The Naked bike category has really advanced in the last few years. It started with a number of motorcycles that were basically stripped down, detuned sport bikes. Not only were the engines detuned, the chassis received cheap suspension and brakes. Basically, most of the manufacturers did not believe in the category, or, at least, they did not believe that purchasers of Nakeds would pay for a top quality engine or chassis.
All of that has changed, of course, and Kawasaki has definitely tried to keep pace with the totally new 2014 Z1000 ABS. This is a motorcycle that has top drawer suspension, brakes and motor. We have already tested the Z1000 ABS at the press launch, and you can read our first ride impression here. That story has all of the details regarding the technical specifications of the bike, and we don’t intend to repeat those in this article.
We do want to highlight some of the outstanding features of the Z1000 ABS, however, before we get into our longer term ride review. The incredible front brake is something we have sampled now on two Kawasaki models, including the subject Z1000 and its sibling the new Ninja 1000 ABS. The extremely rigid, radial mounted, four-piston (differentially sized for leading and trailing edges) Tokico-manufactured monobloc twin calipers are simply among the best front brakes we have sampled in all our years of testing. That is saying a lot, but the power and control offered by these front calipers, together with the master cylinder, is hard to match.
One other thing that stands out is the fully adjustable (compression, rebound and preload) Showa big piston fork Kawasaki chose to put on this new 2014 model. Versions of this fork first began to show up on production supersport and superbike models a few years ago. It represented a big leap forward in production fork performance, and it says a lot that Kawasaki delivers the stock Z1000 with this feature.
Finally, we need to point out the purpose-built motor from Kawasaki. It is not a superbike motor. In fact, it is too large to meet superbike regulations for four cylinders with its 1043 cc. This engine was designed from the beginning to maximize performance at street rpm levels. The chart in our Ninja 1000 review says it all, with the Z1000 engine providing substantially more horsepower and torque than BMW’s awesome S1000RR through, and beyond, 8,000 rpm (where you will likely be breaking the speed limit in first gear with superbike gearing).
The ergonomics of the Z1000 are interesting in that they are much more comfortable than the ergos offered by pure sportbikes, but more aggressive, and less suitable for longer trips than those offered by many other Nakeds. In comparison with much of the competition, the Z1000 has footpegs that are higher and more rearward, with handlebars a bit lower and more forward. The seat has relatively firm padding, and was comfortable on longer rides. We averaged roughly 37 mpg during our testing.
Naked bikes, by definition, lack significant wind protection, although some deflect a fair amount of wind from the chest area due to their headlight and instrument panel design. By contrast, the Z1000 offered very little in the way of wind deflection at higher speeds, and it is the perfect candidate for a small bikini fairing to help out in this regard.
Spending more time with the Z1000 reinforced just how well this bike handles. The semi-aggressive seating position makes much more sense after you start carving corners. The Z1000 has a rock solid feel, with extremely good feedback from the front tire through the Showa fork. Together with the right chassis geometry and excellent Dunlop tires, this bike provides tremendous confidence in the twisties.
When you pick a line through a sweeper, the Z1000 does not wander off that line. Even mid-corner bumps are shrugged off, particularly by the fork. More importantly, Kawasaki has struck a good balance between stability in high-speed sweepers and maneuverability. With the relatively wide bars, the Z1000 changes direction quickly when asked to. It is not the lightest bike in the category, but it seems to translate that bit of extra heft into an advantage when it comes to predictability. The Z1000 never seems to do something you didn’t ask it to do, even when ridden hard and close to the edge.
As we said earlier, brake power and feel is hard to fault. The first time you ride the Z1000 you will know what we are talking about. Huge power, but with enough modulation that you can competently use the brakes in a panic stop. Of course, the excellent ABS system comes into the mix here, as well.
The other thing that struck us about the Z1000 is its level of refinement. When I step aboard a Kawasaki performance bike I expect a rawness to its character that is somewhat distinctive of the brand. The Z1000, on the other hand, might be described as half way between that typical Kawasaki raw character and the extremely refined nature of some Hondas (which can be either desirable or boring, depending on your perspective). As we previously said, the Z1000 handles in a manner that reminds us of Honda’s excellent CB1000R, with gobs more horsepower and better brakes.
The clutch and transmission performed competently throughout our testing, and the thorough instrumentation is very legible, including the digital tachometer with its two-stage readout. The headlights are very bright, particularly the high beam which engages all four separate beams simultaneously (see photo).
The Z1000 ABS has power everywhere you need it on the tachometer. Choosing a gear for aggressive corner exits is easy, and at least two gears will do the job well, in most circumstances. Combined with the excellent handling and brakes, this engine performance makes the Z1000 almost untouchable beneath a skilled rider attacking canyon twisties. It would make an excellent track day bike, as well, although in that environment the greater high rpm performance of the sportbikes, as well as their additional ground clearance will make them superior for a top rider.
We haven’t mentioned the styling of the Z1000 ABS. Living with the bike for some time, it did grow on us. Photographing the bike always made us appreciate the extremely complex lines and curves Kawasaki placed in the fairing, tank and tail sections. As a piece of art work, it has definitely developed some fans.
At a U.S. MSRP of $11,999, the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS offers a lot of value in a high performance, high specification Naked bike. The chassis, suspension (particularly, the front fork) and brakes are near the top of the category, and the engine performance offers just about all any aggressive street rider could ask for. The only color available in the U.S. this year is the pictured Golden Blazed Green/Metallic Graphite Gray. Take a look at Kawasaki’s web site for additional details and specifications.