Until the dawn of the FZs, GSX-Rs, Ninjas, and CBRs, the upright naked bike was the standard line of sporting attack from Japan. If you wanted a bike with low bars and a fairing, you had to go to Europe for your high-performance fix. But, as the Japanese embraced the racebike-as-streetbike ethos, the uprights were softened up, rendering them less appealing to performance-oriented customers.
Kawasaki, the company that virtually invented the rip-snortin’ superbike with the legendary 1969 Mach III, has returned to its roots with a wheel-spinning, wheelie-popping, fire-breather of an upright that is ready to take on the likes of the Ducati Streetfighter, Aprilia Tuono, and MV Agusta Brutale. Not a warmed-over version of the previous Z1000, nor a Ninja ZX-10R with its fairing stripped and HeliBars installed, the new Z1000 is wholly its own bike, built with the same basic goals that have defined the Ninja ZX-10R since 2002-maximum performance above all else.
Inarguably, the new Z1000 is a handful on the street. It is a stripped-down, muscular (though not muscle-bound) beast that dispenses with niceties. Do you want traction control? Forget it. ABS? Not here. Selectable power modes? C’mon. The frills have been saved for other motorcycles, so riding the Z1000 is a purely primal experience-one where you must rely on your own wits to find success.
That is not to say that Kawasaki hasn’t done its chassis homework to handle the impressive (unofficially claimed) 138-horsepower 1043cc powerplant. Indeed, when blitzing my way down California’s epic Route 1 south of Big Sur, the Z1000′s five-piece aluminum chassis-a first in the Z line-revealed itself to be virtually perfect. Whether I am attacking a triple-digit sweeper or a first-gear hairpin, the Z1000′s geometry turns the motorcycle into an extension of my psyche.
Jamming the front end into a bowled tight turn tests all sorts of chassis mettle. The Z1000′s fully adjustable 41mm inverted Showa forks offer faultless feedback, as do the Dunlop Sportmax tires. There is no wiggle, indecision, over- nor under-steer. Any mid-corner corrections that may be necessary due to an unexpectedly decreasing-radius turn happen instantly. Transitions between turns are effortless, as the Z1000 offers no resistance. What you want is what you get, and your wishes are fulfilled in a way that makes it difficult to decide which is more confident-you or the bike.
At speed in corners, the secure feeling is the same. Nothing even hints at going wrong, and the 81 ft/lbs of torque at 7800 rpm pulls you away with unquestionable authority-the powerband is progressive, rather than linear, adding even more excitement to the proceedings. Perfect front braking-radially mounted calipers, check-brings the bike back to sane speeds, when necessary.
On less challenging roads, the Z1000 enjoys a bit of leg stretching. Finding 125 mph in sixth on the digital LCD panel (the difficult-to-read tach is all but useless) does not require much road-just a willingness to twist the throttle. Tuck in a bit and even more speed is available. Even at these speeds, the Z1000 is rock solid, with nothing to suggest that this is not a natural velocity.
Ergonomics on the Z1000 are not nearly as extreme as its performance. At 5′ 10", I don’t feel cramped, even on an all-day excursion, and the wide bars provide good leverage for reduced fatigue. Vibration is effectively managed, thanks to a secondary balancer in the motor and a rubber motor-mount in the new frame.
Spinning up the short-stroke engine is endlessly entertaining, and delivers a couple of unexpected sensations. One is an engineer-induced howl at higher rpm that is built into the airbox, courtesy of a resonator-it’s actually an embarrassingly addictive gimmick. It does have a practical use, however. That same resonater dimishes sound output at lower rpm.
The second is the gale of air that is directed from the area between the headlight shroud and the radiator shrouds-the leftovers that the cool-air intake system cannot absorb. During Rickey Gadson-like throttle binges, the air rushes up with an intensity that borders on startling. As much as I expected it to blast the air up into my helmet and water my eyes, instead, the air pressure comfortably localized on my chest, taking a bit of pressure off my wrists.
The Z1000 does have a few other tricks up its sleeve. If there is a rise in the road and you are on the gas, the front end likes to reverse the effects of gravity. Big wheelies are easy, and low altitude lift-offs are almost unavoidable. At the other end, feel free to light up that rear tire, especially if traction is not perfect. The quick-revving motor and rev-rewarding powerband is sometimes more than a match for the otherwise capable rear Dunlop. Other motorcycles have fun-killing electronics to stop this sort of misbehavior, but I don’t mind a bit that the Z1000 is riding commando.
Styling is a very personal issue, and Kawasaki made a concerted effort to give the Z1000 a distinctive look to complement its performance. The Z’s plastic is seriously angular, with the blacked out motor clearly on display. The previous iteration’s over-stylized mufflers, which were a source of derision, are gone; they have been replaced by still-stylish, more-reasonably proportioned units.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with softer upright sport bikes-everyone has his own comfort zone. However, if you are looking for an upright sport bike to ride on the wild side, and you prefer the esthetic of Japanese motorcycles, the all-new Kawasaki Z1000 is your bike of choice.
2010 Kawasaki Z1000 Motorcycle Specifications
Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four
Bore x Stroke: 77.0 x 56.0mm
Compression Ratio: 11.8:1
Fuel Injection: DFI® with four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies, oval sub-throttles
Ignition: TCBI with digital advance
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Rake / Trail: 24.5 degrees / 4.1 in.
Frame Type: Aluminum Backbone
Front Tire: 120/70 ZR17
Rear Tire: 190/50 ZR17
Wheelbase: 56.7 in.
Front Suspension / Wheel Travel: 41 mm inverted cartridge fork with stepless compression and rebound damping, adjustable spring preload / 4.7 in.
Rear Suspension / Wheel Travel: Horizontal monoshock with stepless rebound damping, adjustable spring preload / 5.4 in.
Front Brakes: Dual 300mm petal-type rotors with radial-mount four-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Single 250mm petal-type rotor with single-piston caliper
Overall Length: 82.5 in.
Overall Width: 31.7 in.
Overall Height: 42.1 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gal
Color Choices: Pearl Stardust White, Metallic Spark Black
Warranty: 12 Months