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Kawasaki Z 1000 Z1-R
1978 Z1000-D1 Z1R
In 1977-1978 Kawasaki had to leave its reputation as a manufacturer of outstanding big bikes in the care of the current Z1000 four, pending introduction of new models. These finally appeared in 1981, but Kawasaki had reckoned without the other Big Three, who got on with their own 1-litre superbikes, and spurred Kawasaki into action. The outcome was the Z1-R, which was little more than a facelift job. But backed by a persuasive PR campaign, it managed a reasonable holding action for a year or so, being fully a match in looks for any of the newer designs and only disappointing when compared with them on the road.
The changes, then, were mainly cosmetic, but there were some real ones. The exhaust system became four into one, with an expansion chamber, and the four carburettors were enlarged to 26mm; the result was a power boost from 83 to 90bhp. Suspension was slightly reworked, and the frame had extra gusseting below the head, with the steering geometry revised to take account of a smaller (18in) front wheel.
New features included a remote fluid reservoir for the twin front discs, turn signals arranged for self-cancelling on time and/or distance, and fuel gauge and ammeter.
In looks the Z1 -R was a great success. It had a new tank with angular lines carried Something of a stop-gap, pending development of a new line of 10OOcc fours, the Z1 -R introduced in 1979 was cleverly styled to appeal to sporting riders
Road Test 1979
This is no ordinary, run-to-the-store-for-a-loaf-of-bread-and-quart-of-milk Kawasaki here. No, sir. This is 1000 cc of rolling Probable Cause. This is an open-and-shut case of Profiling In The First Degree With Apparent Intent To Exceed The Posted Limits. This is a motorcycle which radiates the essence of motion so effectively that the cop hiding behind the billboard might suspect you were speeding when you came. past at ten miles per hour under the limit.
Make no mistake about it: the local Citizenry—including the guys in the black-and-white car with the red lights. on the roof—will make a number of assumptions when they see you tooling past on a Z1-R, one of which is that as soon as you get out of their sight, the throttle will be thrust wide open, and you and your sleek, silvery motorcycle will disappear in one thunderous onslaught of ear-splitting noise and blinding speed. Joe Average hasn't the foggiest idea why anyone would buy such a motorcycle, but he's damned sure that whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with practicality, gas economy or around-town commuting.
The Zl-R will assuredly be termed "Café racer" by the motorcycling public, even though none of Kawasaki's advertisements proclaim it as such, probably because of the possible legal ramifications of calling a street bike a "racer." But the Z1-R is much more than just another pseudo-roadracer, anyway. It is, in our opinion, a masterpiece of styling integrity, a tidy, up-to-date design exercise that leaves previous Café attempts standing in the dust.
The R has what most bikes of its type do not—a styling theme, -a- common design thread which runs from one end of the bike to the other. The R's theme is straight sides and sharp corners, and the execution is with graceful, angular lines that flow so naturally from one area to the next that the bodywork sometimes appears to be all one piece.
Moreover, the stylists have accomplished the near-unaccomplishable by giving the Zl-R a thoroughly modern flavor without disturbing the basic lines and classic proportions that make a motorcycle look like a motorcycle. What's even more remarkable is that they did all this while making the machine look a good deal lighter and smaller than the KZ1000 on which it is based, even though it is actually no smaller and a few pounds heavier.
Clearly, the Z1-R's stylists did their homework well, deceiving the eye where it should be deceived, pleasing it where it should be pleased. But what of the rest of the package? Does it perform with the same type of well-orchestrated togetherness that oozes from the bodywork? The answer to that question, as we found, depends upon who you are and what you look for in a motorcycle.
The Z 1-R is essentially a regular Kawasaki KZ1000 engine and frame sitting amidst a variety of all-new pieces conjured up just for this model.
The transverse four-cylinder engine's bore, stroke and compression ratio are identical to the KZ's, as is the lift and duration of its chain-driven dual overhead camshafts. The internal and final drive gear ratios are also the same on the Zl-R and KZ. The only performance-affecting differences between the two models are the Z 1-R's larger carburetors (28 mm vs. 26 mm) and its four-into-one exhaust (as opposed to the KZ's four-into-two). Ac cording to Kawasaki's figures, those two modifications give the Z1-R a seven-horsepower advantage over the KZ1000. According to figures obtained on our dyno, which produces numbers somewhat lower than those claimed by the manufacturers, the R has 2 more horsepower than the KZ.
