8 Jun 2011

a change of ride

I have just been loaned a bike for a week by the Kawasaki importer for France. Very kind of them and I think I will enjoy the experience very much.

This must be the first time that I have ridden a large new 4-cylinder Japanese bike since those days way back in the early 1970's when I used to test ride for the British magazine BIKE. And even then I used to test mainly European bikes. All my personal machines since those days have been either Italian or British (or Spanish or Swedish in the case of off-road bikes). I have occasionally put my leg over other bikes, but only for brief spins. This article will not give a full test account of this Kawasaki Z1000 SX (see picture below). That will have to wait until I have had it for a week and done some distance on varied roads. Good timing for this as this weekend I will be taking off for 3 days into Burgundy and back to Paris. No, this is just a short "first impressions" thing to say just how different two modern bikes can be in the sensations that they provide.

This is what this Kawasaki looks like, complete with the removable side bags which are fitted to the machine I am using. I have to admit that I am not a fan of its looks, although it looks aggressive enough! This angular style of so many contemporary machines does not appeal to me and I hate the garish green (which is of course a signature colour for Kawasaki). The machine is also available in black, which would certainly be better in my opinion. I tend to like black on a bike, as these shots of my two current road bikes will show:

Now I won't start comparing a 1970's Norton Commando to this 2011 Kawasaki. That would be silly. But the Ducati Multstrada dates from 2005 and so can be considered as a modern machine. Apart from any obvious visual comparisons, the first thing that strikes me is the difference in the noise! The Ducati is renowned for sounding like, well, a motorbike. It also emits a characteristic clattering sound from the dry clutch that makes it instantly recognisable. In fact some innocent bystanders point to the living heart of the Duc as if it had serious mechanical problems (which it doesn't). And mine has had its catalyser removed and special exhausts fitted which makes the sound that much more cavernous. The Kawasaki is so discreet that I had to check the rev counter to ensure that the engine was running at first! So much the better for the neighbours!

This bike is also incredibly easy to handle from the outset for such a big machine. I don't know how much it weighs, but certainly more than the Ducati, yet its centre of gravity is low and it feels lighter at low speed. We will see what happens when things pace up a bit. The riding position seems very comfortable so far, with handlebars fairly flat, as I like them for a road machine, and the footpegs set back a little.  

Parhaps the main difference lies in the progressive, almost linear feel of the motor. No kick in the seat of your pants when you twist the throttle, just a steady pull and a delusive impression that you are just trickling along, when in fact you are already close to the legal limits. Will have to watch that! Whilst the Ducati usually makes you aware that you are riding quite fast, the Kawa feels rather like you are sitting on a smooth and sedate sewing machine, albeit a very fast one. The sound is so well muffled that it doesn't give you much of a clue as to your speed and the gears are quite close-set so that I found myself rapidly seeking an inexistant 7th gear. Everything else works well. The front brake seems powerful and the handling, at least at the very reasonable speeds that I have used so far, is very sure-footed.

Watch this space for much more in a week or so, and ride safely....