Short on electronics, big on attitude and composure – the hotted up version of Kawasaki’s Z1000 makes you work for your fun
‘The composure and accuracy of the chassis is at odds with the engine’s frantic power delivery’
THERE IS NO getting away from the fact that after a morning spent riding the BMW S1000R and Yamaha MT-10, the new spicy version of Kawasaki’s Z1000 is, on the surface, a little underwhelming. No traction control, no quickshifter, no ride modes, no ballistic top-end power rush. ‘Bursting with features and innovation’ is not a description that immediately springs to mind when you’re asked to summarise the Zed-Arr.
It does, however, have more style and presence in its headlight than the other two bikes put together. Don’t mistake that statement as some kind of charitable bone tossed in the direction of Kawasaki – it isn’t. They’re acutely aware that the Z gets its hat nailed on by the Beemer and Yamaha when it comes to the spec sheet – a problem compounded by the fact the Zed costs £750 more than the Yamaha at least. But Kawasaki don’t seem to have lost sight of the fact that, for naked bikes, form is just as important as function, and they have paid a lot of attention to detail and build quality. It’s uncomplicated and distinctive; a ballsy naked.
Riding the Z1000R is like a trip down memory lane, but wearing running shoes and pumped full of EPO. The Zed’s fizzy engine is further flattered by its short gearing. Acceleration is a frenzy of shortshifts, intake noise, wheelies and above all speed. It gets to where it’s going just as quickly as the BMW and Yamaha, but it does it in a different way. Shorter, sharper hits of power in between the more frequent gearshifts contrasts with the longer, more plentiful power deliveries of the other two bikes. However unrefined it may feel, it is a lot more engaging, even more satisfying to ride. It does, however highlight the desperate need for a quickshifter, which would be a far more useful performance upgrade to the Z1000R, as opposed to its fantastically powerful Brembo M50 calipers. As brilliant as the M50s are, I would have happily swopped them for a quickshifter and some OE tyres more befitting the ‘performance’ tag given to the Z1000R.
The Zed benefits hugely from an Öhlins rear shock. The standard Z1000 can be quite harsh over
bumpy roads at speed, and hard to keep on line. The arrival of some Swedish porn is always welcome in any household, but in this case, the quality on offer is well received. Rattling down some of my favourite A and B-roads at unmentionable speeds, changing direction, hitting compressions while all the time taking in the post-winter rough and rippled surface, I’m able to put the Zed anywhere I want on the road, whenever I want, and it keeps tracking a line with pinpoint accuracy and stability. I’m seriously impressed at the composure and accuracy of the chassis, which is at odds with the engine’s frantic power delivery. It’s a wild ride, but with a large slice of control and composure at the same time. Nice.
It’s well documented that I’m no racing snake, so motorbikes and showers are always too small for me; but the Zed’s riding position is especially cramped, and I found myself leg-stretching just 50 miles into the ride. The seat is quite low, the handlebars quite close and the fuel tank really tall, so having room to move about and lever the bike into corners is, for me at least, not as easy as on the BMW and Yamaha. There isn’t much room for feet, either. Believe it or not, my boots are just size 44s, so pretty average (but tiny for my height – it’s a miracle I can stand up on a windy day), yet my heels are constantly in contact with the exhaust cans when I want to ride on the balls of my feet. It’s actually quite restrictive and distracting.
I do have a bit of a soft spot for the Z1000, though. I covered the launch of the first alloy-framed one in 2010, and observed: “If the formula for a supernaked = big torque + big power + upright riding position + aggressive looks, then Kawasaki have just added a fifth element – proper handling.” Seven years later, I stand by that. In fact, Kawasaki have moved it on to another level with this R-spec Z1000. But there’s no avoiding the fact that back in 2010 the Z1000 only had Honda’s bland CB1000R, Yamaha’s soft FZ-1 and Triumph’s bendy Speed Triple for company.
The game has moved on significantly since then in the supernaked sector, and while the Z1000R is well and truly the loser in a game of ‘Supernakeds Top Trumps,’ it still has that excellent alloy frame at its core. The posh suspension makes what the chassis has to offer even more accessible, and whether you love or hate its looks, there is absolutely no way you could accuse the Zed of being boring, bland or tacky. I loved spending time with it. I like the way it made me earn the wheelies or the momentum between corners, the noise it makes, and the fact that it is really, really fast.
Most of all – and call me oldfashioned here – I salute the fact that it’s a bike in its own right, and not related to anything else in the Kawasaki range. It may not have all the bells and whistles of just about every other bike in the sector, but it does have an image and identity they can only dream of.
‘Acceleration is a frenzy of shortshifts, intake noise, wheelies and speed’
Build quality and attention to detail are to be applauded
Brembo monoblocks are almost overkill
No more than a horn, indicators, full beam and hazards
Öhlins shock is largely responsible for the Zed’s composure
LCD dash is a simple, small affair