The Big Z-Kawasaki Z1000 Road Test

By: Neale Bayly

It’s easy for me. I’ve been wearing naked standard tinted glasses since I watched old KZ900s and GS1000s roaming the earth in the late ‘70s. Personally graduating to a Laverda 1200 by the early ‘80s, after a spotty youth in England on smaller displacement dual-purpose bikes, my path to man hood also saw a stint on a Honda CBX550. (Think early GPZ550 and you get a mental image of this European import) With high unemployment and ridiculous gas prices, we had no choice but to embrace the concept of owning one bike that did it all.

It certainly made for a lot of seat time, and riding this style of motorcycle is hard wired into my motorcycle soul. We raced them through the lanes, took girls out on dates, and rode them to work on the rare occasion we had a job, or strapped our meager possessions onboard and took off traveling whenever we could. With no money for anything that came on four wheels, our motorcycles had to do it all.

The situation is, and has always been, a lot different here in the States. Motorcycles are rarely anyone’s sole transportation, and ownership typically is more focused on the hobby side of the equation than the practical. To me, this is one of the reasons that this style of motorcycle has never gained the cult status it enjoys in Europe. It’s not for lack of choice either! Triumph has the well-respected Speed Triple, Ducati the wild Hypermotards or more civilized Monsters, Yamaha the FZ1 and so on. All fantastic motorcycles but still not one of them has taken this niche to it’s full potential.

Kawasaki joined the mix with the first Z1000 in 2003, which I personally found to be a fantastic motorcycle. Able to get around a racetrack at a pace that was capable of embarrassing a few sport bikes, it was also mighty comfortable for sport touring and around town duties. Apparently the American motorcycling fraternity didn’t share my enthusiasm, since the bike was discontinued. The good news is Kawasaki wasn’t prepared to give up on this class of motorcycle and have addressed the issues that were raised by bringing out the all-new 2010 Z1000.

Styling of the new 2010 Kawasaki Z1000 is definitely going to provoke some conversations at your local bike night. The first time I saw one in the flesh I was very undecided, and it took me a full day with the bike in California to say, “Hey, this thing looks really cool.” It is more of a naked sport bike than a naked standard, although the lines are definitely a little blurred here, but whatever your opinion it’s going to turn heads.

Invited to Kawasaki’s headquarters in Irvine, California recently, I had the chance to spend an interesting day in the saddle and came away with a very favorable impression. With a long term Speed Triple in the Bayly garage, and a recent test of the new Ducati Hypermotards, it was a great opportunity to test the new Z against a pair of other naked standards.

As the four-cylinder representative in this group, the Kawasaki immediately wins the sophistication award, with its silky smooth 136 horsepower engine and roomy ergonomics. The other two just feel more raw and unrefined, and there’s nothing wrong with either if that’s the experience you are after, but the Kawasaki is just so much smoother and even though it’s a bigger, heavier bike, it’s more maneuverable at low speed. This is due to a low and narrow seat, and faultless throttle, clutch and gear operation. Super light and easy to modulate controls, this combination gives so much confidence in traffic or navigating crowded gas stations it’s easy to quickly feel at one with the big Z.

On first look you could be forgiven for thinking that Kawasaki just made some modifications to the exiting Z1000, threw on some new bodywork and called it a new model.

Dig around under the aggressive and uniquely styled bodywork and you quickly see nothing could be further from the truth. Calling it a “Supersport-Type” engine, the Z’s power plant is not derived from either the old Z1000 or the current ZX-10R. Displacing 1043cc, it’s 90cc up from the previous model and nearly 50cc bigger than the 10R. Obviously it has more power, but for the new Z the goal was to make this more manageable.

To achieve this aim, the new engine uses a slightly smaller bore, with an increase in the stroke size; this not only increases power, but also adds torque to give the bike a more muscular feel With the new figures hitting 136 bhp, it was the bike’s level of usability that impressed me most. There is never any sense you are on a ticking time bomb waiting to explode

if you are not careful with the throttle. On a full-blown liter bikes, it’s easy to get caught napping and be way over the speed limit with out any sense of how you got there. (Honestly officer)

With the Z1000, the power is always manageable and delivered smoothly and predictably without any unnecessary sensitivity during the throttle application. This smoothness is also in part due to the new Keihin 38mm throttle bodies that use oval-type sub throttles to keep things as narrow as possible and give sharper throttle response and better low and mid range performance.

