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Kawasaki Z 1000ST
1979/1980 Z1000-E1/E2 ST
The Z1000ST was introduced, as a secondary attraction, at the 1978 launch for the Z1300 watercooled six which took place in Malta and is still vividly recalled by all who were present as the first and to date only occasion when that 700 Ib, 71/2ft-long monster has been effectively 'wheelied'.
Nothing so interesting happened to the 1000. Having an engine very similar to that fitted in the Z1-R, but with the contact-breaker ignition replaced by a transistorized layout with sensors, the 1000 produced not far short of 100bhp, which was enough to absorb the power losses involved in the new rear shaft transmission while giving on-road performance to match that of the second-series 903cc chain-drive four.
The large cradle frame was designed to cope with the special stresses imposed by the rear shaft; further, it had (compared with the older models) extra gusseting around the steering head and a bigger
airbox. A leading-axle fork, by 1978/79 highly thought of by all the Japanese makers, carried a cast-aluminium wheel equipped with twin, sintered-pad discs; at the rear a single disc sufficed. The care the Japanese take in development was made clear by changes introduced for the steering geometry: for the ST the castor angle was 63°, with 3.85in of trail, while the contemporary chain-drive bike had 6373.44in.
On the road, the ST impressed with its power, its positive but rather heavy steering, and the general feeling of unburstability that has been a hallmark of all big Kawasaki's
Road Test 1979
The important thing about the ST shaftie is that it feels like a Kawasaki. When you wrap your hands around the grips, you instantly understand this motorcycle's elemental character. Like a steam locomotive, it's a solid lump of animated metal, a living monument to resolute horsepower and steadfast reliability. These are the traits that enthusiasts identify with Kawasakis, and from the smallest 8mm bolt to the gold trim, the ST is obstinately Kawasaki.
Confirming the ST's Kawasaki heritage at first seems self-evident. After all, the new upper-and-lower case letters of the Kawasaki logo shouldn't necessarily imply that heathens have taken over the company. But consider that the 1979 models represent the first real new-generation of Kawasakis since the introduction of the Z-1 in 1973. It must have been tempting for the firm to abandon the traditional Z-1 formula. Certainly the raw-boned Kawasaki character occasionally seems antiquated by the ultra-soft personality of motorcycles like the XS Eleven. And yet for all the cosmetic and technological innovation that the ST represents, only a few minutes in the saddle will convince you that this bike lies within the mainstream of Z-1 development, despite its billing as a touring bike.
The touchstone of the Kawasaki legend is the Z-1 engine, the Fabulous Four. It dominates the ST just the way it dominated the original Z-1. As soon as it cranks into whirring, clattering animation, it's clear that the ST's 1015cc mill hasn't been diluted by the shaftie's flash and. filigree. Even so, with the engine's adaptation to shaft drive, a new chapter in the Z-1 saga has begun.
Like Suzuki, Kawasaki was skeptical of the need for space-consuming jackshafts to turn the driveshaft corner. Instead, the engineers just hooked up spiral bevel gears to the standard KZee powertrain. Power flows conventionally from clutch to mainshaft to countershaft. At this point a simple cush drive intercedes between the countershaft and spiral bevel gears to absorb driveline lash. Because this design eliminates a jackshaft fore or aft of the transmission, the ST's engine cases are almost identical to those of the MkII, except for the recast area around the bevel gears. Also, the transmission doesn't require any monkey-motion in construction, location or operation.
Kawasaki addresses the longevity of its shaftie by integrating the spiral bevel gear case with the engine case. Suzuki bathes the GS850's bevel gears in a separate case with slippery, durable hypoid gear oil which must be renewed every 7500 miles. Kawasaki, on the other hand, figures that the 3000-mile renewal intervals for motor oil in the end insures the same reliability and long life. Kawasaki's method may be simpler for owner-maintenance, but there's no questioning the superior lubrication offered by 90-weight gear oil in the environment of spiral bevel gears.
New additions to the Fabulous Four this year are an automatic cam-chain tensioner, Air Suction emissions control, and a carburetor accelerator pump.
Other details, however, serve to make the ST something more than just last year's KZ1000 with shaft drive. Like the new ,MkII, the bike is equipped with 28mm carburetors to boost power output, plus the new beefier crankshaft also found on the '79 chain-drive KZ1000. Besides having a different exhaust system from the MkII, the Shaftie also has a larger airbox. The dyno reveals that these differences provide the sort of low-end power compatible with the requirements of a real touring bike. At low rpm, the ST has an edge over the MkII, but at 4500 rpm the Shaftie's torque-curve dips slightly. From that point on, the MkII has an edge in power output.
