In Search of Perfection: Yamaha FZ1 vs. Kawasaki Z1000

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Successful niches have a way of becoming mainstream. That's why there's a beer-brewing kit in my closet and naked bikes at your local dealership. While naked-bike enthusiasts used to build their own out of necessity, stripped-down sportbikes are now a staple of nearly every manufacturer's lineup. Riders are clamoring for a do-it-all machine that's powerful, comfortable, versatile and agile. The new "nearly nakeds" provide a middle ground that approaches ideal.

Kawasaki's Z1000 and Yamaha's FZ1 lead the pack. Both strive for perfection by pairing powerful superbike-derived engines with versatile chassis and accommodating ergonomics. Neither bike is actually naked. The American market demands some sporty accents, so both are lightly clad in plastic. The Fazer (as it's known in Europe) has been in the mix since 2001 and underwent its only major overhaul back in '06 when it was given a new YZF-R1-derived 998cc engine, updated suspension and an aluminum twin-spar frame in place of the previous steel-perimeter skeleton. The current generation saw the fueling tweaked for better midrange response but no other significant changes-much to the chagrin of those pining for an unclothed and upright crossplane R1. It's a classic-looking bike, with the squinting headlights of its more sporting sibling, exposed engine and exhaust plumbing, and flat drag bar perched on tall risers.

Kawasaki's take on the perfect streetbike traces its roots back to the '73 Z1, but today's angular, broad-shouldered bike bears little resemblance to its progenitor. Totally revamped for 2010, the Z1000 wedges a purpose-built engine into a new aluminum backbone frame similar to that of the 2008-2010 ZX-10R. Engine displacement was bumped up to 1043cc via a 77 x 56mm bore and stroke, and while those figures are exactly 1mm larger, the naked bike's engine isn't just a reworked ZX-10R mill. Kawasaki started from scratch, eliminating the compromises that come with retuning a race engine for the street.

Stepping off of a cramped repli-racer onto one of these pseudo-standards will prompt a sigh of relief. Ergonomics are reasonable, especially for the upper extremities. The Z uses a wide off-road-style handlebar placed within easy reach of a thinly padded seat. The FZ1's perch is plusher, and the Yamaha sports a narrower handlebar that rests closer to the rider and resides behind a modest windscreen. Paradoxically, the footpegs on both these bikes are set high. While your upper body remains comfortably erect, your legs are folded tight, although more so on the Kawasaki than the Yamaha and more acutely if you're taller than 6 feet. Additionally, the Z's dual raygun mufflers crowd your heels and force your feet forward on the pegs.

In line with its futuristic looks, the Kawasaki has an all-digital dash with a bar-graph tachometer and gas gauge on the right and speedo on the left. A clock, dual tripmeters and the usual indicator lights are tucked in along the edges of the orange-screened display, and are manipulated via two buttons on the dash face. The Yamaha pairs an LCD screen with an analog tach. Engine temperature, fuel level, time and speed are displayed in the digital cluster to the left, while the select and reset buttons are directly below. The tach resides to the right with its redline positioned 1000 rpm higher than the Kawi's 11,000-rpm mark. Both machines have large rearview mirrors that are spaced wide enough and damped well enough to remain useful while underway.

Rolling the Z1000 out of the garage, you're aware of every ounce of its 483-pound wet weight, and it feels top-heavy when rocked between your legs. Positioning the ignition behind the steering stem keeps the dash clutter-free, but it can be difficult to insert the key, especially with gloves on. Let out the rather heavy cable-actuated clutch, accelerate to 15 mph and 80 lbs. of mass seems to disappear instantly. Kawi's trademark Positive Neutral Finder is effective but prevents you from shifting up out of neutral, which is a shame considering first gear is largely unnecessary; this bike would easily launch off the line in second or even third! There's 60 lb.-ft. of torque on tap at just 3500 rpm-nearly as much as a Harley V-Rod makes at that same rpm-and a sum the FZ1 takes twice as long to attain. By far the Z1000's principal asset is its engine: It's got the torque of a turbo-diesel and the kind of instantaneous power that'll let you flash your drain plug at a moment's notice. This is what big-bore nakeds are all about!

