If the Z1000 didn’t have large Kawasaki badges, one would be hard pressed to tell that this machine is built by one of the Big Four Japanese manufacturers. Its lines are so clean and styling so original that a person could easily assume the Zed-1 is manufactured by a European marque. From the sharp, aggressive lines of the bodywork, contrasting silver/black wheels and quad exhaust pipes, style is something that this Kawasaki has in spades.
“I’ve never been a big fan of the Z1000’s styling in the past,” remarked Hutchison. “It always looked kind of weird and disproportionate. But this new edition makes me think twice. The thing looks tough—like it’s got some serious street cred. It even looks sharp when parked next to the Ducati and KTM and that’s saying a lot.”
Straddle the seat after spending any amount of time on either of the competition and one can’t help but notice how low you sit. At more than an inch shorter than both the Ducati and KTM, this will no doubt be a major plus for riders of smaller stature. Like the KTM, the pinion is wide but extended riding time proved it’s still not quite as cozy as the Super Duke’s.
(Above) Despite employing a simpler rear shock as compared to the KTM and Ducati the Kawasaki’s unit still worked well on the street and track. (Below) The angle of the digital instrument display is three-way adjustable.
Seating position on the Kawasaki feels comparable to the KTM’s. The aluminum handlebar is easily reachable for a wide variety of riders and positions the pilot’s torso in a natural yet commanding stance. Conversely, the footpegs are a touch higher, which makes the lower half of the cockpit feel tighter. Although it wasn’t an issue for even my lanky, 6-foot frame, those motorcyclists who played starting forward for their high school basketball team will definitely feel more at home aboard the Super Duke. On the flip side, the higher mounted footpegs pay dividends during aggressive cornering maneuvers around the racetrack, keeping hard parts up and off the pavement far longer than its competitors.
As opposed to the relatively tiny instrument displays of the other machines, the Kawi features a much more prominent dial, its shape integrated perfectly into the bike’s styling. Not only is it easy to read, its display angle can be adjusted in three positions by using a hidden plastic adjustment knob. Additionally, the all-digital unit includes a fuel gauge but strangely does away with the coolant temperature readout.
Steer into a corner and the Z1 responds quickest of the crew. It is a very agile motorcycle in spite of its 481-pound fully-fueled curb weight (heaviest bike in the test). Keep on turning and it leans over confidently. Once set into the corner the chassis delivers a high level of feel and is nearly as planted as the Ducati. That is until things start getting more extreme and you approach the extreme edge of the tire. It’s at this point that the Kawasaki displays a tendency to squirm, though this could be as much an attribute of the tires as it is the chassis as a whole. The Japanese machine’s OE-fitted Dunlops actually provide the rider with more feel than the Euro bike’s Pirellis, however, outright grip isn’t quite on the same level, the rear breaking traction much earlier when high levels of lean angle meet more aggressive degrees of throttle input.
In terms of suspension, the Kawasaki employs an inverted front fork produced by Showa. The high-end units offer 3-way adjustability (compression, rebound and preload), similar to those on both of the other machines. However, out back the rear shock is of slightly lesser specification, employing a hydraulic damping circuit as opposed to the gas-charged set-ups on the KTM and Ducati. It also lacks compression damping adjustment. In spite of this, both ends delivered sound performance on the road or racetrack. On the roadway the Kawi soaks up pavement irregularities nicely and delivers a solid ride quality, comparable to that of the KTM, while its damping capabilities are equally suited to apex strafing at the track. It’s this sort of versatility that gives the Kawi the top score in the chassis/suspension scoring category.
(Above) Even at racetrack speeds the Z1000 proved to be an easy motorcycle to ride. (Center) The Z1000’s ergonomics are just a hair more sporty as compared to the KTM 990 Super Duke.
When it comes time to drop anchor you can count on the radial-mount Tokico front brake set-up. Pull back on the lever with two fingers and you’ll notice slightly more feel compared to the KTM’s two-piece Brembos. Though better than the KTM, outright rider feel and feedback still isn’t quite up to par compared to the Streetfighter’s Brembo monoblocs. Despite using rubber brake lines (as opposed to the stainless-steel bits used on both Euro bikes) we experienced zero fade, even during repeated use at the track. The results of our braking test further proved the effectiveness of its stopping set-up. Despite weighing 36 pounds more than the KTM, the Kawasaki easily came to a stop from 60 mph in two feet shorter distance.
In the drivetrain department, the Kawi proved to be the friendliest bike to launch. Its cable-actuated clutch offers light lever pull of the group, which works nicely with its short first gear. This allows the rider to escape from stops with very little drama or clutch slippage needed. The remaining five gears are spaced well and the transmission provides the most positive feeling engagement when shifting.
Dial in some positive throttle and it’s hard not to be impressed with the 1043cc Inline-Four. Compared to the rumble of the Twins, the Z1’s powerplant is the epitome of smooth. There is very little engine vibration throughout the rev range, ensuring a clear view from the mirrors at all times. The engine’s powerband is versatile, allowing the rider the option to either lug the engine in a higher gear at low rpm or rev it out to its 10,900 rpm redline in a gear lower. Either way, you’re always greeted by a steady stream of go-go juice.
On the dyno, the Kawasaki’s powerband is comparable to the KTM’s until 7500 rpm. After that point the Z1000 then surpasses its Austrian counterpart en route to a peak torque figure of 72.34 lb-ft at 7900 rpm. Though a healthy figure, it’s still 7 lb-ft less than the all-conquering Ducati. In terms of measured peak horsepower, the Kawi produced just over 122 horsepower at 9800 revs – 10 more than the Duke, though 17 shy of the Streetfighter.
Both engine fueling and throttle response are well calibrated and extremely controllable. But don’t let the easily accessible nature of the Kawi’s powerband lead you to believe it’s boring. While the exhaust note is fairly subdued, the Z1 singing to the tune of 94 dB at 5450 rpm (half maximum engine speed), a flap inside the airbox creates an induction howl that gives it an elevated level of character, one which a sound measuring device isn’t capable of detecting.
“The Z1000 has one hell of a motor,” commented Hutch. “Sure it isn’t as rowdy as the Streetfighter but it still has plenty of get-up-and-go. It barely vibrates and is really easy to use. Then there’s that wild banshee-style induction roar. It sounds so vicious that a serious amount personal restraint may be required to keep from whacking the throttle wide open at every possible second.”
In our acceleration tests the Kawi netted a best 0-to-60 mph time of 3.89 seconds. While it was the slowest of the bunch, it’s still within a mere half second of the class-leading Ducati. Let it stretch its legs and it ripped through the quarter-mile in 10.67 seconds at 124.85 mph, which positioned it in the middle of the pack, though only a hair over two-tenths back of the Duc (10.42 seconds @ 128.32 mph) while being over half-a-second in front of the KTM (11.28 @ 121.42 mph).
Surprisingly, one of the areas that hold the Z1000 back when it comes to street prowess is its very modest-sized four-gallon fuel tank. Based on test unit’s recorded 36 MPG average, this only provided us with a range 144 miles between fill-ups. While still better than the ‘not-for-touring-use’ Ducati, it falls well short of the 182-mile range provided by the KTM.
When the final points were added up the Kawasaki finished a close second in our Streetfighter Comparison, only six points back of the Ducati. While it received top marks in five of the subjective scoring categories and netted a higher overall subjective point total, it was ultimately held back by its outright, objective performance figures. If Kawasaki could manage to shave a few pounds and add a couple more ponies, when considering how strong it was in terms of rider opinion, Team Green could quite easily have a winner on its hands next time around.
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