Exhilarating performance at a budget price

The Kawasaki Z1000 is a familiar motorcycle here in the MotoUSA garage. The Big Z is a regular entry in our Streetfighter comparisons, and the original incarnation served as one of our favorite project bikes (Project Z). The original Z was redesigned for the 2007 model year, where it placed second in our Streetfighter evaluation. It hung around for another year before getting yanked from the U.S. lineup. Fortunately, unlike its little brother Z750 (a best-seller for Kawasaki in Europe), the Z1000 returned in 2010 as a complete ground-up redesign. For 2011, the big Zed is back for another run at the title.

A 1043cc Inline Four powers the 2011 Kawaxaki Z1000. The previous Z sourced a mill derived from the ZX-9, but this latest Four is built exclusively for this motorcycle and aimed at street riders. Kawasaki has a reputation for designing brutish engines, and the Z’s Four is a beast to be sure. This is the same engine utilized in the Ninja 1000, one of our favorites in the recent Road Sport test, where its spunky power proved more than a match for much larger engine platforms.

The Z turns the dyno up to an impressive 125 horsepower (125.16). It’s torque-rich (75.6 lb-ft peak) powerband makes for immediate acceleration, with a particularly vicious mid-range punch. While the Ducatis and Triumph beat it off the bottom end, the Kawasaki gains ground in the mid-range with a terrific zing pulling it even with all but the Diavel around 8000 rpm before signing off 3000 rpm later.

“The Z1000 pulls hard into the rev limiter, so hard that I found myself banging the needle off the stop quite frequently,” explains Steeves. “This monster motor has no sign of tapping out until pulls its own plug at 11k.”

Only the Ducatis were faster than the Z1000 in the quarter-mile (11.097 at 124.8 mph) and 0-60 (3.178). In terms of engine performance, our testers only rated the Ducati Streetfighter higher, with a couple testers deeming the Kawi the top performing engine of the comparison.

“There’s something about big bore Kawasaki engines,” croons Kenny. “In the case of the Z1000 it has great power, it’s very smooth and always seems to be right there, no matter what gear you’re in. It isn’t the fastest at the strip but it has some balls, for sure.”

The Z1000’s Inline Four feels tame at times, compared to the rowdy Ducatis and Triumph, but it’s not as relaxed as the Honda. Our only big gripe is the Kawasaki engine proves the buzziest of the test. That, and our regular complaint about Inline Fours in comparison tests – that smoothness can sometimes come off as bland compared to the Twins and Triple.

“The Kawasaki engine feels boring,” admits Kenneth. “It is super smooth, very quiet and doesn’t make the intake or exhaust howl I expect from a green machine. However, it hauls ass and that makes up for its lack of personality.”

Only the Honda’s drivetrain rates higher than the Kawi’s silky six-speed gearbox. Clutch pull was heaviest of the group, but there’s nothing else to whine about.

“The Japanese cogs and dogs are as well sorted as usual,” says Hutch. “It’s rare they miss the mark so it’s no surprise the Kawasaki ranks high in this area. The gearing itself seemed great on the track and always seemed to be near the meat of the power on the street. That is, unless you are cruising at low-low rpm, in which case it needs more time to spool up than the Triple or Twins.”

In the braking department, the Kawasaki’s radial-mount four-piston Tokico calipers rate second only to the Brembo stoppers on the Ducati. They get high marks for feel at the lever, with a progressive stopping power that doesn’t feel as grabby as some of the beefy binders. On the track, the Z1000 brakes worked well for the majority of the time – they were not too grabby and made hard charging into turns a pleasant surprise, but eventually they would start to fade out. Considering this is supposed to be a street bike first and foremost, that is to be expected.

“Best modulation, and lever feel. Overall power was just right,” rates Steeves, the most abusive rider on the brakes. “The higher heat from track thrash’n left them getting spongy as laps pilled on thick, though. It’s a small discount for the tremendous feel as evident in the long endos I enjoyed doing throughout the day on the green machine.”

On the road and the track, the Kawasaki proves a nimble mount. While not as neutral-handling as the Triumph and Honda, it’s quick to react to rider input.

“It is a real surprise how well the Kawasaki handles. It requires a bit more effort to turn in but it’s very stable and yet still is ready to hustle through corners,” claims Ken. “If you are focused on canyon carving you’ll love the Z. If you feel the need to hit a track day once in a while, you’ll love it even more because of its combination of comfort and carving ability.”

The current generation Z1000 feels more stable when cornering compared to its 2007-2008 predecessor. It’s three-way adjustable Showa fork, and preload/rebound adjustable rear shock prove a good match for street riding and, to our surprise, worked pretty well on the track too.

“The Z1000 is plush on the street,” says Ken. “It is the most Cadillac-like without giving up its sporty prowess. On the tack, it drags pegs a bit but still holds its own very well.”

Brian agrees, “With awesome traction and stability, the Z’s only downside was ground clearance. A quick inspection on the bottom of the foot pegs verified this. Exceptional predictability did come from both the rear end and more importantly the heavy-weighted front.”

Our testers rated the Kawasaki’s rider interface and overall comfort the best of the test. Riding position is mostly upright, with a slight sporting stance. The bars are placed tall and wide, which helps deliver the extra input required on turn-in. The mirrors offer a great view, although they did get a little blurry as the rpms increased, and that 32.1-inch high seat is slender, which makes for an easy reach to the ground. Riders also feel as though they sit in the Kawasaki, not perch atop it, which adds to the comfort factor.

“Being 5’9” (5’11” if you are a female reading this) the Kawi left me in a comfortable pocket from long rides and mountainside outbursts of A.D.H.D. hooliganism,” says Steeves.

It will probably have to be bursts too, as the Z’s 4-gallon tank only nets a 134-mile range, at least by our throttle happy MPG reading of 33.6. The Ninja 1000 gets almost a full extra gallon fuel load to remedy this shortcoming, but the range factor is far from a deal breaker. Riders don’t have to guess on fuel levels, with a digital gauge incorporated into the dainty instrument console. Resting right above the bars, the instrument display is easy to read at a quick glance. We like the left-side digital speedo. The unusual half-U shape of the digital tach takes more getting used to.

Ever since its first incarnation, the Z1000 has been a love-it-or-hate-it bike when it comes to styling. This year’s bike is no exception, dividing test rider opinion. The champion for the Z’s looks in our testing cadre is Mr. Hutchison: “I just can’t say enough about how cool the Kawasaki looks. I love sci-fi and cartoons, so the Z1000 really appeals to me because of that. The angular styling looks like it was ripped right from the pages of a Japanese super hero comic. I expect to see a scantily clad school girl wielding dual swords fly across the sky and clear me a swath of open road through the hordes of mindless zombies driving their cages on their daily commute. Yeah, the Z1000 is fantasy cool in my book, with the exception of the unsightly mufflers and the traditional swingarm.”

Testers may not all agree on Ken’s anime-inspired zombie apocalypse musings, but everyone appreciates the Z1000’s $10,599 MSRP. The Kawasaki is far and away the bargain of this test. It even manages to undercut the Honda by 400 bucks. But the budget entry doesn’t deliver cheap performance. Far from it. The Z1000 is a strong entry in this Streetfighter class, and the top pick amongst many of our test riders.

Kawasaki Z1000 Highs & Lows


  • Best budget bike, with low $10,599 MSRP
  • Inline Four provides exhilarating performance
  • One of top handling bikes in the comparison
  • Solid transmission and braking performance


  • Lots of buzz when revs rise
  • Lowest observed range
  • Inline Four can feel bland at low rpm