When you look at all the bikes on the road today, it’s pretty easy to identify their respective categories. You’ve got your cruisers, tourers, dual-sports, sportbikes, dirt bikes; the list goes on and on. So what, exactly, would you call this Kawasaki motorcycle? It’s too upright for a sportbike, yet too aggressive to be called a “standard.” This is the latest version of the Kawasaki Z1000, a bike that since 2003 has been blazing a trail in this country for a whole new category called streetfighters.
The streetfighter trend was really an underground movement for self-expression in which sportbike owners (although all bikes are eligible) would customize their rides in the pursuit of individualism. Basic jobs consisted of ditching the stock clip-ons in exchange for a tubular handlebar, tearing off fairings and going for a ride. Extreme makeovers would start with a production machine and end up with something completely unrecognizable. Either way, being unique was key. As a side benefit many of these bikes-largely due to substituting the taller, flatter handlebar for the clip-ons-also became more comfortable to ride, especially during the daily commute. The trend was, and still is, popular in Europe but for some reason the spark hasn’t caught fire stateside.
In 2003 Kawasaki jumped onto this trend and decided to mass produce its version of a streetfighter with the Z1000. The bike’s sharp lines were edgy, the 953cc former ZX-9 engine had plenty of juice, and in case that wasn’t enough the quad exhaust pipes with two mufflers per side really put it over the top. Unfortunately, the ride was buzzy, steering twitchy and the lackluster suspension couldn’t keep up with the rest of the bike.
For 2007 the Z1000 has been revamped to provide better “real world performance,” according to Kawasaki. For starters, the engine gets more low-end and midrange punch thanks to revised engine mapping, new camshaft profiles and .5mm smaller intake and exhaust valves. Throttle body size has also been reduced to 36mm (from 38mm) for smoother engine response, and an exhaust valve in the muffler retains a certain amount of backpressure to increase the low and midrange performance.
Speaking of exhausts, you’ll notice that the quad exhaust look has been retained on the new bike. Don’t be fooled-the previous Z’s pipes utilized a 4-2-4 system, whereas now it’s arranged in a 4-2-1-2 configuration with an end cap to give it the four-pipe look. All this translates into 107 horsepower and 66.8 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, according to the Borla Performance dyno.
Chassis flex has also been reduced on the Z, thanks in part to a new engine subframe that uses a combination of rubber and solid mounts to allow the engine to be used as a stressed member, while at the same time reducing vibration. Many complaints about the previous model centered around the lack of adjustability for the suspension. Oddly, instead of reaching for a wide array of boingers in its parts bin, Kawasaki addressed the suspension woes on the new model with a 41mm male-slider fork up front, adjustable only for spring preload and rebound damping. The spring rate has been tweaked to provide what Kawasaki terms “smooth action in the top half of the stroke, and firmer damping in the bottom.” Out back rests a bottom-link Uni-Trak shock which is also adjustable for spring preload and rebound. Now, this is certainly not a premium-priced motorcycle, but these suspension fixes seem a bit half-hearted if you ask me.
Of course, every manufacturer will claim its newest model to be the next best thing, so the boys (and girls) in green invited us to the central California coast, which provided the perfect backdrop to test Kawi’s poker face and call its bluff. After plenty of street riding and a short stint at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, all that the bike had to offer was quickly revealed.
Before we get into riding impressions, it’s worth noting that the seating position is upright and comfy thanks to the type of tubular handlebar that helped make the original model popular. The area where the gas tank and seat meet is slightly narrower, allowing my 30-inch inseam to easily flatfoot the ground. Reach to the bar is comfortable for a semi-long ride; not that you’d want to go on one too often, though, as the seat is hard as a rock. During our street rides the 953cc engine had a tendency to lag off idle, and hesitate during midcorner throttle applications, which occasionally upset the bike. This was especially apparent during the few laps we got around Infineon, where powering out of corners was met with a sudden lack of power during those few moments when the throttle is first cracked open. Once the computers figure out how much gas to feed the engine the midrange punch really takes off, though, as I often found myself with the front wheel clawing at the air during the early stages of our ride. One thing noticeably missing from the bike is a windscreen, which would detract from your cred in the streetfighter world. That’s too bad as the lack of wind protection really makes itself felt at speeds over 70 mph, where just holding onto the bar can be a challenge.
Part of the allure of the streetfighter is to be able to tear through city traffic and carve through the twisty bits with ease. The Z1000 accomplishes the former rather easily thanks to its wide bar and torquey engine, which lets you muscle the fully fueled 515-pound bike wherever you want. Unfortunately you’ll have to muscle it quite a bit to accomplish the latter, as the 190/50 rear tire gives the bike heavy turn-in feel and the lackluster suspension wallows over the slightest bump in the road, causing the bike to want to stand up. Kawasaki claims that the more rigid frame gives the rider more feel, but in this case it might have backfired. Now the rider feels everything the bike is doing. Despite our best efforts to play with the limited adjustments, we didn’t have very many options and the problem never fully went away. Since the front end feels so light it can also limit your confidence in the corners. We suspect that a 180-series rear tire would make a dramatic improvement to the ride, but a complete change in suspension components would really bring the bike to life.
The Z1000 does have its strong suits. As mentioned earlier, the bike really delivers in the midrange department. Shift into any gear in the slick gearbox and hammer the throttle, and you’d better hang on because the bike will really scoot. If the speed becomes too much the dual 300mm petal-type rotors squeezed by four-piston radially mounted calipers do a great job of bringing the bike to a stop. Initial bite is strong and only fades slightly during a hard flogging. A new radial brake master cylinder is in charge of getting the fluid to the calipers and delivers great feel to the rider. Another feature we’re happy to see is the big, easy-to-read gauge cluster. A big analog tachometer lets you know how fast the engine is spinning while an equally large speedo lets you know how fast the tires are rolling. And there’s no excuse for running out of gas, as a huge digital gas gauge sits directly inside the tach.
Although the Z1000 is garnering strong sales across the pond, Kawasaki is still dipping its toes into the streetfighter market in America. Not long after the Z1000 was introduced for 2003, the Z750 was also launched. Realizing that it might have jumped in too fast, the decision was made not to bring the Z750 stateside for 2007.
For those looking to make a statement the Z1000 does look the part. The love-it-or-hate-it styling of both the old and new model was meant to shake up the status quo, so if your goal is to inject some testosterone into your daily commute or at your local rider hangout then this might be the ticket.
Other manufacturers have been hesitant to enter the streetfighter market stateside, but that’s slowly changing as entries from KTM, Aprilia and even Buell have appeared recently. Fortunately, the Z1000 retails for $8,649, which is much less than its competitors. While the new Z1000 has the potential to really capture the streetfighter market in this country, we have a few significant gripes about it that need to be sorted out before it can really be called a winner.
If you’re interested in the 2007 Kawasaki Z1000, you might also be interested in Rider‘s 2010 Kawasaki Z1000 review or the Rider Sport-Standard Comparo featuring the 2008 Kawasaki Z1000 as well as the Triumph Speed Triple and Yamaha FZ1.