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2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R – First Ride

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The long, wide ZX-14R has a spacious cockpit and comfortable ergonomics.

Photo Credit: Kevin Wing & Adam Campbell

Greg Drevenstedt
January 23, 2012
Filed under Kawasaki Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Kawasaki Motorcycles & Sportbikes, Sport + Sport Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Top Stories

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At the dawn of the 21th century, as the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12 and Suzuki GSX-1300R Hayabusa duked it out for top-speed bragging rights, motorcycle manufacturers agreed to limit production machines to 186 mph (300 kph), avoiding legislative restrictions then being considered in Europe. Everyone grumbled but the voluntary cap had little practical impact. Only a tiny handful of people ever get anywhere near 186 mph–on a drag strip or salt flat, mind you–and the gentlemen’s agreement among OEMs said nothing about how quickly a motorcycle can get there. The primary objective changed, but escalation continued. Kawasaki released its 1,352cc ZX-14 in 2006, sending a stampede of 163 horses to its fat rear tire (Rider, October 2006), and Suzuki responded by stroking the 2008 Hayabusa’s in-line four to 1,340cc.

After a brief period of tranquility, Kawasaki has once again gone on the offensive, crowning itself king of the open-class sportbike domain. With a 4mm longer stroke, the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R‘s engine displaces 1,441cc. Team Green has made no claims about horsepower, but dyno results we’ve seen elsewhere put the rear-wheel number over 190!

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The ZX-14R's engine has been heavily revised, including an 89cc bump in displacement to 1,441cc.

The ZX-14R's engine has been heavily revised, including an 89cc bump in displacement to 1,441cc.

In addition to an extra 89cc and a higher compression ratio (12.3:1), Kawasaki massaged other engine internals, machining rather than casting the combustion chamber, polishing the intake ports, hardening valves and their seats, adding lift to the cams and using stronger, lighter forged pistons. A new external-feed piston oil-jet system helps cool the engine and a new hydraulic, serrated-tooth cam chain tensioner reduces mechanical noise. The ZX-14R breathes easier thanks to less air filter resistance, a new tapered header pipe and larger volume mufflers. And a new ECU prioritizes fuel efficiency over power when the throttle is used judiciously, with an ECO indicator on the dash like the one found on the Concours 14. Kawasaki claims the ZX-14R is up to 20 percent more fuel efficient than its predecessor despite its higher displacement and power.

The new engine’s power increase necessitated strengthening the ZX-14R’s aluminum monocoque frame, transmission gears and 10mm-longer swingarm, adding a slipper clutch and firming up the suspension settings. A dual-mode power selector was added, with the low setting cutting output by 25 percent and easing throttle response. And Kawasaki added a four-mode KTRC traction control system that blends the functionality of the ZX-10R’s S-KTRC system with the Concours 14’s KTRC system. Modes 1 and 2 (S-KTRC) favor maximum acceleration on dry roads, Mode 3 favors stability on slippery roads (KTRC), or the system can be turned off.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: Who doesn't love burnouts? Traction control doesn't interfere.

Who doesn't love burnouts? Traction control doesn't interfere.

New 10-spoke wheels reduce unsprung weight by 3 pounds (overall weight is up about 20 pounds), brake disc and pad material have been improved, revised bodywork and a second radiator fan better manage engine heat, and the instrumentation has been upgraded. The ZX-14R has a new LCD selector on the left handlebar that scrolls through functions, as well as programmable launch and shift lights. A new gunfighter-style seat is slimmer at the front for easier flat-footedness and sculpted at the back to help riders feel more planted during takeoff.

To demonstrate the new ZX-14R’s capabilities, Kawasaki organized test runs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s drag strip. Drag racing legend Rickey Gadson was on hand to coach us, and to show that in the right hands, a stock ZX-14R was capable of quarter-mile times in the low 9s (watch the Rider 360 video). Even an inexperienced oaf like me eked out a 10.37-second ET on a cold track. Traction control, which could be dialed down or turned off as my confidence and technique improved, kept me from melting the rear tire or smacking myself in the chinbar with the triple clamp! Throttle response was very controllable and clutchless upshifts were effortless.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: New traction control helps keep the front wheel close to the ground on hard launches.

New traction control helps keep the front wheel close to the ground on hard launches.

Afterwards, we hit the road. Visions of sport touring danced in my head as I cruised comfortably up I-15 to the Valley of Fire, the ZX-14R’s long, spacious cockpit suiting my long, bulbous body to a T. Huge gobs of torque made roll-ons in any gear a treat and absolutely mind-bending at high revs. With a 58.3-inch wheelbase and a curb weight over 580 pounds, the ZX-14R is a bullet train of stability yet steers easily through bends thanks to sporty geometry. As the road followed the contours of the desert, the Big Ninja’s suspension absorbed dips, cracks and bumps without harshness, and the mondo brakes freeze-framed reality as quickly as the engine distorted it. ABS seems appropriate on this bike but isn’t offered.

