Going hyper on Kawa's ZX-14R
LIGHT MY FIRE: The new Kawasaki is every inch the mean green machine, although the flames motif may not be to everybody’s liking. Image: DRIES VAN DER WALT
Author: DRIES VAN DER WALT
There's nothing quite like the feeling of invincibility you get from sitting astride Kawasaki’s 2012 ZX-14R – the world’s fastest-accelerating production motorcycle, according to Team Green’s claims. Having spent several days with the biggest Ninja yet I found Kawasaki’s claim not at all hard to believe.
As mentioned in our launch report, the Ninja ZX-14 has had a complete make-over. Starting with the engine, there’s more displacement thanks to a four mm stroke increase to 65mm. This increases engine displacement to 1441cc (up from 1352cc).
Combustion chamber shapes have been optimised and are now surface-milled, not cast. Reshaped intake ports have been polished for maximum flow and the bike benefits from longer – and, according to Kawasaki, more durable – intake valves.
Kawasaki has paid special attention to helping the rider manage the significant increase in power. New features include a back-torque limiting “slipper” clutch and traction control. The all-new alloy frame bears a distinct resemblance to the previous unit’s over-the-engine monocoque design but is actually quite different – stiffer in some places, unchanged in others.
The result, says Kawasaki, is an ideal balance of the bike’s weight, power and cornering ability. To effectively match the new frame’s rigidity balance, the swing-arm is 10mm longer than before and has more gusseting.
Visually, while retaining the distinct ZX-14 look, the bike has also undergone several changes. Gone is the arachnid-like visage, its six distinct lights, replaced by a single headlight pod on either side. The distinctive side strakes have also taken on a more organic appearance than that of the previous bike and now look a lot less tacked-on. But it’s not a case of out with the old at all costs – the big Ninja retains its predecessor’s trademark V-shaped tail light.
IT'S A BROADSWORD
Get on the ZX-14 for the first time and you'll instantly realise that it’s a big bike. The stretch from the well-contoured seat to the handlebars is a long one and the mirrors seem to be in a different time zone. As you lift it off the stand, you expect it to feel as heavy as it looks. It doesn’t – it is, in fact, quite easy to forget how big it is once you have the bike rolling.
It's not nearly as nimble as a sport bike but its dynamic responsiveness belies the bike’s sheer size.
If the ZX-6R is a stiletto and the ZX-10R a rapier, the ZX-14R is a broadsword. There's no subtlety about it: it was designed to go fast and it does so with brutal efficiency. The prodigious torque pushes it forward relentlessly from early in the rev range and it never really lets up. And yet, despite its mind-blowing acceleration, the bike doesn’t seem to lose composure – the long wheelbase and 263kg kerb weight combine to make it extremely stable at high speed.
To my constant amazement, the big Ninja turned out to be surprisingly docile in town. With small amounts of throttle it still leaves anything on four wheels behind but it doesn’t threaten its rider with the same fate. I would not have expected a hyperbike to make for sensible everyday transport but the ZX-14 does. It took my daily commute on one of the country’s most choked-up highways in its stride as if it were little more than a mid-size commuter.
Despite the aforementioned stretched-out seating position, the ZX-14 is quite comfortable on the open road. The handlebars are higher than they seem at first glance, leaving you noticeably more upright than on a sport bike without relinquishing the sporty crouch altogether. The well-formed seat (which looks decidedly tourer-like) is firm but comfortable, and offers very welcome thigh support.
The redesigned fairing does a good job of splitting the wind and it's only at speeds well into go-directly-to-jail territory that you really need to flatten yourself on the tank.
Along with Suzuki’s Hayabusa, the ZX-14 helped to define the hyperbike category. With power-to-weight ratios that put many a super car to shame, these bikes offer performance that stretch the borders of sanity. Despite the rumoured gentlemen’s agreement between Kawasaki and Suzuki not to engage in a top-speed race, the competition between the two (and their respective fan bases) shows no signs of easing.
The battle for hyperbike supremacy is a game of king-of-the-hill. Kawasaki is definitely the monarch - for now.
Model: 2012 ZX-14R
Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, quad-valve, DOHC, transverse four-cylinder; DOHC
Transmission: Six-speed, chain drive
Fuel capacity: 22 litres
Kerb weight: 264 kg
Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable preload, 18-way compression and 15-way rebound damping adjustment, 116.8mm wheel travel
Rear suspension: Bottom-link Uni-Trak® and gas-charged shock with adjustable preload, stepless rebound and compression damping adjustments, adjustable ride height 124.5mm wheel travel.
Brakes: Front, two 310mm discs 4-piston calipers; rear, single 250mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Price: R174 995