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The 2017 Kawasaki Z1000 – Old School fun for the Modern World

The 2017 Kawasaki Z1000 – Old School fun for the Modern World


The Kawasaki Z1000 is another one of those iconic models from the Japanese factory’s illustrious past. The original Z1 900 blew the doors right off the bike scene back in 1972 and when it eventually handed over the baton to the Z1000 in 1977, the big K was still more than worthy of the title, ‘world’s first superbike.’

Style wise the new bike looked the same, but thanks to the bore size of 1015cc, it took the Z Thou to 83 horsepower. This year, also saw the trademark four into four exhaust change to a four into two system and a disc brake added to the rear. The overall look was sleeker, but it was still a hooligan.

The following year, just when everyone thought Kawasaki would be content to rest on their laurels, they shook the motorcycle scene up once more with the release of the Z1R. The very first, factory built Café Racer to leave a Japanese factory.


Racing Cafè: Kawasaki Z1-R

Kawasaki Z1-R

Interestingly enough, the Z1R really polarized opinion, you either loved it or you hated it. The bike had taken on an angular more aggressive look, with its blacked- in engine and aluminum highlights.  It featured a cockpit fairing, four into one exhaust and included such technical innovations as self-canceling indicators and mag wheels.

The bike’s kick starter was pretty much obsolete, so strangely enough was moved under the seat as a stand by! But subtle engine mods upped engine output to 90bhp, making it the most powerful of the Z’s.

By now, the other Japanese manufacturers had caught up with the GS1000, CBX1000, and XS1100.  Whilst in the USA the motorcycle buying public voted on the Z1R’s looks by staying away in droves. In the UK, though, Brit bikers knew a good thing when they rode it and dealers were still happily moving them four years later.

With the exception of the Eddie Lawson Replica, the following years were tame for the Z1000. Mutating into a shaft driven tourer and the retro-styled Zephyr it was only buoyed up by die-hard Kawasaki fans.


2017 Kawasaki Z1000


It took until 2003 before the once proud Zed Thou got its first major facelift in almost 20 years. The factory went back to its roots and aimed the new bike at their original target audience, the fast and the furious.

Gone was the traditional frame, replaced with a backbone style unit that used the engine as a stressed member. The engine in question was a slightly de-tuned version of the barnstorming ZX-9R, with fuel injection remapped to give more mid- range grunt.

The ZX-6R provided the seat unit, brakes, and clocks and it even had a brief nod to the mighty Z that started it all by featuring four into four exhausts. The bike was well received but it still hadn’t quite hit the spot.

With only minor tweaks, the next big milestone didn’t happen until 2010, when the Z1000 got the total makeover it needed. It was now in with a chance of competing with the other super nakeds up for grabs.

This time, Kawasaki hit the ball out of the park. The new Z1000 ditched the old engine in favor of an all new liquid cooled 136bhp unit, which emphasized mid-range power.

The frame was all new too, it stayed with the stressed member layout but featured a die cast aluminum twin spar. Together, with an aluminum sub frame and swinging-arm, it cut around four kilos of weight off the old frame.


The Kawasaki Z1000 is another one of those iconic models


This weight saving, together with a powerful new engine which started to get serious at 4500 rpm, lifted the front wheel merely by snapping open the throttle. The only real criticism testers of the day had, was the lack of a seventh gear!

We shouldn’t really be surprised at the whole super naked explosion. As pure sport bikes have become faster and more focused, traffic has become more congested and slower.

By all means, have 200 horsepower on tap, held in check only by a host of complicated electronic controls, but when you’re stuck in traffic with all of your body weight on your wrists, the novelty wears off really quickly.

Re-worked versions of these engines are designed to give more low and mid-range. And this, mated to an upright riding position and stand out styling just makes perfect sense. Rocket science it isn’t.

Quarter Mile

This is why the Z1000 stands out amongst the ranks of the super nakeds. Drop the clutch from a standing start and 2.5 seconds later, you’ll be traveling at 60mph, eight seconds more and you’ve just covered a quarter mile.  Do you really need more than 147mph without a fairing?

