2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - First Ride

Controversial styling, killer-good performance.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot

Kawasaki's Z1000 has long been one of our favorite naked streetbikes, earning the distinction of being named Cycle World's Best Standard in 2010 and 2011. Now, though, there's a new Z1000 in town, a fourth-generation bike that the company says is harder edged and visually tighter, while also having a tauter ride. Has Kawasaki really built such a bike?

Quick answer? Yes. Based on my recent ride of a new 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 in downtown Los Angeles and nearby San Gabriel Mountains, I can tell you it's a sportier machine, one whose dramatic sugomi styling (designed to evoke a crouching predator, such as a panther) reminds everybody that some substantive changes have taken place beneath the skin.

For instance, the 1,043cc inline-4 has been thoroughly reworked for improved midrange and top-end power. Thanks to a new intake camshaft (with 0.3mm less lift and six degrees less duration), plus a modified airbox, a revised ECU, and taller velocity stacks for improved cylinder filling, the dohc 16-valve mill pulls hard all the way to its 11,250-rpm redline and “soft” rev limiter. Furthermore, new internal passageways in the crankcase reduce high-rpm pumping losses, and overall smoothness is enhanced by a crank-driven balancer. Lastly, a pair of ducts in the Z1000’s fairing route cool intake air directly to the airbox.

Although fuel injected (via four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies), the Z1000 is not ride-by-wire, meaning this $11,999 Kawasaki doesn’t have traction control, which one could argue is in character with the minimal streetfighter nature of the bike. Nevertheless, in spite of its immediate throttle response, the Z1000 is remarkably easy to ride smoothly, even in slow around-town situations, thanks to its excellent fueling. And when you finally get to a spot where you can open the throttle and let the engine rip, two new passages incorporated into the airbox are designed to produce an intake howl that “complements the physical sense of acceleration.”

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS static right-side view

Not that it’s needed in this Kawasaki. The new Z1000 is super quick, aided by final-drive gearing that’s shorter than the Ninja 1000’s. Moreover, the Z1000 is a bit more relaxed at highway speeds, thanks to a taller sixth gear. For the record, 70 mph in sixth gear equates to an indicated 5,000 rpm on the Z1000’s new bar-graph tachometer.

Beyond the engine and sugomi bodywork, the new Z1000 has an extensive other new hardware, including:

• A twin-spar aluminum frame based on the Ninja 1000's. It's cast as a single unit with the swingarm pivot to eliminate welds. The engine, a stressed member, bolts solidly to the frame in three places and is rubber-mounted at the upper rear crankcase.

• A die-cast aluminum subframe. The lightweight three-piece design allows the Z1000 to be narrower under the seat, reducing the reach to the ground.

• A Showa separate-function SFF-BP fork, with 41mm tubes and springs in both legs. The spring-preload adjuster works on the left tube, whereas the compression- and rebound-damping adjusters are only on the right. The main goal with this fork, says Kawasaki, is smooth initial travel for improved feel during braking. In back, a horizontal shock with stepless rebound damping and a remote preload adjuster is said to be unaffected by exhaust heat.

• Monoblock four-piston front brake calipers. Although the gold calipers are badged by Kawasaki, they are made by Tokico and feature differentiated piston diameters (32mm top, 30mm lower). Kawasaki has also switched to a radial-pump front master cylinder and grippier pads, for firmer initial feel. ABS is provided by Bosch.

• Supersport-style wheels. Kawasaki says these black six-spoke units, made of cast aluminum, cut total unsprung weight by more than four pounds.

• A compact instrument cluster that's not much bigger than an iPhone. Unusual tachometer features a bar graph that "jumps" from a vertical lower LCD screen to a horizontal row of bright LEDs across the top. It's easy to read, with a large digital readout for speed. Previous Z1000, notably, had its gauges tucked low in a spot ahead of the top triple-clamp. New bike has the gauge panel mounted above the wide handlebar, which makes the Z1000's signature design feature—its prominent headlight assembly featuring four LED bulbs—look like it's mounted much lower than it actually is.

• Other noteworthy new Z1000 bits include a larger 4.5-gallon fuel tank (up by 0.5 gallons), twin-outlet mufflers covered with brushed stainless steel, and a grippy new seat with a Z-pattern cover. Seat itself is narrow at the front, allowing the rider move forward into the slots molded into the tank. The rear seat, with a matte-green covering, can almost be mistaken for bodywork.

