Kawasaki Z1000 ABS

Thoroughly refreshed for 2014, Kawasaki’s avant-garde Z1000 was designed to place its rider in an upright but aggressive riding position that, when coupled with its unusually low headlight nacelle, creates the illusion of a disappearing front-end.

Thoroughly refreshed for 2014, Kawasaki’s avant-garde Z1000 was designed to place its rider in an upright but aggressive riding position that, when coupled with its unusually low headlight nacelle, creates the illusion of a disappearing front-end.

I could be wrong (again), but I bet maybe 5% of the people who buy one of these is gonna ride it as hard as we just did. If you have enough track experience to grind its undercarriage, you probably already have a track bike, and if you ride it fast enough up and down Angeles Crest Highway to start finding its limits, you probably already have a “real” sportbike.

For the sort of everyday real-world urban assault/commuter use most people are going to use these bikes for – especially if you live someplace where curvy roads are few and far between – you can probably find just as much happiness with the Kawasaki as with any of them. It’s a rigid, tightly bolted-together taut little package in yoga pants – even a little too taut for some: “It’s weird to have the seat of an Italian bike – the Monster’s – be vastly more comfortable than that of a Japanese all-rounder like the Kawi,” says Duke. Some of questionable taste even like the way the Z looks, which is not bad once you get past the Salvador Dali limp headlight.

An interesting feature of the Z’s instrument cluster is the separation of the tachometer’s readout, with 1000-3500 rpm left of the MPH indicator while 3500 to redline resides as an illuminated display across the top.

An interesting feature of the Z’s instrument cluster is the separation of the tachometer’s readout, with 1000-3500 rpm left of the MPH indicator while 3500 to redline resides as an illuminated display across the top.

The new Showa Big Piston Fork up front really steps up the Z’s game, and the rear keeps up its end too – but the rear feels harsh over bumps compared to the other three bikes here (which are all really good), and that same tautness doesn’t allow the rear wheel to track as well as the others through bumps, cranked over and with the power on hauling the mail on a fast backroad: Those bumps feed to the front, where they don’t exactly upset the steering but due to the lack of steering damper, give the Z a less confident feel than the others.

Purists might like that there’s no traction control, and the Kawasaki’s relatively low output feels like it doesn’t need it on dry grippy pavement, anyway. Meanwhile, the BMW and KTM are using every bit of their horsepower and chassis advantages to clear off into the distance, laser-beaming confidently from apex to apex on an invisible wave of Teutonic electrons, “Ride of the Valkyries” booming out their exhaust pipes.

The Z gets a lot of grief for its polarizing looks, and although it’s not the hottest prom date, it’s not the worst … more like the girl with tats, piercings, green hair and a body to die for.

The Z gets a lot of grief for its polarizing looks, and although it’s not the hottest prom date, it’s not the worst … more like the girl with tats, piercings, green hair and a body to die for.

Trying to keep up means you’ll have to shift more, and you need big throttle openings to keep the 1043cc inline-Four fed, followed by more brakes, which begin to feel grabby when your inputs start to get hurried – then the gearbox starts feeling hard to downshift. In sport use, compared to the others, the Z needs to do more with less, and eventually begins to feel harried and porpoisy. The others are simply easier to ride fast. Riding medium or mellow, the Z’s fine.

Speaking of which, though its counterbalancer keeps the engine smooth at cruising speed, the Z is geared ridiculously low – probably to keep people from getting a death grip on the bars at 150 mph and starting a nasty oscillation. Raising the gearing a bit would make it an even better urban bike/commuter and would make it way easier to exploit its big fat torque curve. It already has a great ergonomic layout, ABS brakes, and if history is any indicator, greater long-term reliability and fewer things to go wrong, than anything else in this contest.

Only down six ponies to the Duc and seven ft-lbs to the BMW, the Z’s old-school inline-Four delivers power in a highly-usable fashion on the street, making it something of a stoplight weapon. It’s smooth too, noticeably less tingly than the BMW on the highway.

Only down six ponies to the Duc and seven ft-lbs to the BMW, the Z’s old-school inline-Four delivers power in a highly-usable fashion on the street, making it something of a stoplight weapon. It’s smooth too, noticeably less tingly than the BMW on the highway.