On the street, the ST's willingness to pull from low-speed is revealed in effort- less power at 4000 rpm. Below 4500, the ST is almost vibration-free, but above that mark it buzzes more than the MkII's engine. In top-gear roll-ons against the MkII, the ST loses a quick bike length because of a combination of taller gearing, more weight and a more gradual power curve, but then it doesn't yield an inch. Also, whacking the throttle wide open at 2500 rpm won't make the ST stall while it gasps for fuel from the slide/ needle carbs like the MkII does. The differences in the ST's airbox and exhaust system design seem to be responsible, for everything else is the same, power-wise, as on the MkII.
The Z-1 heritage of the ST's engine is apparent, but it's clear that the Fabulous Four has been subtly tuned for touring. Other refinements in the motorcycle help to target the ST at the touring audience as well, beginning with the bulbous 4.5-gallon tank. The seat is two-tiered like the MkII's, but the rider's plateau is more deeply dished and unhappily restrictive. In addition, Kawasaki has sacrificed seat length that might have been devoted to passenger comfort for the styling of the tail section.
The instrument cluster features the same tachometer and absurd 160-mph speedometer as the MkII, but the idiot lights are overlaid with a layer of smoke plastic that wraps around the dials, creating an integrated dashboard. Other significant details include a battery more powerful than that of the MkII and a KZ1300-style front-brake master cylinder. The ST's handlebar is the most successful touring modification, though. It features a lower rise and narrower width than the MkII's bar and so it doesn't force an erect profiling posture which wears you down while you're boring into a headwind on the Interstate.
But more than details distinguish the ST from the MkII. The fact that the bike is between one to two-and-a-half inches longer with a three-quarter inch lower seat seems to indicate that there are substantial differences in the Shaftie to aim it toward touring types. And those differences extend to the ST's frame, which is similar to the MkII's but different in a number of ways. Again, it's the details that count. One more degree of steering head angle and 11mm more trail contribute to the stability required of a touring bike. The backbone arrangement is new and the steering head has been strengthened by gussets, although they aren't as elaborate as those on the MkII. The steering head itself is fitted with tapered roller bearings rather than ball-bearings as used on the MkII, and the ST's swingarm pivot is located with adjustable tapered roller bearings. In terms of suspension, the ST's rear shocks are nearly identical to the MkII, but with softer springing and damping. The front fork is of the leading-axle configuration, with massive 40mm-diameter stanchion tubes and another full inch of travel, reflecting Kawasaki's concern for the heavy-duty tasks ahead of the ST.
When it's boring into the sunset on the open road, the ST feels as irresistible and massive as the Orient Express. It's like a two-wheeled train running on schedule. The stability-inspiring steering geometry, spacious wheelbase, massive tires and 29 more pounds of sheer bulk compared to the MkII fortify the ST and enable it to resist even 35-mph crosswinds. The Shaftie's high-speed manners assure you that nothing can deflect this motorcycle from its destination. The engine and final drive emit that distinctive Kawasaki turbofan whine, while the tires hiss over the rain grooves. No other comparable shaft-drive bike feels as resolute as the ST.
But while the Shaftie may provide the ultimate in a stable touring platform, the bike doesn't provide an equally stunning ride. In fact, the chain-drive MkII rides noticeably better. The Shaftie's rear end feels harsh on the Superslab and hops over expansion joints and abrupt bumps. Meanwhile. stiction dulls the responses of the softly-sprung and -damped fork.
Some of the fork's problems can probably be traced to its leading-axle design, a strategy that enables the use of long tubes for more travel while retaining sufficient slider/tube overlap and a low steering head. Indeed, the ST's fork swallows large bumps without hesitation. But because the axle is out ahead of the fork-leg centerline, the bump force is vectored into the critical area of overlap at an angle to the fork legs, which themselves are at an angle that promotes stiction. Thus small bumps actually amplify stiction and prevent the fork from reacting like its gentle damping and springing would suggest.
The 29 pounds of extra weight that the ST carries around also has an impact on ride quality. Comparing weight distribution between the two new KZ1000s reveals seven more pounds on the ST's front wheel and 21 more pounds on the real wheel, most of it unsprung weight. Adding that much unsprung weight to the rear certainly accounts for the aft-end's harshness, but equally important to overall ride quality may be the weight distribution itself. We suspect that Kawasaki's juggling of suspension rates and weight distribution on the Z-1 over the years demonstrates that this chassis is particularly sensitive to such things. The MkII optimizes these factors; the ST simply doesn't, and ride quality suffers.