Sadly, Kawasaki's street bikes, including the 1000, still use a conventional breaker-point ignition system. With the appearance of solid-state pointless ignitions on several new street machines (the 750 and 1100-cc Yamahas and the Honda 400 Hawks), we had hoped that the motorcycle that put the superbike era into high gear would he the recipient of one of these maintenance-reducing systems. Instead, the same old dual breaker points can be found wearing themselves out beneath the small, round cover on the right side of the engine.
The Z1-R shares its major chassis components with the standard KZ1000, but a number of pieces are indigenous to the R model. The frame, swingarm and front suspension are designed exactly like the KZ's, except for some stronger gusseting at a few key points on the frame—most notably a heavier-gauge gusset at the steering head. The rear shocks are entirely new units with firmer springing and damping for "sportier" handling and improved rear wheel control.
The R's cast aluminum alloy wheels are both seven-spoke, 18-inch units made by the Kawasaki factory, not items purchased from an outside supplier. Dual perforated discs with trailing (mounted behind the slider legs) calipers flank the front wheel, while a single holey disc resides at the rear.
All the aforementioned technical information is vital, but those same details could apply to almost any transverse four-cylinder superbike. What gives the Z1-R a very definable personality is the crispness and continuity of its styling. The rear bottom edge of the slab-sided gas tank, for example, drops down gracefully just behind the tops of the carburetors, and there it begins a straight line which carries all the way back to the taillight. The front of the tank angles upward slightly, pointing the way to the flat-sided fairing that is sculpted in the same manner as the tank. The flat, sharp-corner motif is carried through to the front fender, the side covers and the tasteful little spoiler on the flat, wide rear tailpiece.
Other subtle styling touches abound: the flat. triangular side covers fill up the entire area inside the rear frame tubes instead of being the usual little bulges that only cover part of that area; the upper front edge of each side cover flares out to meet the airbox in the same manner as the fuel tank droops down behind the carbs; the angle of the seat/tank junction matches perfectly with the angle of the front edge of the side covers; the rear edge of the dual seat sweeps upward at the same angle as the rear of the side covers and the rear of the quarter-fairing is cut at the same angle as the front fork tubes. There are more examples, but the pattern is clear: Whoever styled the Z1-R really knew something about design, symmetry and visual flow, and he also knew something about motorcycles because in creating this visual feast, he put on an existing motorcycle a body that looks better than the original.
Even the flip-up gas cap reflects the styling theme. The cap, too, is square-or rectangular, actually—and flush with the top of the tank. And instead of merely being a cover for a conventional screw-on cap, the lid is the cap. It's hinged at the rear and swings up to expose the rubber sealing ring and necessary vent provisions.
The Z1-R seat was styled to follow the same lines as the rest of the body. The seat doesn't flip up, but conies off altogether when released by using the ignition key to turn a neat little lock beneath a. rectangular chrome cover on the tailpiece. Under the seat are the tool kit, air filter and kickstarter. The latter is now stored on the underside of the seat instead of on the engine.
Inside that little fairing, behind the gray tinted windscreen, lies the usual array of instruments and indicator lights, plus two meters not previously found on any Kawasaki: an ammeter and a fuel gauge. The instruments are nicely set in a molded plastic dash panel which sweeps around the inside of the fairing and appears to be integral with the outer shell, but isn't. By undoing four easy-to-reach mounting bolts and a screw On each of two little plastic end pieces at the rear of the fairing, the whole outside of the fairing (the outer silver shell and the windscreen) conies away, leaving the "dashboard" perched atop the instruments like some sort of swept-hack wing. Removing the outer shell is necessary to perform some minor repair tasks, like replacing the quartz-halogen headlight sealed beam, replacing some of the instrument light bulbs or gaining access to the wiring in that area.
The Z1-R uses a reserve lighting system which reacts when one filament of the headlight or taillight burns out and automatically switches on the remaining filament. At the same time, one of two lights on the tachometer face will come on and indicate that either the headlight or taillight has failed. In addition, the warning light for the taillight comes on every time you apply the brakes unless the brake light filament burns out, in which case the warning light will not light up.
The Z1-R has a nifty self-canceling device on its BMW-looking turn signals. The system computes time and distance much like Yamaha's self-canceling arrangement, but Kawasaki's is more elaborate. The turn signal switch on the handlebar is spring-loaded to the "Off" position--that is. it wants to flip back to the center after you push it to the right or left. But it can't, because a little spring-loaded plunger on the inside end of the lever conies up from underneath and fits into a detent hole, holding the lever to one side. The plunger is built into the top of a small solenoid housed in the large projection sticking down from the bottom of the left handlebar switch. When a special-solid-state sensor wired into the turn-signal circuit determines that approximately four seconds have elapsed and 50 meters (about 168 feet) have been traversed since the signal was switched on, the solenoid gets activated by electrical current that pulls the plunger downward allowing the switch lever to go hack to the center position. That not only shuts off the signal lights, it cuts off the flow of current to the solenoid.
