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Kawasaki Z 1100 A1
All right, you guys. Even though you might like shaft drive, road maps and all-day rides, I know the truth. You still like to cut loose and haul ass, don't you? But it's okay, Kawasaki understands that. It's even built a shaft-drive motorcycle expressly for dashing between Grand Junction and Ruidoso at 100 mph, whether you're into fairings and such or not.
The designation of this new open-field runner from Kawasaki is KZ1100A. There's more to it, though, than just the itch you get in your right hand at the prospect of 1100ccs pumping out 102 horsepower. Because this is more than just a warmed-over KZ1000 Shaft, a bike that acquired its reputation as a long-distance motorcycle by default. The KZ11 is different. From the beginning, it has been thought of as a touring bike—not a dresser exactly, but a motorcycle at home on the open road with or without a fairing. Actually, Kawasaki hung the appellation "Super Touring" on the KZ11 in its prototype stages, and that term captures the KZ11 shaftie's attempt to mix roadability with high performance.
You'll be able to wrap your mind around the term supertouring once you point the KZ1100's front tire in the general direction of the city limits and give the throttle a mighty yank. Seconds later, you are no longer in the vicinity. Because the KZ11 doesn't just accelerate, it disappears. Its quarter-mile performance (11.621 seconds at 117.6 mph) promises exciting times on the highway, even if you've been jaded by 11-second quarter-mile times and 1100сс engines.
Kawasaki applied the same sort of thinking to the design of the KZ1100 that it has to its entire generation of new street bikes. No exotic tricks are called for. Kawasaki engineers long have been convinced that they had the right components at hand and had simply failed to fit them together properly. And indeed, the extraordinary contrast between the fusty old KZ1000 Shaft, not much more than a Z-1 with shaft checked off on the option list, and the new КZ1100 lies in the way the components have been carefully tailored to match one other and to match the task
of the bike as a whole. The fundamental verities expressed here are light weight and the right kind of power. Light weight means a motorcycle that can respond to your demands instead of those of its own avoirdupois. The right kind of power means an engine that answers your call no matter what gear you're in or how much weight you're packing. If this is high-performance thinking, so be it. The KZ11 demonstrates that high-performance thinking can transform a touring bike just as completely as it does a sport bike.
The refitting of the KZ1000 Shaft into KZ11 trim was conducted with much the same logic as the redesign of the chain-drive Z-1. To begin with, a stronger frame holds the package together. In broad outline, its configuration is the same as last year, but the diameter of the frame tubes has been increased to bolster rigidity while their wall thickness has been trimmed to reduce weight. Comprehensive gusseting of the steering head and two crossbraces for the top tubes also add to the rigidity of the KZ11's frame. As a result, the structural link between steering head and swingarm pivot is strong enough to help the front and rear wheels work with one other instead of against one another.
When it came to suspension philosophy, Kawasaki's engineers attempted to keep the original KZ1000 Shaft from swinging its weight around by fitting a suspension with a mild rising rate thanks to progressively wound springs. Even so, the bike wallowed around in the corners like a water buffalo in its favorite mud hole. The same theory is applied to the KZ11's sus- pension, but this time the hardware is more sophisticated. An air-spring fork has been fitted to the front of the KZ11 while Kayaba gas shocks first seen on European Suzuki GS1000s are attached to the back. The KZ's leading-axle air-spring fork has a fractionally softer initial spring rate and a fractionally firmer final rate than last year, but the air-spring feature turns the trick by helping the fork resist bottoming with more control. A reduction in wheel travel of 20mm also produces a firmer front suspension. And although a reduction in stanchion tube diameter from 40mm to 38mm seems to promise a compromise in front-end rigidity, adequate stiffness is attained because the wall thickness of the stanchion tubes has been increased 1mm. The switch from cast-iron to aluminum triple clamps also helps keep the fork flex-free and reduce weight.
