2008 Kawasaki Z1000 | Motorcycle Test

A few years back, Kawasaki embraced motor-cycling's problem child—the hooligan bike—with the introduction of its Z1000, and garnered the manufacturer a solid foothold in the emerging naked bike category. The original Z1000 was a stripped down, upright machine that quickly found its place on the upper tiers of the streetfighter mantel. It merged the omnipresent aspects that inspired the movement—a rebellious spirit and damaged bodywork. Now, Kawasaki's resident bad boy has undergone its first major overhaul to ensure continued membership in this rough-and-ready club.

Helmet: Icon Mainframe Holligan
Jacket: Icon Pursuit
Gloves: Icon Timax
Pants: Icon Anthem
Boots: Sidi Vertigo Corsa. (Click image to enlarge)

The wedged, sharp angles of the bike have been exaggerated, giving the Z1000 a stealth fighter appearance that is also controversial. An orange seat and copper-chrome megaphone exhaust system contribute to the polarizing design cues, helping to nurture the inherent, almost mandatory rebelliousness of the hooligan devotee (even if the rowdy disposition is a weekend disguise).

The in-line 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled, 953cc engine has undergone a significant attitude adjustment over its predecessor. Retuned for low-end and mid-range, the Z1000 bites with emphasis right off idle. An all-new fuel injection system eliminates any hint of hiccups in the lowest register of the tachometer, allowing for seamless, steady power, syncopated perfectly to the demands of the rider's right wrist. Flywheel mass was increased to smooth out the power delivery. (Click image to enlarge)

The increased low-end and mid-range performance of the engine is complemented with lower gearing to give the Z1000 exceptional snap and crisp response. It is perfect for tight canyon running, while also accommodating the real world situations of around town stop-and-go riding. A lower clutch spring rate requires less effort at the lever, and accentuates the butter-smooth transmission that responds to the slightest twitch of a toe on the ball bearing shift lever.

The single most pronounced visual statement on the bike is the gold-anodized exhaust. The 4-into-2-into-1-into-2 configuration culminates in dual megaphone end pipes—eye candy deserving of the boulevard—and delivers a bird scattering, raspy tone when the throttle is twisted. All of these elements add up to a wonderfully egregious power pulse that makes lifting the Z's front-end relatively easy business. Get over zealous with the throttle coming out of corners and you will need a spatula to scrape up the rubber you leave on the pavement. (Click image to enlarge)

Chassis stiffness has been reduced with the intent of helping the rider interpret what the bike is doing. This combination of rigid and rubber engine mounts help eradicate some of the vibration issues of the previous model. The new cast aluminum engine sub-frame is augmented with load bearing frame spars that wrap around the engine at the cylinders, adding to the "Transformers" appearance of the Z.

Initially our Z1000 had a disconcerting attitude in corners; a wallowing sensation that was the result of the factory suspension settings being far too soft for the average-sized rider. Stiffening up the preload on the new 41mm Showa forks eliminated the swimming front end and brought the Z back into the realm of an aggressive canyon-carving tool (though at the expense of the plush ride afforded on the softer settings). (Click image to enlarge)The Z1000 is a nimble handling machine, bordering on twitchy. Despite stretching out the frame a half-inch, and increasing the wheelbase an inch to 57 inches, the bike maintains its highly responsive turn-in that is so quick it takes a few corners to get familiar with. Once acclimated, the bike can be whipped around with ease. The upright seating position, combined with the leverage afforded with the wide handlebars, rewards the rider with phenomenal maneuverability. The forward attitude of the bike results in a front end that feels squarely planted on the tarmac.

Although the Kawasaki handles turns with confidence, it is somewhat rebellious in its response to mid corner line changes or abrupt throttle input, and results in a bit of unwelcome instability. Careful inputs at the controls are necessary.

Dual 300mm front brake rotors are mated to radial-mounted four-piston calipers, delivering superlative stopping power. The rear brake rotor gained 30 mm (bringing it up to 250 mm) to accommodate some of the bike's weight balance being shifted slightly to the rear.

If they gave awards for the cleanest, most condensed dashboard, the Z1000 would win handily. The easily readable tachometer face and needle, digital speedometer, clock, fuel gauge, and trip meters, are all contained in a relatively small piece of dashboard real estate. A bikini fairing does its best to disburse windblast. But, the Z1000 is, after all, a naked bike, so consider the fairing to be more looks than function. The seat is as stiff as the proverbial board, which will not distress sporting riders.

Aesthetically, the Kawasaki Z1000 arouses passionate responses—both positive and negative. That's a good thing—causing a huff is always better than going unnoticed! An aggressive demeanor, plenty of bottom end torque, and a raspy growl all the way to redline are the essential, base attributes that make up the pathos of any legitimate streetfighter. The Z1000 is a dagger that requires a minimum of sharpening.



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