Back in London for 4 days, and on the third, after picking up my long-awaited UK driving licence (I swapped my French one for it and the whole shebang was biblically complicated), I headed straight to Metropolis in Vauxhall. My motorbiking mecca. So many bikes to drool over, and again and again. And again.
While a London resident, I’d never test-ridden there, first because I didn’t have the license, second because the staff didn’t impress me with their kindness and readiness to help, and finally because I didn’t see why I should pay 25 GBP per test-ridden bike. Now I’m in Laos, I couldn’t care less about the money: I needed to reconnect with good roads and great bikes.
OF COURSE, it turned out that the nice guy I talked to, whom I thought at first was Chinese, is from LAOS!!! Ah ah ah! Why is life so funny?
Long story short, I decided to testride the Monster 1100 Evo and the Kawa Z1000 SX. First up, the Duke. Being a quarter Italian and a fan of twins, it was a bit of a nonsense I’d never ridden one. In fact, I rode a friend’s Monster 900 last year, and it was very lovely. But I’d never tried the latest ones, and the 1100 Evo, what with ABS and TC and 100bhp, had my vote over the two small ones.
The sales attendant fired it up, and I thought, hum it’s nice, but I wasn’t bowled over. In fact, it took me a while to come to appreciate its beautiful, deep gurgle. To me it’s best at 3000-4000 rpm, after that it’s a bit too much like a bag of nails going round in a washing machine on LSD.
Apart from the sound, the Monster is stupidly light, and the power is very nicely delivered, there straight away. Starting at the lights or coming to a stop was always a pleasure. The deep serenade accompanying both actions is extremely pleasing. I went to Greenwich, then back another way. A short hour of sugary pleasure. On the way back I stopped at FWR and ordered a set of tyres for the Ten. Won’t be fun carrying them all the way to Vientiane.
I picnicked by the river, then went back for the Z1000 SX. It’s a bike I’ve always thought of as attractive since its launch two years ago. From all I’d read, it was comfy, powerful, nice to use. It’s a sports tourer. Now, I’ve tried other sports tourers: the Triumph Sprint ST and the BMW K1300. I loved the ST, its engine that is, creamy as melted butter, instantly fast and so on. But the riding position killed my lower back after 30mins or so. Lights, stop, lights stop and so on: in town, the punishing position told very quickly, and for that reason only I couldn’t have bought it.
The BMW is hellishly fast, less tiring on the body, but something didn’t work for me. I remember saying something about the sound, which I found too omnipresent and not that nice. Maybe I’m just unconsciously biased against BMWs (why though, I loved my R1200R). Or maybe there is something to the widespread notion that BMWs lack character, lack sparkle.
Anyway I sat on the Z1000 SX open-minded. I noticed straight-away that the exhaust note was very muted. It’s a low inline 4 gurgle, quite nondescript, but first I knew it from the reviews I’d read, second aftermarket exhausts often remedy this kind of problems, and third I wanted to see how the ride felt.
What can I say, but holy shit! As eye-openers go, this test-ride went at it with a pair of fat pliers and connected them to 66-ton trucks.
I’m quite annoyed to say this but it eclipsed the Monster. Or rather, it eclipsed pretty much everything I’ve ridden to date. The power is monstrous. True or false I have no idea but it felt so much quicker on acceleration than the Monster. It felt incredibly light and natural to lean with, whereas it wasn’t exactly innate with the Monster. It was so so fast, my god! And it’s also true that the sound does get a lot more distinctive after 5000-6000. In fact at first I thought I was near the red-line at 6000 rpm given how acute the engine scream. I looked down at the tacho, and it shouted at me: ‘I’ve got 4000 rpm left before you red-line, you naive man.” Insane, insane stuff.
It’s a lot comfier than the Monster too: the back is straighter, the legs less rear-set. Less weight on the wrists then, less tiring, and just natural. That’s the word: natural. The Z1000 SX is natural. Nothing hurts with it, everything is smooth, yet open the throttle even a bit and the thing catapults you forward with the eagerness of a diving hawk, and it’s an incredible feeling.
Coming back onto the motorway at Heathrow, I found myself at 95mph in second gear without even realising anything. Second gear at 95… Second… It’s the kind of bikes that gets you licence-free pretty rapidly if you’re not very careful with not realising stuff.
The power had another, completely unpredictable effect on me: it made me look at the muted sound at tick-over with a kind of perverse satisfaction. A stupid one at that. The satisfaction of the one who knows he can eat up pretty much anything that moves. Don’t sound amazing, don’t impress? Wait until the Kawa goes, screams past you and disappears into the sunset. I know what they mean by the term ‘missile’ to describe certain bikes now. Even though I’ve never seen the word “missile” linked to a bike with a “paltry” 134 bhp. To me, whether it’s the bhp or something else, the Z1000 SX is a hell of a benchmark.
Plus, wind-protection wasn’t bad at all. Okay, I probably didn’t ride long enough at speed to really know, and besides I was too busy coming to terms with everything the Kawa offered and proposed to redefine to surely notice something as mundane as wind-protection.
Anyway, it was pretty surreal as test-rides go. I thought after giving the Monster’s keys back that that was it. Now I know I won’t look back at it much. Sure it’s a very nice bike, but the Kawa is a complete package, more natural, more aggressive in the end, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, an unprepossessing bike that doesn’t need to shout its qualities because they are unequivocally apparent to anyone once you open the throttle. Yeah the visual signature of the Duke is unmissable, but a baby-faced assassin is more efficient than the assassin-faced baby.
What a day!