It’s gonna be a good year for moto-nudity. A damn good year. We already tasted the KTM Super Duke R and are still savoring its flavor while salivating like a bloodhound hot on the trail of riding BMW’s fairingless S1000R. But before we sink our teeth into the naked Bavarian, there’s the matter of Kawi’s newest unclothed hooligan, the 2014 Z1000 ABS.
The fourth-gen version of the bike launched a decade plus one year ago is endowed with smackdown aggressive Sugomi styling and a litany of new or upgraded performance attributes (most of which we covered in our EICMA 2013: 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 story). While the angrier-looking Z certainly appears to have the hooligan attitude, the unanswered question is if its touted performance enhancements justify the bike’s $1k increased MSRP.
A recent after dark, urban exposure ride through the streets of Los Angeles followed by an early morning rip up the mountains surrounding the LA Basin provided an initial glimpse into the bike Kawasaki has tasked with withstanding an increasing amount of naked hooligan competition. Our job was to determine if the new Z is up to the challenge or expose the lack of wherewithal to back up its Sugominess.
The 2014 Z certainly talks the talk, as two new airbox intake passageways give the engine a more visceral snarl from idle to redline. The real benefit being a pleasant musical/mechanical accompaniment for the rider while not disturbing the slumbering public as loud exhausts tend to do. And the Z certainly enjoys playing its favorite rpm tune en route to its crescendo when the red rpm lights begin at 10,500 revs.
In addition to the rush of forward acceleration made more prominent by virtue of shorter first-through-fifth gear ratios (sixth gear is slightly taller than last year’s model), as well as intake cams with 0.3mm less lift and 6° less duration, you’ll be feeling some high-frequency vibes as the Z’s engine comes to a boil around 7,000 rpm. Besides a minor off-to-on throttle abruptness (especially in first gear) modulating the 1043cc engine’s power delivery isn’t difficult even though the Z is absent traction control.
While the Ninja 1000 ABS and Z1000 ABS share many attributes such as new front radial-mount monobloc calipers and ABS braking, TC and selectable ride modes aren’t included in the Z’s arsenal of technology. ABS is, in fact, the only electronic tech gracing the Z. Kawasaki says it wants to maintain the raw experience of riding a hooligan. However, incorporating technology like ride modes and TC and being able to select the full-power Ride Mode and disabling the TC would achieve the same result while giving Z owners the option of utilizing more subdued settings if so desired.
The Z boasts new 41mm Separate Function Fork-Big Piston (SFF-BP) front suspension from Showa, a similar unit as fitted to the ZX-6R. The SFF-BP unit features preload adjustability on the top of the left tube while compression and rebound damping adjustments reside on the top of the right tube. Like the Ninja, the Z receives an updated horizontal back-link rear shock but lacks the remote preload adjuster of its Ninja counterpart. Nonetheless, the Z exhibited exemplary neutral handling during our brief period together in the mountains. Road imperfections on rough tarmac were easily absorbed while leaned over and, in faster, sweeping corners, the Z held its intended line. Kudos should also be extended to the performance of the stock Dunlop Sportmax D214s for providing good grip on a cool day.
Further review with the Z at more aggressive speeds on tighter canyon roads, where its 487-pound curb weight may exert its presence, is required before signing off on the Z’s cornering prowess. But for now, by way of its better suspension and new, lower handlebar, which puts more weight on the front end, we can confidently say that the Z doesn’t share the same front-end vagueness we experienced with the Ninja 1000. New six-spoke wheels drop more than four pounds of unsprung weight from the revised Z and certainly help with its lighter-than-487-pound feel.
The scowling face of the Z1000 features a Kawasaki-first four reflectorless LED headlight arrangement and a small cyclops light above them. The inner two LEDs are for low-beam usage while the outer pair comprise the high beams. The nighttime illumination field of the new LEDs is impressive by any standard. The taillight is also comprised of LEDs and is arranged in a stylish triangular pattern.
Other notable improvements include a half-gallon increase in fuel capacity, a slimmer subframe and brushed metal silencers. Attention to detail in the Z-patterned seat, cast aluminum mirrors and overall fit and finish are also laudable.
At $11,999 the new Z is priced well above Yamaha’s impressive FZ-09 ($7990) and equal to the exotic MV Agusta Brutale 800 ($11,998). Both of these bikes are dealing with their own gremlins (noted in our Four-Thirds Shootout: Tre Cool – Video), but they also offer savings or technologies that anyone desiring a new naked would likely consider. And with the aforementioned Super Duke R and S1000R as well as our Hooligan Bike of 2013, Aprilia’s Tuono V4 R, the available options are almost overwhelming.
Rest assured we will soon have a 2014 Z1000 ABS in our possession for a more thorough shakedown as well as pitting it against some of its most qualified contemporaries. If patience isn’t your virtue, however, we’re giving the Z1000 4 ¼ stars which should provide some modicum of confidence for purchasing the new Z. Or maybe Kawasaki had you at the word Sugomi.