Big, Naked and Beautiful: Open-Class Standards 2006

2007 Buell XB12Ss v. 2006 Honda 919 v. 2006 Kawasaki Z1000 v. 2006 Yamaha FZ-1

Page 4

2006 Kawasaki Z1000
The Devil on your shoulder Kawasaki Z1000

Bad, bad, Leroy Brown. That's how we think of the Z1000; Fonzie thinks of it as a "true transformer toy for adults, capable of changing the ride from commuter to hooligan with a twist of the wrist." Kawasaki excels at putting powerful motors into comfy frames; look at the GPZ1100 or the ZRX1200. This bike is better yet; how can a 127 hp motor in an upright bike be bad?

The styling is controversial, to say the least. Some of us missed the cool paint schemes of the early Z1000, but none of us liked the funky four-into-whatever-into-four exhausts and wished Kawasaki would just replace it with a single muffler (Looking at the sneak pictures of the 2007 gives a perfect illustration of "be careful what you wish for"-Editor). There are numerous little plastic shields and covers on this bike; combined with the "spray can" paint job, the bike had a slightly cheap appearance to some of us, but others liked the edgy, aggressive look.

The seating position is OK, but not as nice as the other bikes; the saddle slopes forward and the bars are positioned awkwardly. The pegs are low, and the bike is low enough to allow a smaller person like Gabe or Pete to enjoy such a big, bad machine. The seat is soft, but the foam packs down too quickly and isn't as comfortable as the other machines.

Who cares about that stuff anyway; there are some serious ponies down there starved for affection. The fuel-injected motor starts up easily, with no need of the fast-idle lever. At lower RPM, it's smooth enough, with that characteristic Kawi sound from the airbox. Snap the precise gearbox into first and let out the smooth clutch and it responds with crisp, spot-on fueling. Give it too much throttle and it responds with less civility. As the revs climb, vibration sets in and the front wheel is suddenly aloft.

"Who cares about that stuff anyway; there are some serious ponies down there starved for affection."

Clicking through the gears and keeping on the gas has you going very fast, very quickly. Like a lot of Kawasaki products, the Z1000 is a rolling trophy case for a very powerful engine.

How is it on that twisty road? It's not remarkable performance-wise, but it's not too bad, either. As with all these bikes, the upright, wide bar and sporty chassis allows for quick steering, although Gabe noted a "top-heavy feel". Overall, this bike doesn't really stand out in the handling department.

Being a hooligan could get you banished to remote desert locales.

Ride quality is competent, but unremarkable. The forks-which look sourced from the ZX-9R-have only provisions for rebound damping (and then in just one fork leg), but offer up a smooth, if squishy ride.

The rear shock is similarly non-descript. What can we say? It works, but doesn't really shine. Brakes are a lot like the 919's; late 90's four-pot jobs that lack the feel and bite of more-modern equipment but still get the job done. Jeez! Damming with faint praise, aren't we? How does this thing become runner-up, besting Honda's overall quality and competence as well as the Buell's slick techno-fripperies?

We didn't have time to photoshop a wheelie picture of Gabe.

Did Sean (now doing PR for Kawasaki) send his man-servant Abdul over to rough Gabe up?

The fact is that the Z1000 has what is needed for a hooligan bike; attitude and character. It's got the edgy looks combined with wacky amounts of power needed to make riding it a memorable experience, whether on a two-lane backroad chasing your pals or going down to the store to buy some metal polish for your wife's bowling trophies (Gabe recommends MAAS silver polish for the easiest, best shine). It vibrates wickedly, isn't the most comfortable bike, and is frankly getting long in the tooth. But do you have your dog euthanized because his breath is a bit smelly and he has diarrhea on your coffee table?

Nor would we. The Z1000 goes as good as it looks, and will make you happy every time you ride it. The vibration is only an issue when you are having so much fun surfing on all that horsepower anyway. At lower speeds, it's quite civil, with acceptable comfort and wind protection. The passenger seat isn't so awful, either. It's not a polished, refined road missile capable of tackling any street task you throw at it, but who cares? It's fun, and that's what motorcycles are for.

