Easy speed: Kawasaki Z1000

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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.


Photo: Stuart Bowey via BikeEXIF

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.

Kawasaki

  • Wereweazle

    I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for getting crumbs in the sheets. However, if I owned it, I’d probably strip it down and never let it get dressed again.

  • Frosty_spl

    It’s a really fun bike, but I can’t get over the silly looks. Maybe if it were all one color. Maybe.

    • Kurt

      There is an all black version for 2011.

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    They should offer a stripper package on this bike unless all that plastic is hiding a plumber’s nightmare. For all the effort that went into styling it, I can’t believe anyone would say – or has ever said – I wish my bike looked more like a Z1000. It occupies this weird niche as the flamboyant naked(ish) bike. Stripping it down, it could still look bold and tough without looking like an origami samurai.

    • Sean Smith

      If I’d had it longer than a week, I would’ve stripped all that crap off and done a shoot to prove that it has potential.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

        Come to Dallas, come to Dallas!

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Sounds awesome. If it’s anything like the Z750 (’05 – ’06) then I’d believe it’s a fun bike. That Z750 had a bit of a different riding position, kinda like a dirt bike I guess, easy to back it into corners and it always felt nimble – easy to change line mid-corner, easy bike to ride.

    Just what the world needs!

    • Sean Smith

      It’s honestly more like a Japanese Diavel than anything else. It looks ridiculous and isn’t all that fast, but is ridiculously fun to ride and handling around town and at n00b speeds is amazing.

  • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

    I had an ’03 Z1000 (I know, pretty much completely different bike) and I loved the hell out of that thing. The styling on that generation Z was much better than following models in my opinion, still sharp and sexy but more understated. And yeah, the stock suspension was crap but I hardly noticed because I was having so much fun. Nice upright ergos, power wheelies, and touring capability (did a little 6000 mile trip on mine one summer), plus looks and a muscle-y engine that turn heads = a winner in my book.

    • jp182

      why did you get rid of it?

      • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

        Money for another bike of course! I have a “problem.” I’ve owned 13 different bikes since I began riding in 2004. And I’m no rich guy, just been selling/trading/upgrading as I go.

        I would have kept it if I could and probably swapped out the suspension eventually. Already had the Muzzy system and fender elimination, and I tossed some sliders and CRG’s on there. Didn’t need much else. I ended up seeing the bike and the guy I sold it to at Laguna a year later and he had dropped it and added a big dinger to the tank. Ouch.

        • TreMoto_Eddie

          Yep, the early bikes had way better style

  • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

    Had my first speeding ticket on a ’04 Z750 and, as it was my first bike, i’d say that’s how i felt when i rode it. Something along the lines of “How the fuck am i going 200km/h and not killing myself, i’ve had my license for a month.”. The 1000 should feel the same for a rider with more experience.

    They are ridiculous and a ton of fun, and the origin of my love for big naked bikes that culminated with a corsaro (sean if you ever have the occasion of riding one, jump on it).

  • http://www.smartcycleshopper.com/author/doug-dalsing/ DougD

    Sounds like a blast of a bike. If I were in the market, that motorcycle would be at the top of my list.

    I know it’s supposed to be a naked bike, but the fairing and other plastic cover parts are too bulbous and visible to really hit the mark. The look is definitely somewhere in between naked and fully faired. I guess if I owned one I would tell people it’s a naked, but I would know people would be snickering at that remark once they walked away … Poor, poor, pitiful me.

    • Sean Smith

      I would tell people to imagine a transformer voiced by Samuel L. Jackson that likes to watch 80′s action movies, and then to imagine that as a motorcycle.

      • Richard

        Perfect description.

  • Tim

    Still,the bike is UGLY. And, with my size 12 feet, my heels hit the exhausts. I have a Triumph Street Triple and it is much lighter, looks better IMO and is more than fast enough for street riding. The narrow, flickable feel are just what I look for in a motorcycle. At least Kawasaki is trying to make a sensible “sport” bike. How about Honda’s CB1000R?

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      From a numbers perspective, the Honda is at a disadvantage. It puts down 15-20 less HP, 10 ft lbs less torque, weighs the same or a smidge more, and costs a bit more.

    • Sean Smith

      I wish I knew. We’re still waiting for one. However, I think that it leans much more to the sporting side of the scale and is probably not as easy to have such a good time on. This is definitely true of the Speed/Street Triple cousins. They’re a totally different kind of bike.