Kawasaki elevated its game with the new ZX-14R, giving it a bigger, more refined engine, sophisticated electronics, a better chassis and improved fit and finish, including hidden bodywork fasteners, a sculpted triple clamp and standard seat cowl. For an extra $200, the Golden Blazed Green Special Edition gets color-matched fairing fins and dash cowling, flame graphics, machined two-tone wheels and a machined triple clamp. The ZX-14R is not only the most powerful production motorcycle, it’s also one of the most civilized. Kawasaki reps were tight-lipped when we asked if the 1,441cc engine will end up in the next-generation Concours, but if I were a betting man I’d go all in.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R Specs

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The new ZX-14R retains its iconic look with quadruple headlights, fairing cut-outs and V-shaped taillight.

The new ZX-14R retains its iconic look with quadruple headlights, fairing cut-outs and V-shaped taillight.

Base Price: $14,699 (Metallic Sparkle Black, Candy Surf Blue); $14,899 (Golden Blazed Green Special Edition)

Website: www.kawasaki.com

Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line 4, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.

Bore x Stroke: 84.0 x 65.0mm

Displacement: 1,441cc

Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet, slipper clutch

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: To handle the increased power, the aluminum monocoque frame is more rigid, suspenion is stiffer and brakes have new discs and pads.

To handle the increased power, the aluminum monocoque frame is more rigid, suspension is stiffer and brakes have new discs and pads.

Final Drive: X-ring chain

Wheelbase: 58.3 in.

Rake/Trail: 23 degrees/3.7 in.

Seat Height: 31.5 in.

Claimed Wet Weight: 584 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gals.

Average mpg: NA

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The updated instrument panel includes programmable shift and launch lights.

The updated instrument panel includes programmable shift and launch lights.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: New wheels are 3 lbs. lighter overall; total curb weight is up about 20 lbs.

New wheels are 3 lbs. lighter overall; total curb weight is up about 20 lbs.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: Despite its size and weight, the ZX-14R is quite nimble on a curvy road.

Despite its size and weight, the ZX-14R is quite nimble on a curvy road.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The ZX-14R is just a few pieces of soft luggage away from being a serious sport tourer.

The ZX-14R is just a few pieces of soft luggage away from being a serious sport tourer.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: Special-edition Golden Blazed Green model gets special graphics and others styling enhancements.

Special-edition Golden Blazed Green model gets special graphics and others styling enhancements.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: New gunfighter-style seat provides more support and the pillion cowl is standard.

New gunfighter-style seat provides more support and the pillion cowl is standard.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: The ZX-14R's bodywork was revised to pull more engine heat out and away from the rider.

The ZX-14R's bodywork was revised to pull more engine heat out and away from the rider.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: Nine-time drag racing champion Rickey Gadson coached us at the drag strip.

Nine-time drag racing champion Rickey Gadson coached us at the drag strip.

Comments

4 Responses to “2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R – First Ride”

  1. Carl on February 2nd, 2012 6:21 am

    I love the look of this bike . Being 6ft .6inches tall how comfortable is this bike

    [Reply]

    Mord Reply:

    I realize that this is over a year old – but as a 6’6″ owner of a 2013:
    It’s very comfortable for me. I had to adjust the brake pedal a little but beyond that, stock seat, stock pegs, stock bars and it fits me very well.

    Lowering the pegs a bit and raising the bars is very easy to do and under $200 total which would make the bike even more comfortable. I’ve just not felt the need to invest in ergonomical modifications as the bike fits well as is.

    [Reply]

  2. Ryder on June 2nd, 2012 5:47 am

    Ok so i was just at the drag strip this past weekend. Zx’s can beat a few bikes depending on tuning. But WOW what BMW has done with the 1000rr. With added swing arm and lowered, with street slicks which all zx’s and busa’s had and alot more. Well i talked to this 28 year old girl on the BMW smoking all the men all day, running a 8.06 sec best time was 8.02. The bike is a monster, killed zx’s all day with same mods and more then her bike, yet could not touch 8.06. So tell me, whats the big deal with the new Zx. You can buy a BMW 1000rr for less, with more HP 210 to be exact on the dyno, running 8’s all day stock, pushing 7’s with a little gearing and reaction times, 80% rider 20% bike.
    Sorry for bashing busa’s and Zx’s but its time for a new King of the strip.
    I want to see you all put the ZX, the BMW, and THE BUSA all the same years of course and bone stock, won’t even put extenders to match the zx’s swing arm, on the beemer. 1/4 mile runs, then hit the turns and see whats up.

    [Reply]

  3. Kawasaki Unveils More 2013 Ninja Sportbikes | Rider Magazine on September 13th, 2012 1:43 pm

    [...] new KTRC traction control, and major changes to the chassis, bodywork, instrumentation and more. (Read our report from the 2012 Ninja ZX-14R press launch.) For 2013, the Ninja ZX-14R adds ABS. It will be offered in Passion Red, Pearl Stardust White and a [...]

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