Kawasaki engineers undoubtedly chose Kayaba gas shocks for the KZ11 because compressed gas without springs as a primary springing medium offers a much steeper rising rate (and also better tunability) than springs alone. Unfortunately, the use of air in such shocks usually compromises their effectiveness, because the temperature increase under hard use makes suspension action much stiffer. But because the Kayabas use nitrogen instead of air, this problem is minimized. Air is used only to fine-tune the shocks for different load capacities through an equalizer line beneath the seat. Four positions of rebound damping afford even more shock absorber adjustability.
The new suspension units also deliver the capacity for more spring control that a touring bike likely to carry a fairing, bags and passenger needs. The switch to a 16- inch rear tire and H-rated rubber is explained by a desire for more load-carrying capacity, but the bottom line is a GVWR of 1019 pounds and a 12-pound increase in load-carrying capacity over the KZ1000 Shaft.
While these building blocks help the KZ1100 fulfill its role as a multi-dimensional touring bike, the piece of hardware that gets people riled up is the engine. Basically, it duplicates the same thinking apparent in the GPz1100 and KZ1000 engines with a bit of additional fine-tuning to calibrate it for supertouring. The overall goals of the redesign were a reduction in vibration and an increase in responsiveness.
Kawasaki gave the Z-1 engine quicker response by trimming five pounds of weight from the crankshaft flywheels—especially the web extension on the primary-drive side—and deleting the kickstarter. The solution to the vibration problem, though, proved to be rubber isolation mounts for the engine. All three of the motor mounts (down from four last year) carry rubber fittings. Though this measure generally compromises frame rigidity, you might feel better about it if you know that Kawasaki first experimented with rubber-mounted engines in its 1980 endurance-racing bikes.
The KZ1100 engine's incredible power comes from boosting displacement 73cc and funneling more fuel into the larger cylinders. The engine breathes through ports 2mm larger than before, intake valves 1mm larger and exhaust valves 2mm larger. Mikuni 34mm constant-velocity carburetors meter the fuel-air mixture to cylinders with a 0.2-higher compression ratio. More power is the obvious result.
While the KZ1100 duplicates the stone-killer GРz1100 engine in the way it achieves a higher horsepower rating, the KZ engine also incorporates a few things to calibrate the powerband for touring riders. Basically, valve lift as well as valve duration are reduced slightly compared to the GPz engine. And to bolster cylinder charging and thus improve power at low and mid-range rpm, the valves open and close sooner. The baffling in the KZ11's low-slung exhaust pipes further reinforces the broad powerband.
Though the KZ11 engine isn't as radical as the GPz engine, some fiddling with the internals was necessary to accommodate the horsepower increase. Last year's 2mmlarger crankpins play a role here as does the increase in height for the engine cases around the transmission. Most of the changes are in the transmission itself, though. The ratios of the internal gears have been made shorter, which means they spin faster, reducing their torque loadings. Making the final-drive ratio slightly taller gives the bike virtually the same overall gear ratio as before, though, so the bike still spins a modest 3600 rpm at 60 mph.
The new engine transforms what had been a freight train into a bullet train. The KZ11 accelerates like a bandit bike, not a touring bike; and thanks to the rubber engine mounts, cruising at 80 mph isn't any more annoying than cruising at 45 mph. The real payoff for this performance boost, though, is an increase in the engine's flexibility. You can lug the motor around town like a Harley or Yamaha and still have sufficient punch at hand if you need it. And then you can accelerate into a 100-mph streak like a KZ1300. Precise carburetion is really the key to the goodness of the KZ11 motor. Kawasaki's exclusive air-suction emissions system cleans up the tailpipe so thoroughly that ultra-lean carburetor jetting isn't necessary. Kawasaki's four-cylinder engines probably seem better than they are just because their goodness isn't masked by low-tech carburetion.