Compared to the soothing ride of an XS Eleven or GS850, the Kawasaki's flaws might be interpreted as major failings. But in sum, the total effect makes the ST feel more like the traditional Z-1 than the MkII version. The ST performs in the burly manner Kawasaki partisans expect. It trembles over the bumps. A substantial tug on the throttle is required. The brakes are sensitive. And stability is what the bike is all about, even at the expense of sluggish low-speed steering and a front tire that demonstrates a fondness for following pavement grooves and ruts. The ST doesn't float over the road, it clutches at the pavement, reminding you at every second that it is not some wimpy moto-Cadillac, but a Kawasaki.
When the road starts twisting, however, the ST no longer takes a back seat to the Yamaha and Suzuki, despite its weight and steering geometry. The combination of minimal driveline lash and stiff rear suspension prevents the ST's rear end from jacking up and down furiously as the throttle is dialed on and off. It does mambo more than a Suzuki GS850, but the ST is the model of stability compared to an XS Eleven. The ST also earns high marks for its crisp shifting. The throws are short and positive, like on the GS850, but lighter. The clutch doesn't engage as gradually as the Suzuki's, but the precision of the shifting mechanism makes it redundant once you get rolling. More than a little muscle is required to get the ST leaned over, but once you've got it tacked, it drives for the exit as predictably as a locomotive. Like the KZ1300, the ST has flaws in weight and responsiveness, but none in cornering stability. It may not cut as tight an arc as a Suzuki, but it won't trick you like an XS Eleven, either.
'There's never any doubt about the ST's touring identity. The low-slung mufflers that facilitate saddle-bag mounting, the large gas tank and the shaft drive all point in that direction. But the ST is most of all a Kawasaki touring bike, and that implies something more. It means an emphasis on brawn and stability rather than just comfort. It means rock-steady reliability. Most of all, it means that this motorcycle fits the expectations of long-time Z-1 addicts who now spend their time poring over road maps instead of cruising the stoplights. It's unlikely that an objective item-for-item comparison between the ST and other shaft-drive motorcycles will convince anyone to buy this motorcycle. Instead, the ST's presence will prevent Kawasaksi enthusiasts from straying elsewhere for a touring motorcycle. These buyers will appreciate the fact that despite the allure of ultra-plush suspensions and ultra-smooth engines, Kawasaki prefers to perpetuate the elemental sensations of the Z-1.
I like the KZ1000 ST well enough to ride one coast-to-coast, but not for the customary reasons. Yes, the power is plentiful, although not better throughout the rpm range than the XS Eleven's; the ride quality is acceptable, hut again, not as benign as the Eleven's. And neither the ride nor the handling can compare with those of the GS1000 Suzuki—although I suspect much of the ST's suspension harshness would disappear after the addition of a fairing, saddlebags and a passenger.
But none of that seems as important to me as the ST's feeling of indestructability. It's a characteristic that typified the very first Z-ls, and elimination of the bothersome drive chain and the potentially-troublesome breaker points just enhances that unmistakable impression of everlasting durability. I'm ready; when do we leave?—Paul Dean
The KZ1000ST doesn't come off quite as well as its shaftless brother. Its one real advantage—the trouble-free shaft—doesn't balance the ST's weak points. The shaftie is a bit slower, weighs more and rides no better, which doesn't exactly appeal to me. Particularly when all I get in return is chain-lubefree touring.
Even if I resign myself to the shaft lifestyle, the ST still falls a little short. It can't compare with supertourers like the Eleven or Kawasaki's own KZ1300. It has neither the power nor the comfort to shorten the Interstate that the other bikes have. And unlike those smoothies, the ST vibrates at cruising speed. Yet it's not enough smaller or lighter to be much nicer in the turns. I can't find a place to put the ST in the scheme of things—or in my garage.—Jeff Karr
Kawasaki's non-chain-gang entry in the superbike wars has to be considered as a musclemachine with a shaft rather than a new wave in the sport/touring market. The ST earns superbike status in part because its performance is so promising, but also because it vehemently protests behaving like a traditional tourer. True, the ST arrives with the tourer's now standard-issue big gas tank and shaft drive, but the bike vibrates uncomfortably above 4000 rpm and the rear end puts out a whine that any fanjet would be proud to call its own.
As a tourer there may be other bikes that do the job with more aplomb, but as a shaft version of the MkII, the definitive brawn-bike, the ST does very well. The ST is everything the Zee buyer is looking for, without the chain. Little of the Z-1's hard edge was lost in the transition to shaft drive, and try as I might, I can't think of the ST as anything other than a Zee with "shaft" checked off on the option list. —Larry Works