KAWASAKI Z1000R

Short on elec­tron­ics, big on at­ti­tude and com­po­sure – the hot­ted up ver­sion of Kawasaki’s Z1000 makes you work for your fun

Performance Bikes (UK) - - Performance Bikes - Words John McAvoy

‘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

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