Against a backdrop of disappointing UK motorcycle sales over recent years there’s been one notable exception; the adventure bike, which attracted even more buyers in 2017.
Riders have been shunning the sports bikes they once obsessed about for some time, lured by similar factors that woo many SUV car buyers, who dream of driving off-road the wilderness at the drop of a hat. Even if few do.
There’s no doubt that adventure bikes are fun; I’ve ridden many, including one or two off-road with mixed results. But last year I discovered renewed pleasure in road riding when I reverted to a sector I’d once embraced but had almost forgotten; the sports-tourer, in the form of BMW’s accomplished R1200RS Sport.
A more sporting riding position reminded me how much more connected to the road you feel – especially on the twisties – when you’re ‘over’ the front wheel, hugging the bike, instead of leaning back, torso in the wind.
Now I’ve followed up with Kawasaki’s ‘hero’ bike, the fine-looking Z1000SX Tourer, recently redesigned with a host of small but important improvements, the most noticeable of which is a new ‘nose’ which makes the entire machine look more glamorous, sharper, more purposeful, athletic and powerful.
So what else is new on this bike, which is Kawasaki’s biggest seller? According to Kawasaki’s marketing co-ordinator, Ross Burridge, for every ‘sports’ improvements, there’s been a ‘touring’ improvement too, and I think he’s right.
Visually the indicators now sit nice and flush, there are purposeful-looking new LED headlights, and the pillion seat and grab rails have been redesigned for a more rakish look. On a practical note, the rider’s seat is slightly lower, wider and fatter, and the instrumentation has been completely redesigned to be clearer, more intuitive.
The screen is 15mm taller - adjustable to three different positions with a simple lever - while the bodywork is wider, offering more wind and weather protection for the legs and body. The mirrors are wider and offer a good view of what’s behind. The extra width - 20mmm - is slightly deceptive as I found when, filtering in slow traffic, I accidentally nudged a couple of car door mirrors in London. Sorry if it was you.
Fortunately this is no mere cosmetic makeover, as my first few miles in the saddle have already proven. The suspension is revised, the wheelbase slightly shortened (the whole machine looks fairly short) and the rider now feels more ‘embraced’ by the bike than before, no bad thing.
Other changes on the latest model that has proved so popular since the launch of the first SX in 2011 include cornering ABS and lean-sensitive control as standard. It means that in theory - and within reason - you can now brake and accelerate mid-bend, even if it does feel all wrong. Can’t quite bring myself to do it on purpose.
The brakes have also been uprated; there are four-piston radial-mount monobloc calipers working on semi-floating 300mm petal discs at the front, while at the rear there’s a single-piston caliper and 250mm petal disc. Result? Very powerful stopping, with plenty of feel.
The engine meanwhile is unchanged, still producing a meaty 142hp and 81.86 lbs/ft of torque, from the firm’s smooth, pliable 1,043cc liquid-cooled four-stroke in-line four-cylinder unit.
Kawasaki says the ‘curb mass’ is 235kg, which makes it 4kg heavier than the previous model, while tank capacity is still 19 litres. In practice it feels extremely well balanced, even when you’re shoving it around to park it; the lowish (815mm) seat helping with in-town confidence, too.
The Tourer, costing from £10,699, comes with nicely-styled paniers that can be ordered to colour-match the rest of the machine and which contain natty, zip-up nylon panier bags inside, complete with carrying handles. Why don’t all paniers come with these? So much better than traipsing into your hotel with bulging carrier-bags.
The press review machine is clad in vibrant, eye-catching Candy Lime green (which has already drawn admiring comments) , although the paniers, for now, are in black, due to a lack of matching ones in stock. Other Tourer accoutrements include a mounting bracket for sat-nav and a useful gel-resin tank protector.
Strangely, Kawasaki says that the bike’s frame was never homologated for paniers and a top box at the same time so they can’t supply both. So in lieu of a top box on the press machine, there is, instead, a useful, zippable ‘Rear Bag Soft Top Case’ costing £89.51. While it is secured to the machine by locking the pillion seat, the pack itself is, unfortunately, not lockable, so I won’t be storing much in there when I park in town and leave the paniers at home.
As for the traction control, it has three settings, easily selected via a handlebar switch; level one is the least intrusive and will allow power wheelies if you dare (not on the road, of course...), level two cuts in a bit sooner but will allow the front to lift, while level three is for wet conditions. There are two power modes too, one of which dramatically cuts the power for wet, wintry conditions.
Anything missing? Well, there’s no quick-shift, no cruise control and heated grips cost extra (£237.94) - Kawasaki say they wanted to keep it within a price bracket, to keep it competitive.
So, enough spec - what’s she go like? First impressions as you fire up the engine and ease the surprisingly light clutch out are of a supremely well-balanced machine, even at crawling pace. Throttle and clutch action is nicely balanced in traffic when filtering and the seating position, while on the sporty side, won’t tire you out. In traffic the rider still feels reasonably upright, making for good vision, and an instant feeling of confidence. The seating position makes over-the-shoulder glances easy.
Progressing onto open roads, the Z1000SX feels very eager indeed to be opened up. When I twist the throttle, power delivery is smooth, punchy and instantaneous, offering more speed and urgency than seems decent on a bike with ‘Tourer’ in its name.
It feels lithe, poised and while the suspension is firm over lumps, bumps and ramps around town, it is also cushioned, especially as speed picks up when it makes for a very comfortable ride indeed.
Wind protection from the revised bodywork and the screen - I kept it in the top position - is superb, as is the seating position. The bars feel fairly wide on the move but in practice are easily narrow enough to encourage assured filtering in London (but mind those mirrors). The big, useful paniers add width, but are quickly removed using the ignition key, a lever - and a bit of energetic tugging and wiggling.
The Z100SX fully earns its sports-tourer label. After five hours in the saddle I still felt comfortable, with just an early hint of a numb bum. Just wish I could find more time to ride it...
On motorways around Kent and Sussex, the Z1000SX proved very comfortable, apart from a high-frequency tingle through the bars and footrests; easily remedied with a barely discernible rise, or drop, in speed, at which point it disappears.
Despite its evident continent-crossing ability, the Z1000SX comes to life on twisty B-roads, where the punch from its engine and extremely sure footed handling make it a load of fun. I believe it would make a great track day bike, too.
This is, surely, a bike you can enjoy on daily commutes and weekend fun rides. The gearbox is super-smooth, the engine sweet, willing and responsive and with the addition of sat-nav (a Halfords-supplied TomTom 450, expertly fitted by CBS Whitton Limited, Twickenham) it’s ideal for long tours too. It even sounds great when you wind it up.
Instrumentation is clear (although I’d like a slightly brighter MPH readout) and data on range, MPG and ambient temperature are easily accessible on the fly. So far, so very impressive; I’m looking forward to more summer miles in the saddle.
Details: Kawasaki Z1000SX
Engine: 1,043cc liquid-cooled four-stroke inline-four cylinder
Power: 142hp at 10,000rpm
Torque: 81.86lb/ft at 7,300rpm
Weight: 235kg kerb mass
Tank capacity: 19 litres
Seat height: 815 mm
Suspension: Front - 41mm-diameter adjustable USD forks / Rear - Adjustable gas charged shock with remote preload adjuster
Brakes: Front - Four-piston radial-mount monobloc calipers bite ad semi-floating 300mm petal discs / Rear: Single-piston caliper and 250mm petal disc
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David Williams can be found Tweeting at @djrwilliams