Kawasaki Slips Into Something More Comfortable... - Motorcycle.com

John Burns
by John Burns

Kawasaki finally pried our ZRX1200 out from under us, but not without a struggle. Gee, Mel, I can't find my ramp and the pick-up needs new tires and you know how my diverticulitis flares up when I have to drive a four-wheeled vehicle that whole 16 miles to Kawasaki HQ...

"Well then," says Kawasaki Mel, "ride it down and I will swap you a new Z1000."

"Be there in 45 minutes."

Hopping from the trusty old ZRX onto this thing is like making a 25-year leap forward in motorcycle evolution all at once.

I still love the ZRX, but only because I'd gotten used to its peccadilloes--or maybe it's the peccadilloes that make it a pretty good streetbike: mainly it's big and heavy and cushy, all the reasons I still love Ann-Margret really, even though she doesn't return my calls.

The all-new Z1000 is for one thing way smaller than I had envisioned. It's based upon the ZX-9R engine, but in the flesh looks closer in scale to a new ZX-6R -- especially since those two appear to share the same pointy tail treatment mit LED light. From the seat, it looks like the fabuloso Aprilia Tuono, but contrary to Kawasaki's own specs, the seat is way lower than the Tuono's--low enough to touch both feet, easy, with a 30-inch inseam. And where one might imagine Ann-Margret's navel to be quite recessed, the Z1000's hangs out there all taut and exposed like young Britney's, a good secure mounting place for a rare collectible coin which would no doubt make an audible thwock when pried out.

Kawasaki lists a dry weight of 437 pounds for the Z, which means it probably weighs around 480 with all fluids and 4.8 gallons of petrol (run the cheap stuff if you like; compression's reduced to 11.2:1) sloshing round in its steel tank. Kawasaki also claims 409 pounds, dry, for the ZX-9R, and 492 for the ZRX1200.

No matter how many times I tell her otherwise, Ashley remains convinced that every action shot requires a caption. Here's one then: Wow!

Whatever the scales say, the Z seems lighter than either of those, and why not let's just say it's about the same weight as a Triumph Speed Triple or Honda 919 and leave it at that--except that it feels lighter and smaller than them, too.Your frame is some sort of triangulated steel-tube affair, from which the engine hangs stressed-member style, and reading that you might infer that it might not be so rigid as the typical current twin-spar alloy variety. Maybe it's not, but you'd never know it from riding this bike.

Where the old ZRX sometimes felt as though it had the structural integrity of Ann-Margret on a stepladder rolling paint onto a ceiling without benefit of foundation garments, the Z is as of-a-piece as A-M in the XKE Jaguar in the opening scene of Viva Las Vegas, where she is young and spunky enough to run Elvis off the road before the plot thickens and we find out her dad owns the race team to which Young Elvis aspires. Or does Elvis run her off? Or is that a different movie? That's not important right now.

Shot with a gold filter against a golden background, the baked-to-a-delicious-golden-brown exhausts look nice.

What is important is that this thing is not only small, but feels really solidly put together. Over uneven pavement that sometimes has the ZRX dancing the Watusi, a popular step in several Elvis movies, the Z motors unflappingly through with nary a waggle of the handlebar.

Kawasaki cheaped out on the suspension, but just slightly so. The inverted fork uses 41mm sliders, with rebound adjustability only in the right leg, and compression adjustability in neither. Both tubes are preload adjustable. Same's true for the shock.

What you get is a very well-controlled ride that can be a little harsh over small bumps--and you'd like to try less compression damping but you can't.

"What is important is that this thing is not only small, but feels really solidly put together."

It was before my time, really, but it seems like photos of the `84 900 Ninja revealed a very similar, big-tube backbone frame.

So, the ride is not quite as sophisticated-feeling as the Speed Triple's or the Tuono R's--but then the Z sells for considerably less money. And it's very close, really--taut enough to burn up the backroads, compliant enough to make commuting a pleasant interlude. In attack mode, the Z achieves a nice balance between squidly and respectability also.

At 1420mm of wheelbase, the Z is over a half-inch shorter than the ZX-9R, part of which comes from reducing steering offset, which pulls the front contact patch tighter up under the engine while giving a reassuring 102mm of trail.

With the handlebar and upright ergoes, it's still effortless to flick the Z into corners.

Sidebar: Farewell ZRX1200

Yet another mea culpa for leaving you hanging on the Kawasaki ZRX1200R, the one we last left with the Muzzys exhaust and Factory jet kit.

She was running just a tad rich with the jet kit install, and when I asked young Sean to please drop the needles one notch, which I feel would've achieved perfection and 130-some horsepower, my speech impediment must have caused him to misunderstand me to have said "put in different needles completely and throw on those four individual K&N filters Muzzys sent by mistake," after which modification the bike would barely run at all.

