2003 Naked 1000 Shootout
The Owl and the Pussycat: Kawasaki Z1000 vs. Suzuki SV1000
Traditionally, in order for a contest to be interesting, whether you're talking a sporting event, a spelling bee, even a back-alley fist fight, there should exist a fundamental aspect of similar traits among its contestants to be truly engaging. However, with regard to doing a comparison between the Kawasaki Z1000 and the Suzuki SV1000, it came down to not so much two bikes squaring off and a winner emerging but a study in the range being represented by today's manufacturers within specific categories. The straight-ahead shoot-out doesn't apply because the two bikes are apples and oranges. The question isn't what's better but what are you in the mood for... an apple or an orange?
First off, if you're likely to use the term "hooligan" to address the standard class of motorcycles, you can stop reading, I can tell you right off you're going to prefer the Kawasaki. If you refer to this rapidly growing, popular class as "up-right," there's a greater possibility the Suzuki will fit just fine into your expectations of what a motorcycle needs to deliver to get the job done.
Let's start with the skin-deep stuff. The Kawasaki strikes a mean and nasty pose to the Suzuki's respectable, clean lines and traditional appeal. The Kawasaki looks as fast standing still as it does shredding back canyons. Its pointy tail section and bikini fairing give it a sleek, modern look. It comes in Black Pearl or Pearl Blazing Orange. The Suzuki has simple, angular lines and comes in blue or silver. The square mirrors are a little strange in design but the box frame is very cool. Being a twin it's nice and narrow. This must be the year of the brake/tail light. The Kawy has a cat eyes design and the Suzuki sports a stacked bulb layout that looks very high-tech. As long as we're talking looks we might as well mention the girl's weight. The SV1000 weighs in at a trim 412lbs while the Kawasaki tips out at 437.
Obviously the big initial difference between these two machines is the engine configuration. It's the all too familiar; V-twin versus an in-line 4. Naturally, being an in-line 4 the Kawasaki is a screamer, loves to rev and gets its horsepower jollies, a whopping 125, at just a tad over 10,000rpm. The Suzuki's 90 degree V-Twin makes it a forgiving, low-end torque fiend, thumping good time and gets its 110 horses at 9,150rpm. But don't get too swept away with stats from the dyno. The Suzuki has a huge amount of V-twin grunt right off the bottom and up through mid-range. This is exactly why we love the V-twins so much. There may be fewer horses there, but they're more usable and a lot easier to find. Both bikes love to wheelie. The Suzuki a little more so. The designers must have known they were going to have a wheelie machine on their hands and built in a rear seat pinion that you can press your backside into to feel secure when the front end comes up, which it's bound to do more and more frequently as you get familiar with the bike.
Z-1000 & SV1000 Specifications
Swing a leg over either bike and you fall into nicely laid out ergonomics. The engineers at Kawasaki have the edge with instrumentation, having mastered the art of cramming an enormous amount of gauge information into a diminutive dash area. The tiny instrument cluster carries everything you need to know in close proximity with easy to read faces. An LCD tach and digital LCD speedo and (why don't all the manufacturers do this)... a fuel gauge.
The Suzuki is more laid out, a little saner with regard to seat/bar/peg relations. Tachometer placement is a bit conspicuous. It seems to jut way out in front of you, hovering above the front wheel. Easy to see, that's for sure.
Having dispensed with the niceties of introduction let's get into the real deal. The Kawasaki loves to be ridden. Hard, fast, whatever. It holds any kind of corner with equal aplomb; high-speed sweepers, tight little choppy turns, quick switchbacks, everything. If you decide to hang off in the corners the Kawasaki will stroke your ego, however erroneously, with the idea that you look just like Eddie Lawson in his Team Green days. Dream on. But isn't that what it's all about anyway? I would suggest a steering stabilizer if you intend to do any serious pushing on the Kawasaki. I repeatedly got the front end light coming out of corners (very easy to do under throttle) and if the road surface was at all rough or uneven there'd be a disconcerting shimmy in the front end. The Suzuki already comes equipped with a stabilizer. Nice touch.
Jumping straight from the Kawasaki onto the SV answered one thing very clearly, the Suzuki doesn't handle like the Z. The front end begins to swim and skate around under any kind of hard driving. Perhaps if I had had the bike long enough to make adjustments to the shock/fork set-up I could have eliminated some of that mid corner, meandering the Suzuki's front end seems to encounter under, and I stress this, very hard pushing. As for the rear, the back end stepped out on me several times under hard exits of turns. It feels as though the motor is turning out power that doesn't know where to go, resulting in power snaps when you wick the throttle up when leaned over too far. Apply a little caution when getting on the gas hard. This, perhaps, is the biggest difference between the two machines. The Kawasaki goes prowling for twisties and you're tempted to ride the thing fast and hard. The Suzuki is happy to take in the scenery leisurely or at a decent clip and is the more sedate (read perhaps 'sane' here) of the two bikes.
The brakes on both bikes are excellent. The Kawasaki's accentuated by the thinnest, most perfectly formed brake lever out there. I love these levers. There was a slight fading experienced with the Z's front brake pads on exceptionally steep downhill canyon runs with lots of heavy braking. Nothing to get excited about. The Suzuki is aided in the binders department by the engine-braking inherent with the V-twin, always a welcome trait.
Don't be fooled by the Z1000's little Bikini fairing, it keeps the blast off right up till 80mph. However, after that, like a spigot, the wind hits you hard. A little tiring on long freeway runs. Evidently Kawasaki is making available a slightly larger one in aftermarket. I suppose a law enforcement officer reading this would say, "80mph? What are you doing going 80mph?" The Suzuki, sans any kind of wind protection at all, buffets the rider only moderately at freeway speeds.
