle into a very English-looking café racer, even if I didn’t use chrome.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually already doing something along the lines of today’s resto-nod motorcycle. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the rest of a Ducati Monster SR2 motorcycle passed my way. So a solid front USD fork and — what a coincidence — my favorite single-sided swingarm.
Installation of the front fork went without problems, but the handling was a disaster. The motorcycle was falling into the corner. The front fork from the SR2 is much shorter than the original, and only the extension segments brought the possibility to fine-tune the front geometry.
Mounting the rear swingarm required the installation of a complete SR2 subframe on which the entire suspension system is mounted.
I tried to fine-tune all three basic elements of the design, i.e. the front small fairing, the tank, and the typical seat fairing into a harmonious whole.
I chose the British Racing Green color and the golden lines (my own design) and golden wheels to add a certain elegance.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I call the motorcycle “Kawa” or “Bike of Joy”. But for my wife, it’s just “that green motorbike.”
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
The engine is standard only with a K&N filter. Carburetors had to be fine-tuned on the dyno.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
It took some patience to tune the front fork, but now it’s a great bike for cornering on country roads and serpentines. That bike pulls through corners effortlessly. Knee down is no problem. It is about 15 kg lighter than the original.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
It’s one of the few Café Racer bikes that does not have a window in the subframe.
• Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
To my friend who painted the motorcycle and to the upholsterer for a perfect job on the seat.
Follow the Builder
I am an occasional correspondent for the Slovak website motoride.sk under the name “Romoto“. Here you will find my articles about motorcycles, written with love and passion for construction and customising. If you have a good translator, you can read more about this bike here and here at motoride.sk.