The Kawasaki's turn signal setup is further sophisticated by the placement of an extra, three-position switch on the left handlebar control that allows the rider to choose between automatic canceling, normal manual canceling and four-way hazard warning flashers.
The introduction of a standard-equipment fairing on a production bike has given Kawasaki a new place to hide things. Most noticeable is the absence of a. front brake master cylinder on the handlebars. The brake fluid reservoir is now attached to the outside of the left -fork stanchion behind the fairing, and a hose leads from the reservoir to the master cylinder, which is tucked behind and below the headlight. The master cylinder is then operated by a short cable running from the brake lever to an actuating arm on the cylinder.
The solid-state turn signal control box resides on the right fork leg, opposite the master cylinder, and the fairing also allows much of the front end wiring to he more freely exposed, rather than jammed inside a tiny headlight shell.
As you may have suspected. Kawasaki isn't exactly giving this bike away. The suggested retail price is $3695, which ain't cheap, but the factory doesn't intend to build the Z1-R in the same quantities it builds the standard KZ 1000, so there will undoubtedly be enough demand for this limited-production model to allow most dealers to sell all they can get.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
What can be said about the big Kaw's engine performance that hasn't been said a thousand times? Until the behemoth Yamaha 1100 came along, the 903 and 1000 Kawasakis were the brute performance standards of the world. And even though the new Yamaha is unquestionably faster in every respect, the Z1-R is still an awesome pavement-eater.
One of the nicest things about the Zl-R is how easily the engine does all the widely-varied things it can do. Here 'is a motorcycle capable of around 135 mph in stock trim, yet it can poke along in stop-and-go city traffic with nary a whimper. Here is a motorcycle capable of clocking off consistent, low-12-second quarter-mile times, yet it can squeeze over 55 miles out of every precious gallon of gasoline. Here is an engine that puts out almost P/2 horsepower per cubic inch, yet it stands on a reliability record that would make a redwood tree look like a model of infirmity.
The Kawasaki moves out impressively from 55 mph in top gear, although certainly not as well as the big Yamaha, a BMW 1000, or maybe even a Yamaha 750. Still, high-gear-only passes are fast enough that you'll seldom have to downshift unless you're really pressed for passing distance. Clicking 'er down a cog or two, though, will put you right in the middle of the most ferocious part of the power supply and will zoom you past all that slower traffic as if everyone else was tied to a tree. Or, if you're not into riding fast or seeing how quickly you can get from one place to another, you can cruise all day on most roads without shifting out of high gear—not counting, of course, the times you must stop for signals, slower traffic and the like.
The Z 1-R's extra horsepower doesn't seem to have hurt its fuel economy at all. Our bike averaged 44.1 miles per gallon in over 1500 miles of testing, with a high of 55.5 mpg during a leisurely cruise on a four-lane highway, and a low of 32.4 mpg on the tankful we used for some hard riding, including about a dozen runs at the dragstrip. The KZ1000 we tested one year ago averaged 45.6 mpg, but its high was only 52 mpg and its low just 40 mpg. The discrepancies are small enough to be dismissed as normal, considering all the variable elements (different riders, different motorcycles, different brands of gasoline, different riding conditions, etc.) involved in testing two motorcycles a year apart.
In any case, don't figure on going more than about 120 to 135 miles on a load of fuel, since the R's 3.4-gallon tank is one gallon smaller than the KZ's. About 2.8 gallons are available on the main tank, with the remaining 0.6 gallon (approximately 25 to 30 miles) in reserve.
The 903 and 1000-cc Kawasakis have never been noted for nimble, steady handling in the twisty-turnies. But a lot of riders partial to the Zees have always been quick to defend the handling by explaining that, "The bikes are not racers, ya know. They're just big, fast street bikes. If you want a bike for going fast around corners all day, buy something else."
There's a lot of truth in that statement, but the Z1-R can't offer the same disclaimer. Because if that bike, too, is not designed for fast cornering, that fact may end up being one of the world's best-kept secrets. The R doesn't just suggest fast cornering, it begs for it.
The new rear suspension units are apparently intended to help eliminate some of those handling quirks exhibited by previous Zees, and in some ways they succeed. The shocks offer more damping than their predecessors, along with stiffer springing; and those two elements have done away with much of the wallowing that characterized earlier Zees' behavior on fast turns. The twitchiness is not all gone, however, as evidenced by some slow, low-frequency wiggles you can feel in many medium- to high-speed corners. At its worst, though, the Z1-R doesn't wobble around as much as previous 903s and 1000s, and even when it does wobble, it's not enough to scare you or make you lose control.
