2014 Kawasaki Z1000 | First Ride Review

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 | First Ride Test

With roots dating back to the Z1 over 40 years ago, the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 is the latest iteration of a long line of bare-knuckle brawling streetfighters from the Heavy Industries folks. This newest Z1000 isn’t a complete redesign, yet there are enough updates and improvements that one can safely call this a new machine. I took it out for a day and evening of twisties and urban riding, which gave me some strongly positive first impressions.

An example of refinement is the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000’s powerplant. The basic 1043cc motor from the previous Z1000 is there, but Kawasaki has improved it in a few important ways. The intake cam profile has been reground to boost torque from idle to midrange rpm. Additionally, the EFI has been reprogrammed to sharpen the throttle response, plus the final gearing has been lowered. All that sounds good, though it’s just a start.

The airbox, velocity stacks, and air filter have all been modified for a bit more power, and improved sound. At the other end, the exhaust connector tubes are now oval and larger, which Kawasaki tells us produces more power across the rev range.

This is a matter of many incremental changes adding up to a significant difference. In town, the Z1000 can be as aggressive as you like, though not quite as docile. The power is always there, and a twist of the wrist will show you how aggressive the motor can be, especially in an urban setting. If that light has turned yellow, you can certainly get through the intersection in time, though you might be surprised at your speed when you glance down at the innovative dashboard (more on that later). Make sure you adjust your mirrors before you ride, as anything more than a minor tweak requires tools.

The Z1000’s motor isn’t snatchy, as the EFI is nicely calibrated, but it is clearly a highly responsive powerplant. It feels as if it’s itching to go and all it needs is your approval and the beast will be unleashed. Again, you can ride it controllably in close urban quarters, but you must have a good sense of throttle control, as well as having good sense.

Take it into the canyons, and the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 is a serious machine. Rev the motor up toward the five-figure redline and the power is delivered in abundance. It’s never an out-of-control shriek, though the acceleration is definitely exhilarating. If you have a chance, you can sneak a peek at the unusual rev counting display, which switches from an LCD in the bottom half of the dash for the first 4000 rpm, to a more recognizable LED sweep from 4k to the redline. It sounds a bit odd, but it works and is non-distracting at a casual pace.

With that snappy power in the canyons, a chassis up to the demands is non-negotiable. The 2014 Kawasaki Z1000’s chassis has the same aluminum backbone frame as before, though the subframe has been compacted. This isn’t where the big improvement is, however. Thinking big, Kawasaki outfitted the Z1000 with a Showa Separate Function Fork – Big Piston front end (SFF-PB for short—don’t ask how that’s pronounced).

The muscular inverted SFF-BP forks have springs in both sides (preload is set on the left fork), but all of the damping hardware is in the right tube. The idea is that the larger piston allows for smoother action under braking, as well as a larger surface area for the oil to work with, which enhances smoothness. Theory is great, and the real life action is up to the hype.

As the Z1000’s various changes complement each other, the nice action during braking is necessary due to the new radially mounted monoblock calipers in the front. Although the master cylinder pump isn’t radially mounted, as we prefer, these are still very serious brakes. The best part is, they are there when you need them to be strong, while still offering a soft initial feel.

Pull lightly on the lever and when the new brake pads are engaged, it takes just the softest and smoothest of nibbles. As you grasp harder, the braking increases progressively. It doesn’t take much for the deceleration to get serious. Even when squeezing hard heading at a high velocity into some tight corners, the brakes didn’t misbehave, the front end doesn’t dive, and the ABS never did engage. Instead, the bike slows down at such a rapid and controllable rate that you have to rethink your braking points on your favorite corners.

As composed as the suspension is, both on perfect tarmac and worn pavement, much credit is also due to the excellent Dunlop Sportmax tires. They grip tenaciously during braking, as described, and have a great feel in the corners. Turn-in is aggressive, as is the chassis, so this is not a bike for a novice rider. It will do what you ask it to do, and it is not as forgiving as, say, a Ninja 1000. This bike is responsive, almost to a fault. If you are a good enough rider to give it the right input, it will respond as requested and it will do it with confidence and assuredness. This is a nice taut chassis with an outstanding front end.

Freeway riding is uneventful, even though the suspension is clearly sporting. The Z1000 is a naked bike, though you do sit “in” the bike, to a certain extent, so the wind blast isn’t what it would be on something like a supermoto machine. The bars are narrow enough, so you aren’t a sail. Although the final gearing is shorter than before, 6th gear has been raised, so it’s a semi-overdrive. Cruising at any speed limit (and a bit above) is a relaxing experience.

There’s a digital LCD speed display, but it is a bit small (hard to read at night) and susceptible to glare (hard to read in the day). A gear indicator would be a nice addition. However, the snail-style fuel level display is kinda cute.

The Z1000’s ergonomics are compact, without being crowded. The bars/seat/peg triangle puts you in a sporting stance, as it should. The seat looks spare, yet it’s comfortable and easy to move around on. The seat’s “Z” upholstery looks good close up, as well as from afar. And, yes, that tiny green arrowhead-shaped platform in the back is the pillion.

With all this, as you would expect, the styling of the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 is new. Kawasaki calls it “Sugomi” style. A quick online search finds these Japanese -> English translations—dreadfulness, ghastliness, and weirdness. Okay, so maybe something is lost in the translation. As with any styling, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, the bike looks pretty cool—I especially like the four headlights with an auxiliary light on the dash—but I also expect this edition to look dated pretty quickly.

In reality, the 20th century Z bikes always had a cool, classic look, while the Z1000s of the 21st century have trended toward trendy. I’m sure Kawasaki’s product planners did their homework and decided that futuristic was a better fashion choice than retro for this machine.

In some ways, despite its futuristic styling, the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 is a bit of a back-to-basics streetfighter. It’s a precision machine with some bells and whistles, though the latest goodies on the premium naked bikes—traction control, wheelie control, no-clutch shifting, power modes–are missing. This machine is about you, your decisions, and reaping the benefits (or consequences) from the input you make. The 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 is a rewarding motorcycle to ride, retaining a healthy part of the spirit of the original Kawasaki four-cylinder superbike.

Photography by Kevin Wing

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Bell RS-1 RSD Flash Bronze
  • Jacket: Icon 1000 Chapter
  • Gloves: Held Titan
  • Pants: Icon Strongarm 2
  • Boots: Dainese ST Torque Pro Out
  • Undergarments: Fly Racing Base Layer Heavyweight Pant and Top

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 Specs:

  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four
  • Displacement: 1043cc
  • 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
  • Transmission: Six-speed
  • Final drive: X-ring chain
  • Rake / trail: 24.5 degrees / 4.0 inches
  • Frame type: Aluminum backbone
  • Front tire: 120/70 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax
  • Rear tire: 190/50 ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax
  • Wheelbase: 56.5 inches
  • Front suspension / wheel travel: 41 mm inverted SFF-BP fork with stepless compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability / 4.7 inches
  • Rear suspension / wheel travel: Horizontal monoshock with stepless rebound damping, remotely adjustable spring preload / 4.8 inches
  • Front brakes: Dual 310mm petal-type rotors with radial-mount four-piston monoblock calipers and ABS
  • Rear brake: Single 250mm petal-type rotor with single-piston caliper and ABS
  • Overall length: 80.5 inches
  • Overall width: 31.1 inches
  • Overall height: 41.5 inches
  • Seat height: 32.1 inches
  • Curb weight: 487 pounds
  • Fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons
  • Color choices: Golden Blazed Green / Metallic Graphite Gray

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 MSRP:

  • $11,999