  • Scott-jay

    Good lookin’ jugs & heads/engine.
    Do you have that in V-twin?

    • Sean Smith

      Here you go. Same deal, but with more power, higher top speed, slightly less cornering clearance and slightly better passenger ergonomics. It’s pricey though.

      • zipp4

        That is a terrible comparison. He meant to recommend the 1125CR, all of the above for only $7k.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

    I’m glad to finally see a review. Sean’s spot on – it’s a beast and a ton of fun. Then, you get off the bike and think it’s not pretty for a naked bike. Oddly enough, I’ve received many compliments from the same sportbike riders and non-riders who thought my 599 was ugly.

    Stripping the Z1000 down would be a wonderful thing and I’d love to do it. That said, I’m pretty inept. Anyone interested is cordially invited to come to Dallas and work with me on it. Any takers? It’d be a great followup article, I swear!

    A few issues that may be easy to address:

    1. Removing the fork shrouds is easy, but the front fender is left with large gaps that once accommodated them. I think, with some modification, another fender might work.

    2. Once the “shoulders” are pulled off, there are a few wires to tuck. The biggest eyesores are the coolant reservoir on the right side and the frame/gas tank near the handlebars.

    3. The underbelly exhaust chamber is ugly. Slipons are pointless but the noise of a full system doesn’t appeal to me.

    Here are some pictures from someone who gave it a go. He got around the coolant bit by painting it black, slapped on a full system, but you can see the issue with the front fender clearly:

    - http://i250.photobucket.com/albums/gg249/biohazardcycles/100_4690.jpg

    - http://i250.photobucket.com/albums/gg249/biohazardcycles/100_4689.jpg

    Maybe this is a silly complaint, but the thing I’m least crazy about (looks aside) is the MPG. Most reviews put the bike in the upper 30s and low 40s, but I’ve always been between 32-35. When that’s the biggest complaint, I have to say that I’m pretty happy.

    • Frosty_spl

      That looks much better!

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      It’s also hard to argue the value proposition of this bike in its segment. It’s the least expensive option (maybe the FZ1 is less?), puts down power more like the Speed Triple than I4s, has gearing to out accelerate anything in the class, and insurance is pretty cheap.

      I went into things in 2010 wanting the Streetfighter. I got the Z for over $5000 less, insurance that cost several grand less annually, and had it paid off in under a year.

      If a full system weren’t so flippin’ loud, I’d throw one on just to shave off 20+ lbs. The extra 14 HP and 5 ft lbs torque wouldn’t hurt my feelings, but I’ve never been left wanting in that department.

      • Devin

        Hey Ben,

        ever get a look at that Teiz?

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

          He’s in town, I have his cell number, I just need to actually call and go see what he’s got. There’s no excuse, I just haven’t done it.

          As such, I just set an appointment and will go to take a look at what he has in an hour. My expectations are a bit low.

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

          Devin – I just took a look at the new Power Shell suit. It has promise, I’ll say that. I’m going to meet up with him again this weekend and he’s going to let me hang onto the prototype version of the suit for awhile to see how I feel about it.

          • Devin

            Sweet, thanks

    • Sean Smith

      I think a GSX-R or Speed Triple fender would bolt right up. Those crappy forks are on damn near everything. I noticed the crappy fuel economy too, but figured that someone buying a bike that looks and performs the way this one does would let that slide. If I owned it, I’d go down 2 teeth on the rear sprocket, give up second gear wheelies, enjoy good gas mileage and a top speed over 159.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

        Interesting thoughts, Sean. I’m at a place in owning the bike where I’ve had it close to two years and the fact that I’m not in love with how it looks is becoming more and more of an issue. What to do, what to do. Le sigh.

        The gearing suggestion is a solid one. I guess I was okay with upper 30s MPG, but I personally average lower 30s and that’s a fairly significant difference. Even on a long highway trip staying in 6th gear, I got maybe 36 at best.

        • Sean Smith

          Just think: With taller gearing, first gear wheelies become more managable, you get to use more power in first, likely accelerate harder, and when you’re cruising down the highway, the motor wouldn’t have to spin nearly as fast. If I bought this bike, I’d probably swap in a smaller rear sprocket within the first week of ownership.

    • Jon B.

      That’s fucking cool.

