With its adventurous styling and solid handling, the Z1000 is Kawasaki's biggest seller in Europe—now it's coming to the States
Streetfighter motorcycles are the exhibittionists of the sport-rider set. You know, people who want the kind of extroverted styling that attracts attention around town, but without the weight and size of a custom cruiser or the low-intensity experience those machines deliver.
Streetfighter bikes are extremely popular in Europe, and it's easy to see why. With the riding position of a standard motorcycle they're easier to wheel around the city. But there's enough performance and handling available for forays into the mountains.
In its latest iteration of the Z1000, Kawasaki takes the concept a step further, with more adventurous styling and an even more outlandish exhaust treatment. But whatever you think of the new look, this is a better bike in every way. The last Z1000 I rode had me wondering why a machine intended for this role would employ an engine with so little low-rev flexibility and so much vibration through the operating range.
That's all changed now. Kawasaki's engineers reshaped the cam profiles, massaged the fuel-injection system, reduced the valve sizes, increased flywheel mass, and lowered the gearing to improve low-speed response. An exhaust valve similar to those found on Kawasaki's sportbikes was fitted to further enhance engine flexibility.
Satisfied with the low- and mid-range power improvements, Kawasaki then revised the engine mounting system by moving all mount points closer to the engine's center of gravity, and by adding peculiar new outrigger engine mounts that embrace the cylinder block at each side to reduce the transmission of vibrations into the frame.
The result is a bike that now answers the throttle at low speeds with copious and smooth thrust much better suited to the bike's likely use patterns. Make no mistake, though, there's plenty of high-rpm energy available, with 125-horsepower up at a frenzied 10,000 rpm, where engine vibrations return to intensify an experience already made vivid by the tunnel vision and windblast accompanying rapidly increasing speed.
The thing is, you don't mind a little engine vibration when you're calling for all the acceleration the bike can give you, and now that's about the only time you feel it. Also improved is the ride. While still firmly suspended, the new Z1000 provides better small-bump damping through its 41mm inverted cartridge fork and Uni-Trak rear shock both of which offer spring preload and rebound damping adjustability than did its predecessor.
The Z1000 also seemed to handle better at the introductory ride in Sonoma, California, than I remember from the previous model. Initially, you notice a peculiar transitional sensation as the bike rolls over to the lean angle you're demanding perhaps because of an interaction between the very big (190-section) rear tire and the relatively small cross-section (120mm) front tire.
Beyond that, the big Z felt secure and well-planted, able to adopt big lean angles with no loss of perceived stability. The riding position has been tightened up by handlebars that are positioned closer to the rider, footpegs that are closer to the bike's center and a seat that is 1.5-inches slimmer than before. The seat doesn't allow much variation in seating position for tall riders, however, and a long ride eventually produced some soreness and stiffness in the old tailbone. In keeping with the comprehensive makeover, the brakes and instruments are thoroughly up-to-date items. The front brakes, in particular, have radial-mount calipers encircling petal-shaped rotors that might have come off a high-end sportbike, providing effortless deceleration with good feel at the lever.
Under the bikini windscreen up front is an instrument panel that combines a round, white-faced tachometer with an adjoining LCD panel housing a digital speedometer, odo/tripmeter, water temperature and fuel gauges, and a clock. Dual headlights brighten the path, but only one provides high-beam illumination, making the bike look a tad asymmetrical as it approaches.
But appearing a little strange is what streetfighters are all about. In Europe, the Kawasaki Z1000 is the company's biggest seller. The genre isn't nearly as popular in the States, but it is on the rise, thanks in part to Ducati's relatively affordable Monster range. When you think about it, the appeal is obvious. Under the brutal mechanical styling is a perfectly practical motorcycle, and there's no need to be a fashion victim to enjoy it. Obviously, those Europeans are not as dumb as we think.