Then everybody became disinvolved when it rained and the roof leaked directly into the dyno computer at just about the same time that Ashley crashed her bicycle and broke her scapula and collarbone and Sean came down with pneumonia... Then Trent Lott got into hot water.

Then, upon learning that "Motorcyclist TV" had been cancelled, well, the gloom became nearly impenetrable... we're back on our feet now, though. Forgive me, Mel? Forgive me, Doug Meyer? (The one thing we did right by the ZRX was sliding its fork tubes up about 1/4-inch in the triple clamps; that gave a much more solid feel.)

Here we go again. Tell you what. This is MO's first caption contest. Winner gets a special license plate frame.

Ergoes, in fact, are just plain excellent. Not only is the seat low, it's also nicely shaped and thickly padded, and the gold-anodized steel handlebar is a bit closer and maybe an inch narrower than the bars fitted to the Tuono and Speed Triple, feels like--which means you still have plenty of leverage but not so much that you're a human spinnaker at higher speeds. Lane-splitting is also enhanced.

Speaking of lane-splitting, like all Kawasakis, this one has a nice four-way flasher right above the turn signal button--a nice thing to be able to switch on when you're feeling threatened in traffic. Or when you're weary, feeling small. (And there's a passenger seat under the plastic cover, too, but I'll be dipped if I can figure out how to get the seat off. Sorry.)

S'pose you want to know if it's fast? The answer is Yes. The front wheel doe sn't exactly snap up, like the Tuono's, but we suspect that's a thing Kawasaki may have purposely built in to the ignition map in the first gear or two to keep people from injuring themselves. Because once rolling, the Z is blistering fast--to the tune of 124 horsepower according to the MO Dynojet.

Feels like there's a pretty good step-up in power at a couple of places: one at around 7000 rpm, the other we were going too fast to look at the tach and make notes, which is sort of not in your field of vision on these kinds of bikes. In fact there's not much in your field of vision on the Z anyway except the road rushing up at you, which is a good thing if you ride where it's hot--and even when it's not the little bikini fairing makes a decent hole for your torso up to 80 or 90 mph. I've seen a couple of reports on this bike complaining about handlebar vibration; personally I'm not feeling it. Seems pretty smooth to me (and if you didn't know the handlebar was rubber-mounted, you wouldn't know it).

It's understood you got a fuel-injected engine sittin' under your hood. 38mm throttle bodies with two butterflies each feed in the Z's plenteous power smoothly and often.

"Kawasaki says the (hollow) camshafts are ground for good low and midrange power."

Unlike the ZX-9R, the Z is fuel injected, using the same dual-butterfly system as seen on the new ZX-6R (and all the Suzuki GSX-R's too). Throttle bodies are 38mm, controlled by a 32-bit CPU--and the result is a broad, glitch-free powerband and the kind of instantaneous gentle-onset throttle response we've come to be spoiled by. This ZX-9R motor displaces 953cc thanks to 2.2mm wider chrome-composite lined cylinders, and it's topped with a side-draft head instead of the 9R's downdraft design.

Kawasaki says the (hollow) camshafts are ground for good low and midrange power. Well, here's to good low and midrange, then--as long as our top-end hit is right there with the ZX-9R. Our dyno says it its, and it feels like it too.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this thing can't hold a candle to Ann-Margret circa 1969. But even discriminating, artsy-type motorheads approve Z style for the most part, though its gold four-holer exhausts get the unanimous thumbs-down from very nearly one and all--a little too close to the heavy gold chain look prevalent among your rapsters and drivers of Escalades with 20's. (In fairness, the people who viewed the bike were all, come to think of it, latte-drinking suburban white boys.) The pipes are the only miscue--and how convenient that's what everybody gets rid of first anyway. A nice pair of carbon-fiber slip-ons should do the trick nicely.

A little too Mr. T/Eminemish for our taste, but then we got no piercings or tattoos either, so...

Somebody said $7599, and we were big fans--but the actual price is $8499. Hmmm. The Speed Triple remains a favorite, but it's getting a little long in the tooth now, it's bigger and taller, it doesn't have this Kawasaki's throttle response and it's $10,899.

The Yamaha FZ-1 is bland in comparison--it's a better tourer than the Kawasaki, but more UJM than "naked sportbike." The Honda 919 is the motorcycling equivalent of hospital food.

The Ducati Monster 1000ie is in the $11K range and looking dated itself... The only bike I can say I for sure like better of this species is the Tuono, base model, and it's $12K. For the money, then, this Z1000 is smelling like a truly tasty and unique morsel. It's a great everyday streetbike. A great backroad dive-bomber. Feels like, with its power and tautish suspension, it would love the occasional track day. I can't think of anything not to like. I think it's a winner.

John Burns
John Burns

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