If we could only use one word to describe the Kawasaki, it would be "unique." From the lin
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.