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.
Here's where the new Z1000's long-stroke engine shatters that mold. Grab a handful of throttle at 4000 rpm in any gear, and you're rewarded with responsive acceleration that's always been absent in the vast majority of other inline-four-powered naked bikes. Actually, nearly all naked bikes, for that matter-the Z1000's 2.45-second 60-80 mph and 2.69-second 80-100 mph top-gear roll-on figures demolish virtually every naked bike past and present that we've ever tested. Passing traffic on the street or highway is ridiculously easy, requiring no frantic tap dancing through the gearbox to get some quick steam from the engine room.
The 1043cc long-stroke mill...
The 1043cc long-stroke mill pumps out a strong lower midrange torque curve along with a respectable, quick-revving top-end charge. Note the detachable front engine mount, and the side-mount oil sump drain plug.
Eccentric rear axle adjusters...
Eccentric rear axle adjusters not only ease chain tension adjustment, but they also provide rear ride height adjustment as well. Rotated toward the top as shown provides lower ride height; toward the bottom raises ride height.
Unlike many other naked bikes,...
Unlike many other naked bikes, the footpegs on the Z1000 (lifted from the ZX-10R) are nice and grippy. Shift action on our test unit was a little notchy, but nothing obtrusive.
But it's not just all low-end power with the Kawasaki. Acceleration continues building strongly and quickly, with a subtle ramp-up in power at the 6500-rpm mark that is mostly masked by the engine's revvy nature. Despite its comparatively long-stroke configuration, the 1043cc mill gobbles up the upper half of the rev range voraciously, and you'll be bumping into the 11,000-rpm soft rev-limiter if you're not careful (especially since determining rpm at a glance on the LCD bar graph tachometer atop the tiny dash display is difficult at best). With a peak power reading of 123.1 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 73.6 ft-lb of torque at 7500 rpm, there's really no shortage of power at both ends of the scale, although power does begin to taper off about 1000 rpm short of the 11,000-rpm redline, and some of us were wishing for just a bit more top-end steam. Still, power wheelies in the first two gears are almost effortless; a modicum of self-control is a necessary ingredient if you wish to stay under the radar of local law enforcement. The Z1000 possesses that elusive balance of stump-pulling torque down low and quick-revving horsepower up top that's been the aim of four-cylinder naked bikes for years, but rarely achieved.
In order to give the Z1000 a bit more character to go with the stock exhaust note, Kawasaki engineers designed a resonance chamber inside the front portion of the airbox to accentuate the intake roar when the throttle is opened up. We have to admit that it adds a nice visceral feel to the bike's acceleration, and can only imagine that it'll sound even better paired with nice-sounding exhaust.
The horizontally mounted rear...
The horizontally mounted rear shock on the Z1000 not only allows better packaging underneath the seat and keeps the shock away from exhaust heat, but also drastically eases spring preload and rebound damping adjustments.
Intake scoops on the bodywork...
Intake scoops on the bodywork actually do offer some functionality. The bodywork directs airflow toward the holes in the frame, which in turn direct the airflow toward the airbox snorkel.
Radial-mount Tokico calipers...
Radial-mount Tokico calipers and 300mm petal discs offer good, linear braking power. Front fork compression damping adjustment is a nice addition.
Harnessing that power is a precision-cast aluminum frame built specifically for the Z1000 that -along with upgraded suspension-is light years ahead of the previous generation units. While the old Z1000 chassis was by no means ill-handling at average street speeds, it was definitely hampered by its low-budget build and suspension componentry that allowed it to come in well under $10K, a good chunk of cash less than its competition. That economical approach led to a bike that would quickly become unraveled anytime the pace ramped up, and any attempts to tighten up the suspension only resulted in an overly harsh ride.
Hinged handlebar clamp provides...
Hinged handlebar clamp provides an pivot point for the four-position adjustable tilt instrument panel. Center portion of the handlebar has a solid bar welded inside to help quell vibration.
The '10 Z1000 has no such problems. With the new chassis and suspension, the Kawasaki retains its predecessor's agile handling while maintaining its composure running at speeds the old model could only dream of. Wheel and chassis control over rough pavement and aggressive riding is vastly improved, even though the new suspension components aren't exactly race-spec; the 43mm inverted fork gains compression damping, but the rear shock still only has rebound damping and spring preload adjustments available. And yet this improved control doesn't come at the expense of compliance, with the Z1000 soaking up minor pavement imperfections well at saner speeds. Although the new Z1000 doesn't have a steering damper, stability wasn't a problem; only one of our testers cited any issues, which we'd attribute more to proper suspension setup for his heavier weight.
The chassis' surefootedness coupled with the quick and low-effort steering means that the Z1000 can now carve corners like a real sportbike. Steering is much more precise, making line selection a matter of choice, not chance. Front-end feedback is vastly improved, and even though the Kawasaki has decent legroom, the pegs and hard parts are tucked in enough to provide a surprisingly good amount of ground clearance. Surely helping in the handling department is a significant loss of heft compared to the previous generation model-over 25 pounds, with the new Z1000 scaling in at 483 pounds with a full fuel tank ready to ride. The measure of speed with which the Z1000 can now run down a canyon road no longer makes apologies in the company of its European brethren.
Aiding in this cornering prowess is the performance offered by the OEM-spec Dunlop D210 Sportmax rubber. Overall grip at everything up to very aggressive riding is excellent, with good feedback at all lean angles while still offering a very acceptable ride. Steering habits were also nice and neutral in nearly all situations, with no tendency to fall-in or require more input, and response is quick without being flighty or overly sensitive.
