Honda CB1000R vs. Kawasaki Z1000 | Ultimate ’Fighters! | MC Comparo

Two Hard-Hitting Streetfighters Take It to the Ring

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

Standard-style motorcycles get a bum rap. Start with that name: Nothing sounds as blasé as “standard.” Where’s the emotion in that? “Naked bike” sounds a lot sexier, and “streetfighter” is almost as provocative, even it it’s not dripping with innuendo.

Which brings us to the two motorcycles shown here: the Honda CB1000R and Kawasaki Z1000. Universal Japanese Motorcycles, yes—but from which universe? A parallel one? Maybe Otherworldly Japanese Motorcycles is more fitting?

Ducati and Triumph get credit for inventing the naked bike and streetfighter, respectively (see page 54), but one could argue that Honda got the ball rolling with the original 1969 CB750. That was the first across-the-frame, four-cylinder production streetbike, and it laid the groundwork for all that followed. Kawasaki upped the ante with its 1972 903cc Z-1, arguably the first superbike. It wasn’t until decades later, when British punters began stripping the fairings off their crashed sportbikes because they couldn’t afford to replace them that the naked bike/streetfighter came into vogue.

For some inexplicable reason, however, Japanese nakeds have never caught on in the USA. Honda tried twice: first in the 1990s with its CB1000 “Big One,” and again in the 2000s with its 919. Neither sold well, and both were quietly discontinued. It took Honda Italy to bring the CB1000R to market (in fact, it’s built there), but it took from 2007 to 2011 before American Honda decided to bring it stateside.

Kawasaki has stayed at it longer, offering a line of retro-styled Zephyrs that included the ZR1000 in the ’90s before debuting the Z1000 in 2003. The third-generation model shown here was developed in conjunction with the new Ninja 1000 (with which it shares its underpinnings), but the Z saw the light of day first, in 2010, due to popular demand in Europe.

Both the Honda and the Kawasaki are radical by Japanese standard standards. With its sexy lines, stacked projector-beam headlamps, single-sided swingarm and integrated under-engine exhaust, the CB1000R looks very European—not surprising, given its lineage. Though Honda was the first major manufacturer to put a single-sided swingarm into production, licensing the design from the French Elf roadracers, most enthusiasts give credit to Ducati, so the CB owner can expect to have to defend his bike’s honor!

The Kawasaki, meanwhile, looks distinctly un-European, and more like a prop from a science-fiction movie. Transformers, anyone? Originally offered in a hideous burnt-orange with a plain-white gas tank, or a slightly better-looking black-with-silver, the Z was “murdered-out” for 2011 with a black-on-black scheme that looks seriously badass.

Throw a leg over either of these bikes at night and the first thing that grabs your attention is the colorful instrument display: blue on the Honda, orange on the Kawasaki. The CB’s is electronically adjustable for intensity; the Z’s physically adjustable for angle via a two-position pull knob. Both feature a numeric speed readout and bar-graph tach, the former far easier to read than the latter.

Fire up either bike’s motor and you’re greeted with a familiar four-cylinder whir, the Kawi’s a little more mechanical-sounding. Blip the throttle and the revs zing right up, though if you close the throttle and whack it open again, the Kawi has a delay meant to prevent raw fuel from being dumped into the catalytic converter. Pull in the hydraulically actuated clutch, snick the six-speed transmission into first gear, and here the Honda gets your attention with a loud “clop.” Clutch engagement is smooth and progressive on both bikes, although the Kawi’s clutch became noticeably grabby after we ran it at the dragstrip. Replacing the friction plates helped, but we should have replaced the metal plates as well.

Speaking of performance testing, the Kawasaki cleaned up in every aspect, producing the biggest horsepower and torque figures, plus the quickest quarter-mile and top-gear roll-on times. That’s to be expected, given how strong its motor feels, but the Honda ain’t no slouch, particularly once you add corners to the equation.

While the Z1000 isn’t exactly ungainly, it does take a little more effort to hustle through the twisties. Like many of Kawasaki’s sporting streetbikes, the Z hunkers down on its suspension in the interest of straight-line stability. All suspension is progressive, whether it has progressively wound springs or not, and riding that far down in the stroke, the Z’s fork and shock feel harsh, particularly over square-edged bumps. Adding preload puts them higher in the stroke, where the ride is cushier. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

By Brian Catterson
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