Try It, You'll Like It
First thing you notice when swinging a leg over the new Z1000 is how narrow its midsection is. The front portion of the seat is slim enough to make the listed 32.1-inch seat height seem lower since your legs aren't forced to splay outward, yet scooting back a tad showed it's wide and supportive enough to keep our backsides from crying uncle after a two-hour saddle stint. Ergos struck a nice balance between sport serious and standard comfy, with the aluminum handlebar offering just enough rise to keep your wrists and back from requiring a massage therapist, and the grippy footpegs (lifted straight from the ZX-10R) positioned with just enough legroom and backward set to prevent hard parts from dragging on the pavement too easily, yet keep your knees and ankles from seizing.
One of the aspects that we've always found bothersome in previous naked bikes from the Big Four was that the edges were always rounded off far too much, especially compared to the European offerings. No matter what bike/engine they were descended from, there was always a little too much softness for our liking-both with the engine and the chassis.
These holes cast in just behind...
These holes cast in just behind the steering head feed fresh air (not ram-air, though) to the airbox via scoops on the bodywork. The frame is 30 percent more rigid torsionally, so don't assume the holes weaken it.
The new exhaust pre-chamber...
The new exhaust pre-chamber allows the mufflers to be smaller for less weight yet keep emissions and noise within acceptable levels.
The shock is now horizontally...
The shock is now horizontally mounted, with the linkage above the swingarm instead of below it. The mounting not only keeps the shock away from exhaust heat, but also drastically eases spring preload and rebound damping adjustment access.
With the new Z1000 powerplant's longer stroke/bigger displacement configuration, the overly soft label is no longer an issue. Here is a Japanese inline-four naked bike that finally "gets it"; snap the throttle open at 4000 rpm, and you get some instant pull that simply doesn't exist on other inline-four nakeds. The Kawasaki continues to gain noticeable spunk at 7000 rpm, generating the type of arm-pulling acceleration that the "retuned for midrange power" engines of the past nakeds should have had from the beginning. And the party doesn't taper off until 1000 rpm short of the new mill's 11,000-rpm redline, meaning you've got a wide swath of power to play with on the Z1000 (which is a good thing, as trying to read the tiny bar graph tachometer on the four-position-adjustable-tilt LCD dashboard at a glance is difficult at best).
A feature that we'd guess is a by-product of the hard-to-read tachometer would be the Z1000's "soft" rev-limiter that doesn't abruptly call a halt to the festivities and possibly upset handling midcorner. On the other end of the spectrum, off-idle throttle response is smooth as silk, another good thing as unfortunately Mother Nature decided to dump on us during the press launch in Cambria and check our wet weather pavement skills during the latter part of the ride.
That wet weather also meant we weren't able to really put the new suspension and chassis to a reasonable test. What we could glean from the few dry pavement twisty sections we encountered was a much lighter and neutral-steering Z1000 than past editions. Initial turn-in required little effort yet wasn't at all flighty-a necessary component with the combination of powerful engine and upright handlebars with plenty of leverage. In fact, overall stability over most of the sections we ran through on the press launch (which were plenty rough in many spots) was excellent, all remarkable traits for an upright-ergonomics bike with a 24.5-degree rake angle and no steering damper.
The new all-digital LCD dash...
The new all-digital LCD dash fits nicely with the styling, but we weren't fond of the yellow-tint glass, as well as the bar graph tachometer that was too small and difficult to read at a glance. Bar graph just below it is the fuel gauge, which tended to be confusing.
The LCD dashboard is easily...
The LCD dashboard is easily adjustable to one of four positions for rider preference.
The "quad-style" mufflers...
The "quad-style" mufflers each have 0.8 gallons less volume than before because of the pre-chamber, and drop a total of three pounds from the previous units. Grippy footpegs are lifted directly from the ZX-10R.
The suspension was tuned on the firm side in anticipation of the hard riding Kawasaki personnel were intending to lead us on before the rain intruded, so we weren't really able to discern much on its capabilities. The few sections we were able to hit at a decent speed showed good chassis and wheel control, but a more realistic test will have to wait until we get our hands on a test unit. Even with the firm settings, the suspension showed decent compliance at slower speeds, although sharper bumps still tended to upset the chassis a bit.
Braking power from the new front brake setup was amply powerful with plenty of feel, offering good response for more experienced riders without being too fierce for the less-skilled. Even traction from the OEM-spec Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber was decent in both dry and wet conditions, with less of the harsh ride that we encountered with the same Dunlops on the '09 Yamaha R1 (although much can change between the OEM-spec tires of the same brand and model).
Probably best of all, however, is that the new Z1000 will retail for $10,499. In a time of half-faired standards that don't offer near the performance with cheaper componentry, the Z1000 looks like a bargain.