The firm rear suspension may have improved the bike's smooth-turn handling, but it has clone very little to generate more control on bumpy surfaces. Whisking around a turn cursed with pavement patches, expansion breaks or just a ripply, uneven surface causes the R to react more unstably than the average big bike. The Kaw may react by wiggling a little, it may just sort of bob around in the turn, and it usually wanders off its intended course. Just how many of these things the bike does and how badly it does them depends upon how rough the corner is.
When the road conditions are good and you're called upon to really heel the Z1-R over in a sweeping bend, you'll appreciate the bike's excellent cornering clearance. This series of Kawasakis has always had good clearance, but the four-into-one exhaust system's right-side muffler is tucked well up out of the way, and with no plumbing on the left side, the centerstand and sidestand were pulled up and in far enough to make grounding them nigh impossible during street riding. The stiffer rear spring rates also improve the banking clearance by not allowing the rear of the bike to compress as much in a hard turn.
You can hit things on the ground if you try hard enough. The folding, rubber-mounted footpegs are the first to touch down on both sides, followed by the black sheet metal shields on the exhaust collector. Real berserko efforts will nick the shift lever and alternator cover on the left, and the brake pedal on the right. At that angle, though, you are nearing the breakaway point of the tires, which hang on quite well until then.
The Zl-R weighs 541 pounds, has a high center of gravity and is a motorcycle that cannot be quickly or effortlessly pitched over to sharp lean angles. The bike heels over nicely when cornering is done in a sweeping, gradual manner—which is probably the way 75 percent of its buyers will ride it 95 percent of the time. In that mode, the Kawasaki cooperates willingly requiring only a slightly-harder-than-normal push on the narrowish, low-rise handlebars.
When you try to toss the R around, though, the chassis resists any sudden changes in attitude. You then have to apply considerably more pressure to the handlebars to get the bike to hank over quickly, and you must maintain a lot of pressure to keep it at those severe lean angles. Quick side-to-side transitions call for a lot of aggressiveness on the handlebars, and heeling the bike over while braking can be exceptionally tough, since heavy motorcycles with high centers of gravity don't like to he leaned over while the brakes are on. The KZ 1000, having the same chassis as the R, reacts in exactly the same manner, but the resistance feels more exaggerated on the Z1-R because its handlebars are almost three inches narrower.
A motorcycle that resists being turned usually has a high degree of inherent straight-line stability, as is the case with the Z I-R. At all speeds ranging from normal city driving to barreling down a long, flat highway at full tilt, the bike feels stable and predictable. Sidewinds, rain grooves, paving transitions and all other normal forms of direction-altering diversions have little or no effect on the big silver streak.
COMFORT AND RIDE
The riding position aboard the Z1-R could he termed "semi-Café," since the rider doesn't have to lean forward as much as on an all-out Café racer, yet lie does not sit as upright as on a traditional street bike. We like the R's position, because the slight forward cant of the torso relieves some of the pressure that normally gets put on the tailbone and buttocks. The thighs are also made to share in supporting more of the rider's upper-body weight. The overall effect is such that the rider's hack doesn't get tired as quickly, his rear end doesn't go to sleep as easily and his hands and arms don't grow as tired from trying to keep his torso from being blown over backWard by the wind.
The Z1-R would he even more comfy, however, if the seat was better-designed and the rear suspension more compliant. The seat's comfortability appears to have been compromised somewhat for the sake of styling. The padding feels thin here and there, the seat isn't as wide as it could he and you can often feel the metal seat base poking at the insides of your thighs.
You generally become acutely aware of the seat's presence during the first tank of gas on a long trip, and your initial set of saddle sores starts showing up during the second or third tank.
The seat's problems are compounded by the harshness of the shocks, which transmit more than their share of humps and thumps into the seat. Riding the Z 1-R is by no means excruciating—in fact, the seat is better than the one on the GS750 Suzuki, for example. The point is that what makes the R's seat acceptable is not the seat nor the suspension, it is the riding position.
Some of the concrete-slab pavement on Southern California's freeway system helped point up the inadequacies of the rear suspension. Each slab is not quite flush with the one after it, so riding a stiffly-sprung bike on one of these freeways gives the rider a constant up-and-down jarring that, at 55 miles per hour, occurs at a rate of about four jolts per second. After 15 or 20 miles of this abuse, the whole world seems to be jumping around like an ill-adjusted television picture. Worse yet, this jarring makes the rider tired and sore long before he would have been otherwise.
