Don't think of it as the After Midnight Special. The Spectre is a pure
cheaterbike all on its own.
BY LARRY WORKS
You're familiar with the scenario, no doubt. Even if you haven't lived it,
you've probably wanted to. You pull up to a stop—any stop will do and dismount.
Then gradually, but with increasing frequency, passersby stop to ask you about
your bike. Eventually a crowd forms. Fans, no less.
What they've gathered to ogle is the obvious handiwork that went into
transforming some big-numbers production machine into what stopped them in their
tracks-something altogether different. Something that looks like only a
craftsman with a clear vision of the finished product could build it. Not simply
a motorcycle but a statement, shaped of hard materials and a flexible
If you can't picture it happening, you're out of luck, because that's
what riding Kawasaki's new KZ1100 Spectre is like, for better or for worse.
Worse, because if you're the retiring type, the kind who shies away from
accepting credit for someone else's work, you'll just have to live with it.
Because from its gold-painted engine cases to its wrinkle-finished black
instrument pods, the Spectre generates the impression that its rider had more of
a hand in its creation than simply signing a check.
To view the Spectre from the proper perspective, you need first vent all the
After Midnight Special humor. Granted, there are similarities between the
Spectre and a
Midnight Special. At the core of both Kawasaki's limited-edition Spectre and
Yamaha's extremely limited (now so limited as to be discontinued) Midnight
Special is the application of a black-and-gold graphics scheme to a big-bore
street cruiser. And true enough, the Spectre, Kawasaki's first such venture with
LTD-type hardware, is, like the Midnight bike, shaft-driven. But there the
comparison stops. Because while the Spectre might have been tracking in the same
general direction as Yamaha's entry, it wasn't following in its treadmarks.
Yamaha's black-and-gold cruiser had a glossy, production look, while the Spectre
casts an altogether different shadow. Subtle differences, to be sure, but still
noticeable, even by the in-the-street uninitiate. The Spectre is not so much
factory-chopper as factory-custom, with the emphasis clearly off of factory.
You could probably take the "factory" out of the Spectre's description
completely, if you were so inclinedi The basis for the exercise would be a
bog-standard KZ1100A, Kawasaki's touring-oriented shaftie. Leave the
double-front downtube frame and the DOHC engine intact. Even the A's cams, 8.9:1
compression ratio, valves and gear ratios make the transition from super-tourer
to blockbuster, because the change is almost exclusively for the eye of the
beholder. But toss away the A's humpback 5.6-gallon fuel tank in favor of a
tear-shaped 3.8-gallon unit more in keeping with the esthetics of the boulevard.
And deep-six the A's Mark One handlebar for one with a bit more street savvy.
Then, while you assault/bob the fenders and exhaust pipes, send the seat out to
be lowered and to have its front section "dished." After that, cut the rear
wheel travel by about half an inch to guarantee a low seat height, stiffen up on
the springing and damping at both ends and reduce the Steering Head Angle by one
degree. Finally, for sheer brazen vanity, replace the A's 3.50x19 front tire
with a 3.25x19 to make the front end look slimmer.
Only then could you get out your paint. You'd need lots of gold because the
Spectre is a veritable orgy of the stuff. It shows up on the cast wheels, the
bodies of the Kayaba air shocks, the engine cases, the rocker covers, the fork
sliders and in some tasteful mock pinstriping on the Spectre's sheetmetal/plastic.
And you'd need black, an armload of black, because chrome was apparently
anathema to the Spectre's design staff. Just about the only places you'll find
shiny silver on the Spectre are the disc rotors, the polished rims of the wheels
and on a few isolated nuts and bolts. Not only are the exhaust pipes
black-chromed, the handlebar is black, the four 34mm constant-vacuum Mikunis are
black, the turn-signals and padded grabrail are black and most of the Spectre
bodywork is black as well. Fork boots (remember fork boots on street bikes?)
were even added to keep the air-spring fork assembly a combination of
black-and-gold—but without running the Spectre's as-yet-unannounced pricetag out
To top off your home-brewed Spectre, you'd need burgundy, to accent the black
with contrasting panels on the fenders, tank and sidecovers. And what you'd have
at the end of all that reworking, reshaping and repigmenting would be either
(depending on your own skills) a rough one-off of a Spectre or a customizer's
nightmare. Or, Kawasaki could simply do the work in the first place. Either way,
the world at large is likely to conclude that you did it all yourself.
What you'd get in the case of the factory-built genuine Spectre, though, is
an ergonomics layout designed for the task: cruising—but cruising without the
traditional sit-up-and-beg riding position. You can affect an
arms-locked, bolt-upright posture if some reason of orthopedic necessity or
appearance demands it, but the Spectre itself poses no such requirements. The
footpegs, which mount in the same position as on the A-model, don't seem nearly
so far forward on the D-mqdel Spectre. The Spectre's shorter tank allows the
rider to be positioned relatively farther forward, making the footpeg placement
seem natural. And the Spectre's handlebar, with more rise and more pullback than
the A's bar, reduces the amount of bend required at the rider's waist to reach
both foot and hand controls. The result is a comfortable forward cant; not a
roadracy crouch, but also not the broomstick-up-the-spine approach demanded by
others of the boulevard genre. A Spectre rider also need not suffer the
indignities of shatterhand, since the D-model's handlebar is none too radical,
positioning the handgrips—and Kawasaki's new finger-contoured levers—in a
natural location that doesn't require full-arm contortions to work the throttle.
