It’s 05:06 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I give up trying and pad across my hotel room, scratching my balls while I try to remember where the toilet is. On the way back to a bed I sneak a peak through the curtains, wondering what the day will bring while I ponder a bad coffee. Sunshine! Gleaming, bouncing, fresh as a daisy blue-sky sunshine pokes me in the eyes as it fills my room. I’m instantly 100 percent alert. I’ve been to the Isle of Man stacks of times, but until right now, I’ve never ridden a sunrise lap of the TT course.
Approximately seventeen minutes later I’m doing 142mph. As the roads rub heat into willing tyres, I feed the bike from kerb-to-kerb, pretending to be a TT racer and not giving a flying fuck who can see me doing such a hatchet job as I go. I manage a complete lap without really having to share the road, bar a local in a Subaru Impreza who offers a welcome 110mph tow on the way to the Veranda. To a sports bike riding TT fan boy like myself, this is heaven. Without realising it, I’m creating a memory that I’ll be able to recall with such clarity that even now, nearly five years since that lap, I can still hear the Kawasaki Z1000SX pinging and giggling with me while I rush an excited piss over a stonewall near Milntown cottage. If only the memory of which hard drive I saved the video of the lap to was as clear.
The Kawasaki Z1000SX might not be the first bike you think of when you picture your perfect balls out ride, but it’s right up there on mine. If you think that Isle of Man lap would have been good on any bike, you might be right. But a five-day peg-grinding trip to Switzerland, with bulging panniers on the upgraded SX in 2014 proved that it was no fluke. The Kawasaki Z1000SX is a fantastically capable motorcycle. Upgraded for 2017, this sports tourer now has the benefit of electronic assistance that is game changing in this sector. It also has practical improvements based on feedback from owners of the previous version. There’s something about owner focused upgrades that I really like. It shows that a manufacturer is listening to its audience and is keen to work with them to improve service. Existing owners really do matter to Kawasaki. In the UK in particular, the Z1000SX is a top three best seller for KMUK, along with the ER650 and the evergreen ZZR1400. This new bike also now comes with the all-important EU4 compliance.
I arrived on the launch expecting that EU compliance to have played a large part in the 2017 Z-SX evolution but it turns out that the 2016 model was built beyond EU3 spec. Making this new bike EU4 friendly involved little more than an ECU update, some new exhaust components and the tiniest of mechanical changes inside that brutish 1043cc inline four motor.
Visually the 2017 Z1000SX has clearly evolved. A slow walk round the bike shows that somebody has done more than just sharpen the pencils in the design cell at Kawasaki. From the aggressive pointed nose all the way through to the tail, there are tweaks and changes that help the thing look better than it ever has. I even got a whiff of Kawasaki H2 in the little winglets on the side of the fairing panels. The three position adjustable screen works well with the side profile of the bike in any position. In fact I think it looks best in the fully upright one, it takes one prod on one easy to find button in the dash to move it.
There are improvements in the seat as well, you might not notice them on the showroom floor, but an hour and a half down the road you’ll still have some feeling in your ass. Not something that could be said of the old one. Panniers are as easy to open as they are to remove, they also hold most full-face helmets. While you’re laughing at even reading about panniers, I’m sitting here knowing just how hard it was to transport six medium pumpkins on the tank of my Kawasaki ZX-10R a few years ago. Panniers are my dirty secret, don’t tell anyone but I think they’re ace. It’s a shame that the panniers aren’t compatible with the factory top box, but the panniers are massive, you’d only need a top box as well if you were moving house or smuggling pillows.
Enough about practicality, what’s the thing like to ride?