It’s hard to tell without riding the old model with the new back to back, but there are no complaints from me about how strongly the bike pulls from low rpm. It actually is one of the easiest bikes I’ve ridden in a while in traffic. With the light clutch, and wide bars aiding the silky smooth engine, it is not difficult to modulate the controls to make progress when battling slow moving cages in the city.

Even the dimensions of the new engine are different this year. The crankshaft has been lowered to allow the longer stroke, and this has allowed it to be very close to the size of the original big Z. The engine is also smoother thanks to an additional secondary balancer that rotates in front of the crank. With less vibration from the motor, Kawasaki’s engineers were able to make the frame more rigid and this gives the bike better handling and a more relaxed ride.

The engineers also put some cool innovation into the intake system. It’s not ram air, and there’s no performance gain, but it sure does sound great! A pair of air ducts on each side of the fairing is routed through the frame and take the air into a resonator chamber inside the air box to give the bike a more muscular sound. It makes a lot of sense, with ever tightening emission laws pipes are so quiet these days, with this new system you get the intake growl right under your chest when you yank the throttle cables.

You get the sensory stimulation but your neighbors don’t, so full marks to the engineers for thinking “outside the box” innovation. On the subject of exhaust systems, the new Kawasaki uses a unique looking four into two into two lay out, with a pre chamber under the bike that allows smaller canisters. They are a modern rendition of the old Z900s four into four set up and are a more attractive evolution of the previous Z’s system.

Included in the story on the USRiderNews website is a photo of the Roaring Toyz custom Z1000 with the photos, as it comes with a very tidy looking Brocks Performance exhaust to show what the bike looks like when fitted with aftermarket equipment.

With the new engine up over ten horsepower from the last model, Kawasaki designed a new aluminum frame. Dubbed a “Supersport” styled chassis, it uses five piece construction and is 8.8 pounds lighter, while boasting 30% more torsional rigidity.

The new result is a more stable machine with better side-to-side handling and better ergonomics. During the press brief, this new improved handling was mentioned a number of times, and during our ride there was no disappointment. The bike has an all-new aluminum die cast sub frame, where the previous model used steel, and it features removable three-piece construction. This new sub frame is a fantastic feature that eliminates the need for side covers so it loses weight and makes it easier for the rider to put their feet on the ground.

A great frame needs quality suspension, and there is a set of 41mm inverted forks up front with full adjustment options. The compression-damping feature is the addition for this year and the forks are very compliant over rough surfaces, without sacrificing stability at higher speeds. They don’t exhibit too much unsettling dive under heavy braking, are a very good compromise between handling and comfort, and add sophistication. The rear shock is a horizontal back-link unit with both shock and linkage living above the swingarm. It has pre load and rebound adjustment options, and is easy to adjust if needed.

With the bike’s increased performance it’s no surprise to find a ZX-10R style radial brake set on the new Z1000, a pair of opposed piston calipers work with 300mm Wave rotors, and take fluid from a radial master cylinder. Action at the lever is precise and progressive, with no unsettling bite. There is a single piston caliper out back, with a smaller 250mm Wave rotor and the caliper is hung underneath the swing arm to accentuate the new five-spoke cast aluminum wheel. The new wheels have machined edges and a two-tone custom mag style for a high quality appearance.

With my looks, I might not be able to get a riding date soon, but I could certainly throw on some soft luggage and take the new Z1000 on an adventure. And I certainly wouldn’t have any objections to running around town on business, heading to the drag strip for a few passes or throwing on some race compound tires, dialing up the suspension and heading to a track weekend. Available in either Metallic Spark Black, or Pearl Stardust White the big Z is available for $10,499 at your local Kawasaki dealer.