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2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R: MD Ride Review, Part 2 (with new video)

When you think about it, there doesn’t seem to be much room left, if any, for a big step forward by a production motorcycle in the horsepower wars.  Aren’t we already at the point where we can’t use more?  Aren’t we just measuring levels of overkill, at this point?  If we don’t live on a drag strip, or a race track with a mile long straightaway, can we even use, much less appreciate, two wheeled vehicles with more power than is currently offered?

The questions posed in the first paragraph might lead you to conclusions you consider obvious, but I submit that they are more subtle.  A 600cc supersport that delivers the vast majority of its horsepower above 10,000 rpm is in many ways less “usable”  than a far more powerful bike that offers highly entertaining thrust below 5,000 rpm on the street.  That entertainment is even greater when the power comes on as smooth as a turbine.  Enter the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R.

Kawasaki set out to end the horsepower wars with the new ZX-14R, at least for as long as it could.  Not content to play the traditional leap frog, this new machine leaps the competition and lands well in front.  195 horsepower at the rear wheel  (see the dyno test reported in Part 1) sets a formidable target for the competition.  Moreover, putting more horsepower than offered by your typical 3,500 pound family sedan through the relatively tiny, single contact patch of a motorcycle rear tire poses its own challenges when the vehicle must be reasonably safe and rideable on the street.

What Kawasaki has created with the new ZX-14R  is a product that will undoubtedly be embraced by the drag racers, original ZX-14 and Hayabusa owners, and those who simply want the street cred of having the world’s most powerful production motorcycle.  Possibly lost in this pure horsepower euphoria, however, is the simple fact that the ZX-14R is a great bike to ride for plenty of other enthusiasts outside these categories.

Here is how Kawasaki summarizes the important changes made to the original ZX-14:

  • Massively more powerful 1,441cc inline-four engine features a 4mm longer stroke, reworked cylinder head assembly, polished ports and lighter, stronger pistons for more power across the rev range
  • KTRC traction-control system features three different modes for varying conditions and is controlled by a handy switch assembly on the left handlebar
  • All-new slipper clutch assembly controls rear-wheel torque effects while braking and downshifting
  • All-new exhaust system features tapered and reshaped head pipes and an all-new muffler assembly for low noise and emissions
  • Redesigned aluminum monocoque frame is narrow, strong and rigid
  • All-new swingarm assembly is longer and features strengthening gussets to cope with the engine’s newfound power
  • Transmission gears are more durable thanks to new temperature and surface treatments
  • All-new bodywork package builds upon the slick aesthetic image of the previous machine, includes a rear seat cowl and adds better air management to the mix for improved rider and passenger comfort
  • All-new 10-spoke wheels are more than 3 pounds lighter in total than the previous machine’s units; this reduces unsprung weight, which aids handling and maneuverability
  • New disc material and pads improve the 14R’s radial-mount braking system
  • Revised suspension settings front and rear add wheel control and compliance to an already plush ride
  • Higher overall finish quality than before, including hidden bodywork fasteners

Gabe discussed these changes in our preview article, and I am not here to bore you with technical details this time around. Nevertheless, I think a few of the changes are worth highlighting.

This isn’t just a stroke job resulting in 1,441cc.  As Kawasaki puts it, the “reworked cylinder head assembly, polished ports and lighter, stronger pistons” work with the larger displacement, a higher compression ratio and a 60% increase in air flow through the intake and redesigned exhaust to create the amazing horsepower numbers you have already seen.

Just as much effort went into making this power usable and safe for responsible riders.  The KTRC traction-control system allows that small rear contact patch (not small by motorcycle standards, as it features a 190 section tire) to seamlessly and safely put all that power down to the asphalt.  With three levels, including TC1 for normal riding, TC2 for rain and TC3 if you want absolutely no possibility of wheel spin whatsoever (on gravel, for instance), the power is not so much tamed (it is still there when you remain in Full Power mode) as controlled.  You can also turn traction control completely off to perform those burn-outs that impress your friends, or to warm your tire at the drag strip.

A Low Power mode limits you to 75% of peak horsepower, but provides similar low-end performance.  This might be useful when your adrenal glands are tapped.

Turn the key on and traction control defaults to TC1, which is where I recommend you leave it for all normal riding conditions. As you can imagine, with traction control turned off, even experienced riders could encounter problems.  TC1 and Full Power give you the complete performance experience without the drama and danger of the “Off” position.  It should be noted here that motorcycle journalists testing the bike in Las Vegas, including those without specific drag racing experience, were routinely in the 10s (even the low-10s) at the strip with the bike in TC1.  If you’re Ricky Gadson, of course, turn TC off at the drag strip and throw down stock 9 second runs.

Traction control isn’t the only way Kawasaki created a refined, usable riding experience with this much horsepower. Throttle response is outstanding, offering seamless transitions from closed to open throttle, and overall engine smoothness is quite impressive.  I would be interested to hear feedback from a Honda Blackbird (CBR1100XX) owner on the relative smoothness of this inline four.  It is that good.

The new slipper clutch allows corner entries to be smoother and more predictable, as well.  The revised suspension settings and lighter wheels offer up better turning (lighter tip-in) and a sportier feel to the big 584 pound (claimed wet weight) machine this year. A 10mm longer swingarm also reduces drama by reducing polar moment and improving rear traction.

The ergonomics are essentially unchanged from the earlier model, but this is hardly a negative for this reviewer. Kawasaki has found, and kept, an excellent triangle (footpeg, handlebar and seat relationship).  A “VFR-like” ergonomic package will allow most riders vastly improved comfort versus a 600cc supersport or 1,000cc superbike.  I also found the seat very comfortable on longer rides . . . plush and supportive at the same time.