Rain, from the ground up. Bouncing off the French Riviera and straight under my fingernails, onto the backs of my eyes and down the crack of my very waterproof Rokker riding trousers. You can’t beat flying 850 miles in search of good weather only to realize that you left it on the side at home in London. Ah well. I cracked my visor, trading long-term exsiccation for short-term visibility. Despite having shared thousands of miles with previous versions of the Z1000SX, it took a while to relax on the bike, no doubt down to the weather which really was not very nice at all. With the power set to full and the traction control set to level two, I felt like I was in safe hands. Confidence in the bike came after about half an hour, the tyres took a bit longer but more on those later. I was short shifting and leaning on the torque rather than running up the revs in search of power. The combination of creamy torque and a pitch perfect transmission made momentum effortless. Round town it felt like the new Z1000SX carries it’s weight a touch higher than the old one. No bad thing and no criticism, it just felt a little different to me. Before we’d even made it into Cannes (about 15 minutes ride), myself and a road tester that renames nameless (Chad from MCN) found that if you dumped a load of revs at first gear the traction control did a beautiful job of controlling wheel spin and allowed impressive acceleration with a hint of sideways style. Mirrors, indicator controls and round town manners were all in perfect tune with each other. Much like the outgoing version, just with a little more finesse.
Once we got out of town, the ZSX continued to impress. I really didn’t like the feeling I got from the front tyre in some of the slow speed corners. Granted it was absolutely lashing down with rain, but it seemed reluctant to do what I wanted it to and then needed holding into the corner all the way through, it wasn’t the neutral handling experience I would have liked. I found that by upping the pace the feeling improved so that’s what I stuck to doing. Riding a little bit faster than I wanted to given the conditions came easy thanks to the faith I was able to put in the electronic systems on the bike. There’s now a six axis IMU, which means Kawasaki is able to run a full cornering management function on the Z1000SX. That means anti wheelie and traction control working together when you’re driving in a straight line, then ABS when you’re on the brakes on the way to the point you want to turn in. When you push the bike into a corner towards the apex, cornering ABS is there to prevent you from locking a wheel when you’re adding lean angle. From apex to exit there’s a slide control system, traction control and anti wheelie on hand to keep you in check. It’s impressive stuff on paper and hugely reassuring out there in the flesh. If you know my riding style from previous tests, you’ll know I’m happy to admit that I’m no GP rider, but I go pretty well on the road, especially in the wet. I was more than happy to tuck into the systems available and only really knew they were working when I saw lights flashing on the dash. I wasn’t relying on them in and out of every corner, but it was nice to know they were there. The assistance feels really soft, nothing like traction control used to feel a few years ago. If you can put your faith in these systems like I was able to, you’ll be rewarded with more pace and ultimately more faith in the bike to do what you want it to do. I’d consider chopping out those OE Bridgestones at the earliest possible opportunity, mind.
The Z1000SX retains that Kawasaki trait of having a motor that loves to give. I wrote of the Z1000 a few years ago that the rest of the bike struggled to keep up with the engine, that doesn’t apply to this new SX as brakes, suspension and chassis can now cope with the demands the big four places on them. You can check out the full specs here. On the attention-grabbing route Napoleon, up over 7000k rpm all touring intentions go out of the window and the bike becomes a sports bike with a comfy seat and a screen that works. I had an absolute blast and couldn’t have cared less about the rain.
Taking in a motorway section gave me a chance to get bored for a bit. Comfort has been addressed by more than just changing the seat. The new fairing does a great job of keeping the wind off, which in turn means less fatigue on your body after a full day. The screen adjust is very easy and just about possible on the fly. Scrolling through the modes and traction settings is simple and fueling in top gear at cruising speed was faultless. I’d like to have seen a cruise control function on hand for the motorway slogs, but that would of course push the price up. As it sits, the 2017 Kawasaki Z1000SX has indeed improved both sports and touring performance. If I could address one thing it’d be those OE Bridgestones. They wouldn’t put me off the bike, but they don’t do it any favours. Is it still a sector defining motorcycle? At the proposed price of around £10.5k I would have to say it is. Is it better than the outgoing model? I think it is, that IMU is a big step forward and the EU4 compliance means it’s future proof for at least a few more years yet. Is it still a big fast Kawasaki that’ll paint a smile on your face regardless of the weather? Bag a test ride on the worst day of the year and ride the road near you that you hate the most and you’ll come back smiling like I did. I promise.