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To say Kawasaki’s latest 800 SX-R stand-up Jet Ski is little different than the company’s original 1973 JS400 is to tell an undeniable truth — as well as one big lie — all at the same time.
Yes, the craft shares the original’s same basic form factor, and requires a healthy sense of balance, some athletic skill, and the willingness to practice, practice, practice if you ever hope to master it. But much has changed over the last 37 years. Not only has the stand-up Jet Ski grown more powerful and more agile, it’s also grown far easier to ride.
So why don’t more people ride them? Evidently we like taking the easy way out. I say buck the trend. Get on a stand-up this summer and see what you’ve been missing.
The Nitty Gritty
If my memory serves right, the original Jet Ski had a 396cc Twin, two-stroke engine that produced 27 hp. Today’s 800 SX-R still features a Twin, two-stroke, but its 781cc engine now boasts about triple the power. Hit the throttle and you’ll leap out of the hole; carve a corner and the low-end punch will pull you through with authority. Top speed? Around 48 mph.
That may be slow by the standard of today’s 65 mph couches, but trust me, it’s probably the most fun 48 mph you’ve ever experienced. Besides, riding a stand-up isn’t about straight-line speed, it’s about carving and cornering, things the 800 SX-R does exceptionally well. Kawasaki tweaked the design several years back to provide a unique balance of stability and cornering ability. Much of that stability comes from size. Today’s Jet Ski is much bulkier the original. But clever hull design is the key to most of the improvement.
Apart from style factors, the biggest change is that the hull sides feature an outward flare toward the bow, lines which then slim as you follow aft. This gives the boat more wetted surface, increases its stability, and positions the bow slightly deeper in the water. The end result is a boat that is easier than ever for beginners to learn on, but one that skilled riders can now push to new limits. It carves beautifully through turns, and literally slices and dices up a buoy course.
Yes, that familiar inside lean remains from the original. But now, instead of the stern having a tendency to slide, the hull offers an almost locked-to-the-water feel. Other benefits to the design are reduced porpoising under acceleration, and a better presence in rough water.
Kawasaki also made the 800 SX-R easier for beginners by modifying the upper deck. The tray area has been widened by slimming down the gunwales. That makes it easier to haul yourself aboard the craft when starting, but also allows a broader stance to establish your balance when up and underway. Padding is prevalent on the gunwales, tray, and handlepole end to prevent bumps and bruises. That handlepole is also spring-loaded to lessen rider fatigue.
I’ve already noted the 800 SX-R is far from a couch, so don’t expect the latter’s cushy amenities. There’s no gauges, no frills, and no extras. In today’s designs, there’s not even really any storage. These are machines designed for one purpose — riding. You stand on a padded tray, you lift the handlepole and you squeeze the trigger throttle. And away you go.
You do get a freshwater flush fitting for end-of-day maintenance. And you also get one thing that’s sorely missing in today’s big-boat market — a boat that doesn’t require a trailer. A couple friends can still lift an 800 SX-R into the back of a pickup (although at nearly 400 pounds, it’s not quite as light as the original!), as well as carry it to the water.
In short, what you get is just simple, no-frills fun. And that is the essence of the Jet Ski.
2009 Kawasaki Jet Ski 800 SX-R Review
2009 Yamaha SuperJet Review
All Things Kawasaki on PersonalWatercraft.com
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