    • cromagnon

      Oh yeaahhhh! My next bike. With the plasto crapo taken off it looks killer. Done.

  • gaudette

    Love this style of bike.
    Love this piece.
    When do we get the z1000 vs speed triple comparison?

    • Sean Smith

      Isn’t gonna be one. I have the Triple now and it’s not even comparable. The Z1000 is just like a japanese Diavel – not so great in the hands of a highly skilled rider trying to hustle it around at its limits, but amazing fun everywhere else. It’s like playing an San Francisco Rush in arcade mode.

      The Speed Triple is a much more serious machine. It doesn’t wheelie near as easy, gives up a lot of grunt with it’s more sensible gearing and slaughters bikes like the Z and Diavel anytime a corner is involved. It’s a proper sportsbike that was designed for life without fairings and a little more torque.

      Yes, I know every print mag under the sun compared them, but I think it’s silly. They just don’t do the same things. That said, expect to see the Triumph story later today.

      • gaudette

        I kind of got that vibe after looking into this bike a little more. The Z1000 seems like a nicer B-king. They both still leave a lot to desire in the looks department though.

        Got a Street right now. Can’t wait to read a real review on the Speed, but your one paragraph here almost has me sold.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

        Sean, I’m really curious what exactly make the two so distinctly different in your experience. They seem like they should be similar, barring the gearing. There’s the same ground clearance. It could be the steeper profile (55 vs 50) of the S3′s rear tire.

        Did your Z have the stock Dunlops on it? The OEM tires on my Z were absolute garbage and swapping them out transformed the handling for me (and many others), even while keeping the same 150 rear profile.

        Is the suspension that much better?

        • Sean Smith

          The Z had those awful D210s on it, but I’m familiar with those tires and the way they transform a bikes handling. The 190/50 rear sucks too.

          The Speed Triple’s shock is actually really good and the amazingly similar forks feel good in the new chassis. It’s got a higher center of gravity, a higher seat, and a much more sporting riding position with rearset pegs that position your legs perfectly for hanging off and dragging knees. Even with Ashlee on the back, I had no problem hanging off, using every last bit of the tire and leaving corners in leaned over wheelies. It’s an sportsbike that’s been adapted to the street.

          The Z1000 is an extremely powerful standard that functions as an “arcade style” sportsbike.

          • jonoabq

            Agree. And on the S3 on longer sport touring sessions (the highway sections) I’m averaging 49 mpg at 75/85 mph with a relatively new motor. I’d expect it to get a little better with age.
            It’s not the smoothest just off idle at parking lot speeds, but with the rest of it being so good I can overlook that.

      • Thomas

        Sean, great write-up. I’m really looking forward to your review of the Speed Triple. Very astute observation on your part that 2 bikes within the same general category can be so different as to make comparisons pointless. I recently got rid of my BMW R1150R Rockster – loved the bike but the service costs were outrageous- and picked up the new Speed Triple (the service requirements and costs are supposedly much more
        reasonable). I was expecting a bike similar to the Rockster – standard/naked – with a little more speed
        and power. But the Speed Triple is a completely different machine, so much so that I almost feel like I’m learning to ride all over again! I love the S3 but, especially with my limited riding skills, I have a shitload of Speed Triple to learn.

  • jonoabq

    I think that this class of motorcycles has more potential for design development than is currently being exploited. From a styling standpoint we seem to be getting a lot of “look at me!” and cartoonish exercises. For some of us um, older riders, we like having the performance bits of a superbike and the ergos of a standard but prefer to fly a little lower under the radar for practical reasons. It would be really nice if Hi-po standard/naked didn’t almost always automatically mean riding a motorcycle that wandered off a transformers movie set.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      Easy answer: because they’ve done subtle and it doesn’t sell. The transformers look definitely appeals to the “It’s either a sportbike or a cruiser and NOTHING ELSE EXISTS” mentality in the US.

      • Gene

        Apparently the naked SV-650 sold like pancakes, judging from the roads around Orlando, and it’s pretty subtle and not bad looking. So am I wrong then? I must be, because Suzuki discontinued it.

        • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

          The SV-650 sold for many years and was a pretty popular first bike. Suzuki reshaped it into the Gladius, sort of. Most other stabs in the category haven’t lasted as long. I loved the look of my 599, but that’s another sad example.

    • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

      Get the Horex when it comes out, 160bhp VR6 with very understated (german) looks.

