2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS Review

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Category: Reviews

Naked bikes usually fall under one of two strains: the nostalgic, retro-inspired traditionalists (Honda CB1100, Triumph Bonneville), and the radically styled futurists (Aprilia Tuono V4R, MV Agusta Rivale 800), which usually earn the cryptic “streetfighter” label. Falling squarely into the latter camp, the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 gets a dramatic restyling and a laundry list of mechanical tweaks for its latest update. But is this squat-faced literbike as mind-bendingly modern as its new looks suggest?

Action Photos by Alfonse Palaima

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (side)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (side)

What’s New

Back in 2003, Kawasaki’s Z1000 broke cover as an all-new bike packing a ZX-9R-based engine, and earned somewhat of a cult following with its then-edgy styling and rose gold pipes. A refresh in 2007 endowed it with meaner bodywork and engine upgrades, while another revamp in 2010 added a revised engine, chassis, and styling, which once again introduced slightly weird exhaust cans, this time with a gold trumpet look.

Most visibly, the latest Z1000 has been slapped with a wild combination of sharp-edged side fairing panels, a mean, squinty, low-slung headlight assembly, and a bulging tank that resembles an anxious feline. Kawasaki’s marketing department calls the treatment “Sugomi”—Japanese for “awe inspiring.” We call it “unrepentantly acute.” Hey, everyone needs a calling card, and this one takes the streetfighter theme to a new level.

Mechanically, the changes are significant enough to live up to the dramatic exterior alterations. The 1,043 cc inline-four gains a sharper throttle response and a throatier intake sound thanks to equal-length velocity stacks and a new 16-hole airbox resonator, respectively. Reduced lift and duration intake cams bump low and midrange output, with the appropriate adjustments to ECU calibration. A shorter final drive ratio further livens acceleration, while sixth gear is slightly taller for more relaxed highway cruising. Connecting passageways between the cylinders assist high-rpm antics, while revised exhaust valve tuning aids power delivery throughout the rev band. The revised powerplant is fed by a larger, 4.5-gallon fuel tank.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (rear)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (rear)

Handling-wise, the twin-spar aluminum frame now attaches to a 3-piece die-cast aluminum subframe, whose narrower width enables easier leg reach to pavement. There is a new SFF-BP (Separate Function Fork - Big Piston) Showa front fork spring preload on the left, compression/rebound adjustability on the right. Revised damping on the preload and rebound-adjustable back-link suspension promise reduced squat and dive. Brakes have also been enhanced with new four-piston, radially mounted front monoblocs with higher friction pads and dual 310mm petal rotors. New six-spoke wheels cut over four pounds of unsprung mass, and are now wrapped in Dunlop Sportmax D214 rubber.

Re-shaped aluminum handlebars create a more aggressive riding posture, while revised instrumentation packs a digital speedo along with a dual-stage tachometer with a traditional LCD bar graph for lower rpms, and a bright white sequence of thin, vertical bars from 4,000 to the 11,000 rpm redline.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (front)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (front)

The Ride

Don’t let its Tokyo-in-2025 styling cues fool you: the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000’s ergonomics are surprisingly friendly, despite the more forward-tilted reach and bulgier tank. The 32.1-inch seat height feels shorter thanks to the bike’s slimmer midsection, and grabbing the grips doesn’t require too many upper body contortions.

The 1,043cc inline-4 fires up with a growl, and the clutch requires a light touch for its progressive action to take up, though the shifter can feel a tad notchy, especially in lower gears.

At a claimed 487.3 pounds the Z1000 isn’t particularly lightweight, but it roars ahead with smooth, urgent power that’s dramatized by a deep intake whoosh and a soulful exhaust. Pin it to redline, and the twist doesn’t quit; though Kawasaki only publishes torque figures (81.7 lb.-ft. at 7,300 rpm), our seat of the pants suggest that an equally lusty amount of horsepower comes into play at higher rpms. While there, the new tachometer’s bright white vertical indicators add a nice sense of occasion to those jaunts above 4,000 rpm, making it fairly easy to visually process the engine’s proximity to redline despite the small instrument cluster’s out-of-the-way position.

Spin the mill to around 5,000 rpm—essentially where you’ll hover in top gear at 70 mph, and a mild buzz starts to develop at the grips. At freeway speeds, the effect is somewhat countered by the surprisingly tolerable and turbulence-free windflow (despite the lack of windscreen), and the easy ergonomics. The thinly padded saddle feels stiff on longer rides, but it’s not unforgiving enough to cause discomfort on casual commutes.