Like last year's bike, the KZ11 really shines when straightline stability is called for. A whopping 2.0-degree increase in steering head angle and a 27mm increase in trail account for a lot of this feeling of radar-controlled stability on the Interstate. strangely enough, though, our KZ11 didn't prove as comfortable as the standard Z-1. A reduction in seat padding (a trade-off for the stepped seat touring riders prefer) accounts for some of this, but more importantly, the leading-axle fork didn't prove as supple as it should have considering its softer initial spring rate. Once the fork moved from a dead-stop it felt fine, but otherwise, stiction kept it from reacting over expansion joints. It could be that this is a problem that will be cured with more miles, so we will report back once we've racked up more mileage.
The KZ11's cornering capability points up a more dramatic comparison between last year's KZ1000 Shaft and this year's shaftie, however. It doesn't take burly inputs to get the KZ11 leaned over when you're peeling off for an apex. It is still a heavy bike, but its reactions aren't as slow as the geometry suggests. The point is, the KZ11's limit is centerstand-scraping territory—not just 15 degrees from vertical. The drivetrain also does its bit to heighten the bike's responsiveness in the corners, for the gearshaft clicks from gear to gear with characteristic Kawasaki forthrightness while the Kayaba shocks bring the distinctive lurch of shaft-drive rear-ends under control. In short, you can attack corners on the KZ11 rather than just ride carefully around them.
Once the speedo climbs above 80 mph, though, you feel the KZ11's touring-bike heritage make its presence known. If you're deliberate, the bike remains fairly stable. But if you hit a bump at the wrong angle or bobble at the entrance to a corner, the KZ will start to wobble, though not with infamous Z-1 ferocity. After all, the combination 'of soft suspension, lots of weight and the fat profile of a 16-inch rear tire will bring you up short no matter what kind of bike you're riding. To a certain extent, increasing the inflation pressure of the rear tire and rear suspension will minimize the KZ's antics, but this is still not a crisp motorcycle at speed.
These flaws, however, only point out that this is a super touring bike—not a superbike. Speed is definitely the message here, as the powerful engine attests, but the exigencies of 3000-mile vacations demand certain things—from shaft drive to soft suspension to an upright riding position. Even so, the KZ11 still brings to the long-distance market a spirit of high performance that all other bikes but for the GS1000G lack. Actually, a comparison with the Suzuki shaftie helps pin down the KZ11's priorities. As a solo bike, the KZ doesn't offer the same sure-footedness as the Suzuki shaftie, though it comes closer than others. Yet as a touring mount, the KZ11's engine and straightline stability make it far more suitable. And, well, if you're into trekking across the landscape with the throttle to the stop and your Gypsy Scout up to full gain, then there's nothing that can match the KZ1100. Because when it comes to hauling your gear and hauling ass at the same time, this is what it's all about. ■
Either way you take it, stripped or dressed, the KZ1100 misses the mark. As a stripper, it has the maneuverability of a heavyweight, but, ironically, with the choppy ride of a smaller bike. The fork just doesn't work without the weight of a fairing.
But even when it's dressed with fairing and bags, the KZ11 still can't match the integrated feel of a Honda Interstate or BMW R100RT. These bikes look cohesive, as if they rolled right off the assembly line ready for the highway. In comparison, the pieces on the KZ1100 seem like accessories, instead of being integrated with the bike.
Too bad. The concept is sound. Take the Z-1 engine design, refine it, add a shaft and you get the makings of a fine touring bike. But then you have to take that extra step when you fit the accessories. For me, the Interstate and BMW set a standard that has yet to be duplicated.—Riley Tharp
Standards, schmandards. Every time I get near an R100RT I get guilt pangs about not owning a tuxedo. And whenever I ride Honda's Interstate I feel so go!' danged nice I want to call up Marie Osmond for a date.
Nope, for me a touring package has to work both ways—which is why I like the KZ1100. The Vetter stuff is a class act, even if it's tough to figure out how to fold your BVD's into a 105-liter parcel. The fairing works, well, like a Windjammer; the seat is fine, the ride supple—I can think of a lot of places I'd like to go on this Kawasaki
Source Cycle Guide of 1982