In Search of Perfection: Yamaha FZ1 vs. Kawasaki Z1000

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Unlike the Z1000, the FZ1 doesn't lose an appreciable amount of weight once its gold wheels are set in motion. The Yamaha tips the scales at an even 500 lbs. with a full tank and spreads its weight over a longer 57.5-inch wheelbase. It takes more time and effort to redirect, but is imperturbably settled once on its side and takes mid-corner bumps and direction changes in stride. The Soqi suspension components' only concession to economy is a lack of compression-damping adjustability on the shock, and the stock settings balance highway compliance with back-road responsiveness well enough. Even with frequent fuel-injection tweaks over the years, the FZ1 still suffers from abrupt throttle response in the middle revs, which makes fast progress up unfamiliar mountain roads more exasperating than fun. While short-shifting is an acceptable strategy for damping the Z1000's swift-punch power delivery, shifting up early on the Yamaha will drop you out of the powerband and out of the contest to reach the summit.

Where the Yamaha excels is in open, flowing curves where the throttle can be steadily rolled open. Not only is the FZ1 more stable at speed, but it offers better wind protection and a better bike/rider interface, with more for your legs to latch onto and a better tank to drape an arm across while bombing through a sweeper. But on a warm day-or even a cool one if you're wearing jeans or thin textile pants-straddling the tank can be downright uncomfortable as engine heat warms the fuel tank and frame spars to a distressingly high temperature.

In spite of its non-radial master cylinder and calipers, the Yamaha's R1-derived binders provide better feel and power than the Kawasaki's ZX-10R-derived components. The FZ1 has a smoother initial bite and braking force directly proportional to the effort exerted on the lever, whereas the Z's brakes bite hard and then plateau momentarily.

Around town, both bikes are head-and-shoulders more comfortable than thoroughbred sportbikes of similar capacity, and place you high enough in the saddle to yield a good view of your surroundings. The same characteristics that make the Z1000 the weapon of choice in the hills and canyons make it excel in the cut-and-thrust riding of the city. The FZ1 displays solid balance and stability, and the low-rev anemia that irritates while chasing the Z is all but unapparent compared to the lethargic acceleration of automobiles packing similar horsepower but six times the weight. In slow-moving traffic, however, the Yamaha's heat-management issues prove painful.

Parked at a scenic overlook high in the Angeles National Forest, the visual disparity between these two bikes really stands out. The Z1000's 2010 updates brought it a few styling tweaks including a sharper headlight housing, new wheels and a few new body panels. You may not dig the Mega-Man appearance, but you can't deny that it is a cohesive and edgy package. Those mufflers are bizarre, but they don't offend. The new chin fairing and fork shrouds look weird individually, but viewed as a whole the bike flows from front to back, with a stout front end and slim, elevated tail that give it a mean, take-no-prisoners appearance.

If you prefer classic to cutting edge, the FZ1 has it. The softer contours of its half-fairing maintain the same easy-on-the-eyes appearance as the original. The bike looks more pedestrian, and behaves accordingly. The level of heart-pumping thrills depends entirely on your intentions.

So, which one is the perfect do-it-all bike? Since the $200 difference between the $10,499 Z1000 and the $10,299 FZ1 is negligible, it all comes down to how your riding style meshes with these bikes' characteristics. If short, fitful sprints are your forte, the decision is clear: The Z1000's responsiveness and instantaneous power delivery hit the spot around town and on tight back roads, but its more constrained seating position, high-rpm engine vibration and lack of wind protection limit its range. If you prefer longer stretches of undulating countryside, the FZ1 takes the lead. With better ergonomics, decent wind protection and excellent high-speed stability, the Yamaha becomes more appealing the farther and faster you ride. It's more accommodating and has the qualities to fit a longer list of uses, including sport-touring.

If you can't decide which one is for you, pour yourself a home-made brew and think about it for a while.

Off the Record

Zack Courts
Age: 27 | Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs. | Inseam: 34 in.

In spite of my age, I like to think of myself as a mature and measured rider. And while I would love to make the mature choice here, I just can't. The Kawasaki Z1000 is more exciting in every way. It's more compact, more nimble, and the style and attitude are miles ahead of the Yamaha FZ1. Most importantly, though, the engine feels like a liter-bike should, with solid torque and power that pulls (wheelies) all the way to the top. Make your own judgments about how it looks, but I think it looks hard-nosed and ready for a fight. Which it is.

Ari Henning
Age: 25 | Height: 5'10"
Weight: 175 lbs. | Inseam: 33 in.

Fun, functional and fierce when you want it to be, the Kawasaki is what I want from a bike. The more I rode it and enjoyed its unvarying power, the more annoyed I got with the Yamaha and its split personality. The Z1000's styling is questionable, but at least it exerts itself in a tangible way. On the other hand, the FZ1 looks uninspired and in desperate need of an overhaul-preferably one with the R1's crossplane powerplant installed in a sportier chassis with updated bodywork and livelier colors. That would be a bike I could get excited about!

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For me and my wife and for short highway stance, I think the Yamaha FZ1 is the bike to have The throttle response at low rpm will never get you in trouble. And in rainy weather much easier to controls. And gas mileage is better than the KZ1000 by far. The brakes are better and suspension and also cornering. The Kawasaki's pillion seat is terrible compared to the FZ1 Plus a slightly used FZ1 can be had at $5500.00 or less. Find a slightly used Yamaha FZ1 and at a good deal Would seal the deal. Both bikes make way more power than I would want or need on the street
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