Naked bikes have never sold well in the U.S. Although European brand loyalists surely beg to differ, the actual number of naked bikes sold here is miniscule compared to other categories, and especially tiny compared to the numbers sold in Europe. Thus it's easy to see why most manufacturers' American lineups are devoid of any fairing-less bikes that used to be the standard in the '70s. The attempts in the recent past-especially by the Japanese factories-have received a tepid response at best from American consumers.
So it was easy to wonder at first why Kawasaki was even bothering with the new Z1000. While the previous two generations of Z1000 were interesting bikes in their own right, both editions didn't exactly ring up major sales in the USA. But there was a distinct enthusiasm for the new Z1000 among the Kawasaki personnel that went well beyond the usual company loyalty or sales pitches. "We were seriously considering just letting you ride the bikes first and skipping the tech presentation until afterward," admitted Kawasaki senior media relations manager Jeff Herzog at the 2010 Kawasaki Z1000 press launch in Cambria, California, "because we wanted to see your reaction after riding it. Riding the bike tells you more about it than any technical presentation ever could."
A Clean Slate
Actually, the new Z1000 almost never made it to American shores. After lackluster sales with two editions of the bike (the '07 model only made it to the '08 lineup before being axed a year later), Kawasaki Motor Corp USA product planning reps said "no thanks" when parent company Kawasaki Heavy Industries offered the '10 version Z1000. KHI management was persistent however, and asked the KMC reps to consider riding the bike before making a final judgment. Ironically, it was a day spent riding the bike at Kawasaki's world-class Autopolis racing circuit in Japan that convinced the American KMC reps that perhaps the KHI officials might be on to something. "We couldn't believe how much fun to ride the Z1000 really was," recalled Kawasaki product manager Karl Edmondson, "and it's quickly become the favorite bike of everyone who's ridden it at KMC."
How could a bike that was merely a footnote in past years suddenly become the greatest thing since the color green to Kawasaki personnel? After all, the new Z1000 still bears more than a faint resemblance to the previous generation model.
The key is that the Z1000 is a new design literally from the ground up. For instance, instead of all-too-common model integration that is rampant among manufacturers these days-say, enlarging the current ZX-10R powerplant and taking the well-worn adspeak path of "retuning it for midrange response" (read: neutering it completely), or simply boring out the last generation's ZX-9R-based engine-the 1043cc mill is an all-new design built specifically for the new Z1000. Sporting bore/stroke measurements of 77.0 x 56.0mm, the engine's longer-stroke configuration (compared to the previous Z1000's 77.2 x 50.9mm, or the current ZX-10R's 76 x 55mm) signals that its potential is geared more toward midrange power, the kind naked-bike riders use the most. Adding to the torque potential is the compression ratio jumping from 11.2:1 to 11.8:1.
In order to keep the longer stroke from contributing to excessive engine height, the crankshaft was lowered 17.3mm and moved forward 6.2mm, resulting in a crankshaft/mainshaft/countershaft lineup that is angled 5 degrees downward instead of the level plane of the previous engine. A secondary balancer was fitted in front to quell excess vibes from the inline-four layout (as well as allow an extra motor mount for a more rigid chassis and improved handling). Even with the larger displacement and secondary balancer, the new engine is about the same size overall as its predecessor.