Kawasaki Z1000 (2014)

Kawasaki Z1000 2014There’s always been something quirky about Kawasaki’s Z1000. Looking back at the first three generations (2003-2007-2010), it’s obvious the manufacturer had intended it to be a uniquely styled naked. Instead, the Z had this bizarre, half-in, half-out aggressiveness about it in terms of both hardware and looks. Things progressed nicely with the last gen (2010-13), definitely the most mechanically polished motorcycle of the series. With its all-new, purpose built platform, wonderful engine and sporty styling, the Z1000 was finally looking like a credible attempt at a Kawasaki DNA-worthy naked. And then the 2014 was revealed. My, oh my.

Styling-wise, this one is out of this world. Memorable, unforgettable and timeless styling is rarely seen on Japanese machinery. Die-hard members of the Gixxer and Ninja communities will no doubt disagree and argue that whichever model they own does have sexy and memorable looks. But get personal pride out of the equation and, with rare exceptions, the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers (and the auto builders too actually) tend toward designs that become old and staid relatively fast. The 2014 Z1000 is most definitely not among that number. 

What makes a design successful is difficult to narrow down, but I’d say if it instantly generates a strong positive emotion, it’s a winner. And you just cannot be indifferent to the $13,299 2014 Z1000’s looks (add $200 for green and silver). The styling is remarkable mainly for two reasons. 

The first is an artful audacity obvious from literally every angle. What I personally like a lot about the Z’s style is that it’s not (for example) Italian-inspired styling, but rather authentically Japanese. There’s an immediate sense, while observing it both closely and from further back, that the Kawasaki Z1000 embodies a Manga-inspired art that is intrinsic to the Japanese culture. 

But Kawasaki didn’t go so far as to make the Z1000 look like a caricature. Instead, and this is the second reason why the model’s styling is so fetching, there’s an authentic toughness to it that finally gives credibility to the aggressive, street brawler image the Z1000 always tried to convey. Basically, it finally looks the part. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to this fourth generation than striking looks.

At first glance, the new Z1000 seems like a re-skin of the 2013 platform, but in reality, almost everything but the frame and swingarm is either new or updated, beginning with the engine, which is an evolution of the original inline four. Equal length velocity stacks, a new intake cam, revised ECU settings and connecting passageways between cylinders all help boost power and torque slightly, while a new taller sixth gear lowers revs a bit at highway speeds. An all-new exhaust with balance tubes and concave, brushed-metal silencers is also installed. Chassis-wise, there’s a new fully-adjustable separate function big piston fork (SFF-BP), revised damping on the rear-shock, new monobloc front calipers and lighter, aluminum, six-spoke wheels from the Ninja 1000 shod with specifically developed new tires. Instrumentation, seat, handlebar are also new, and there’s now a higher capacity gas tank (17 versus 15.5 litres) and a striking quadruple LED headlight. Again, not a whole lot is carried over from last year’s bike.

Kawasaki Z1000 2014It’s possible not everyone will agree on the Z1000’s looks, but it’s really tough to dislike anything about the bike from the moment you sit on it. The seat, which is well shaped but somewhat thinly padded and not the most welcoming for the passenger, is on the other hand surprisingly low, while the reach to the almost drag-like flat handlebar is short. 

There’s a stubby feel to the entire bike. It’s not heavy, but rather feels dense, like it’s only motor, wheels and grips. The super low headlight definitely accentuates the feeling. 

The riding position is very pleasant, right in the middle of sporty and relaxed with no excess weight on the hands at all. It’s the kind of posture that infuses confidence, which may explain why I’m constantly tempted to either spin the rear on this cold night in downtown LA or pull a wheelie—or perhaps one, and then the other. Kawasaki did something unusual for the Z1000 press launch by organizing a night ride through town, before letting us loose on the Angel Crest Highway the next morning. Some journalists didn’t see the benefit of the short night ride, but I, on the contrary, thought it was very appropriate. The Z1000 is that kind of bike. It looks it and it feels it. Motorcyclists who don’t live near big city centres and who never wander their streets aimlessly may not get it, but those who are familiar with the late night scene and vibe absolutely will. Plus, thanks to the ingenuity and talent of photographer Kevin Wing, that night ride produced some stunning images of downtown LA. Speaking of photos, I had the great idea of shooting a monster burnout in one of the tunnels.  Everyone was on board right until the time came to actually do it. With a fair bit of car traffic still going through the tunnels this late at night and my firm intention to do a “real” burnout, it was wisely decided this was not such a good idea after all. Oh well. 

Ripping along an almost empty Angel Crest Highway, the Kawasaki Z1000 felt just as much at home as it did city wandering the night before. One very interesting side of the bike is its lack of electronic gadgetry. ABS is standard, but that’s it. There’s no throttle setting, no engine braking setting, no power mode setting and no traction control setting. There are no menus and submenus. There’s just a good old throttle. Thank you Kawasaki. 

All these functions might sound cool, but fiddling with them is annoying, especially because many bikes don’t keep their user preferences once the ignition is turned off. Generously twisting the Kawasaki Z1000’s throttle open in first gear will inevitably get the bike vertical, as it will in second gear, though a bit less hastily. Wheelie control software won’t intervene in any way because there is none, so the rider better know what he’s doing. This is not to say the Z1000 will wheelie constantly and uncontrollably, just that it will do so easily and without any electronic interference.

The 2010-13 Z1000’s chassis was already very good, and this one is better. From turn in to mid-turn line correction to trail braking to full lean corners to high speeds, every situation is dealt with serenity. Deliberately, steering is not lightning fast. This Z1000 was never intended to be a race bike for the street, but just a street bike. So direction changes demand some effort. Not a whole lot, but just enough to give the rider a sense of involvement on a winding road. 

The brakes are sportbike calibre with a nice, predictable feel, the suspension action is right where it’s pleasant between supple and firm, and gear changes are crisp. 

As if all this weren’t enough, there’s more, in the form of an addictive intake snarl that makes every throttle opening a stirring experience. I’ve said this before about that engine and it is certainly true in this case: this is absolutely one of the best sounding stock inline-fours ever. Fitting, really, as this is without a doubt one of the most polished and thrilling nakeds money can buy. 

– Bertrand Gahel

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Kawasaki Z1000 2014