2011 Literbike Streetfighter Shootout
Honda CB1000R vs. Kawasaki Z1000 vs. Triumph Speed Triple
2011 Kawasaki Z1000 $10,599
While the Honda’s strength is feathery handling, the Kawasaki’s heartbeat is in the engine room – even if it didn’t prove to be King of Horsepower Hill against the cheater Speed Triple.
“The Z’s engine is a monster,” exclaimed Troy. “It’ll burble down low and run out of steam up high, but in the middle it’s a screamer.” Likewise, Kevin said the Z1000’s engine “has acres of grunt for an inline-Four,” and that from 3000 rpm it “stomps all over the poor Honda.”
Music to a gearhead’s ears is the snort from the engine’s intake – it paints an aural picture of the formidable forces the Kawi is producing. Kevin said the sound emanating from the intake made a “rambunctiously wonderful honk” when hard on the gas, and that it made him forget for a minute “about the enviable sonic qualities of fitting an aftermarket exhaust.” Despite this, he wondered if the Z’s top-end power is maybe hampered a bit by the intake.
During a trip to the dyno Kevin noticed that a Ninja 1000 (which has a different airbox than the Z) tested on the same day as the Z1000 cranked out a couple more horsepower from 9000 rpm to the 10,500-rpm rev limit.
Power delivery from the Z’s engine is smooth and nearly as linear as the Speed Triple’s engine. Furthermore, once past the 6000-rpm mark the Kawasaki deserts the CB-R in a hurry, leaving the Honda with no hope of closing an ever-widening gap.
“The Z’s combo of a cooperative clutch, short gearing and deep well of power make it an ace dragracer,” said dragstrip vet Kev. “A good rider can, from a dead stop, easily float its front wheel entirely across an intersection.”
A fully adjustable 41mm inverted fork does the work of keeping the front tire in contact with the pavement (when not wheelying), while the shock, like the Honda’s, provides for spring preload and rebound damping adjustments. We felt the Z’s chassis was well balanced, and while not necessarily better damped than the other two bikes, when ridden aggressively it was more stable than the Honda.
The Z’s physical presence gives an initial impression that agility isn’t part of its repertoire, but the ease with which this Kawasaki changes direction is surprising. There is, however, a fly in the Kawasaki’ handling ointment: a big rear tire.
“The Z1000 has a slight reluctance to turn quickly and a need for continual inside bar pressure,” lamented Kevin. He and Troy agreed the flatter profile of the Z’s 190/50 rear tire was the culprit. Kevin was caught daydreaming about how much better the Kawi might steer if it had the CB-R’s 180-size rear bun.
Ergonomically the Kawasaki is somewhere between the Triumph and the Honda. Troy felt the Z1K is fairly neutral but its bar position is biased forward a skosh more than the Honda’s.
“From the waist up it almost feels like I’m riding a dirtbike because I’m sitting really close to the bars and my elbows are up,” said Troy. The Z also provides a broad, comfortable saddle with plenty of room fore and aft, but unlike the Speed and CB that offer adjustable-reach clutch and brake levers, it’s only the Z’s brake lever that is adjustable.
On the subject of brakes, we’ve always admired the powerful grip on tap from the Z’s radial-mount four-pot units. Sensitivity at the lever allows for easy modulation of the abundant stopping force housed in the Tokico calipers. Initial bite is a little on the soft side according to Troy, but he did, however, note, “For having rubber lines, the brakes on the Kawi are very good.”
After a day aboard the menacing looking Z1000, it left us with little to complain about. Save for some handling peccadilloes due to a fat and squat rear tire, the Z should make lots of sport-riding nuts happy. From tip to tail, it’s a bike we’ve liked since its December 2009 launch. And in this crowd of three machines it has a distinct advantage: price.
“At $1200 cheaper than the S3,” Kevin observed, “the Z easily wins our bang-for-the-buck award, delivering a massively grunty inline-Four wallop and stout chassis, along with funkily futuristic styling. Being able to run with this improved Speed Triple is a huge accomplishment.”