At $11,999, the Z is also the cheapest bike here. But as T. Roderick points out, a mere $1,151 more might put you in the base-model S1000R (if you can find one for MSRP). That’s about 10% more money for about 20% more motorcycle, if high performance is the goal. If you want a Kawasaki to keep up with the BMW and KTM, you’ll need to shop in the ZX-10R department.

–John Burns

KTM 1290 Super Duke R

Unlike the flowing corners on a track, tight canyon roads reveal the SDR’s gangly nature. Transitioning from one side to the other, the tall and long-wheelbase KTM travels more distance and feels physically largest.

What is it that makes a truly great motorcycle? Is it funky styling that introduces something uniquely cool to look at? Is it the strongest motor in a given segment? Maybe it is a chassis and suspension that work well, everywhere? Perhaps it is a wide performance envelop and the ergonomics to remain comfortable long enough to explore it? The answer ultimately, in the case of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R ABS is quite simply “All of the above.”

This is a motorcycle that can’t help but encourage its rider to ride it however they may want. A machine that can tour all day in comfort and also be highly entertaining on a 15-minute balls-out blast up the gnarliest canyon road, the Super Duke is kind of like a Kawasaki Versys 650, with equal comfort, even better handling, way-more style, twice the brakes, and three times the motor, all delivered in a package that weighs less than that nimble little Kawasaki 650. It really is that good, and is perhaps only a small windscreen away from true all-around perfection.

Fast? Oh yeah, it’s incredibly fast, as Burns so eloquently put it: “On fast roads, anytime the tach needle gets past 5000 and the motor starts making that moaning noise, the KTM is gaining on whatever’s ahead of it seems like. Its fantastic suspension makes the small chop disappear leaned over or upright.”

Although the KTM and Ducati wear the same front Brembo M50 Monobloc calipers with the Ducati gripping 330mm discs and the KTM 320mm discs, Burns felt the KTM provided better stopping power. “The KTM's superior ergos make it a more confident braker to me, even if the hardware is the same. Higher bars, feet in a better place, nicely shaped tank to clamp thighs upon, no?”

Although the KTM and Ducati wear the same front Brembo M50 Monobloc calipers with the Ducati gripping 330mm discs and the KTM 320mm discs, Burns felt the KTM provided better stopping power. “The KTM’s superior ergos make it a more confident braker to me, even if the hardware is the same. Higher bars, feet in a better place, nicely shaped tank to clamp thighs upon, no?”

But crazy insane outright velocity isn’t the only thing that makes the new 1290 Super Duke R so special. “The SDR has that sit-in, familiar feeling that makes it easy to ride fast as well as being comfortable for anything from commuting to light touring.” Says MO’s resident conspiracy theorist, Tom Roderick, adding, “The SDR’s upright riding position is more reminiscent of an Adventure-Touring bike than it is a Streetfighter.”

Duke chimed-in with: “Rider comfort is exceptional on the SDR; only short riders will complain due to the tall seat.” Burns then piled-on with his own comfort observations: “Man, for 5-foot, 8-inch me this thing just has perfect ergos. It’s so skinny at the footpegs it splays my pelvis less and makes the seat more comfortable, and there’s no rear suspension linkage taking up real estate so you can tuck your heels-in even tighter. As well-controlled as the suspension is, it still seems to offer a bit more plushness in the first bit of travel compared to the other bikes.” That last bit is a set of traits that are no doubt enhanced by its five inches of front- and six inches of rear-wheel travel.

I have to agree with my fellow editors, I spend a day touring SoCal’s inland empire freeways on this Super Duker, pre-shootout, and arrived back at my home feeling fresh as a daisy thanks to the KTM’s smooth ride, tall/cushy seat and generous legroom. Bottom line? This is a remarkably comfortable beast of a motorcycle.

The look of the Super Duke R has been described by our editors as “striking, cool, post-industrial, stealth fighter, contemporary, not pretty but not ugly, techno-funky.”

The look of the Super Duke R has been described by our editors as “striking, cool, post-industrial, stealth fighter, contemporary, not pretty but not ugly, techno-funky.”