The transmission on the Kawasaki is tight as a drum, each shift, no matter how sloppy the rider, finds the gear you're looking for. The Z1000 will share with its little brother, the 636, the award for the hardest bike to get into neutral at a stoplight. You will literally find yourself pulling and tugging at the shifter, looking for neutral for so long that the light will turn to green before you find it. The throw of the Suzuki's shifter seemed a little long but shifts were positive and smooth. The torque and wide powerband of the V-twin results in a lot less shifts than the Kawasaki taking in the same section of road.
Despite its racy good looks the Kawasaki is surprisingly comfortable and I logged 550 miles in a single day of canyon flogging. That's right. 550 miles of twists and turns that had me minimally cramped and aching at the end of the day. However, as you can imagine, the Suzuki gets the nod here for overall, in the seat all day comfort.
Then Vs. Now: Kawasaki's H2 and Z1000
I just couldn't resist pulling out my 1972 Kawasaki H2 750 and parking it alongside the new Z1000. There it is, I thought - 30 years of moto-evolution, Kawasaki style. Seventy horsepower for the 750 versus 126 for the Z1000. Butt-simple piston-port induction to narrow-angle multi-valve heads. Primitive round slide carbs to computer-controlled electronic fuel injection.
You might argue that the H2 is better compared to Kawasaki's monster ZX-12, since, like the ZX, the H2 was Kawasaki's top-shelf screamer when it came out, whereas the Z1000 is somewhat of a price-point naked standard. But of course, back then we didn't have all the specialized niche-bikes we do today; one size had to fit all. And, it's a two-stroke triple, so some would say the original 900cc Z1 would be a closer ancestor. But I digress.
Riding the old ring-dinger really builds an appreciation for how far motorcycle technology has come. In fact, that's one of the pleasures of keeping vintage machinery; you really learn to love the brakes, handling, and power of modern machinery after scaring yourself silly wobbling through a corner, right before you squeeze a four-fingered, white-knuckled death grip on the front binder to (attempt to) slow down....
Ah, yes, side-by-side, the rosy glow of nostalgia shatters like a dropped glass on cold, hard reality.
That said, the H2 really is a fun ride, with its manic two-stroke rush and sound. In contrast, the nearly silent sewing machine whine of the Z1000's fancy schmancy four-pipe exhaust is boring and generic. And the H2's ride isn't half bad once you swap out the mushy plastic swingarm bushings and limp rear shocks to tapered rollers and modern aftermarket boingers. Slap on some braided steel brake lines and the front brake is almost decent. Almost.
As cool as the Z1000 looks, however, the H2 soundly trumps it for cachet and sheer old-school cool. Ride the H2 to the motorcycle hangout of your choice and you'll be surrounded by admirers, many of whom will have a story or two about their experiences with the triple: "I broke every bone in my body on one of them things" etc., etc. That probably explains why clean H2s are fetching up to $15,000 on the market these days. Yep, you read right: one sicko paid fifteen thousand dollars for a new, never ridden 1975 H2 on eBay this past July. Think you'll ever pull down $15k for an old Z1000? Wait 30 years....
At the end of the day, I'd still jump on the Z1000 for commuting duty or canyon action -- 1972 is a fun place to visit, but I wouldn't wanna live there.
On the subject of fuel, you learn to top the Z's tank off right up to the very base of the filler ring to get the maximum range. The width of the gas tank is such that if you merely let the pump shut off you're giving up a good bit of room, and ultimately some serious miles later on when you may need them most. The designers of the Z were overly zealous about ensuring no ugly key slot for the rear tail section pollute their sleek design lines and decided to hide it. They did a good job. Too good. Following my call to Kawasaki to answer the mystery I was able to appreciate their approach. Don't expect me to tell you where the key slot is, you can make your own call. Curious?
In the end I had to ask myself, is this a true comparison? It doesn't feel like it. The Kawasaki Z1000 looks, acts and feels like a mean and nasty naked bike, capable of carving up any canyon with the likes of any sportbike. The Suzuki feels more akin with a daily commuter that you can take the occasional romp through the canyons on. A perfect commute bike with a V-twin like-ability. The Suzuki's motor is hard not to enjoy. You can be lazy in stop and go traffic and the torque of the engine makes up for it. The SV doesn't really overwhelm in any single category, it's more of an all around bike, doing a decent, acceptable job of everything I threw at it.
On the practical side of things the Suzuki has an easy to swallow MSRP of $7,999. However, given the Kawasaki's edginess and screaming persona, its MSRP of $8,499 isn't that much more to pay for what you're getting, if in fact, a screamer is what you're looking for.
If you were casting a youth movie about a high school and needed to assign motorcycles to establish character, the Z1000 would belong to the tough, James Dean kid. Leather jacket, plays hooky and all the bad girls hope he'll look their way. The SV1000 would be given to the "most likely to succeed" student with designs on a college education and a career. He'd win over the cute, sassy uptown girl.
It would be wrong to make this a winner take all comparison. Ultimately it comes down to what you're looking for; a bike to re-invigorate your senses and stroke your ego or an all-around motorcycle that purrs. These two machines fill two very different voids. You have to decide if you're in the market for a stealthy hunter (the Kawasaki's owl) or more of a comfortable, easy to ride bike (the Suzuki's pussycat). These bikes are as different as the feline is to the bird, sharing only one element... they both have claws when provoked.
And Now, The Intangibles...
When yet another new guy @ MO hit the streets with these two bikes, this here is what he took note of...