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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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
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