Knock-down, drag-out streetfighters aren’t supposed to look good. The earliest ones were sportbikes that had been ridden hard and wrecked, their mangled bodywork chucked into the dumpster and their clip-ons replaced with an upright handlebar. Hoses and wires never meant to see the light of day hung out in the breeze, and cheap, used, often mismatched parts replaced whatever had been crash-damaged. You couldn’t go into a dealership and buy a streetfighter, you had to earn it the hard way. Or, as I did years ago, you bought a cobbled-together basket case from some guy hoping to cut his losses.
Like other naked bikes, streetfighters were especially popular in Europe, so it’s no surprise that the first factory-built versions—the Ducati Monster and Triumph Speed Triple—were introduced there in the early ’90s. Although the label “streetfighter” wouldn’t be applied to a Kawasaki production model until the new millennium, the Japanese manufacturer had been building naked performance bikes for years—the Z1 all but launched the genre in the early ’70s. Three decades later, a descendant of the Z1 was introduced for 2003—the wild-looking Z1000. Powered by a liquid-cooled, 953cc in-line four adapted from the Ninja ZX-9R, it put more than 120 horsepower to the rear wheel and had bold, futuristic styling. Double-barreled mufflers on both sides and a screaming orange paint job set it apart from the crowd, though it was also available in basic black for those with less in-your-face tastes.
The edgy Z1000 became more so for 2010 when it was updated with sharper styling, more power and a better chassis (read our 2010 Kawasaki Z1000 road test). For 2014, the Z1000 has gone from edgy to radical, with a completely new look that Kawasaki says is inspired by sugomi, a Japanese word that “describes the intense aura given off by an object of greatness.” The sculpted bodywork and mass-forward profile is meant to resemble a crouching predator, ready to pounce on its hapless prey. More than any other motorcycle in recent memory, the new Z1000 looks like a boundary-pushing concept bike brought to life. And judging by the comments on Rider’s Facebook page when we announced the new model in early November, the styling is polarizing. Given my appreciation for the unconventional, as well as my soft spot for streetfighters, the Z1000’s new look fascinated me. But once I saw the bike in person and had a chance to ride it at the U.S. press launch in Los Angeles, I was even more impressed.
The Z1000 shares a basic platform with the Ninja 1000, a fully-faired, street-oriented sportbike also updated for 2014. They’re powered by the same liquid-cooled, 1,043cc, DOHC, 16-valve in-line four. Revised intake cams boost low-to-midrange torque, and new airbox vents and cylinder-connecting passageways boost high-rpm performance. Sound, feel and throttle response have been improved with a new ECU, an updated cool air intake system, a new air filter element, equal-length velocity stacks and Digital Timing Advance. Doing away with the exhaust valve and adding balance tubes to connect the exhaust headers further contribute to a more intense aural and visceral experience. Whereas the Ninja 1000 was given engine modes and traction control to make it a better sport tourer, given the Z1000’s more hard-edged mission statement, it received neither. Instead it has more aggressive tuning and shorter gearing for snappier response.
Unconventionally as the Z1000 itself, Kawasaki scheduled our first ride at night, after dinner and the tech briefing, where we buzzed along the same L.A. streets that I frequented on my rattle-can black Suzuki SV650 streetfighter. Beneath the Z1000’s aggressively styled bodywork is a highly refined sportbike with a counterbalanced engine that’s smooth and powerful. Big twists of the throttle make it growl and bark, but with gentle applications of the stick, it hums along in a civilized manner. One new feature that stood out immediately during our nighttime ride was the dual-element tachometer, which uses a vertical bar graph on the LCD display up to 3,000 rpm and then a series of bright-white LEDs arrayed horizontally along the top from 4,000 rpm up to the 11,000 rpm redline. Very slick.
The Z1000 uses the same twin-spar aluminum frame as before, with three rigid engine mounts and a fourth rubber mount that enhances chassis rigidity. A lower-friction steering stem seal lightens steering, and a new lighter, die-cast aluminum subframe helps centralize mass. The Z1000’s sporty steering geometry (24.5-degree rake, 4.0-inch trail) and 32.1-inch seat height are unchanged, but ergonomics are more aggressive, with the handlebar positioned lower and farther forward. Although not as committed as full-on sportbikes, the Z1000’s crouched riding position is great for attacking the streets, but is less so for long stints in the saddle.
Chassis improvements include a new 41mm SFF-BP (Separate Function Fork-Big Piston) male-slider fork from Showa with spring preload adjustment in the left leg and compression and rebound adjustment in the right leg. Along with the revised damping settings and more progressive lever ratio in the horizontal back-link rear shock, the Z1000’s suspension is firmer than before but still offers a smooth, compliant ride. New four-piston, radial-mount monobloc front calipers with high-friction pads give the brakes more initial bite as well as better stopping power and feel at the lever, and ABS is now standard. Lighter 6-spoke cast aluminum wheels save 3.3 pounds of unsprung weight and wear new, grippy Dunlop Sportmax tires developed specifically for this bike.
A night ride on rough-and-tumble city streets is not the best place to evaluate a bike’s performance and handling, but the freshly repaved Angeles Crest Highway is ideal. The next day, we escaped from L.A. and rode into the hills, where the Z1000’s stiffer suspension and sharper handling made easy work of the serpentine path through the San Gabriel Mountains. The wailing engine spun up quickly, delivering big power in a predictably linear fashion and delightfully crisp throttle response. Effortless gear changes and fiercely strong brakes rounded out my overall impression that the third-generation Z1000 is a muscular, cohesive machine.
Priced at $ 11,999, the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 costs a grand more than its predecessor, but when you consider that its engine is smoother and more powerful, that its brakes are better and ABS is now standard, that its handling and suspension have been improved, and that its fuel capacity has increased (from 4.1 gallons to 4.5), that’s money well spent. As for the styling, you be the judge.
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS Specs
Base Price: $ 11,999
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line four, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 77.0 x 56.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: X-ring chain
Wheelbase: 56.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/4.0 in.
Seat Height: 32.1 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 487 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gals.
Average mpg: NA
2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS First Ride Review