    • Sean Smith

      For some of us younger riders, a much more subtle looking bike is important too. Insurance for a 20something male who rides a sportsbike and has speeding tickets is damn expensive.

      I don’t understand who they’re styling bikes for these days. I have a feeling the OEMs are using focus groups made up of 14 year old gamers, OC brosephs, a couple guys from jersey shore, and at least three or four guys in the 50s who never got married, bleach their hair and drive H2s and automatic Vettes.

      • filly-fuzz

        Oh man, tell me about it!
        being under 25 immediately priced me out of full coverage insurance, I even had to repeat the fact that i have a full license to the insurance man FIVE times! alas i can only afford third party.
        But don’t worry Sean all those Hardley mid-life crises-ers who get the reasonable rates get their moneys worth ………..round the bend.

        And there really is nothing lamer than automatic ‘sports cars’

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    I like this bike. I’d probably go for the Ninja 1000 because I already have a standard, but this bike is a great all arounder.

    I also don’t think it looks that bad. Apparently Ducati’s new Streetfighter 848 designer doesn’t mind the look of the Kawi either.

  • jason

    Now that it what i am talking about. Finally something that makes sense. World: pay attention, we need more fun rides, not more wrist-breakers.

  • Tommy

    Unbelievable how much power this thing has at 75 in 6th gear. It’s stupid.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      Stupid wonderful.

      • Tommy

        yes.

  • Spencer

    My buddy has one, and its fantastic to ride. If it wasn’t so ugly I’d sell my honda 919 and buy one. But the sensible thing to do is just continue riding what I own. On the other hand, 2nd gear powerwheelies are intoxicating.

  • HammSammich

    I’m not doubting that it’s fun to ride, but it is really unattractive to me. I’d love to see it stripped down and fitted with the headlamp and bikini fairing from the ZRX1200R…

  • Devin

    This is not a naked. Wayyyy too much plastic. Just because it doesn’t have a full race fairing doesn’t mean it’s naked.

    This is more like bikini top and Daisy Dukes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

      Then don’t call it naked. What’s in a name?

  • Charlie

    Easy speed is addictive…it can almost make up for ugly. But hideous is a real problem. Sometimes so bad can approximate good (999, BMW’s RT, K1, modern Benelli’s, etc.) but this is beyond the pale. Unrideable

    • Sean Smith

      Whoa. You went too far man. You’re never supposed to bring up modern Benelli’s. *shudder*

      • Charlie

        Sorry, emotions ran amok. That was wrong. No one needed to be reminded of those images

        • HammSammich

          Oh wow…that Benelli Cafe Racer 899 makes this Kaw look petty dang good by comparison…

    • Wereweazle

      I have a secret yearning to someday own a K1 in all it’s McDonald’s livery splendor. There’s something some deliciously insane about that bike and it’s 30 foot turning radius.

      • Charlie

        I need to fess up. My family owned an AMC pacer. I learned how to drive at 13 with 3 speeds on the stalk. Even worse, it was white with red plastic seats. A Gremlin would have been worse, so hopefully the statute of limitations and remorse will not DQ me. I’m trying to absolve my family’s sins…

  • JMS

    Excellent article. This is the kind of review people actually pay for.

    Great job Sean!

  • wwalkersd

    “your girlfriend could even call you an irresponsible jackass and dump you.”

    So, Ashlee dumped you, Sean? Bummer.

    • Sean Smith

      Naw, she just jabs me in the ribs when she feels that the current speed/lean angle/stoppie or wheelie height is inappropriate for the situation.

  • Richard

    Great review. Cool to see bikes like this getting some positive reviews as opposed to the “neutered supersport” description. I just bought a Duc Streetfighter and love the damn thing. Its not perfect but its FUN, and at the end of the day, I guess thats all that matters.

  • http://krtong.com KR Tong

    If you can make a Kawasaki versys look like this, then I’m pretty sure the Z1000 is aesthetically salvageable. Personally I wouldn’t waste the time or money. Look at the Z900 now. Anything but bone stock with it’s chrome bits and planet-sized lights orbiting the frame would be a travesty.

    Also the lot of late 70′s/early 80′s Jap muscle bikes are amazing machines. I don’t think you can find a better sounding, better looking bunch. They may not be able to keep up with your Adeys, but they’ll chase down your average joe boy racers all day.