New Kawasaki predator on the prowl

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 11:42 19/05/2014

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Kawasaki's press bumph for the new Z1000 ABS streetbike refers to something called Sugomi as an influence on the design of the all-new bodywork.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1034cc liquid-cooled dohc 16v inline four stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 142bhp (105kW) at 10,000rpm and 111Nm at 730.
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
Frame: Alloy twin-spar frame and alloy swingarm with 43mm fully-adjustable inverted front forks and a rear monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound
Price: $17,995.
Hot: Faster than any super-expensive naked Euro, and easier to live with; costs $3500 less than the gen-3 Z1000; looks like it eats children.
Not: Looks like it eats children; Gen-3's harsh rear spring made even harsher on Gen-4 Zed; taller riders won't appreciate new ergonomics.
Presumably this isn't the drugs that said designers were putting in their coffee at work, which were obviously previously-legal brain-warping highs judging from the end result.

Evidently Sugomi-style bikes are meant to look predatory and ready to spring forward, like a tiger stalking prey, or Usain Bolt ready to explode from the starting blocks. And that's pretty much how the 2014 Kawasaki Z1000 ABS has turned out, once you overlook a few excesses like all the Zeds stamped into the seat fabric.

This visual tension also carries over to the riding position of the new Zed-Thou. With the handlebars mounted lower and closer to a rider who now sits slightly higher on a lighter new rear alloy subframe, the ergonomics have taken a turn toward the sportier side of the streetbike sector.

As someone of average height I welcomed the shifting of my upper body forward, as it placed more of my weight on the front wheel, and prolonged comfort when riding the Kawasaki at sustained open road speeds.

However taller riders may feel a little cramped with the shift, and the instrument pod isn't quite as easy to consult as before.

You take your eyes off the oncoming roadscape for a considerably longer period if you wish to know just what speed you're travelling at. Which could potentially become a bit of an issue when riding a 147-bhp bike capable of tunnel vision-triggering speeds.

Kawasaki says that the shift in instrument pod location was made in the interest of mass centralisation.

Yeah, right. If the company wanted to get so serious about mass centralisation that a few grams-worth of electronic instruments was considered worth shifting, it would've stacked the gearbox above the crankshaft to shorten up powertrain length like most of the Z1000's four-cylinder competition has done.

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That said, the Z1000 has a powertrain that's so much more than average. It's ultra-refined and capable of delivering searing performance, with only the old- school linear layout to put a brake on its brilliance.

During data-acquisition testing for New Zealand Autocar magazine, the Kawasaki trumped KTM's new 1290cc Super Duke in the two 0-100kmh and 80-120kmh acceleration tests that Fairfax's NZ Autocar magazine measures. The margins between the two bikes were miniscule but it was still a clear win to the Jappa in such real-world performance criteria.

Yet the $17,995 Z1000 ABS costs roughly ten grand less than the Austrian bike. Sure you don't get the traction control and selectable throttle modes of the more expensive Katoom, but at no time during my time aboard the Zed did I feel that I needed them.

The ride-by-cable throttle of the Kawasaki precludes the offering of such electronic tricks, but it also gives access to one of the smoothest and most progressive torque deliveries in the streetbike segment. That there's more torque and more intake noise than supplied with the last Z1000 upgrade (introduced in 2010) adds both accelerative and aural muscle to the riding experience.

If a gap opens in traffic on busy roads, the Kawasaki can claim it almost instantly thanks to its shorter gearing, the wealth of mid- range torque, and the flawless response of the bike to any adjustment in throttle position.

On the opposite side of the performance ledger, both economy and range appear to have incrementally improved, although more of both remains on my wish-list for the Z1000.

While it's out, add a slipper clutch to the list. Although the Kawasaki's six-speed gearbox and well-conceived clutch are delights to operate, a little security to prevent rear wheel lock-up when downshifting a gear too far would be nice.

As it stands, the Kawasaki's ABS system is the only riding aid that the new Z1000 comes with, and never has it been more necessary. For the new mono- piece Tokico four-piston brake calipers up front are as powerful as anything fitted to any top-shelf sportsbike, and it's reassuring to know that there is an anti-lock system waiting in reserve.

During my test riding it was mainly the rear wheel that required the attention of the anti- lock sentries, especially when riding on bumpy surfaces. This is due to the harsh spring rate of the revised rear suspension of the Kawasaki, which isn't compliant or supple enough to keep the tyre in contact with the surface of our typically topographic back roads. Up front, the new Zed benefits from the addition of Showa's acclaimed Big Piston fork, and there is more feedback than before allied to just as faithful steering and maintenance of road/tyre contact. However the rear end of the Z1000 seems tailored to the smooth hot-mix surfaces of back roads located in Japan, California and Europe. It's a pity that the Zed's rear shock tuners didn't include Australasia as a target market.

Still, the affordable price of the Z1000 ABS does offer plenty of opportunity to fix the back end. As for the Sugomi-inspired design, it's great if you want to put a tiger in your garage.

- The Press

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