WHILE some bike manufactures are playing it safe and concentrating on recovering from the credit crunch, Kawasaki is being brave, it’s standing alone as the only Japanese company to present four new models for 2010.
The Z1000 is without doubt, the most important one. The previous version was like a lamb in wolf’s clothing, aggressively styled but tame and obedient. Kawasaki had promised to rectify this and unleash a new beast for next year.
But it’s not a good start – the chestnut brown paintwork with a snakeskin seat is not the most obvious colour scheme for a naked bike, unless you’re a gangster rapper and need some bike bling to complement your fake fur coat and oversized gold chains.
Thank goodness Kawasaki is offering another version of the Z1000 in a smart combination of orange and white, albeit with a couple of features that look like eighties throwbacks. The partially polished wheels and orange dash give the bike a retro feel and although the adjustability of the instrument display is useful, it’s readability doesn’t seem to have noticeably improved. But that’s just nit-picking, in reality the new Z1000 is stocky and muscular, with far more presence than the press images suggest. From the bulky torso to the tapered slim tail, the Z1000 has the same high finish as a Suzuki B King, but with out the unnecessary excess and ergonomic limitations.
When you’re taller than the average Japanese biker, finding a comfortable fit for your knees against the B King’s tank is like Santa trying to wear an elf suit – there’s just not enough room. The Z1000 suits lofty bikers far better, the narrow fuel tank and frame makes the fit feels less forced. The handlebars are wider, higher and positioned slightly more forwards, offering a really natural grasp and the overall riding stance feels active and aggressive without being uncomfortable. The seat (with or without the dubious snakeskin finish) is 5mm lower and skinnier than before which should help shorter riders to touch the floor with both feet.
Although the Z1000 sounds perfectly polite when idling on the side-stand, it’s another story with the throttle to the stop on the open road. There’s a deep resonating richness to the Kawasaki’s symphony, resulting from a valve in the air-box that stays shut at low revs and then opens as you creep further up the range. Manufacturers can apparently be extremely creative when avoiding noise emission laws.
It’s instantly apparent that the previous model’s elastic throttle response has been rectified. The connection between your right hand and the rear’s rubber is crystal clear. It’s perfect, as is the engine. Power is a bit like marmite, some prefer just a subtle taste, and others enjoy the full flavour. Either way spread it too thickly and it’s simply overwhelming. Just like KTM’s Superduke and Triumph’s Speed Triple, useable power spread out over the whole rev range is far more practical on the road than dazzling peak horsepower figures that you’ll never use.
Sensible speeds are rewarded with sensible comfort. 70mph doesn’t produce any real physical discomfort, increase the pace by just 15mph and the stresses start to show in your knees and neck, especially if you insist on staying upright. Needless to say, creeping toward triple figures (where legally acceptable, of course) has to be attempted by laying flat on the tank unless you fancy a fight you can never win.
The tedious task of negotiating town traffic is easier to handle with the Z1000’s gentle manners and ready compliance. The steering lock is acceptable, the clutch and rear brake are easy to use and the torquey engine is flexible enough to forgive anything in the first four gears. In fact, it’s so pliable, it’s possible to accelerate from as low as 2,500rpm in sixth gear without any hesitation from the 1043cc, 136bhp four-cylinder lump. You’ve got the choice of at least three gears for every possible circumstance, and should you prefer to dance through the gearbox, it certainly appears to be faultless, even while shifting with the front wheel in the air.
Generally, the Japanese are less than impressed with bike journalists popping wheelies on launches. But resisting the urge to be vertical is like Homer Simpson saying no to another beer. The desire is just too strong, especially with a bike like the Z1000. It clearly lends itself to stunting, although you’ll need to really haul on the anchors hard for the rear wheel to hover at ear height. The brakes are almost the same as the ZX-10R but with less initial bite, which is quite surprising considering the bike’s aggressive styling and punchy power. But the softer approach works well, there’s a healthy degree of feedback, progressive brake force build up and, consequently, fewer surprises (unlike the Ducati Streetfighter’s fierce stoppers).
During the mountain road ride around Malaga and Ronda, the slippery Spanish tarmac morphs into a 50-mile long, concrete rollercoaster. The new Zed devours the twisties with controlled enthusiasm and it’s obvious that the 2010 model clearly handles better than its predecessor. But while the front feels more precise than before and certainly encourages rider confidence, the rear’s stiffly damped shock threatens to bruise your bottom over bumps. Relaxing the suspension with the aid of the tool pack stored neatly underneath the seat, softens the ride’s harshness, but it also takes the edge off the sharp steering. Changing the sports touring orientated OE Dunlop D210 might improve matters though.
Nothing else about the Z1000 needs improvement, with exception of the fuel range which appears to be rather limited. The capacity has shrunk to 15 litres and after 95 ridiculously fast test miles; the bike is already guzzling its reserve. Apart from that, the new Zed deserves nothing but praise. It’s an improvement over the previous bike, and it’s better than Yamaha’s FZ1 because it has more torque, is easier to ride and has more ground clearance. That leaves the superb KTM Superduke 990 and Honda CB1000R as the Z1000’s main rivals and based on this first test, the Kawasaki slips neatly between them both. It’s less extreme and focused than the Superduke, but not as comfortably tame as the CB1000R.
The new Z1000 is a bike Gok Wan would love. It knows how to look good naked and it struts its stuff with pride.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kawasaki Z1000, £7,200.
Engine: liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder engine of 1043cc, producing 136bhp at 9,600rpm and 81 ft lb at 7,800rpm.
Transmission: chain drive through six-speed gearbox.
Weight : 218kg.
Seat height: 815mm.
Fuel capacity: 15 litres.