Test Ride: 2017 Kawasaki Z1000R

The 2017 Kawasaki Z1000R sneers at me as I approach. The slashing lines and forked eyes are the exact opposite of welcoming, and yet strangely tempting.

Ride it gently and the Z1000 is not fun. This naked streetfighter will openly mock your attempts to keep it under wraps.

But angry looks are only the beginning of the story here. Under that foreboding visage is the same 1,043 cc inline-four from the ZX-10R. It has been detuned as always for marketing reasons here, but is still good for 143 hp at 10,000 rpm and 82 lb-ft of wheel-hiking torque at 7,300. At 220 kg, the Z1000 is no lightweight, but it’s not heavy either. The Z1000 has gravitas, feels substantial underneath you, but rewards you with rapid responses when you get aggressive with the controls.

Ride it gently and the Z1000 is not fun. This naked streetfighter will openly mock your attempts to keep it under wraps, pulling against the throttle, twitching at the clutch lever. Riding in traffic? Lol. Have you ever had a friend or colleague get visibly agitated by how slow you’re doing something? That’s the exact sensation you get from the big Z.

Get stuck into it though and the $14,499 Kwakka steps up, ready to go to work with you. A second set of throttle valves managed by the engine control unit ensure acceleration is linear and controlled. The inline-four screams through the 11,500 rpm rev range with an aural intensity that will aggravate your neighbours and brutalize your cheek muscles – as much from the grinning as the acceleration.

The piercing engine note is accentuated by an ever-present intake noise as the Z sucks in air like your uncle before he got his CPap.

Helping ease the 120/70-17 front tire’s transition to terra firma is a 41 mm upside-down Showa fork with compression, rebound damping, and preload adjustment. The front end is firm enough to avoid pitching under braking, but soft enough to tolerate the ravaged roads of the inner city. Over the heaves on the highway, the front has a pleasant way of floating up and gliding down. On the off ramps, the front tire tracks truly and gives good feedback through the wide bars. Radial-mount four-piston Brembos bite into 310 mm discs to pull the Z1000R up in rapid pace. An ABS catch net is there to prevent idiot journalists from doing stoppies.

Out back, the remote preload adjuster links up to a near-horizontal back-link rear shock – again with a full range of adjustability. I had no chance to ride two-up on this occasion, but those who do regularly will appreciate that remote adjuster. Its ability to keep the 190/50-17 rear tire pressed firmly against the pavement makes for exciting times on traffic light launches and helps steer the bike out of corners on the gas.

That rear shock design also keeps the doglegs above the swingarm, opening up space for the under-slung four-tip exhaust.

The riding position is comfortably aggressive. You sit deep within the Z1000 frame with the fuel tank/airbox cover very much nestled into your thighs. The bars are nicely shaped, curved just enough for that sporty feel but wide enough for solid control, and the footpegs are in a relatively neutral spot too.

The instrument cluster leaves a bit to be desired. It has good info, including fuel economy, fuel gauge, trip computer, and gear indicator; but it can be hard to read in bright sunlight. The rev meter has been split between the two screens: 0–3,000 rpm shown vertically in the main display; 4–11,000 demonstrated by a light bar across the top. It’s functional, but awkward to look at.

In order to compensate for this minor annoyance, I decided to keep the revs above 6,000 rpm at all times. Then, I set the adjustable shift light to 6,500 rpm so it would go off all the time and people would think I was riding like a hero. #winning

Speaking of winning – this bike is only available in Canada this year. The USA doesn’t get it.

Thanks to the assist clutch, the clutch lever is light and easy, giving some relief when commuting. It’s also a slipper clutch, meaning my lead-footed downshifts were metered by the clutch and didn’t trigger dramatics from the back tire – though it did spike that shift light.

Aesthetically, the Z1000 has something for everyone. No, literally. The designers seemed intent on making sure everybody could find something they liked somewhere on the bike, so they put as much as they possibly could on it from a design perspective. My personal opinion is that it looks angry and mean and I like that. But I could see how some elements might be polarizing. Like the utterly superfluous eyebrow light above the headlight. Or the massive four-tip exhaust.

Otherwise, the head-down, backside-up, broad-shouldered stance of the strikingly coloured Z1000R hits all the right marks. It postures and provokes, all the while making its purpose clear: This bikes wants to be ridden, hard.

2017 Kawasaki Z1000R
Engine Displacement: 1,043 cc
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 143 hp @ 10,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 82 lb-ft @ 7,300 rpm
Fuel Economy: N/A
Cargo Space: N/A
2017 Kawasaki Z1000R
Base Price $14,499
A/C Tax N/A
Destination Fee N/A
Price as Tested $14,499
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
9 Styling
10 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
5 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
5 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value