The Letter of The Day Is...

Z is a heady letter around the Kawasaki bench, and it all goes back to the original gangsta of hooliganism, the Z1 of 1973. That bike had a 900cc motor in a tube-frame chassis and was horsepower champ for a long time.

Apparently Kawasaki likes the good ol' days. The Z1000 uses a 900-something cc motor in a tube-frame chassis and is pretty close to being horsepower champ of its class, too.

Pete has tried so hard to quit smoking. He's even tried the patch...

Kawasaki introduced this model as a 2003, basing it on their now-defunct ZX-9R sportbike. They took the 9R's motor and bumped displacement to 953cc, replacing the downdraft head with a sidedraft one. Fueling is by EFI and 38mm throttle bodies assisted by a 32-bit CPU from the Xbox 360. (just kidding!) They also changed the cam profiles to improve low and mid-range response, but unlike some manufacturers we could name, the bored-out motor loses nothing on top to the ZX-9R; the last ZX-9R we dynoed made 128.6 hp; the Z1000 made 127. Torque is pretty much the same at 69 foot-pounds, although the Z makes over 50 foot-pounds at 3,500 rather than 4500 rpm.

It must have been expensive buying all those Xboxes on eBay, because Kawasaki had to save money with the chassis. Maybe it's just nostalgia; a black-painted tube-steel frame was good enough for Uncle Irv's Schwinn and the original Z1, so it's good enough for the Z1000, too. At least the motor gets used as a stressed member-rubber mounting is for wussies-to get some rigidity.

Also rigid is the 41mm inverted Kayaba fork, which pairs with modern linkage-type suspension and decent four-piston brakes to bring everything up to speed. The suspension isn't very adjustable-there's only preload with a single rebound adjuster on one leg-but at least there are cool polished wheels with modern radial tires.

Kawasaki tops it all off with a big metal 4.8 gallon tank. Wheelbase measure in at a tidy 55.9 inches, and it weighs in a claimed 437 pounds. Do you like shiny black or red paint, Billy? Too bad; Kawasaki only sells Formula Z in a matte blue finish in its twilight year, but at least the price is still $8,499; the same as it was when our dear Mr. Burns tested it in 2003.

2006 Yamaha FZ-1
Even Leroy Got His Ass Kicked Occasionally

No photoshop required here!

When the FZ-1 was first introduced in 2001, we genuinely loved it. However, it wasn't what we really wanted. Instead of an R1 with the fairing removed and a superbike bar slapped on, we got something else, more like an edgy sport-tourer, or a 120 hp commuter. It was big, squishy and heavy, and felt it. Still, it was a successful model, and worked well as a street bike.

Gabe's drool-buds went into full production when he found out about the all-new for 2006 FZ-1. This bike had the next-generation R1 motor, an aluminum frame, and plenty of other updates. At the intro, he was impressed by the bike's good quality and nice looks, but it still wasn't the insane, edgy bike he'd hoped for.

Visually, the new FZ-1 makes quite a presence. With a big, blacked-out aluminum frame, gold-anodized upside-down forks and creased, futuristic styling, it's guaranteed to not be a wall flower. Build quality and attention to detail is typical of Yamaha's big sportbikes; very good. Fonzie found it to be "tall and narrow and kind of long in the fork", and it does have the biggest visual presence of all the bikes here, taking away some of the hooligan-osity.

Unlike many hooligans, ol' Dai Ichi makes a good first impression. Gabe found the seat a little high, but otherwise liked the broad, comfortable saddle and "almost perfect" reach to the bars. The pegs are low as well, ensuring a very comfortable ride. Instruments are clear and readable, with lots of information on a big LCD display. Controls and other features-like adjustable instrument lights and passenger grabrails-reveal more attention to detail that is much appreciated.

The Big Effin' Zed fires up with a characteristic R1 "vroom". Low RPM reveals the bike's main flaw; imperfect fuel injection. We can speculate about why it's not perfect out of the box, but speculatin' ain't journalism. But for whatever reason, smooth throttle work in low gears at low RPM is tricky, which can make low-speed, technical roads troublesome on this bike. However, once you've revved it good and hard the motor flows effortlessly towards five digits on the tachometer, delivering a strong head of acceleration along the way. Vibration is noticeable, even with a rubber-damped bar and pegs, but tolerable if you are used to inline-fours.

