Road Test: 1995 Kawasaki GPz1100
Kawasaki has long been famous for making bikes with class-leading power: The first production motorcycle to rip down the quarter mile in under 11 seconds? GPz 750 Turbo (10.99 seconds in 1984). Fastest production bike made? The ZX-11. Their dominance dates back to the late 1960s and those evil handling two-strokes -- first came the 500cc H1 "Mach III," (12.4 seconds in the quarter mile) and the aptly nicknamed "widow-makers," the 750cc triple H2s.
Later came a slew of powerful four-strokes, the 900cc inline-four Z1 and the big KZs, taken to prominence in the American roadracing series by the likes of Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey.
The early 1980s saw the advent of the all-conquering GPz and in 1982, the KZ1000ELR, in commemoration of Eddie's 1981 Superbike Championship; 1984 saw the introduction of the Ninja, a name that has been synonymous with the term sportbike ever since.
Enter the year 1995. By resurrecting the GPz name, Kawasaki hopes to lure those buyers who long for the glory days of yore when the motorcycle industry was in its hey-day, and horsepower was king. Of course, everyone conveniently forgets that, in the late 1970s and 80s, horsepower wasn't king and bikes were tuned for broad, usable powerbands.
Displacement, real enthusiast would argue, was the name of the game back then. But we digress: The official model designation of the GPz1100 is ZX1100E, which immediately stirs up images of the GPz's big brother, the retina-melting ZX-11, yet the big surprise is that the GPz gets a de-tuned version of its famous brother's motor.
Rather than bring back a straight-line missile in retro-guise, Kawasaki designed a bike that would capture the fun of 1980's motorcycling -- big torque across a wide powerband -- with modern-day sporting capabilities. And they've done an excellent job, building a bike that pinches pennies where it doesn't matter for street riders -- for instance, by using a steel backbone frame instead of a costly extruded aluminum twin-spar unit -- and delivers world-class torque in a package that includes excellent brakes and a comfortable riding position.
The motor changes are aimed at making the GPz 1100 a "user-friendly" machine, with more low-end grunt and less top-end terror than the frighteningly fast ZX-11. The GPz does without the ZX's pressurized ram-air intake system -- necessary for that 180mph top-end rush, but ineffective for the rest of us that spend 99.9 percent of our time below 125 mph (you do spend most of your time below double-digits, we hope).
Other refinements include camshafts with less lift and duration, and 4mm smaller carburetors. Spent gasses exit through a four-into-two-into-two exhaust pipe -- claimed to boost midrange power without sacrificing too much top end. The result is an exceptionally smooth torque curve, and a near-linear rise in the horsepower curve.
"With loads of power down low -- enough to out-power the ZX-11 to 4400 rpm -- it gets out of corners quickly, and has tremendous top gear roll-on acceleration."
Mind you, the GPz builds speed deceptively quick: With the torque peak at a mere 4800 rpm, the curve drops slightly yet remains impressively flat to about 9000 rpm, meaning you're going to accelerate hard now. "Any gear, any time" the GPz1100 taunts its rider, "and I'll launch your ass down the road." Naturally, throttle response is quick and carburetion is smooth from near idle with no surging or hiccups throughout the rev-range.
Add up all that torque, a smooth, progressive and abuse-loving clutch, and what do you get? Why, 11.09 seconds in the quarter mile at 121.15 mph. More impressive is the fact that the GPz hauled past the 60 foot mark in 1.562 seconds, our best-ever launch (second best is now the 1996 CBR600F3, 1.735 seconds) and a good indication of how well the GPz1100 can dust other bikes off the line. Of course, there's a catch -- you have to be sitting way back on the seat, as it spins the tire at anything near half throttle. Even when the horsepower starts to build, it'll spin the tire before it wheelies. Don't believe us? Then download some on-board dragstrip footage and time it yourself.
Coupled to the front of the bike is a conventional non-adjustable 41mm fork, and the rear end is suspended with Kawasaki's UniTrak mono-shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. Overall, the suspension is quite comfortable for everyday use, and is an excellent compromise between being able to absorb freeway bumps and potholes and being stiff enough to handle a canyon road at a good clip.
"At a claimed 533 lbs dry, with a top speed of over 150 miles per hour, the brakes had better be top of the line.
These are some of the best stock brakes we have tested. A two-finger squeeze on the lever and the brakes respond with instant bite, slowing the bike down in a big hurry. Up front are a pair of twin-piston floating calipers that grip a pair of 300mm discs. Feedback and power are excellent. Out back is a thick 250mm rotor that offers good power without being too eager to lock the wheel.
With the suspension being so compliant on the freeway, it is easy to get the chance to appreciate the ergonomics of the bike. The most noticeable is the fairing, which offers more wind protection than the standard race-replica bike, and is functional enough to divert air around the rider's chest without making you look like you're riding a floating boat tourer. Even six-footers can ride in comfort, out of annoying wind draft, but still get a refreshing stream of air through the helmet vents. The fairing's modest lowers keep most of the rider's leg out of the path of rain and wind, but your hands remain out in the elements.
The fairing also houses the dashboard which contains a tachometer, speedometer, liquid-crystal clock, temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge and gas gauge. The GPz's gas gauge seemed typical of most motorcycle gauges in that it does not move from the "full" mark until you've gone at least 50 miles, and will drop the last third of the range quite quickly. But none of this really matters since the bike also has a mechanical petcock that switches the cavernous tank onto reserve. And with almost six gallons between fill-ups, gas stops are few and far between. We averaged about 42 mpg while cruising at 70 mph fully loaded.
