Suddenly it’s fall again, and time to start getting in as much riding as you can before the weather turns on us. It’s also time to see what the big OEMs have in store for the 2012 model year. Kawasaki gives us a surprise in these lean times with two new streetbikes as well as some significant upgrades to two other models.
How do you make one of the most powerful production motorcycles on the market even crazier? Add an ‘R’ to its designation, of course. And that’s what Kawasaki has done to its Ninja ZX-14. But it’s more than just a letter—the new ZX-14R gets a host of motor, chassis and styling changes.
A GT bike like the big Ninja is all about motor, so to increase street cred, Kawasaki has pulled out the tried-and-true hot-rodder’s handbook. The cylinders are stroked 4mm for a new displacement of 1441cc, compression is bumped up, camshafts are made lumpier. The forged pistons get thinner crowns and oil jets for better cooling. There are other changes, including a better counterbalancer and revised fuel-injection, and the net result is more power everywhere, especially in the midrange. Kawasaki doesn’t really talk much about how much power, but I’d wager about a 10 percent gain over the 180-ish hp the ZX-14 reportedly makes at the rear wheel. A new slipper clutch helps us cope with that new-found extra power.
To further tame that brute force, the ZX-14R adds selectable FI mapping and Kawasaki’s KTRC traction-control system. Riders can toggle three modes—full power, medium power and a low-traction setting for wet or slippery conditions. There’s even an LCD readout on the reworked instrument panel that lets the rider see when the KTRC is working.
The chassis looks the same, but Kawasaki claims it’s been as heavily reworked, too. More than half the monocoque frame’s castings and forgings have been revised to improve flexation and feedback characteristics. The swingarm is extended 10mm and gets more bracing, and the front and rear suspension get upgrades for more compliance and bottoming resistance. New machined 10-spoke wheels are lighter and look nicer, and there are revisions to the braking system. Better-handling and braking it may be, but claimed curb weight has climbed 17 pounds, to 584.3.
Styling and convenience are also enhanced for 2012. The bodywork is smoothed out and restyled, with a distinctive four-lamp nose and larger side ducting being the most distinctive features. Instruments are also improved, with a new handlebar- mounted toggle switch to let the rider scroll through readouts, including an “Eco” mode that lets us know when we’re riding our bike most efficiently (and you do want to ride your ZX-14R as efficiently as possible, right?). Sounds like Kawi has made the 14R even better—but the price is up a mere $100, to $13,699 ($13,899 for Limited Edition graphics).
Not quite all the way on the other side of the performance spectrum from the 14 is the Ninja 650, a middleweight Twin known not just for being versatile, affordable and easy on new riders, but also fun for experienced riders to flog. The bike got a major revision in 2010, so the news of an all-new chassis and other big changes was a surprise. But there you have it—the 650 gets an all-new frame and swingarm and a host of other alterations.
The frame is the big news in 650 Ninja land. The old frame was a steel trellis design, and although we’ve never faulted the machine’s frame, it’s been replaced with a twin-pipe perimeter/backbone design that Kawasaki claims is more rigid, yet narrow-waisted enough to help shorter riders comfortably reach the ground. The bad news is weight—although the press release claims less weight from the new chassis, the overall claimed curb weight of the 650 has crept up 11 pounds, to a hefty 460.
But there’s still plenty here to promise an improved 650. Suspension settings are revised for more comfort, Dunlop’s excellent Roadsmart tires are standard fitment, the braking power is increased slightly, and there’s a new instrument panel with (mercifully) an analog tachometer as well as fuel consumption, range remaining and the “Eco” mode indicator that makes sense on a bike with the potential to return 50 mpg. The motor has also been revised to deliver more of that noob-friendly midrange power, and styling has been updated to help the bike fit better with Kawasaki’s other sportbikes, with more aggressive looks. A new three-position adjustable windscreen gives the second-smallest Ninja some sport-touring chops.
At $7499, the 650 is $300 more than the 2011. But it seems to offer even more of that all-around practicality and fun that makes us love sporty middleweight Twins. We’re looking forward to a test ride.
Ninja 1000 and Voyager
The revisions don’t end there. To make the Ninja 1000 even better (Dirck has really enjoyed his time on our long-term 2011 Ninja 1000 test bike), Kawasaki has added an ABS system to its big, fast sport-tourer. It’s a pretty compact, and affordable, addition. It adds just under seven pounds to the non-ABS model’s claimed 502.7 pound curb weight and is just $700 more than the standard model’s $11,199 MSRP (yes, $200 more than last year).
Finally, Kawasaki’s full-dress Voyager tourer gets a significant update for 2012. That big, retro-styled fairing recieves “Kawasaki Air Management System” (KAMS), which routes heat away from the radiator to the ground, making the big, comfy tourer better for low-speed (like parades) and hot-weather riding. MSRP is $17,899 or $18,999 with ABS. No word on any of these models has been released as of press time, but Dirck is at the Kawasaki dealer meeting in Florida and may have info on that soon.