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Sunday, April 19, 2009

KAWASAKI Z 1000

Fuerteventura, sunshine, challenging roads and Kawasaki’s muscular new Z1000 – sounds like a perfect way to spend a few days!
This new Kwak is a stunning bike to match the stunning scenery of this volcanic island. It looks mean and aggressive, laden with detail and dominated by twin triangular exhausts – like giant, chrome-plated Toblerones - each side.

Jane Omorogbe and the Kawasaki Z1000 (image © PA)

These replace the double-barrelled shotgun silencers from the last model and now include three catalytic converters. They take some getting used to, but perhaps they are the future (Honda already has them in its new Civic car). Every image I’d seen of the new naked performance bike suggested this would be an extreme bike. Kawasaki’s talks about “taking extreme to another level” and being “adrenalin laced” and it really is a bloomin’ good bike. But arriving at that conclusion was as lengthy and frustrating as driving a car round the M25 at 5pm on a Friday.

Jane Omorogbe and the Kawasaki Z1000 (image © PA)

Rider feedback

The reason is simple - Kawasaki was keen to produce a bike that offered increased rider feedback, and therefore a truly exhilarating ride. So it has opted for a more flexible chassis which is 15% less stiff than the 2006 model. That and the standard suspension settings mean that when you’re riding the Z1000 at a handsome pace, the bike moves beneath you. That’s ‘rider feedback’; that’s debatable. For me, at least, those sensations don’t encourage confidence or fun at all.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

The wheelbase is longer than before and the steering head has been moved forward. But the bike’s front wheel feels like it’s underneath your backside. Consequently, it turns in very sharply, which is a good thing, but it also feels unstable in corners. The standard suspension settings were on the soft side too, so once you’ve braked for a bend and let off, the front end bounced back up and the bike pitched and wallowed – just at the point you’re throwing it on its side. It felt unsettled and so did I.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

The engine’s obviously very good and the radial mounted brakes are as potent as David Hasselhoff’s aftershave (almost too strong when the bike’s forks are set up so softly) so my overall impression of the ride by lunchtime was pretty confused. I wanted to push harder and explore this ‘extreme naked performance bike’ but every time I did, things kind of felt apart. Something wasn’t gelling. At the lunch stop, I dismounted. The steam pouring from the radiator dampened my spirits yet further. It’d been punctured by a flying stone, relegating my bike to the back of the support van.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

Adjustable suspension

I love silver linings and Alex Michael, Kawasaki’s test rider, offered me his bike for the remainder of the day. “Try it, we’ll chat later and yes I have changed the suspension.” His eyes twinkled. Ah-ha! What a transformation! His Z1000 was the bike I’d been expecting to ride. It worked. It behaved as a whole instead of several hinged parts. It was responsive, agile, much more planted and although the steering was marginally less sharp, it’s so quick anyway that even on Alex’s setting’s, it was lively enough. OK, so the steering lock remained inadequate for a bike that claims to be so multifunctional. But the Z1000 was now a fun bike and definitely smile inducing.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

Alex confirmed he’d raised the front of the bike by 6mm by adjusting the preload (four turns in) and slowed down the rebound rate by three-quarters of a turn from fully closed (as opposed to the standard 2.25). Those two simple adjustments made the whole bike feel completely different. It wasn’t so front end heavy and felt far more balanced. I had no trouble throwing the Z1000 on its ear, changing direction and braking hard into corners. Even the engine felt more responsive.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

Increased confidence

I honestly hadn’t noticed until I rode Alex’s adjusted bike back to back with a ‘standard’ one. I suspect my new found confidence gave everything a real rosy glow. But I could get on the gas a nanosecond earlier. Before then, I’d been hesitant, waiting for the bike to settle down before winding the throttle back. The engine’s strong and the power delivery is smooth and linear. It’s not without vibration though. Concealed weights suspended beneath the footpegs counteract the vibrations, but they do build as you reach 7,000 rpm and beyond, making the new slimline seat quiver.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

The riding position is fairly aggressive and with such naked styling, speeds that’ll jeopardise your licence will have the same effect on your neck muscles. Lying flat on the sculptured tank only results in you not being able to see where you’re going! Is it the Z1000 a seriously competitive motorcycle in the current market? The naked performance bike category is literally overflowing with strong contenders, ones that are arguably easier to jump on and ride from the off, regardless of your level of experience.

Kawasaki Z1000 (Image © Kawasaki)

Verdict

When I did return to a Zed with standard settings, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d first thought though. Yes it still bounced around, but I cared less, perhaps because I knew that wasn’t the end of the story. If after an initial ride, you’re left feeling unsure, just consider adapting your riding style, suspension, or both and you’ll find the Z1000 is a stonking streetfighter. It has attitude, it’s got more style than the Beckhams and it will stretch a smile across your face.

World Superbikes winner MSMW2012