On what appears to be the one dry day of the year, it’s a pleasure to get out on any bike, let alone one as competent as Kawasaki’s Z1000SX. The howling, westerly wind has dried the roads and pushed the temperature up into almost double figures – and onboard the comfortable and versatile 2016 SX I’m reacquainting myself with the concept of having fun, rather than simply surviving, on two wheels.
The now ‘old’ SX is a great bike and a serial winner of MCN group tests. I ran one as a long-term test bike in 2015, covering close to 20,000 pleasurable miles. As the miles slip by I ask myself why, other than to meet Euro4 regs, would you want to change it?
Ahead of me is Neevesy on the freshly minted 2017 SX. The engines in both bikes are near-as-dammit identical, with power and torque the same. Manufacturers’ claimed weights for some new bikes are up this year and my bike might even have a slight advantage as the old model is four kilos lighter. So, on paper at least, they haven’t changed it too much.
But as I pull alongside Michael, I glance over and feel a little envious. The styling mods to the 2017 bike are subtle but make a real difference, especially the aggressive face of the new bike, which makes it look like it belongs in the newly extended Zed family. The indicators are now flush, there are new LED headlights, the pillion seat and grab rails have all been redesigned Every time I grab a glimpse I notice something excitingly new or different.Time for my go.
As soon as you throw a leg over the 5mm lower and slightly wider and thicker seat you notice yet more subtle differences. Digital clocks with analogue rev counter are all-new and more informative and come with a useful gear position indicator and ambient temperature gauge. The screen is taller (by 15mm), the bodywork is noticeably wider (28mm), as are the mirrors (20mm). Even the pillion gets a larger seat and a more substantial grab rails.
Once the wheels are rolling, that new bodywork and a manually adjustable screen give more wind protection than before, while the mirrors give a slightly wider view behind, but the ride is similar. The fuelling is near perfect on both bikes, and both have class-leading grunt and fulfil the sporty side of sport-touring easily.
These Zeds are fast, deceptively so in the grand tradition of great sports tourers, and we found it all too easy to cruise over the speed limit without noticing. Engine-wise, there really is nothing to split the two bikes.
Handling is also very similar, especially as they even share the same Bridgestone S20 rubber. The 2017 SX carries those four extra kilos, has revised suspension, a shorter wheelbase and the rider sits lower in the chassis –but you’d have to be super sensitive to notice a huge improvement. In fact the biggest handling difference between our test SXs was down to the older bike’s squared off rear S20.
However, as darkness fell and the temperature dropped, turning the roads damp, the 2017 SX played its ace card: excellent class-leading electronics. Kawasaki has installed an IMU, which measures six axes, including lean angles and is in constant communication with the bike. The result is cornering ABS and lean-sensitive traction control, which now come as standard, while the overall electronics package is far more advanced. The traction control cut-out is noticeably less abrupt on the new bike, and you can now brake mid-corner, even in the wet, and accelerate as hard as you dare whilst still cranked over.
The clever 2017 SX does a lot of the thinking for you. And while the 2016 bike has TC and ABS, they are relatively basic – its electronics having aged more quickly than the rest of the SX.
Like the older bike, there are three levels of TC on the 2017 SX: mode one being for sporty, dry riding with mode three being the most intrusive. As we ended a 287-mile day, I opted for mode three, the most electronically managed, and simply let the SX worry about the conditions as I concentrated on the important questions of the day, namely: what’s for tea?
The new rider aids are class-leading and, although purists might not like the idea of a computer controlling the process of finding grip while braking or accelerating, they are perfect when you’re tired and conditions are far from perfect. Interestingly, the new brakes didn’t have the initial bite and feel of the old bike’s. The new LED headlights are scorchers and an improvement over the older model’s and made my late night ride home along North Yorkshire lanes far less of a chore than it is on most bikes. I was thankful, too, for the seat’s extra comfort, which takes the numb bum threshold way beyond the 2016 bike’s150 miles.
Minor changes have made a significant difference, and thankfully Kawasaki haven’t tried to fix what wasn’t broken by commissioning a root-and-branch overhaul. The older Z1000SX remains an excellent sports tourer, while the new machine simply reflects the changes requested by Z1000SX owners. Given that the engines produce the same power and torque – the older bike managed marginally better fuel consumption in our test – a larger aftermarket screen and a comfier seat will bring the 2016 bike close to the new one.
However, it still won’t have the excellent new electronics package, sleeker design and informative clocks. The SX still comes in at under £10,000, which makes it even more tempting for a trade up, and should have the competition very worried. The SX just got better.
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