19 Jun 2011

Kawasaki Z1000sx bike test

I was recently lent the bike you can see below for a week by Kawasaki France. Having ridden two-cylinder bikes for a long time (in fact almost forever, as anyone who follows this blog will be able to see for themselves), I was a little wary in anticipating this experience. Was the thing going to scare the shit out of me, or, on the other hand, was it going to bore me stupid?

Bikes have certainly changed a bit since the days of this Matchless 500, seen in Burgundy during our trip with the Kawasaki, and which was, at its time, a prime choice for a touring bike (note the floor mat to receive the oil!) 

The Kawasaki Z1000 sx is a "civilized" version of the very fast and snappy Z1000 roadster. By civilizing the thing I mean that Kawasaki have altered the riding position to make it more comfortable, slightly thickened the seat, taken a tooth off the front sprocket to make the engine rev a bit lower and hence consume less, increased the fuel capacity, installed a fairing with an adjustable screen, and produced a set of side cases as shown below.

I have already expressed my reserves about the aesthetics of this machine, which pays constant hommage to the current fad for the angular and the bulbous in virtually every detail of current motorcycle design. The image below shows something of what I mean.

Actually the above picture (the photo is mine) makes it look better in detail than it is overall. Yet, I have to say, the look of the thing actually grew on me over the week I had it and rode it. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that it is such a good bike. But we will get to that. Aesthetics, as always, are highly debateable, and I should say that Kawasaki have succeeded in making their fast tourer look quite similar to their faster sports bike, the Z10. The fairing is well integrated and offers pretty good protection and the screen can almost disappear or be made more prominent and protective for motorway riding. One can even turn the thing easily at a halt or slow speeds as the bars slot into gaps between screen and fairing.

My first reaction to riding this Kawasaki was how easy it was to handle, and how very civilized it is in its behaviour. No tear-away wheelies when you open the throttle, good progressive braking and so easy to roll onto an angle, depite what must be a weight of around 230 kilograms, and probably more with the bags on it. This green gremlin behaves like an urbane slickster when treated gently. It can be trickled through traffic with ease: more so one up, as the front gets a bit light with a heavy passenger. One does need to watch the width a bit when the side cases are fitted as they are some way wider that the spread of the rear-view mirrors. The bags, by the way, are quite well-designed: easy to open and close, they are capacious in their internal space with no encroachment from the very bulky (and ugly) silencers that look like ray-guns.

The mirrors provide a good view of what is behind you beyond your elbows and are easy to adjust. Their forward situation on the front of the fairing takes a bit of getting used to (and makes them a little vulnerable) but it actually makes sense when on the road as one's eye needs just to flick from road to mirror.

This bike sets out to combine the best of two worlds: the speed and overall performance of a sports bike with the comfort and long-distance cruising capacity of a GT. And I think it succeeds in this difficult enterprise very well.

The motor is very progressive and the bike pulls away very smoothly from as low as 2,000 rpm. It seems amazingly elastic as well, and continues to pull strongly and continuously up to 10,000. Above 5,000 it can get quite ferocious, but never seems vicious. The frame is perfectly adapted to all this power (albeit restricted to 106 bhp under the silly French legislation): the bike stays on line perfectly in corners and on all road surfaces, even with two on board. It loves taking angles, and the tyres fitted (Pirellis) were very re-assuring. The suspension is also suited to GT use, soft and progressive enough to spoil the passenger, and firm enough to keep everyone on the not necessarily straight and sometimes narrow and bumpy. 

Speaking of the passenger, my daughter, who spent quite a few hours on the back seat, found this reasonably comfortable and appreciated the passenger grips well placed on either side of the seat. On the down side, the protection provided by the mud-guard at the rear is quite insufficient in rainy conditions as your back gets wet very fast (you can just about see the tyre below the seat and understand what happens).

So would I buy one of these if I was in the market for such a bike? Yes, without hesitation. It is fun to ride, re-assuring in its safety aspects, reasonably comfortable over long distances (apart from some high-pitched vibration in the footpegs), can be ridden in town with ease and has some good practical features. It would just have to get itself a new paint-job and probably some other silencers!

Go for the open spaces....