With the improved suspension and chassis, exploiting the braking capabilities of the Z1000's radial-mount Tokico calipers gripping 300mm discs is far easier, and they proved more than up to the task of controlling the increased velocities the Kawasaki is capable of. Initial response is solid without being excessively grabby, with excellent power and decent feel (complemented by the same from the rear 250mm/single-piston brake setup) that enable you to bleed off speed without undue drama.
Try It, You'll Like It
As if its superb performance wasn't enough, making the new Z1000 even more appealing is its price: at just $10,499, the Z1000 offers a seriously fun and versatile package without breaking the bank. Even so, Kawasaki is taking a bit of a risk in bringing the bike to U.S. shores, given the past sales performance of naked bikes from the Big Four. The biggest obstacle in our opinion is convincing the American riding public not to brush off the Z1000 as just another naked bike from the Japanese-or just another naked bike, period. The new Kawasaki Z1000 has the performance goods; we think it just requires people to get over preconceived notions and take one for a spin to discover just how much fun it really is to ride.
|2010 KAWASAKI Z1000
||Very good midrange-strong engine
||Vastly improved chassis and suspension
||Nimble handling, strong brakes
||Maybe just a bit more top-end power?
||Tiny dashboard difficult to read at a glance
||Maybe drop off another 25-30 pounds?
||Finally, a naked bike from Japan with the
right combination of performance
|SUGGESTED SUSPENSION SETTINGS
||Spring preload: 10 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: two turns out from full stiff; compression damping: 1.75 turns out from full stiff
||Spring preload: 25mm thread showing; rebound damping: 1.75 turns out from full stiff
2010 Kawasaki Z1000
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline 4-stroke four
Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 56.0mm
Compression ratio: 11.8:1
Induction: Keihin EFI, 38mm throttle bodies w/oval sub-throttle assemblies, single injector/cyl.
Front suspension: 41mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.7 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Horizontally mounted single shock absorber, 5.4 in. travel; adjustments for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: 2 radial-mount/four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 250mm disc
Front wheel: 3.50 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Rear wheel: 6.00 x 17 in., cast aluminum alloy
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop D210F J Sportmax
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Dunlop D210 Sportmax
Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./4.1 in. (104mm)
Wheelbase: 56.7 in. (1440mm)
Seat height: 32.1 in. (815mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal. (15L)
Weight: 483 lb. (219kg) wet; 459 lb. (208kg) dry
Instruments: LCD panel for digital speedometer, bar graph tachometer, fuel gauge, clock, odometer, dual tripmeters; warning lights for EFI malfunction, turn signals, high beam, neutral, coolant temp, oil pressure
Quarter-mile: 10.55 sec. @ 130.71 mph (corrected)
Top speed: NA
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/2.45 sec.; 80-100 mph/2.69 sec.
Fuel consumption: 25-37 mpg, 34 mpg avg.
I really enjoyed riding the newly designed Z1000, even if it is a bit hard on the eyes. No matter what Kawasaki produces, it always seems to own the muscle-factor and the current Z model is no exception. The power delivery from bottom range to top is quite impressive and never disappoints, save the extreme upper end beyond 9000 rpm. Despite the fact that it's a standard with no wind protection, this Kawi is notably comfortable for the longer haul to your favorite stretch of twisties. I'd like to see the bars a touch narrower and maybe a bit lower, but that's nitpicking really. The Z1000 could definitely benefit from a steering damper. That being said, the all-new and funky street fighter is extraordinary and a huge improvement over the older version. This Kawasaki can handle just about anything asked of it and you definitely get your bang for the buck!ng and thrill for the buck!
Kudos to you, Kawasaki, for sticking to your guns with the Z1000. Truth be told, I wasn't a huge fan of the original model (ok fine, I hated it). But this? This is the Z1000 we should have been blessed with back in 2003. The engine is an absolute ripper and it finally complements the rest of the bike, whereas the previous hopped up ZX-9R engine always felt out of place to me. As an added bonus one can save on the cost of front tires, as it will probably be up in the air most of the time anyway. Speaking of tires, on the old bike I felt that the rear tire was too wide for the bike, causing it to turn with the quickness of a cruise ship. With the new bike the rear tire dimensions are the same, but the rest of the bike has changed to make it handle like it's supposed to. Thanks for listening to me, Kawasaki (even if I wasn't the spark that influenced the change). I think the only hurdle now is whether U.S. consumers actually flock to the naked-bike market. I'm not holding my breath...
Although we constantly get letters from readers stating that they'd be first in line if the Japanese OEMs would just strip the bodywork off and mount some upright handlebars on their literbikes, unfortunately the majority of naked bike buyers (read: Europeans) apparently don't want monster supersport-style power in their machines. Believe me, if the market demanded unbridled power, the manufacturers would deliver. Americans just haven't saddled up to naked-bikes in any real numbers, and that's a shame.
That said, I certainly hope that they at least take a spin on the new Z1000 to find out how much fun a naked standard bike can really be to ride. Here is an inline-four naked that not only finally delivers on the promise of performance, but does it without forcing you to put up with the common pitfalls of previous Japanese naked bikes, or the various annoying idiosyncrasies common to most of its more sophisticated European brethren. Well, except that tiny LCD instrument panel, maybe.