Kawasaki Z1000 - Naked Performance - First Ride

Is this what they mean by "dogging"?

As niche markets go, the "performance naked class" as Kawasaki calls it (and claims to have started back in 2003 with the original Z1000, which other manufacturers would surely dispute) is booming. In Europe, at least: Here in the States most riders still prefer their full-faired, full-caff sportbikes.

Personally, I think there's a lot to be said for plenty of useable horsepower in a solid chassis matched to an ergo package that you can live with for more than 30 minutes, but I'm in the minority (I know). The new Z1000 has all of the above, and then some, so I can't help but like it. I don't know if I like the look of it, though. From some angles-straight side-on, f'rinstance-it's all hunched, muscular and kinda cool. From others, less so. And those pipes: oh dear. The aftermarket boys will be busy with this one.

At least you can't see 'em when you're riding the thing. The big criticism of the first incarnation of the Z1000 (with its 953cc inline-four pried straight out of the ZX9-R) was it needed a thorough thrashing to get any life out of it. And it was vibey. And you couldn't make head nor tail of the digital tach. Kawasaki has worked hard to fix most of these faults and has, by and large, been successful.

We'll start with the motor. A combination of .5mm smaller-diameter intake and exhaust valves, revised cam timing, 7 percent heavier crank and lower overall gearing has lowered peak output but gifted a modicum of urge at the bottom end. Certainly through the meat of the powerband (5000 to 7000 rpm), there are increased signs of life. But it's after seven thou that the ex-Ninja Nine wakes up and takes off for the horizon with a satisfying yowl. At least you can figure all this out now, with a good old-fashioned needle sweeping that large dial.

Don't be fooled by the lack of plastic panels; the Z1000 is one fast motorcycle, capable of pinning ears back and grabbing all of your attention in a split second. And without doubt it's now smoother than molten chocolate running down the small of Eva Mendes' back; the engine mounts have been moved from the front of the cylinder head to the back of the cylinder block, and a cast-aluminum subframe now reaches around and grips the upper mounts from each side, the engine acting as a stressed member. The revised frame and (brand-new) aluminum swingarm are less stiff overall but give an increase in rider feedback, say the green shirts from Kawasaki. We say that's a fine point of debate, but without fear of contradiction it tingles no more.

The 4-2-4 exhaust layout of the previous model has been replaced by a 4-2-1-2, with the right muffler housing a valve, more for emissions and noise-test duties than any other purposes. Fuel/air mixture is metered by a new EFI system and ECU with smaller-bore throttle bodies, oval sub-bodies (down from 38 to 36mm in diameter) and fine-point injectors. Fueling is pretty much perfect, and you get a great hook-up between the rear tire and throttle, allowing hard-chargers to nail corner exits smartly using a great handful of those horses.

Chassis-wise, the steering head is 10mm farther forward, giving a longer wheelbase of 56.9 inches. The 41mm inverted fork is adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping, the rear shock likewise and while the bikes we rode at the intro (in Fuerteventura, just off the west coast of Africa, if you're interested) were set up on the firm side, the Z1000's handling package is fully dialed-in. The twin Nissin four-pot radial-mount calipers give skull-battering performance, chomping on those 300mm discs good and hard, yet with plenty of fingertip feel, and match the unflappable fork perfectly. Under full hoof the handlebar does want to twitch a little in your hands and the whole bike feels just on the right side of nervous, but this equates to super-quick turn-in ability and-while not as laser-guided as the latest full-on sportbike-the lithe Z1000 is a great point-and-squirt canyon carver.

You could have a lot of fun with the Z1000. It's about as practical as a sportbike, maybe less so if you factor in the lack of wind protection, but it's more comfortable and, most importantly, that little bit different. Can we have some lime-green ones please?

Tech Spec

The funky-looking Z1000 caused a stir when it broke cover in 2003, but Its ZX-9R motor was really too peaky for a naked streetbike and its resonance all wrong.
The Triumph Speed Triple has horsepower and a well-tuned chassis while the KTM Superduke is more finely honed. The Honda 919 and Suzuki Bandit 1250S are both that little bit softer-edged.

Price: $8649
Engine type: l-c inline-four
Valve train: DOHC 16v
Displacement: 953cc
Bore x stroke: 77.2 x 50.9mm
Compression: 11.2:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Horsepower: 125 bhp @ 10,000 rpm
Torque: 72.8 lb.-ft. @ 8200 rpm
Frame: Steel-tube backbone
Front suspension: 41mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual radial four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 250mm disc
Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rear tire: 190/50 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rake/trail: 24.5/4.1 in.
Seat height: 32.3 in.
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Dry weight: 451 lbs.
Colors: Black
Warranty: 12 months
Contact: Kawasaki Motors Corp.
9950 Jeronimo Rd. Irvine, CA 92718

A fast, modern-day musclebike that matches horsepower to handling with plenty of scope for personalization (like throwing away the pipes) and humbling sportbikes in the canyons.