Test Ride: Kawasaki Z1000

Bondo takes a ride on Kawasaki’s revamped Z1000. Gone are the styling cues to the seventies, replaced by the new Transformer!

Words: Steve Bond. Pics Didier Constant, unless otherwise specified




After a brief ride aboard Honda’s Euro-only CB1000R naked bike earlier this year, I said it was so stylish that by comparison, Kawasaki’s Z1000 looked like it was ridden through a yard sale and all the crap stuck.

In retrospect, that may have been a bit harsh but there’s no denying that the styling of the Z1000 is different in a “Transformer mates with Alien” kind of way.

It’s humpbacked; it’s all angles and wedges with disjointed clumps of plastic zigging and zagging everywhere. And that’s BEFORE you get to the two gigantic mufflers, which can only be described as … well, indescribable.

The upside is that if you’re riding the Z1000, you don’t actually have to look at it (other than the Manta Ray-like projections jutting out from the rad shroud) and once in motion, the Z really begins to grow on you.


Narrow profile helps get your feet to the ground but position can be a little snug where it matters.

Despite the ungainly profile, the Z is quite narrow at the seat, allowing almost any size inseam to touch ground with both feet. The tubular handlebars have a comfortable rise and pullback, and the pegs seem ideally placed – not too low and not too high.

The riding position is initially quite comfortable, but the hard seat, perched 815 mm from the pavement, slopes forward, causing discomfort to the (ahem) nether regions when they inevitably contact the fuel tank after 20 minutes or so in the saddle.

The adjustable brake lever should fit any sized mitt, while the cable-actuated clutch was a bit on the firm side. Transmission action was impeccable with a short, slick throw and change action was very light.


Clocks are not a hit with Bondo.
photo: Kawasaki

To answer a question that I’m pretty sure nobody ever asked, the oddly-shaped instrument pod adjusts over three positions.

As for the instruments themselves, there’s a digital speedo, a sweeping LCD game-boy tachometer that’s virtually impossible to read (thereby rendering said device useless), a matching LCD fuel gauge and the usual clock and twin tripmeters.

Continuing on the eye-offending theme, the entire pod is done in a kind of Jaundiced Yellow so when wearing sunglasses and a tinted shield, the turn signal indicator lights sort of disappear into the murk.



There’s a distinct Transformer theme to the styling.

Okay, if we can move past the reasonable ergos, the styling that’s offensive to the eyes and the goofy instrument package – how does it perform? Pretty damned well, actually.


Short gearing leaves you searching for another one up top.

It’s like finding out that the girl who’s a few rungs from the top of
the attractiveness ladder actually does have a great personality and is a
lot of fun to be around.

The 1043cc motor is very strong with good punch right off idle, but the gearing seems very short. I found myself tooling through town at 60 km/h in sixth gear and continuously reaching for seventh.

On the highway, an indicated 100 km/h equates to 4,500 rpm, but the motor just seemed “busy” to me. Kawasaki says that some vibration was tuned into the motor to give it “character” so that might be it. I did note a bit of buzzing through the bars but the mirrors remained clear at all speeds.


Suspension needed adjustment to get smoothed out. Brakes are excellent.

Turn the 138 horses loose and it accelerates like Jack the Bear. It’s very strong to 6,500 rpm and when you surpass that mark, you better have your ophthalmologist on speed dial because your retinas are about to be flattened.

Even so, when are the manufacturers going to stop pussy footing around with this “detuned for more midrange” crap and just stuff the full 180 horsepower mill from the latest hyperbike into the naked chassis? Then we’d have something.

The aluminum frame and swingarm ties everything together nicely and the frame spars curve up over the engine to keep the overall width down. An aluminum subframe and swingarm keep the weight at a manageable 218 kg (480 lbs).

Suspenders are by Showa and holding up the front we have a set of fully-adjustable, USD 41mm units that are, of course, covered by a set of cheesy plastic scabbards.

A single fully adjustable rear shock is mounted horizontally above the swingarm to keep the delicate damping internals well away from the oppressive heat of the exhaust collector.


Sadly the ABS option didn’t make it into Canada.

The Z has very aggressive steering geometry (rake and trail is almost exactly the same as the ZX6R’s) and initial turn-in is so light, it’s almost a psychic process.

Once into the turn, it holds its line unless you want to change and feels rock solid over bumps. In my early time with the Z, the suspension was a bit jolting over divots and access covers, so I took a turn of preload out front and rear, then a click or two out of the compression damping on the forks and everything smoothed right out.

The dual 300 mm petal-type rotors are squeezed by radial mount, four-pot calipers. Initial bite is quite good with outstanding feel and feedback and it seems odd that ABS is offered as an option in Europe but not here in North America.



If you get the styling, then the Z1000 may just be the bike for you.

Naked bikes are huge in Europe but have always struggled on this side of the pond. But if you’re looking for near-supersport performance and handling without the uncompromising riding position and high-strung nature of a pure sportbike, the Z1000 might just float your boat.


Gone are the four round pipes of the previous generation.

With a list price of $13,199, it’s a tough sell if you compare it to Suzuki’s 1250SEA Bandit, which is only a hundred dollars more and comes with a fairing, ABS, hard bags and a topbox (if you’re not into luggage, the standard ABS Bandit is just $11,799).