So, what's the new Z1000 like to ride? Impressive. It's totally at home in the city, where it can spurt in and out of traffic with ease. And it's a delight on twisty mountain roads, where the suspension that feels a tad overly firm in the bumpy city gives the bike a welcome composure in high-speed sweepers. A wide powerband and abundant torque eliminate the need for frequent downshifts, and the gearbox is click-click second nature, blessed with an easy-to-modulate clutch.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on a twisty mountain road

With a claimed curb weight of 487 pounds and a dedicated effort by Kawasaki to centralize the bike’s mass, the 2014 Z1000 leans into corners well, aided by steering that’s precise but not too quick. The geometry, identical to that of the Ninja 1000, features 24.5 degrees of rake and 4.0 inches of trail.

Kawasaki brought along a 2013 Z1000 for comparison. My quick take: I prefer the higher, more upright seating of the 2013 bike, which fits taller riders better than the new bike. That stated, the 2014 Z1000, because of its lower, more forward-canted riding position, feels sportier and gets the rider more out of the wind, which is a legitimate concern if you commute long distances on the bike. Moreover, the throttle of the 2014 Z1000 is much snappier, and the suspension is significantly firmer, more ready to play.

In short, Kawasaki’s new Z1000, which retails for $11,999, is a great bike. Say what you will about its styling, but this Kawasaki is an impressive update on what already was an excellent bike. But does it have what it takes to beat newcomers such as the Yamaha FZ-09 or proven Europeans such as the Aprilia Tuono V4 R or MV Agusta Brutale 800?

We plan to find that out soon, after we spend some quality time with the Kawasaki on more familiar turf, where we’ll see if the new Z1000 can wrangle another Ten Best award. While some might say the new Ninja 1000, with its better wind protection and optional saddlebags, is the more versatile Kawasaki and a better choice, the Z1000 has more attitude, more of the raw appeal that sets an emotional hook. Nice to have choices, isn’t it?

|2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS
ENGINE|Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, inline-four
BORE & STROKE|77.0 x 56.0mm
FUEL INJECTION|Four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies, oval sub-throttles
IGNITION|TCBI with digital advance
FINAL DRIVE|X-ring chain
RAKE/TRAIL|24.5 degrees/4.0 in.
FRAME TYPE|Aluminum backbone
FRONT TIRE|120/70ZR-17
REAR TIRE|190/50ZR-17
WHEELBASE|56.5 in.
FRONT SUSPENSION/WHEEL TRAVEL|41 mm inverted SFF-BP fork with stepless compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability/4.7 in.
REAR SUSPENSION/WHEEL TRAVEL|Horizontal monoshock with stepless rebound damping, remotely adjustable spring preload/4.8 in.
FRONT BRAKES|Dual 310mm petal-type rotors with radial-mount four-piston monobloc calipers and ABS
REAR BRAKES|Single 250mm petal-type rotor with single-piston caliper and ABS
SEAT HEIGHT|32.1 in.
COLOR CHOICES|Golden Blazed Green, Metallic Graphite Gray
WARRANTY|12 Months
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #1

On-road action shot #1

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #2

On-road action shot #2

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #3

On-road action shot #3

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #4

On-road action shot #4

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #5

On-road action shot #5

2014 motorcycles, Kawasaki, Z1000 ABS
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #6

On-road action shot #6

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - static right-side view

Static right-side view.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - static rear 3/4 left-side view

Static rear 3/4 left-side view.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - static front 3/4 right-side view

Static front 3/4 right-side view.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - front wheel

Front wheel.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - front section

Front section.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - headlight/turn signal

Headlight/turn signal.

Cockpit view.

Instrumentation panel.

Left-side view of engine.

Right-side view of engine.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - right-side view of rear section

Right-side view of rear section.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - exhaust pipe

Exhaust pipe.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - rear wheel

Rear wheel.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - left-side view of rear section

Left-side view of rear section.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - seat


2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - static left-side view

Static left-side view.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS - static rear 3/4 right-side view

Static rear 3/4 right-side view.

2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS on-road action shot #7

On-road action shot #7