If the Kawasaki can be faulted, it's for its uncomfortable seat. The scooped saddle pushes you toward the tank and the stretchy, sticky upholstery leaves your britches in a bunch. Add this to the lack of wind protection and the Z was downright agonizing on the freeway. The Showa fork and shock felt rough over choppy highway pavement, but proved pretty spot-on for back-road fun. And they do offer plenty of tuning options: The fork is fully adjustable and the shock can be tuned for spring preload and rebound damping. Handling is quick thanks to sporty geometry, a pronounced forward weight bias and that motocross-style handlebar. A quick push on the bar slaps the bike on its side, and it can be stood up and ushered in the other direction just as easily. The Kawi will inhale a quick succession of sharp bends with supermoto-like efficiency, but in sweeping corners it feels unsettled and requires constant pressure on the bars to hold a line. The bike's narrow waist and tall gas tank leave little to latch onto during aggressive riding, so it's difficult not to hang onto the bars while leaned over. In really fast bends the front end feels like it's on the verge of letting go, despite the noticeably better traction offered by the Kawasaki's Dunlop D210s compared to the Yamaha's less grippy D221s.

The FZ1's engine is happiest in the upper half of the rev range, and doesn't really come alive until the top third. In fact, it spins up laboriously until about 8000 rpm, when the R1-derived 20-valve head starts flowing and the tach needle swings toward redline with alarming alacrity. Don't be misled: The FZ1 makes loads of power-its 125.7 bhp at 11,000 rpm outguns the Z1000's 123.2 at 10,000-but it's not immediately or readily accessible. Zack on the Z1000 just floated a big power-wheelie off that last corner. Care to follow suit? Better fill out the appropriate application and wait for a reply. Rapping the throttle open on the FZ1 is like using a rotary phone compared to the Z's speed dial.

Even though the Z1000 has a secondary balance shaft and received a rubber-mounted rear engine mount for 2010, peripatetic vibrations are an issue in the upper revs. Thankfully, there's no need to go there. The Kawasaki is content to troll along in top gear, cruising 70 mph at a buttery-smooth 5000 rpm. Meanwhile, lackluster low-end power and irritating vibration encourage the FZ1 pilot to keep things spinning in the upper register, where pulsations diminish and there's thrust at the ready. The widely divergent riding styles these bikes dictate are responsible for a substantial gap in fuel consumption: On average, the relaxed Kawi got 6 mpg more than the high-revving Yamaha.

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!

Kawasaki Z1000 | Price $10,499

Dyno
The Z1000 towers over the FZ1 from idle on up to 10,000 rpm. Power builds steadily and is readily available anywhere in the rev range. With a torque curve that elevated and flat, shifting is voluntary. Its 73.6 lb.-ft. is a substantial sum, even by big-twin standards.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Displacement: 1043cc
Bore x stroke: 77.3 x 56.0mm
Compression: 11.8:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 41mm Showa fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Showa shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Tokico four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Tokico single-piston caliper, 250mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Dunlop D210
Rake/trail: 24.5°/4.1 in.
Seat height: 32.1 in.
Wheelbase: 56.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 483/459 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 123.2 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
Measured torque: 73.6 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.55 sec. @ 130.7 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.45 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 36/31/34 mpg
Colors: Orange/white, black
Availability: Now
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact:
Kawasaki Motor Corp.
9950 Jeronimo Rd.
Irvine, CA 92618
949.770.0400
www.kawasaki.com

Ergos
A narrow waist and subframe make the Z1000's 32-inch seat feel lower than it is, and you really have to lift your feet to hit those precariously high footpegs. A torturous saddle and intense high-rpm vibration in the bars, tank and seat are the bike's biggest drawbacks.

Yamaha FZ1 | Price $10,299

Dyno
That shallow area before the power spike at eight grand feels like it takes forever to push through, but once the Yamaha's 20-valve head starts breathing freely things get exciting in a hurry. More than 20 horsepower come online in less than 1000 rpm, but as soon as the power peaks at 11,000 rpm, the party is over.

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c inline four
Valve train: DOHC, 20v
Displacement: 998cc
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 53.6mm
Compression: 11.5:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 41mm Soqi fork with adjustable spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Soqi shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Akebono four-piston calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 245mm disc
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D221F
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Dunlop D221
Rake/trail: 25.0°/4.3 in.
Seat height: 32.1 in.
Wheelbase: 57.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.75 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 500/472 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 125.7 bhp @ 11,000 rpm
Measured torque: 67.4 lb.-ft. @ 7750 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile: 10.48 sec.@132.2 mph
Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 3.21 sec.
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 30/26/28 mpg
Colors: Raven, Candy Red
Availability: Now
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact:
Yamaha Motor Corp. USA
6555 Katella Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630
800.962.7926
www.yahama-motor.com

Ergos
The FZ1 follows the old formula of paring down the bodywork and installing a tubular handlebar, or in this case a flat drag bar. A little wind protection goes a long way, but what makes the FZ1 win in the comfort department are a civilized seat, less vibration and nearly an inch more legroom.

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arless
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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