It’s friendly as well: “For a clutch that has to clamp onto almost 100 ft-lb of torque, lever pull is amazingly light,” says Duke. He has a point there, that beast of a BEAST of a motor doesn’t really punish anything except its rear tire. The KTM is also friendly in other ways, like the aforementioned comfort, or its ability to go just as fast as anything else on two wheels without making the rider work hard at all. Well, perhaps a bit of effort is expended when trying to hang on as the thing accelerates – relentlessly – and the wind-blast builds. In traffic, maneuvering around lesser vehicles is simply a piece of cake, and thanks to the commanding view afforded by its upright riding position and long-suspension, the KTM is one of the most comfortable motorcycles on which to lane-split that I’ve encountered in years.

It’s no slouch in the electronics department either, as it offers not only traction control and ABS, but also selectable ride modes to tailor the TC and engine power delivery to one of three settings, Sport, Street, or Rain. Another electronic nicety… heated grips! Top it off with well over 40 mpg in real-world riding, or even 37.9 mpg when flogged relentlessly in the canyons and you get the picture of a motorcycle that truly can deliver the goods on every front except wind protection.

The SDR's motor has huge amounts of thrust all across the rev range. It's so stout at every rpm, it almost feels as if it has a little turbo bolted on. This is a seriously impressive motor!

The SDR’s motor has huge amounts of thrust all across the rev range. It’s so stout at every rpm, it almost feels as if it has a little turbo bolted on. This is a seriously impressive motor!

Gripes?  Yep, two.  First is that previously mentioned lack of wind protection, which is a weakness shared equally by every bike in this test. Second is an annoyance unique to the KTM: Switching off its traction control (and wheelie control) requires the bike to be stopped. And, despite needing a long button press to disable it, the TC would occasionally somehow turn itself back on while riding, and that’s a fairly significant flaw if not confined to our test unit.

Throughout our combined track and street testing, Roderick raved about the BMWs electronic doo-dads and its feature-to-value ratio. He made some good points, theoretically. In the real world, the KTM was the bike for every single rider on the street and once again at the track, Tom included. He is to be commended for trying to retain his impartial analytical professionalism, but one need only step back and observe our collective group fighting for the KTM’s keys, to realize just what an absolute superstar the 2014 KTM 1290 Super Duke R really is.

Value means more than a simple cost/benefit analysis. More to the point: When it comes to motorcycles “benefit” is more than a list of features, because how a bike makes you feel also carries tremendous weight. In this group, the KTM is the winner, by a mile.

–Sean Alexander

2014 Super Naked Street Brawl Scorecard
Category BMW S1000R Ducati Monster 1200S Kawasaki Z1000 ABS KTM 1290 Super Duke R
Price 50.0% 37.5% 100% 17.5%
Weight 100% 100% 80.0% 92.5%
Engine 90.3% 88.8% 76.9% 95.6%
Transmission/Clutch 90% 83.8% 73.8% 91.9%
Handling 97.5% 79.4% 70.0% 94.4%
Brakes 87.5% 88.8% 85.0% 92.5%
Suspension 96.3% 82.5% 70.6% 94.4%
Technologies 99.4% 86.9% 66.3% 89.4%
Instruments 93.8% 71.9% 83.1% 87.5%
Ergonomics/Comfort 85.6% 74.4% 82.5% 98.8%
Appearance 89.4% 81.9% 84.4% 88.1%
Cool Factor 86.3% 81.2% 70.0% 91.3%
Grin Factor 86.3% 80.0% 70.0% 97.5%
Overall Score 91.1% 83.2% 78.1% 92.2%
Scores are listed as a percentage of editors’ ratings in each category. The Engine category is double-weighted, so the Overall Score is not a total of the displayed percentages but, rather, a percentage of the weighted aggregate raw score.​​

Although Duke and Roderick had the BMW ahead on the ScoreCard, Alexander’s and Burns’ scores weren’t as kind to the S1000R, thus pushing the KTM past the Beemer by the narrowest of margins. What it comes down to in the end is the fact that KTM has crafted a streetfighter, that, even with a relative technological handicap, manages to outperform its competition in every way.

This image sums up the hair by which the KTM defeated the BMW in this shootout as well as the track competition. These two now go head-to-head with Aprilia’s Tuono.