A night ride through Turnbull Canyon Road, a twisting two-laner that connects Nixon’s birthplace of Whittier, California to the bedroom community of Hacienda Heights, reveals buttoned-down (if somewhat uncompliant) damping, and predictable, stable handling. You can’t flick the Z1000 like a 600cc race replica, but you can negotiate bends with authority. Weight certainly comes into play when hustling this Kawi (as does its stability-creating 4.0 inches of front trail), but the quick-enough steering and taut suspension make amends for the otherwise incontrovertible laws of physics. Hit the straights, and the wailing engine works overtime to counteract those less-than-nimble feelings. Added bonus during moonless nights: though tiny, the LED headlights (particularly in high-beam mode) do a surprisingly good job of illuminating the road. I do wish, though, that the beam had a more vertical throw of light, especially under hard braking when the bike’s nose dips and drops the beam below the horizon line. Though the Z1000 lacks traction control, power delivery is such that a sensible right wrist is all you need to avoid getting into serious trouble. A sometimes abrupt roll-on throttle might make you wish for an electronically adjustable throttle during more aggressive maneuvers, but feels otherwise smooth during more casual riding.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS

Scrubbing off speed is easy, with the big dual disc front brakes offering strong stops with good feel. Anti-lock brakes rarely get triggered, and when they do they create a lightly perceptible pulse—but they don’t engage abruptly or intrusively enough to make stopping distances feel significantly compromised. The rear 250mm brake, on the other hand, feels wooden and weak, forcing you to focus on the fronts.

What’s Good

  • Better-than-expected ergonomics and mellow windflow, despite jauntier-than-thou styling.
  • The engine sounds and behaves with enough charisma to make it invite naughty behavior; this makes the Z1000 far from appliance-like, despite its vanilla inline-4 configuration.
  • Though not as nimble as some competitors (especially smaller-engined naked bikes like the 847cc Yamaha FZ-09 or the Ducati Streetfighter 848), the Z1000 holds its own in the canyons for a nearly 500 pound naked literbike.
  • Stand out styling—if you’re into it—that won’t be mistaken for anything pedestrian.
  • The grunt that inspires streetfighter-worthy hooliganism, and strong brakes to back up the mighty motor.
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (side)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (side)

What’s Bad

  • Though generally smooth, the engine can get buzzy in the midrange
  • Abrupt engine response during aggressive off-on throttle makes you wish for slightly smoother mapping.
  • Styling so silly, it might look dated before you know it. Also, the Z1000 can only ordered in “Golden Blazed Green/Metallic Graphite Gray”.
  • Responsive and taut handling, though a more compliant suspension setup would enable quicker speeds on bumpy roads.
  • ABS can’t be disabled.
  • A gear indicator sure would be nice.
  • Wide turning radius makes it awkward to park.
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (3/4 front)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (3/4 front)

The Price

The 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS gets a $1,000 price bump (to $11,999), putting it above more mundane (and relatively unchanged) naked literbikes like Yamaha FZ1 ($10,790), and closer to newer models like the Honda CB1000R ($11,760 for ’13 model). Meanwhile, the Triumph Speed Triple makes a compelling case for itself with its $12,799 MSRP, though the Kawi counteracts the saucy Brit with its surprising livability and everyday usability. In all, the Z1000 ABS represents a compelling value considering its performance and overall capabilities—though riders looking for more versatility and options like saddlebags and passenger comfort might want to ditch the so-called streetfighter theme altogether and look for something more sensible.

The Verdict

It may lack the raw visceral appeal of the Triumph Speed Triple and the exotic emotionalism of the Ducati Streetfighter 848, but the Kawasaki Z1000 ABS makes a strong case for itself with its charismatic riding personality, surprising comfort, and distinctive (if controversial) styling. Say what you will about predictably capable Japanese motorcycles: if you’re willing to take the plunge on a streetfighter-style naked bike while maintaining a modicum of everyday usability, the Kawasaki Z1000 ABS manages to tick more boxes than most, despite its countercurrent approach and unorthodox styling.

RideApart Rating: 8/10

More Pictures: 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS >>

Gear

Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Dainese Racing Pelle
Gloves: Dainese Druid ST
Jeans: Dainese D1
Boots: Cortech Vice WP


2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (profile)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (profile)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (headlight)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (headlight)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (tank)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (tank)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (gauge)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (gauge)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (engine)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (engine)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (exhaust)
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS (exhaust)
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