Fortunately the ergonomics match the fuel capacity. Low footpegs, roomy seat and bars that don't force the rider into the prone position mean that the bike is comfortable enough to run over 500 miles in one day. In fact, Editorial Intern Todd Canavan cruised 1178 miles in one day on the GPz, and even slept on the tank for an hour or so in the middle of the night. With optional hard luggage, the GPz1100 could become one of the year's best road-going sport-touring bikes.
After putting over 4,000 miles on our GPz, the true value of the newest Kawasaki entry into the realm of the sport tourer is every bit as good as they could have hoped for, and possibly better: The GPz's value lies not in being the most powerful motorcycle on the planet. Rather, it's as fun to ride as it is useful. The GPz 1100 is, however, a shy bike, only revealing its character after you get the time to experience it, rather than screaming its intent at you from the showroom floor.
By taking the best of the past and combining it with modern advantages of the present, and sharing lineage with the most brutally fast bike made, Kawasaki has done what other manufacturers wish they could do this well -- build a bike from the past, only better with help from today's technology, all the while retaining the performance and character that made the old bike a popular seller.
1. Brent Plummer, Editor
Oddly, the first thing I thought of as I pulled out of Kawasaki's warehouse was: "This bike is everything Triumph wants to be." The GPz1100 mixes the old technology of a steel backbone frame and non-adjustable suspension with a modern motor and brakes better than any other bike -- including Triumphs -- in a relatively low-cost package. The suspension is perfect from the factory, the motor is awesome and the brakes are even better. We rode our GPz1100 to hell and back (South Dakota in the middle of a heat wave, that is), up and down the drag strip, wrung it out on the dyno and wheelied it through the canyons. Never once did it overheat, fail to start or otherwise complain. The specially built Bridgestone VT-54 tires offered superior lifespan, but did lack a little traction -- we easily slid it out of corners up in the canyons surrounding Los Angeles, so be careful. Or, just don't floor it when fully leaned over in the turns -- that massive torque can bite back! At any rate, the GPz1100 is perfect, it's awesome it's the best thing since the Z1 900 kicked everyone's ass back in '73. If you're looking for a powerful bike, buy a GPz1100. The GPz1100, at least in my eyes, earns our first-ever five star rating.*****
2. Mike Franklin, Managing Editor.
As a confirmed sportbike weenie, I like the GPz yet miss the top end rush of the bike its motor came from, the ZX-11. In some special occasions, horsepower will be the determining factor in deciding whether a bike is going to sell well. More often, as it should be, real world practicalities take over and little things like whether or not there is a digital clock on the dash can decide a bike's fate.
Riding a dedicated race-replica on the street demands respect for the machine and generous amounts of self-control if you want to stay alive. For those that qualify, the rewards are addictive. For most everyone else, in it for the practicality or convenience, standard-style bikes like the GPz1100 are the order of the day.
Fortunately, this blue plate special is not just warmed-up leftovers. The non-adjustable fork is, as our Kawasaki rep likes to say whenever we moan about the fact, perfect from the factory. The brakes are truly awesome for a bike of this weight, and with a better set of tires, it would put a lot of full-on sport bikes to shame in the tight stuff -- until the rider got tired of hefting the thing around. It definitely feels heavy when the going gets fast, and the low-end grunt can easily overcome the stock tire's side grip adding to the rider's level of concentration and consequently fatigue.
But for your average rider on an average day, this is an above-average bike. On the down side, fit and finish, especially around the dash area, are not up to the quality standards we have become used to in this day and age, and they took away all that horsepower. I'll give this bike four stars. ****
3. Todd Canavan, Editorial Assistant
Having spent many hours and too many miles aboard the GPz, I'm here to tell you that the GPz1100 is a really great bike. It tears me apart to like it, I am supposed to like killer race replica bikes, and don't want to admit that I like a bike that has the "L" word (luggage) as an option. But the GPz has changed me. The big, torquey motor that lets you pass at will, the awesome stock brakes proved themselves worthy and the all-day comfort was a boon when I cruised from Northern Colorado to Los Angeles in one day.
I have always liked tinkering with my bikes, but I don't think that I would even put a pipe on the GPz unless I was assured that it would keep the bitchin' jet engine noise and would add even more midrange.
The down side of the bike is that, at 533 pounds dry, it is heavier than I would like, but that is the racer-replica side of me peeking out again. A cool upside-down fork, and more power would be on my wish list also, but these very things are what would kill the soul of the GPz by raising the price to that of an open class sportbike, where it would be beaten by the trim, steroid-fed fighters that dominate that class. In all, I'm glad Kawasaki made a bike for "regular folks" instead of making a run-of-the-mill open class sport bike and calling it practical, but I'm saving all five star ratings for orgasmically horsepower-laden bikes and give the GPz four stars for it's all-around ability, and daily practicality.****
Manufacturer: Kawasaki Model: 1995 GPz1100 Price: $7999 Engine: dohc, 16-valve, inline-Four Bore x stroke: 76.0 x 58.0mm Displacement: 1052 cc Carburetion: (4) 36mm Keihin Transmission: 6-speed Wheelbase: 59.6 in. Seat height: 31.1 in. Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal. Claimed dry weight: 533.6 lbs