Photography by Jeff Allen
Naked this and streetfighter that,blah, blah, blah! Sometimes even I wonder if the motorcycle press gives too many hugs and kisses to this genre of motorcycle. Over the years, some of my favorite machines have been what these days commonly get referred to as nakeds, but strangely I’ve never owned one. What does that say about me? Perhaps the same bikes I’m guilty of showering with compliments weren’t bikes I wanted to live with on a daily basis. But, here I go again anyway! Kawasaki’s new Z1000 is simply one of the most entertaining bikes in recent memory.
New from the ground up, the Z1000 wasn’t originally considered for importation by Kawasaki’s U.S. division, largely because this type of motorcycle hasn’t sold well in our market. But after the Stateside product-planning guys got to throw a leg over the bike, it became clear that Team Green USA had to give the bike a chance. The Z1000′s performance is simply intoxicating.
A brand-new, liquid-cooled, 1043cc inline-Four shares virtually nothing with its predecessor and was designed specifically for the Z1K. Engineers focused efforts on midrange power and torque production. The goal was that the rider could experience the thrill of an open-classer without revving the bike into the stratosphere or running into triple-digit speeds.
Although the press introduction in central California’s Cambria area was cursed by rain and wet roads, we were able to find enough dry tarmac to have some fun, and then just sucked it up and made the best of the conditions after the heavens refused to give up their mission. The first thing I noticed after hitting the road is that the bike is geared for fun; short gearing makes for exhilarating acceleration. No wheelie-fighting tall first gear here! A bike like this has to feel lively and aggressive and the Z most definitely lives up to that expectation. Exit drive out of tight corners is brisk, with the front end skimming the pavement when the throttle is wide open. Wet roads made for some interesting rolling burnouts as the fat 190mm rear tire scrounged for traction.
All that power would be hard to harness if the chassis wasn’t up to the task, but thankfully Kawi has completely redesigned the Z1000′s rolling gear. A die-cast aluminum frame is high-tech and designed to be stiff while providing excellent feedback and response. Combined with the fully adjustable Showa fork and top-mounted, above-the-swingarm linkage shock, the suspension provided firm yet compliant action at both ends. Excellent radial-mount Tokico calipers on the front squeeze 300mm petal discs and provided good power and feel.
The seating position is upright and comfortable with a wide MX-style handlebar providing good leverage for steering. Footpegs are just right for the Z’s sporting intentions, not too high but out of harm’s way when cranked over in a turn. If you like to ride on the balls of your feet, however, your heels may bump against the exhaust silencers. An informative LCD dash is adjustable (without tools) to three different angles, to satisfy the preferences of different-sized riders. Available in two color combinations including Metallic Spark Black and Pearl Stardust White, the $10,499 Z1000 isn’t just a naked bike, but a full-blown sportbike that just happens to have minimalist bodywork.
Without a doubt, the Z1000 is a motorcycle that I once again have to give credit where it’s due, but I will do so with no apologies, as this bike is one hell of a lot of fun. Look for our upcoming full road test on the Z1000 in the March, 2010, issue of Cycle World.