THE Z1000SX is Kawasaki's best-selling model in the UK. I can see why it would be.
Manufacturers are fond of saying their latest new model appeals to riders who have grown tired sports bikes. In March I heard someone from Harley say it about their bikes. In April, Suzuki cautiously suggested the shift from sports to adventure bikes would be followed by more people riding Burgman 650s.
But when Kawasaki say the Z1000SX appeals to former sports bike riders, I believe them. In post-sports-bike-mad Britain, it should be hugely popular. It seems a much more natural step than an adventure bike that never gets taken off road.
The Z1000SX is a bit like a step back from today's sports bikes to when they were still incredibly fast but easier to live with, with more concessions to comfort and common sense.
Of course it's more advanced than a 20-year-old sports bike though. For 2014, it’s been given traction control and two power settings, as well as new suspension and brakes.
It would be easy for the fancy new electronics to take all the limelight but I think, for a bike like this, the new panniers are just as important. A wide and ugly pannier system was an issue with the old bike. They stuck out on ghastly tubular steel frames and put the Z1000SX in danger of being weird: too soft to be a sports bike, too ugly as a panniered-up tourer. By refining them, Kawasaki has made the whole sports tourer proposition more plausible.
The new panniers are four inches narrower than the old ones when mounted. They attach directly to points on the grab rails and footrest hangers, and sit much closer to the tail unit. Unlike the old ones, they share a key with the ignition.
Removing them is easy and intuitive and leaves behind no ugly frame. Each one easily accommodated my full-face Arai.
Last year 35% of Z1000SXs were sold with the panniers, which are expected to cost around £500 on the latest version. In the words of one of the Kawasaki people on the launch in Austria, that percentage is expected to rise "because when you take them off it's not ugly".
Customers may not dwell for long on how handsome their panniers are, though. After a few moments' riding you forget they're there. This is where the 'sports' part of the proposition makes itself known.
The Z1000SX has light and responsive steering. It doesn’t feel like a tourer.
The current version was criticised as having too-soft rear suspension. For 2014 it has a new rear shock and linkage, with a stiffer spring and a remote preload adjuster. It never left me in any doubt about what the rear wheel was up to.
It’s also got new monobloc brake calipers, with optional ABS. Kawasaki say they allow one-finger braking. I wouldn’t argue.
There's an induction roar beginning from 6,000rpm that makes you think you're on a superbike.
According to a Kawasaki PR man, exhaust noise-limits leave the air box as the only opportunity for getting a decent roar from a motorcycle these days. So Kawasaki has deliberately engineered one by putting extra holes in an induction plate in the air box. There used to be one; now there are 16. Arguably it was a juvenile endeavor but it’s good to be childish sometimes.
Mid-range and peak power have been increased slightly with engine tweaks according to Kawasaki. The 2013 model made a claimed 136bhp and 81.1lbft of torque while the new figures are a nice round 140bhp and 81.8lbft. That’s not far off an original 1998 Yamaha R1.
I got 40.9mpg on the launch ride, through rural roads and villages.
There’s of masses of drive from low RPM. Then at 6,000 the 1043cc in-line four begins to really pile it on, while that induction roar pushes the point home.
There are three traction control settings. ‘One’ intervenes the least, and allows power wheelies. ‘Two’ does as well, but brings them down sooner. ‘Three’ is for wet conditions. If you want, you can also switch the traction control off altogether.
The system is imaginatively named KTRC, for Kawasaki Traction Control. The ZX-6R 636 also has KTRC, but it's been redeveloped specifically for the Z1000SX, according to Makoto Momaski, the design project leader from Japan.
It’s not as sophisticated as some traction control systems. You can feel it cutting the power much more than, say, on KTM’s 1190 Adventure, which intervenes with more precision and subtlety.
It works though, letting the rear step out in corners under power and bringing it back before things get out of hand. At one point, exiting a bend, I felt the rear step out and come back, and was praising my own throttle control when I remembered the clever electronics.
Accelerating in first gear, the front pops up, the ‘KTRC’ light flickers on the dash, and it comes back down.
It’s only in the third setting that the intervention becomes a bit annoying under hard acceleration, and I suppose hard acceleration is not what that setting is for.
The two power modes are ‘L’ for low and ‘F’ for full. L cuts it by 30%, still leaving 98bhp. I found myself thinking I could achieve something similar by opening the throttle less. I suppose it would make sense for relaxed, two-up touring, though.
And relaxed two-up touring the Z1000SX could do. It’s more comfortable than it might look. The seat is well-padded – only after several hours’ riding was I getting a little numb. The riding position is upright. I thought the bars could be a little less straight and more dropped without compromising comfort.
The pillion seat feels as plush as the rider's (It's 10mm thicker than before according to Kawasaki), and there's an optional top box with a back rest. I noticed that top box could be detached by undoing four easily-accessed allen bolts. Kawasaki say they can be replaced with security bolts as a theft precaution.
The screen has three manually adjustable height settings. Switching between them is a simple, two-hand job, using a button below the clocks. At the highest, it wasn’t quite tall enough to reduce wind noise for the 5’9” tester but did a good job from the neck down.
The Z1000SX feels how a genuine sports tourer should: like two bikes in one. If you want a machine that can take luggage and a pillion away for a weekend, but which can still make you think you’re on a sports bike when you feel like it, this could be it.
Price: £9,299 (£9,699 with ABS)
Colours: Candy lime green, metallic spark black, metallic graphite grey
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