The big, double-cam Kawasakis have always generated more perceptible vibration than any other transverse four, and that hasn't changed a hit. Thankfully, the level of vibration is never great enough to cause much rider discomfort. The worst of the vibes show up above 6000 rpm, and at lower revs the shakes are still noticeable but not bothersome. The engine is very smooth at cruising speeds, and the images in the mirrors are crystal-clear at all rpm except the last thousand or so before redline.
Speaking of mirrors, the effectiveness of the Z1-R's rearviewers is hampered by the narrowness of the handlebars on which they are mounted, especially when the rider is big or broad-shouldered. A big guy has to shift his torso to one side to see directly behind the bike. Looking forward, the R's smoke-tinted windshield is the first compound-curve, bubble-type shield we've seen that doesn't distort the rider's view. You seldom find it necessary or practical to look through the shield, anyway, but when you do, it's nice to be able to figure out what you're looking at.
Night visibility is vastly improved by the Z1-R's quartz-halogen headlight. On high beam, this headlight, which is similar to the one we sampled on the Honda GL-1000 two months ago, brightens up the road ahead almost like daylight. Every motorcycle should have one of these. But whoever designed and approved the fuel gauge and ammeter must never have ridden the bike at night. You can't see the non-luminous gauge needles in the dark, even though the gauge faces themselves are brightly lit.
The Z l-R has the best brakes ever installed as standard equipment on a stock Kawasaki street bike. The dual front discs are very powerful, yet progressive, and- give the rider a superb "feel" at the lever. You can haul the big, heavy R down to a screeching halt in short order, under full control and in a straight line. Fade doesn't appear to he a problem under hard usage, and the cable-operated remote master cylinder causes no mushiness in the lever or erratic operation.
The rear brake is powerful and progressive enough to do a good job, although an over-zealous right foot will lock the rear wheel much more easily than an eager right hand can lock the front. The rear wheel is also liable to hop and skip if locked up under certain conditions, although it's no worse in this respect than most other contemporary street bikes.
The perforated discs make an audible whirring noise when the brakes are applied, but the noise is in no way annoying or distracting. And since the recent lack of rainfall in the Southwest is common knowledge, it should come as no surprise that we were unable to evaluate how well the brakes perform in wet weather.
RELIABILITY DURING TEST
Our test unit suffered no "failures" while in our possession. The closest thing to a reliability problem was a grossly inaccurate speedometer. Most speedos are purposely built to he a little optimistic, but the instrument on our Z1-R consistently indicated 16 to 17 percent faster than the actual speed. At an indicated 55 mph, for instance, the bike was moving along at just under 47 mph. We had to ride at an indicated 65 to travel at an actual 55. The odometer, oddly enough, was just about on the money.
The Kawasaki Z1-R, resplendent in its silver-blue paint, dark tinted windscreen and uniformly modern styling, is the greatest outright attempt at two-wheeled flash ever to emerge from Japan. It is a profiler's utopia and a powerful pseudo-racer, yet it is a reasonable motorcycle for certain riders who want something a little racy, a little different, but not too exotic.
For the serious Café types, there is still the omnipresent Z-1/KZ1000 handling to contend with. Anyone with a proclivity for straightening out crooked roads will undoubtedly come up less than satisfied with the R's lack of nimbleness in that area. The bike has enough raw: horsepower to he truly impressive on the straights, but the first rule of handling for a 90-horsepower motorcycle is to give it a 90-horsepower chassis, and that is something the Z1-R doesn't have.
What we must not lose sight of here, however, is that most of the people who would consider buying a Z 1-R don't care if it isn't the world's greatest hack-road rocket. Because for every real peg-dragging rider you can dredge up, there are hundreds and hundreds of non-peg-draggers, people who ride for reasons other than to satisfy a burning desire to get from Point A to Point B in record time, riders who will never, ever touch a footpeg or anything else to the ground. They only want to look like peg-draggers: they only want a motorcycle that looks and feels like the meanest, fastest, raciest two-wheeled machine money can buy, even if it really isn't. And when you stop and think about the pluses and the minuses and the possible consequences of both types of riding, the nonpeg-dragging approach easily emerges as the most sensible of the two.
For the small group that lives in the Outer Limits—that select handful of skilled, experienced street scratchers who know how to use up almost everything a motorcycle has to offer—the Z I-R is only slightly better, or at least no worse, than a regular KZ 1000. But for the inhabitants of the Real World, the normal, everyday people who like flashy motorcycles but feel no compulsion to lean one of them over until five pounds of something has been ground away, the Z1-R is an elegant, silver beauty that can give them all the pleasure and pride of ownership they could hope for.