Kawasaki Z e-1: silent electric commuter with ‘real bike’ appeal


Rules that will eventually compel the motorcycle industry to fall in line with the cars - and end the sale of new petrol-powered models - are not overwhelmingly popular with riders.

Insurer Bikesure found, in a survey, that only around half of riders want to make the switch, or have already done so, and that’s understandable. And while it might be an overgeneralisation to say that while cars are often seen as a tool - an essential household commodity - motorcycles are generally not.

Most riders - barring those using motorcycles for deliveries - ride because they are enthusiasts. Because they relish the fun, freedom and exhilaration that motorcycles offer. For many, that includes the visceral thrill of a petrol engine; a propulsion unit that can be felt, enjoyed - and heard. And maybe tuned a bit... I should know, I’m one of them.

So while keen to try one of the newest entries onto the motorcycle ev market, Kawasaki’s new Z e-1, I wasn’t particularly expecting to enjoy it.

Retailing at £7,199, the crisp-looking new model is expensive; especially for a 125cc equivalent. It is way more costly than, for instance, the Super Soco TC Max which is £4,599, or the handsome UK-built Maeving RM1 which costs £4,995, or the Artisan Horwin CR6, at £4,999. Even the petrol Kawasaki Z125 starts at £4,299.

Pedigree chum

What the Z e-1 does have, however, is the kudos and pedigree of the Kawasaki name and, of course (time will tell), the build quality associated with a brand still basking in the glory of its association with Tom Cruise in Top Gun

The other advantage that the Z e-1 has going for it is that it actually looks like a proper motorcycle, with nicely designed, well-proportioned lines. Instead of trying - as with some manufacturers - to go for a slightly futuristic or ‘electric’ look, this Kawasaki has ‘proper’ front forks, what appears, at least, to be a ‘proper’ tank, conventional handlebars, a fairly conventional-looking trellis frame, sporty upswept tail and so on.

Kawasaki Z e-1 (Handout)
Kawasaki Z e-1 (Handout)

At a glance it could pass for one of its petrol cousins. Only close examination reveals that there’s no clutch lever (bikers will like the fact that Kawasaki retained a foot pedal for the rear brake; there’s no second brake lever on the handlebars) and that the ‘engine’ is in fact an electrical propulsion unit.

The twin batteries, each weighing a hefty 11.5 kgs, are inserted or removed vertically via a locking lid on the tank, which also has space to carry the plug-in charger (or, if you leave that at home, a set of waterproofs). The vital statistics are that the Z e-1 has a claimed range of 72kms (although only at low speeds in Eco mode), while charging from 0-100 per cent takes around four hours, using an ordinary domestic socket. Charging from 20-85 per cent takes around an hour and a half.

No gear fear

There are no gears to worry about (as with most EVs) and it weighs in at a light 135 kgs, with a seat height of 785 mm. Fun facts are that it has a reverse mode (which in practice I found much more useful than I anticipated), and a boost button which, as the name suggests, substantially ups the amount of power, for around 15 seconds, allowing faster acceleration away from a standstill, or on the move.

In town, the bike feels light, very manoeuvrable and civilised. It’s actually quite good fun to ride. With no gears to worry about, and without the intimidation that some new riders initially experience from a petrol engine, it is a very easy companion indeed, around town. It’s also slim enough to sidle, comfortably, through thick traffic. The switchgear will feel familiar to an experienced rider, too. Only the necessity to wait a few seconds while the bike readies itself after being switched on - and the ensuing silence - feel strange.

Kawasaki Z e-1 (Handout)
Kawasaki Z e-1 (Handout)

In town this Kawasaki has more than enough ‘nip’ to pull away from the traffic lights smartly, and to mingle, sure-footedly, with the flow of other traffic on the move. The brakes are reasonably judged for town work although on the soft side, and the suspension is reasonably pliant too, although slightly stiff over London’s potholes, especially at the rear.

Its handling is nicely balanced and, of course, when you’re sitting in traffic or at the lights, there’s no heat from the motor to roast your legs on a hot day, unlike with an internal combustion engine. There’s no exhaust note either, which can be unnerving at times if, like many riders, you rely on the blip of a throttle to remind other drivers that you’re there, at crucial moments.

Easy rider

I enjoyed the bike as a means to get around London. It is easy to ride, in a manner that would be welcoming for a comparative newbie. The riding position is on the ‘tight’ side, however; it wouldn’t do for larger riders. The footpegs are fairly close to the seat, which isn’t the most padded in the world. Also, the top speed is only 53mph - not enough for big, fast roads (even if the boost button does temporarily add around eight mph to the maximum velocity).

Advantages of this A1 licence-friendly machine are that the batteries can be charged in, or out of the bike, while of course owners will make decent savings on fuel and servicing, and the overall build quality appears to be very good. There’s also a four-year warranty on the bike - five on the battery. That shows some confidence on Kawasaki’s part. There are different models too, including a Sport and two Ninja versions.

Interestingly - e-bike-style - there’s a ‘walk’ mode and a reverse mode. While parking on slopes, I found this surprisingly useful. I’d like it on my own bike. One downside is that there’s no ‘parking’ brake; conventional bikes can be left in gear to prevent them rolling away, or off the side stand.

Will it sell? Only time will tell. In its favour are its looks, brand and eminent rideability. Against that, no one knows how much longer the industry will continue to sell new, petrol-powered bikes, as it has not yet been decided. Imminent announcements had been expected and the industry was hoping for a cut-off date of 2040 for ‘proper’ motorcycles (with an earlier cut-off likely for small moped-style machines), but with the general election, that’s all now on hold.

Whatever the decision on timings and phase-outs, Kawasaki has now firmly entered the race, and will be ready, guns blazing, when the rules are finally announced.

The Facts

Kawasaki Z e-1

Price: From £7,199 (including Government plug-in grant of £500)

Top speed: 53mph (temporary boost to 61mph)

Max power: 12 hp

Range: 72km

Weight: 135 kgs

Front suspension: 41mm telescopic forks, non-adjustable

Rear suspension: monoshock with adjustable preload