When the throttle is exercised, however, much of the flattering fakery
about the Spectre falls by the wayside. The basso exhaust note pumping out of
the shorty pipes will dispell any notions about who built the powerplant. The
sound is pure Z-l Modern, regardless of what the surrounding decor hints at. And
fortunately, Z-l Modern includes Kawasaki's air suction system, which allows
carb settings not cripplingly
EPA-lean, so the Spectre warms to the task and is ready to roll in short
Short time is also what you have after the throttle moves and before the
engine reacts. The Spectre, despite any horsepower losses inflicted by the shaft
final drive, is still a mover—but a three-way rubber engine mount system assures
that it isn't a shaker. The shaft final drive does provide a bit of rise and
squat with engine acceleration/deceleration, but only enough to note, not to
object to. Shaft-drive losses or additions notwithstanding, our Spectre test
bike produced an 11.99-second quarter-mile—more than sufficient for any level of
around-town blockbusting. So what you get with a big fist of Spectre throttle is
not simply hard acceleration, but to be gone.
Despite the obvious pavement-ripping qualities endemic to the mating of a
monster motor and a 130/90x16 Dunlop Qualifier rear tire, the Spectre proves its
street worth when the engine isn't revving hard. Then, firmly in Main Street
mode, you learn to appreciate not only how 1090cc can ma|ie the scenery stretch
breathtakingly away when you yank on the go-stick, but how easily it can make
the world slide by when a gentler hand is applied. And the Spectre makes it
embarrassingly easy to cruise. The engine pulls strongly from 1500 rpm on up, so
five easy clicks of the slick gearbox can leave you anywhere from urban trawling
speed all the way up to abject foolishness, depending on how hard you twist the
throttle. Even sustained riding in high gear at sub-2000-rpm engine speeds won't
coax a stumble from the Mikunis, so all you're left with is minding the
impet-uousness of your right hand and unobtrusively checking out the reflection
in store-front windows. That, and honing your y routine for when you're asked
how you ever got the idea for gold engine cases.
Besides having its cruise-speed act down pat, the Spectre also is armed for
the free-fire zone that on-street parking has become. In addition to the usual
fork lock at the ignition switch, the Spectre thwarts unauthorized rapid changes
in possession with Kawasaki's exclusive centerstand lock, also conveniently
operated by the ignition key. With the centerstand locked in the down position,
rollaway thefts are out of the question, and the Spectre's own 553-pound
avoirdupois actively discourages carryoffs. If you require still more in the
line of anti-theft insurance, Kawasaki offers an additional rider policy in the
form of an optional cable lock, which nestles out of the way in a left-side
frame member when not in use.
So, prowling urban streets or passing time in parking lots the Spectre does
handily, but they aren't
necessarily what it does best, especially when you consider that beneath the
custom livery lies most of the running gear of the 1100A tourer. All of which
means that the Spectre is one street cruiser that won't fall on its knees when
you reach the city limits.
Much of the reason the Spectre doesn't give up the ghost at the prospect of
out-of-town riding lies in its suspension adjustability. Like the KZ1100A, the
Spectre relies on air-assisted suspension, front and rear, to take the sting out
of road jolts. A leading-axle air-spring fork with 38mm stanchion-tube diameter
and a balance tube handles the front-end tasks, while nitrogen-filled Kayaba air
shocks cushion the rear. The shocks are adjustable to four damping settings, and
the air pressure can be changed for both shocks at the equalizer line under the
With the suspension bits adjusted to touring-soft, the Spectre does a fair
approximation of a full-time luxotourer. Sliding friction at the bearing
surfaces in the fork allows some of the jolt of sharp-edged expansion joints to
work back to the rider, but it usually reads out as a minor jar, not a relief
map of the road surface. And the Spectre's rear end, assisted in part by the
flexing of the multi-grade foam in the well-shaped saddle, offers up a
comfortable ride. What little vibration there is at highway speeds and faster is
a slight tingle through the handlebar, but it isn't even enough to blur the
images in the Spectre's tinted mirrors. The handling is twitch-free and suited
to low-effort riding for long distances. The only sour note in the Spectre's
highway performance comes from its abbreviated exhausts, which churn out a
substantial rumble that tires the rider long before the rest of the bike will.
All in all, the Spectre offers a fairly convincing argument that street cruising
can be state-to-state as well as stoplight-to-stoplight.
That same argument can be applied to more spirited riding as well. Heavy
inputs aren't required to get the Spectre heeled over to respectable lean
angles. And good braking afforded by the triple discs, as welr^P