The Kawasaki isn’t all about speed, though. Styling wise it cuts a serious dash and throwing a leg over, sees you looking out across the 4.5-gallon tank and leaving you feeling like you’re sitting in the bike, rather on it. This is due to the large capacity gas tank curving over the top of the twin spar frame.

Incidentally, the frame is cast as a single unit along with the swinging arm pivot. This cuts down on welds, with the engine suspended below and secured in three places. The sub frame is still an aluminum construction but now is a three-piece design which allows for a narrower seat.

Up front, the new Zed retains its 41mm separate function big piston Showa’s.  These feature compound and rebound damping in the right leg, whilst the left, handles the spring preload adjuster. Separating the controls like this is designed to smooth out fork travel during braking and was first seen in off road bikes.

Like several of their new models including the Z900 launched recently, Kawasaki has repositioned the rear shock to lay horizontally, so as to keep it away from the exhaust and subsequent overheating problems. The Showa unit features strapless rebound damping and a remote preload adjuster.


The bike now rolls on six-spoke cast aluminum wheels which adds to more weight saving. Up front, differential piston diameter Tokico calipers are controlled by Bosch ABS.

Now, this is where the new Z1000 differs from the rest of its peers. With electronic rider aids, the ABS unit is linked to selectable traction control parameters metered out by the bikes ECU. These are usually accompanied by wheelie control and ride by wire. The Kawasaki has none of these.

So, does it need them? In my opinion, no it doesn’t. Admittedly, with its Sugomi style design, which is supposed to conjure images of a crouching predator, coupled with a hint of terminator, the bike looks capable of ripping your arms out of their sockets. However, in reality, the bike’s super smooth throttle response makes town riding and more spirited open road riding, equally as pleasurable. It is therefore more pussycat than panther.


Don’t get me wrong, this is a sporty machine in every sense of the word. The 1043cc four-cylinder DOHC engine is only user-friendly because of the extensive re-working of its internals.

New intake camshafts give less lift and duration, and a re-worked ECU and crank driven balancer smooth out the lumps still further. Fuel injection is by four 38mm Keihin throttle bodies. All of which add up to a controlled linear wave of acceleration right up to the 11,250rpm red line.

Riding pleasure is enhanced audibly, with the addition of two passages drilled into the air box, to give an old school induction roar under hard acceleration. Something else that got lost along the way in the endless search for sanitized engines.

Styling wise, the bike’s instrumentation consists of a single centrally mounted digital clock that’s about the size of a smartphone. This, is incorporated into the handlebar clamp.  Speed comes up as a digital readout with RPM’s indicated by a row of horizontal lights.

Now, unfortunately, out of the entire bike, this is where Kawasaki and I have to agree to disagree. The Big K say, that the new four LED headlight is a standout design feature and I’m sure that on paper, it certainly is. Out on the street, I say it looks like it slid down the fork legs. I’d dump it and find myself a nice rectangular headlamp and mount it conventionally onto the fork top brackets. And this, ladies and gentlemen is probably why I’ll never get a job in the Kawasaki design department.

Big and Bold

Big and Bold


Overall, the Kawasaki Z1000 is one of the best super naked street bikes on the market. It’s big and bold.  And with its love it, hate it looks, it isn’t afraid to make a statement. It is so well balanced and responsive, it simply doesn’t need to follow other manufacturers, with electronic rider aids.

Lots of motorcycle manufacturers these days will badge-up new models with a nostalgic nod to their own back catalog but invariably, the only thing they’ll have in common is the name.

In this case, however, the resemblance in spirit at least remains credible. The very first Z1000 was a big, brash bruiser of a bike that stuck its middle finger up to anyone who didn’t like it and I’m pleased to announce, that the 2017 Kawasaki Z1000 is carrying on that fine tradition in spades.

And talking of nostalgic model names, Kawasaki has just launched an R version of the Z1000. Is it just me, or did Kawasaki miss out on the headline bonanza of the year by not calling it the Z1R?




About the author


Hello everyone! I am a Mechanical Engineer and the founder of motorcyclecentral.net. I love motorcycles since my childhood, so I started this blog website to share this passion with you all.

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