Kawasaki is hungry for a bigger slice of the streetfighter pie with its updated-for-2014 Z1000 ABS ($11,999). By integrating the latest suspension and brake technology with its tried-and-true Inline Four architecture and wrapping it in edgy, futuristic-looking body panels, Kawasaki is convinced that it’ll steal sales from upscale Euro brands. But will the formula work? We spent a few hours behind the handlebar on the chaotic streets of Los Angeles to find out.
The new Z looks like something out of a movie. A one-off custom meant to woo viewers into believing that they’re getting a glimpse of the future, now. Its body panels are sharp but minimal. So much so that it was difficult to find a flat spot large enough to secure a GoPro camera. From any angle this Ninja looks downright menacing with its quad LED-style headlights and equally dramatic tail pipes resembling a pair of brushed aluminum claws. The new headlamps perform better, too, offering a deeper, wider, and brighter spread of light. However, in bright mode the pitch of the beam was a little high. Fortunately its position can be adjusted manually with hand tools. Out back the Kawi gets a tidy triangle-shaped LED taillight that makes it stand out in traffic.
(Top) The Kawasaki’s four LED-style head beams are bright and offer a wide and far-reaching spread of light. (Center) The instrument display is small and is mounted so low that it’s hard to see without taking your eyes off the road. (Below) The Z1000 uses a set of racing-grade monobloc-style four-piston calipers sourced from Tokico. They offer tremendous stopping power and the safety of ABS.
h its 1043cc Inline Four engine is fully exposed, the blacked-out cylinders give a covert appearance much like a burglar in the night. Other nice aesthetic touches are the patterned seat cover and rearview mirrors that feature aluminum stalks.
A new more compact instrument display broadcasts operating parameters and its bright array of colors is especially appealing at night. There’s also a fuel gauge which keeps tabs on the larger 4.5-gallon tank along with an instant mpg calculator and ECO-mode indicator that lets you know at what speed and engine rpm you’re achieving optimum fuel mileage. The position of the instrumentation, however, isn’t in the rider’s immediate field of view.
The Z1000’s cockpit and the way the rider interacts with the controls have been tweaked and now offer a more pleasing feel. Specifically, the handlebar is lower and closer to the rider. This equates to a riding position that is still upright, only a hair more aggressive. This set-up rewards smaller riders but remains adaptable for taller folks, too. The shape of the fuel tank as it tappers to the rider’s seat felt marginally slimmer which helps give the bike a skinnier profile. Its 32.1-inch seat height remains unchanged. The position of the footpegs facilitates a sporty stance and is similar in feel to Kawasaki’s Ninja sportbikes. Since it lacks a front fairing there’s no wind protection.
Twist the right grip and the Z’s engine feels peppier and quicker to rev than before. This was done by fitting a newly shaped intake cam and velocity stacks inside the airbox. The motor’s overall efficiency was enhanced with the addition of passageways between the cylinders which reduce mechanical power losses. The insides of the pipes were also modified with larger cross-over tubes between one and four and two and three, as well as the removal of the right muffler’s valve that was previously used to help optimize the powerband and exhaust note.
Over the years the Z1000 has developed a reputation for the character of its engine. Not an easy thing to do considering the relatively ordinary four-cylinder configuration. Still, engineers figured out a way to plumb more of that grin-inducing intake roar by adding two passages inside the airbox. This makes the motor sound even more rambunctious during full throttle acceleration. From bottom to top the powerband is smooth and exceptionally friendly, but still has that punchy mid-range that we love. In top gear there is little engine vibration at speeds below 75 mph, but get the engine spinning faster and vibes start to creep through the handlebar.
Preload: 5 (Turns in)
Compression: 4.5 (Turns out)
Preload: Standard (Three threads showing)
Although Kawasaki claims it didn’t modify the cable-actuated clutch, the ’14 model felt like it required less lever pull effort, and we really liked its properly weighed feel contrary to the flimsy-feeling unit used in the new 636-powered ZX-6R. Although it’s missing back torque/slipper function during deceleration we didn’t think it is a deal breaker. The transmission has a precise engagement feel between each of the six gears and neutral was a snap to find at a stop.
With the exception of a lighter aluminum subframe, newly sourced Showa fork, and front brakes the chassis is unchanged. But that’s not a bad thing. The new SFF-BP fork uses springs in each leg but only one damping cartridge (right leg). This allows for faster and more accurate response to road conditions. Adjustment is split between legs with the left offering spring preload/ride height and the right compression and rebound/return damping. We were pleased with the fork’s smooth and responsive action even over rough pavement.
(Top) The updated Showa SFF-BP has responsive action and delivers a plush yet well-damped ride. (Center) The cockpit of the Z1000 favors smaller riders with a more intimate riding position than before. (Bottom) The Z1000’s Inline Four produces gobs and gobs of torque at virtually any rpm.
The front brake discs have grown from 300mm to 310mm and are clamped by a pair of racing-grade one-piece four-piston calipers from Tokico. The pinchers feature an embossed ‘Kawasaki’ logo on each side and offer a strong and very rigid-feeling bite at the lever. Sensitivity is also dialed-in well and since the Z has ABS you never have to worry about the wheels skidding if you grab too much brake. Although the ABS isn’t designed to be disabled, by doing a quick burnout for about three seconds you can get it to disengage and it will remain disabled until the ignition key is cycled.
With its short 56.5-inch wheelbase the Z is highly maneuverable and offers a favorable center of gravity. On the other hand, the horizontally-mounted shock doesn’t offer the same supple feel over bumps as the fork and didn’t feel completely planted at lean, either. It’s by no means bad, but an area where the Z could stand to improve.
No doubt the Z1000 is a nice motorcycle featuring quite a number of improvements for its $1500 price increase compared to the ’10 model. It looks sharp, rides easy and has plenty of speed and handling performance to have you smiling underneath your helmet. And while engineers have infused as much character as they can into its Inline Four, it’s still missing that edgy thrill that’s at the heart of some of its chief rivals. But if you can look past that and are seeking reliable transportation that you can ride day in and day out then Kawasaki certainly fits the bill.
- Smooth powerband with punchy mid-range
- Strong and easy-to-use brakes with ABS
- Bright headlights
- Rear suspension could be more supple over bumps
- Instrumentation isn’t in the rider’s immediate field of view
- ABS can’t be manually disabled