2010 Kawasaki Z1000 - Practically Naked

Kawasaki's new standard of excellence is just keepin' it real

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Adam Campbell

Before we get into what the new Z1000 is, let's start with what Kawasaki says it isn't. First, it's definitely not a warmed-over '08 Z1000-don't look for transposable parts because there aren't any-and it's not a naked ZX-10 either. Your aesthetic inference and these photographs not withstanding, Kawasaki types don't use the word "naked" in its presence. Naked implies stripped, as in a dumbed-down pricepoint version of something else. Maybe that's why naked/standards haven't managed to light up American cash registers as they have in Europe. Kawasaki figures there's a gaping hole between naked mediocrity and race-replica extremism that can only be filled with something fast and comfortable, cool and affordable, with a selection of sporting tack that doesn't usually trickle down this far in the lineup. Whether this Z1000 fills that slot or not, one thing is clear: It's light years ahead of the old one.

Regardless of how you feel about all that angular plastic, there's no arguing with what's underneath. The 1043cc four's lower crankshaft position makes room for the new 56mm stroke without creating a taller package. More stroke helps keep the intake charge moving, which helps explain 65 percent more torque and 10 percent more horsepower 4000 rpm sooner. Less fuss, more muscle. A gear-driven balance shaft squelches enough second-order buzz to use the engine as a stressed member in the 1000's new five-piece aluminum skeleton. The result gains 30 percent more torsional rigidity along with a die-cast aluminum subframe that saves 8.8 lbs.

A pair of subtle ducts in the fairing route intake air through the frame, into the airbox and over a crafty tube/resonator arrangement in the nose of the airbox to inject a little engineered intake howl at high rpm; imagine blowing air over an open Coke bottle and you've got the idea. Downstream, a quartet of 38mm Keihin downdraft throttle bodies replaces more upright 36mm mixers. New mufflers carry on the proud Z1000 tradition of weird exhaust plumbing. This time, a boxy chamber stashed under the swingarm pivot lets the engine exhale through a pair of smaller mufflers that are 3 lbs. lighter than before.

Those weight shavings add up to a Z1000 that weighs in at 481 lbs. soaking wet: 22 lbs. lighter than an '08. Working hard to centralize the heavy bits, engineers moved the new Showa shock and linkage to a more horizontal home above the swingarm. It's shifted slightly to the right, making spring preload and rebound damping adjustments easier. Up front, Showa's 41mm inverted fork lets you adjust spring preload, rebound and compression damping. Steering geometry is unchanged from the last major remodel in '07, and wheelbase is less than a quarter-inch shorter. Ergonomics are compact, but compared to a ZX-10R, it's like moving from coach to business class: bliss. Kawasaki's new adjustable instrument pod crams a lot of information into a little space.

Before delving into how this thing works, we have a little advice for your next mid-winter press launch on California's central coast. Pack the waterproof suit...and some Rain-X. When sprinkles in picturesque Cambria turn into a certified deluge halfway up Santa Rosa Creek Road, you'll be glad you did. It's a lot easier to dodge the rocks, mud, ambiguous organic debris and helmet-sized craters on this twisted ribbon of pavement when your underwear is dry. Corners come in four bladder-emptying flavors: blind, off-camber, decreasing-radius and the always-appalling combination plate. Grown men weep like little girls after 15 minutes of this on some 160-horse track tool, but we were almost happy.

Aside from a total lack of weather protection, the Z1000 is your friend: much smoother in cruise mode than the '08 Z1000 we tested. More feedback would be nice, but steering is light. That centralized mass makes left/right transitions easy, even in the rain. Throttle response is a bit abrupt above idle, but mercifully smooth from there. Usable power starts at 2000 rpm, building methodically to 5500 or so-perfect in the wet-before the proceedings begin to speed up at 6000 rpm. Cue up 7000 rpm on a rare stretch of dry pavement and the 9600-rpm power peak arrives right now, leaving just enough time to ease off and squeeze the brakes, which are linear and predictable if a bit short on initial bite. Springs are a little soft for the extra-large set, but fine for almost everyone else. The ride gets a bit harsh over really rough pavement. The fact that nobody tipped over after 160 miles of this stuff in monsoon conditions tells you everything you need to know about the Dunlop D210s' wet grip: It's superb. We'll tell you more after a few hundred miles on dry pavement, but if there's a Z1000-sized hole in your garage, don't fill it with anything else just yet.

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