Transmission and clutch quality are very good. The gears almost shift themselves, and the clutch is smooth, positive and light. You don't really need to use it that much; there's good power on hand from 6,000 RPM all the way to over 10,000. Lofting the front wheel is apparently easy, judging from the photographic evidence (all obtained using professional riders on closed private roads, of course).

As the front wheel meets the pavement again and the road starts to wind, the FZ-1 demonstrates modern and civilized handling manners. That big frame and stout suspension gives the bike an unflappable feel in even high-speed corners, aided by the low bars eliminating that vague front-end feel some Supermoto and Naked bikes have. Yet, it's still somehow light and easy to steer.

"It's not a good first bike, but it might make a good last one..."

The suspension is a good balance of firm and supple, and offers plenty of adjustment capability to get it perfect. So we have quick steering, good suspension and a rigid chassis that loses only a little feel to the rubber-mounted bars.

Coupled with all that power, a good rider on that FZ-1 will go plenty fast on a curving road. She perhaps might struggle to keep up with a Buell-mounted badass in the very tight, technical portions of the ride, but as soon as things open up she can watch that small red bike get even smaller in her mirrors. When it comes time to stop, the FZ-1 boasts the most powerful brakes here, despite the extra weight of the big machine. Those tasty monoblock Sumitomo calipers aren't the very latest radial-mount design, but they are brutally effective, with so much power and feel Gabe thought they were radial-mounted. Shows what he knows.

With the largest windscreen in the test, it's no surprise that the FZ-1 had the best wind protection, although Fonzie found the wind blast to be a "bit choppy at times". That windscreen coupled with a spacious, comfortable seat means the FZ-1 is practically a tourer compared to the rest of the crew. Around town, the Yamaha doesn't feel so much bigger than the other bikes, but it can be intimidating to smaller riders unless they are very familiar with handling big bikes. Actually, that goes for all the bikes; this is no "best first bike"-style shootout.

It's not a good first bike, but it might make a good last one; the kind of bike you keep for 10 years because there is really nothing else with so much versatility. We all liked the FZ-1 fine, although it didn't really get us excited the way the Buell or Z1000 did. It's just so competent in every way that we all voted it either first or second when asked what we'd buy with our own hard-earned. When it's your own cash on the line, you want value, practicallity and fun. The FZ-1 delivers.

FZ-1 Tech Talk

The FZ-1's instruments offers the rider plenty of clear, concise information (unlike MO).

The spring of 2006 heralded the re-making of Yamaha's much-loved FZ-1, which the manufacturer claims dominates the whole naked-sport category. How do you make a good thing even better?

They started with the current model (2004-2006) YZF-R1's 20-valve 998cc motor. They "altered" it with milder cams and a heavier crankshaft. The fourth and fifth gear ratios are shorter, as well. Fuel injection is courtesy of the R1's 45mm injectors, and there's an EXUP system to boost midrange and improve throttle response. Yamaha claimed 148 hp from the revised motor; we saw 129 on the MO Dynojet Dynamometer.

The chassis needed more help than the motor, so that's where the biggest changes happened. An all-new aluminum frame uses "controlled-fill" casting technology to be over 400 percent stiffer while weighing in 20 pounds lighter.

The swingarm is new; longer and stiffer, as is la mode these days. The wheelbase becomes a not-so-shabby 57.5 inches. It's topped off with 43 mm inverted forks and those delicious four-piston single-piece brake calipers (grabbing floating 320mm discs) we expect from Yamaha.

There's a slick new fairing on top, but alas, the svelte totally nude version is for the Europeans only. At least we do get a nice big 4.75 gallon fuel tank. Dry weight is claimed to be but 438 pounds, shaving nine pounds off the previous model. At $20.77 a pound, ($9,099) it's more money than good smoked salmon but still a good value.

View all Photos PHOTOS & VIDEOS

Get in your Inbox