Of course, compared to other “naked” bikes such as the Ducati Streetfighter ($17,495), and Suzuki B-King ($15,699), Triumph Speed Triple ($13,250) and Honda’s CBF1000 ($12,999) it’s well within the naked bike ballpark.

The Z1000 might not be the prettiest heifer in the herd but it sure
works well. Just keep your eyes on the road while you’re riding it, and maybe keep them off the bike when you’re not, and things will be just fine.


Kawasaki Z1000



1,043 cc

Four-stroke dohc four cylinder,
 Power (crank)* 136 HP @ 9,600 rpm

81 ft-lbs @ 7,800 rpm
15.5 Litres

Fuel injection

Final drive
Six speed, chain drive

120/70 ZR17

190/50 ZR17

Dual 300 mm disc with four-piston

Single 250 mm disc with single-piston

815 mm (32″)

1,440 mm (56.7″)

Wet weight*
218 kg (480 lb)

Metallic Spark Black

12 months
* claimed


  1. Obviously, some of you who responded haven’t ridden a modern litre sportbike to compare with. They are FAR from being “peaky” and needing 10k rpm to make good power. If you don’t believe me, check out the dyno charts. > http://www.sportrider.com/dyno/146_sportbike_dyno_charts/photo_181.html The ONLY thing you’re giving up is total amount of power and torque. The manufacturers do this not to “save you from yourself”, or to “detune for a better power curve” but to save money using the old technology. Oh, and for you who need a power limitation. Get a life and show some restraint of your own.

  2. “…and isn’t that what we are always asking for, something different?’

    No, not everyone needs their machine to broadcast how different they are, character-wise, to the world. I’ll take an attractive, functional machine any time over a weird-for-no-benefit expression of who I (think) I am.

  3. It’s just like anything else that doesn’t fit into a pigeon hole…we don’t like it on first glance…the B-King, as brought up earlier, was wierd and ugly when I first saw it (Yamaha MT-01 also fits here)…but as time goes by, the more you see them…they’re not so bad, as long as you think of them in the Transformers/Batman futuristic type of bike…they all are comfortable and ride well (and have character), but they don’t look like anything else out there…and isn’t that what we are always asking for, something different?

  4. Admittedly, I had only a very short test ride BUT I liked it.
    Kawasaki did a fairly good job of packaging (IMHO), and as for the looks – I think its kinda cool… The ergos aren’t bad, even passenger accommodations are better than lots of the competition. Good on them for giving the Big Dumb Naked Bike another chance !

  5. Wow you guys are harsh.I think your sense of fashion and design must be lodged in the heel of your civil war boots, and don’t put them up on Moms colonial furniture. All the Z needs is a rear eliminator

  6. I think the main problem with putting a full-power motor in a naked bike is the packaging and styling difficulties of putting a radiator big enough to handle the power output into a clean looking package. B-King resorts to the plastic jowls to keep everything hidden, but it fails. It is just and ugly bike, and nowhere near “naked”. 180mph+ top end whack is noting to sneeze at, but I couldn’t put up with the looks for the performance.

  7. “detuned for more midrange” crap…
    Isn’t part of the plan to save the motorcycle image from crotch rocket race bikes on the street to an actual usable and functional form of transportation ? (re popular in europe where 100hp limits exist)
    A cammy litre bike that needs 10K+ on the tach and is way over the speed limit in 1st gear to have fun will just speed up the loss of your license, if you can find or afford future insurance for your black listed steed that is.

  8. [quote]To answer a question that I’m pretty sure nobody ever asked, the oddly-shaped instrument pod adjusts over three positions. [/quote]

    It is a question plenty of people including myself ask: we don’t want the instrument pod that looks good in promo shots taken in the dark, we want to SEE the information it displays in the daytime, when we actually ride! But the answer is not in providing adjustable positions, the answer is simple, clear, readable analog gauges.

  9. I don’t know what it is with Japanese manufacturers? The idea of a naked stripped down motorcycle just seems to be an impossibility these years. They just cannot stop from slathering more plastic on to what is suppose to be a NAKED bike! Is it the current crop of riders who’s eye’s tear-up if not behind a huge windshield? Or is that the manufacturers are so cheap as to not want to develop a decent looking pared down mechanical shape. Covering or masquerading behind volumes of plastic seems to be the status quo of the day.

  10. I think the Z1000 proves that the Suzuki BKing was
    ahead of its time. It looks like the perfect
    compromise between my BKing’s decent suspension
    with OMG oomph and my SV650N’s light weight and
    deft handling. I would love one. Anybody wanna
    buy my BKing?

  11. I remember when the original Z1000 and Z750 came out. I was riding a 1983 KZ750 L3 at the time and thought the new Zs were a wicked sharp update of the old Z series, and aspired to own one.

    But with this model, all I can say is that, although I thought it impossible, Kawasaki has made a bike even uglier than my cousin’s aqua-coloured KLR 650.

    Not that any of that matters, especially if you are doing the ton . . . or other socially irresponsible motorcycling activity.

  12. [i]Even so, when are the manufacturers going to stop pussy footing around with this “detuned for more midrange” crap and just stuff the full 180 horsepower mill from the latest hyperbike into the naked chassis?[/i]

    That’s what I keep asking. I’d be willing to give up a little midrange (and most of the time the retuning doesn’t really seem to yield all that much more of it) in exchange for a full, un-neutered powerband that would make it worthwhile to rev the engine out. Not that anyone really need 160+ HP on a bike of this sort, to be sure…

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