This image sums up the hair by which the KTM defeated the BMW in this shootout as well as the track competition. These two now go head-to-head with Aprilia’s Tuono.

Unlike the split decision between the KTM and BMW, the editors were unanimous in their ranking of the Ducati third and the Kawasaki fourth. The Ducati should be a little better for $16k, and honestly, the same can be said for the Kawasaki at $12K.

The Ducati easily hung with the BMW and KTM when blasting out of the tight corners. The Z1000’s handling unfortunately doesn’t match its visual impression. The Kawi feels heavy and reluctant to change direction.

The Ducati easily hung with the BMW and KTM when blasting out of the tight corners. The Z1000’s handling unfortunately doesn’t match its visual impression. The Kawi feels heavy and reluctant to change direction.

Next, stay tuned for the ultimate streetfighter title match between the reigning champ Aprilia Tuono V4R APRC ABS, and our new title contender the Super Duke R, along with the S1000R which we’re throwing-in for good measure.

BMW S1000R Ducati Monster 1200S Kawasaki Z1000 ABS KTM 1290 Super Duke R
MSRP $14,950 $15,995 $11,999 $16,999
Engine Capacity 999cc 1198cc 1043cc 1301cc
Engine Type Inline-Four 90° V-Twin Inline-Four 75° V-Twin
Bore x Stroke 80 x 49.7 mm 106 x 67.9mm 77.0 x 56.0mm 108 x 71mm
Compression 12.0:1 12.5:1 11.8:1 13.2:1
Horsepower/Torque 155.3 hp @ 11,200 rpm / 79.7 ft-lb. @ 9,500 rpm 130.8 hp @ 8,700 rpm / 84.8 ft-lb. @ 7,400 rpm 124.0 hp @ 10,400 rpm / 71.6 ft-lb. @ 7,900 rpm 156.0 hp @ 9,100 rpm / 96.5 ft-lb. @ 8,200 rpm
Fuel System Electronic fuel injection Electronic fuel injection Electronic fuel injection Electronic fuel injection
Transmission Six-Speed Six-Speed Six-Speed Six-Speed
Final Drive Chain Chain Chain Chain
Frame Aluminum composite bridge frame Tubular steel Trellis frame attached to the cylinder heads Aluminum Backbone Tubular space frame made from chrome molybdenum steel, powder-coated
Front Suspension Dynamic damping control semi-active suspension Ohlins fully adjustable 48mm usd forks 41 mm inverted SFF-BP fork with stepless compression and rebound damping and spring preload adjustability / 4.7 in. WP Suspension Up Side Down
Rear Suspension Dynamic damping control semi-active suspension Progressive linkage with fully adjustable Ohlins monoshock Horizontal back-link single shock with adjustable preload and stepless rebound damping / 4.8 in. WP Suspension Monoshock
Front Brakes Dual 320mm floating rotors, fixed radial-mount 4-piston calipers Dual 330mm semi-floating rotors, radial-mount Brembo evo M50 4-piston Monobloc calipers, radial pump master cylinder and ABS Dual 310mm petal-type rotors with radial-mount four-piston monobloc calipers and ABS Dual rotors with Brembo evo M50 4-piston Monobloc calipers and ABS
Rear Brakes Single 220mm rear rotor, single piston floating caliper 245mm rear rotor, 2-piston floating caliper and ABS Single 250mm petal-type discs with single-piston caliper and ABS Single rear rotor with two-piston caliper
Front Tire 120/70 ZR17 120/70 ZR17 120/70 ZR17 120/70 x17
Rear Tire 190/55 ZR17 190/55 ZR17 190/50 ZR17 190/55 x17
Seat Height 32.0 in 30.9 – 31.9 in 32.1 in 32.8 in
Wheelbase 56.7 in 59.5 in 56.5 in 58.3 in
Rake/Trail 24.6º/3.9 in 24.3º/3.7 in 24.5º/4.0 in 24.9º/4.21 in
Curb Weight 459 lbs 461 lbs 487 lbs 469 lbs
Fuel Capacity           / MPG  / Est. Range 4.6 gal36.9 MPG

170 Miles

4.6 gal39.0 MPG

179 Miles

4.5 gal36.3 MPG

163 Miles

4.7 gal37.9 MPG

178 Miles

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