The landscape of motorcycle sales in the USA is littered with the carcasses of past naked bikes from the Japanese manufacturers. Naked versions of Suzuki's best-selling SV650 had very short life spans compared to the half- and full-faired versions that have sold like hotcakes for years. The naked version of the Bandit 1200/1250 quickly gave way to half-faired editions; even the Hayabusa-engined B-King never really caught on with American buyers. Honda has made numerous attempts with bikes such as the 599 and 919 that quickly faded into history.
Kawasaki hasn't been immune to this death zone either. In fact, two previous generations of the Z1000 tested here quickly disappeared after debuts in '03 and '07 (the '07 edition only survived two years before being axed from Kawasaki's lineup). So what makes Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA think that this 2010 version will be any different?
A big part of that belief is in riding the bike. We had the chance to swing a leg over the '10 Z1000 for a day ("Naked From The Ground Up", April '10), and even though it rained on us for much of the ride, we were still able to come away very impressed with the new Z's combination of power and handling that put every other Japanese naked bike to shame. And now recently given the opportunity to wring out the new Z1000 on our favorite test roads for several weeks, that first impression has only been bolstered.
Definitely Not The Same Ol'
We covered the details of the all-new Z1000 in the First Ride story in the previous issue; suffice it to say that the '10 model's external resemblance to the older generations is skin-deep at the most. Literally every component on the latest Z1000-from the model-specific 1043cc four-cylinder engine, to the likewise-specific precision cast aluminum frame-is all new from the ground up. A completely new engine and chassis in the naked-bike segment is a rarity in this day and age of platform sharing within a manufacturer's lineup in order to cut development costs.
While there's much to be said regarding the spunky performance and personality of the Euro V-twins in this motorcycling segment, one aspect where the Japanese inline-four naked bikes excelled is day-to-day liveability in an urban environment, and the Z1000 is no different. Lighting off the Kawasaki on a cold morning is quick and easy, as is the ability to ride off right away without any hiccups or recalcitrant behavior in slow going or stop-and-go situations. Clutch action is light and easy yet still durable (no grabby and/or noisy antics to deal with if you try to take off from a stop aggressively), with ample steering lock to allow effortless maneuvering in tight situations.
The secondary balance shaft smooths out the engine for the most part during cruising stints, and helps keep the mirror images at least recognizable as well as making extended periods in the well-shaped and supportive saddle much less tiring (although with the 4.0-gallon fuel tank and an average of 35 mpg, you won't be going that far between fill-ups). Although that saddle is listed as being 32.1 inches high, it seems much shorter than that, with the sculpted sides and narrow front portion allowing the rider to keep his legs closer together and more easily plant his feet. The horizontally mounted rear shock surely plays a role in keeping the seat height within reason.
The area where the inline-four naked bikes always fell short, however (with the exception of the Hayabusa-powered B-King, of course), is lower midrange torque. Manufacturers had begun to wear out the adspeak phrase "retuned for midrange torque", but the fact is that modern inline-four engines have become more oversquare (bigger bores/shorter stroke) in the pursuit of higher rpm and more horsepower. When the same basic engine is slotted into a naked bike, there's only so much you can do in attempting to squeeze bass notes out of a soprano. Most engines of this idiom were/are decidedly asthmatic anywhere below 7500 rpm, despite manufacturer claims to the contrary.