The Z1000 is a special bike. Its redline limited 159mph top speed is lower than the old model, but that doesn’t matter. Hit a freeway expansion joint at full throttle in sixth gear and the front wheel will go skyward. Feel like passing someone? Don’t bother downshifting; just whack it wide open and hold on. “Tuned-for-torque” and “improved mid-range” are usually bullshit marketing terms, but Kawasaki’s new 1043 inline-four actual lives up to that hype. Yes, peak power is sacrificed, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll never be grumbling about low trap speeds coming into the braking zone for turn one; that’s what real sportsbikes are for. No, the Z1000 is a weapon, and I mean that seriously, intended for use on public roads.
The motorcycle scene in 1972 was very different from what we have today. Frames were invariably made of steel, there was no such thing as an upside-down fork and monoshock rear suspension was an ultra-exotic concept reserved for prototypes and testing. In 1969, Honda had released the CB750. The 750cc air-cooled transverse mounted, overhead cam inline-four 68hp machine had a wet weight of 491lbs and a top speed of 125mph It set a new standard for high-performance street bikes. Then, in 1972 Kawasaki introduced the Z1 and started a horsepower war that continues to this day (their ZX-10R is currently winning). Though it was still a steel-framed bike with an air-cooled, transverse mounted inline-four, it one-upped the CB750 with 82hp from it’s 903cc’s and dual overhead cams. The aftermarket went crazy producing go-fast parts for these bikes, people rode fast and a whole lot of them went racing. Now we have CBRs, ZX10Rs, GSX-R1000s and R1s. Right out of the crate, they’re so fast and difficult to master that most riders can’t ever hope to ride them to their limits.
But, and it’s a big but, the spirit of those original superbikes got lost somewhere along the line. Increasing complexity, full-fairings and low bars blurred the line between street bikes and proper GP racers. All day rides, motorcycle trips and easy repairs were given up in the name of speed. The high-performance street bike took a back seat to the street-legal race replica. At least for a while.
In today’s whimsical world of the future, motorcycle technology is so advanced that manufacturers are able to produce bikes like the Diavel and current generation Z1000. Rather than adding higher bars, castrating a sportsbike motor, building a lower spec frame and losing the fairings, these bikes are designed from the ground up to be something different. Both bikes feel brutally powerful – enough even to induce an adrenaline rush. The Diavel harnesses that power with a long wheelbase to deliver harder acceleration than any motorcycle before it and the Z1000 uses its to loft the front wheel, but the end result is the same: You feel like you’re going fast and in most cases, you are.
Depending on your point of view, and skill at avoiding/evading traffic enforcement officers, this can be both a good and bad thing. You could lose some money and your license, your friends may think you’re insane and your girlfriend could even call you an irresponsible jackass and dump you. Then again, going fast is really fun. You get to focus only on what you’re doing at that moment and leave your troubles behind. You have control over a powerful machine, that if used properly, is incredibly rewarding, but if abused, could cost you your life.
When I rode the Diavel, I knew there was something special about it, but I wasn’t able to pin down exactly what it was. When I rode the Z1000, it clicked: Bikes like this could really help our sport. It’s hard to get addicted to cruisers; sure you’re outside of a cage and having a good time, but the sensation of speed just isn’t there. Sportsbikes are a religious experience for hardcore knee and elbow draggers, but the learning curve is so steep that most people who ride them get hurt or lose interest before they gain the skills necessary to really use them. This new breed of super-standards, street-superbikes, or whatever you want to call them is both easy to ride and easy to ride extremely fast. You can hop on this and in 10 minutes, be completely hooked on speed. You’ll be in love with power, fast cornering and powerful brakes. You might even start to like racing. And if you ever decide you want to become one of those hardcore knee-draggers, it won’t be so big of a step.
Kawasaki’s way of supporting aftermarket bar manufacturers
The Z1000 weighs a little more than a proper sportsbike, makes a little less power and rides on slightly less nice components, but that keeps the cost down and really, most riders will still never be able to use all it’s got. Styling is kind of cheesy and definitely ridiculous, but it suits the bike’s character well. Some of the components are a little cheesy too – they welded a tube around a standard 7/8″ bar to make a poor-man’s “fat bar” and that weld is right in front of you all the time. The air ducts are fake and the front fender/fork guards are a bit much. Passenger grab handles integrated into the tail are hit and miss and the passenger seat is uncomfortable. No wind screen means your neck and face eventually get sore from the wind. None of that really matters though; that’s what the Ninja 1000 is for. The Z1000 is as ridiculous as it looks, and even riders of mortal skill can pilot it amazingly fast.