While riding the bike, I imagined the experience was similar to piloting a big European GT automobile, such as a Bentley Continental GT (which does not have a 16 cylinder engine, as I mistakenly stated in the video below), or certain models from Aston Martin or Ferrari.  Effortless power and thrust, combined with handling limits and composure suitable for a gentleman.

These sensations are courtesy of corner exits from as low as 3,500 rpm with ample push and heretofore alien acceleration further up the tach . . . together with a totally unstressed, even unhurried feeling from the big machine.  The ZX-14R shrugs off all of your performance requests with the same indifference King Kong displays while swatting airplanes from the top of the Empire State Building.

The brakes are strong and very predictable.  Progressive and easily controlled without too much initial bite.  Even gas mileage seems dramatically improved from the prior model, with mid-40s achievable on freeway cruises.  Expect 30 mpg or less if you are riding, or racing, the bike hard.

Kawasaki stresses that the clutch plates are well up to the job of transferring the massive torque on offer, and even the transmission (which worked faultlessly during our test) has improved reliability this year.

The 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R isn’t just for drag racers and burnout buddies.  It is a package that appeals to a much broader audience.  It is a significant step forward in engine performance coupled with surprising levels of refinement, comfort and usability.  The U.S. MSRP is $14,699 for the Metallic Spark Black and Candy Surf Blue models, while the special edition Golden Blazed Green comes in at $14,899 (with color matched side fins, dash cowling, as well as machined wheels and top triple clamp.).  For further details and specifications, visit Kawasaki’s web site.  Be sure you watch our new video review below, as well as the video of the dyno test we posted last week.

58 Comments

  1. Mr.Mike says:

    This engine + dual sport frame and running gear = KLR1400. I’d love to see that bounding down the trail, tires shedding knobs like a machine gun.

    Report this comment

  2. Denny says:

    One suggestion, if I may: it would be beneficial if we had some pictures of technicalities, if available. This is ok, but is just ‘reading about it’. Seeing is believing and picture is worth of thousand words. Thanks.

    Report this comment

  3. Rocky V says:

    Guys
    i have a 2003 Zrx 1200 — i ride most of the time with my girl friend so the weight of the bike is a plus for me –has any one here ridden a Zrx 1200 and a newer Zx14

    would this bike be a good replacement for the 1200

    or is the 1200 better for 2 up riding ?
    thanks

    Report this comment

    • Jack says:

      Aloha Rocky V…

      I owned a ZX-14 and would ride with my wife all the time. Although it took a little from the cornering, the bike handled two up very well. Plenty of power and suspension to handle both.

      Report this comment

  4. Artem_T says:

    Nope. Not a GPZ 900 (4500$). Rather bad.
    Strange.
    So. Good bye

    Report this comment

  5. pete Rasmussen says:

    No David I wouldn’t think different if I were to ride one. 580+ pounds is way too heavy.

    Report this comment

  6. Alain says:

    I’m one of those who are over 50 y.o. and been riding for over 35 years. I’ve had most of the big superbikes since the late 70′s. But I must say that in the last 10 years, we’ve seen so many good bikes out there.
    - I loved my 2003 CBR1100XX
    - I loved my 2007 ZX14
    - I love my 2010 VFR1200
    - I will love to own the new 2012 ZX14 !!! in blue please…

    Ps. I don’t really care about big HP’s, what I like, it’s the feel of having enough power to pass below 5,000 RPM when you need it…

  7. Donnie says:

    21st Century, your 1973 Kawasaki H2A has arrived.

    Report this comment

  8. pete Rasmussen says:

    So you found nothing at all to criticise? What agbout the ridiculous weight? That amount of power is absurd and then they turn it down electronically because its got too much?

    Report this comment

    • Davis says:

      You’d think different Pete if you rode one. Really quite an amazing bike and the weight doesn’t matter too much unless you try to really hustle in the tight stuff. And the motor is addicting. They don’t turn down the power as much as control it. All that with comfort and two-up capability. BTW, I ride a ’04ZX10 at the track and an ’02FZ1 on the street with 40ish years riding.

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      • J$ says:

        Davis don’t waste your time with trolling posts like this. There will always be people who have the most accurate and relevant opinions on how a bike performs, rides, and handles after READING about the specs on the internet without actually riding it! :)
        With that said… I couldn’t agree more with your stated points about the ZX after test riding one myself.
        Cheers

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  9. ziggy says:

    Oh, so THIS is the ride review…!

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  10. Graham says:

    This is a monster, My ’07 ZX-14 is plenty fast for me, and with 50k miles, I can vouch for it’s reliability, I like how the LCD screen shows the old 14s headlights, almost smiling at you. I too have been a Kawasaki fan since I was a kid.

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  11. Denny says:

    i remember times when Honda was making good looking and cultivated CB250 and CB350 bikes. I liked them. Than came Kawasaki with KH line. I was extatic and needed to have one – badly. When we look at the scene now – after some 40 plus years – it is much the same story. Kawi is the one who rules!

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    • MGNorge says:

      If you look at absolute horsepower numbers you wouldn’t be far off the mark but thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of riders find happiness with much less. Who “rules” is in the eyes of the beholder.

    • Tim says:

      My biggest smiles always come when I’m no my 1972 Kawasaki 90 (restored to near new condition.) There’s something about the smell of an old 2 stroke that makes me feel 12 again. That said, every time I ride my Triumph Sprint, I fall in love with the big motor all over again. When I want to wheelie and hit the twisties I take my Versys.

      I’m not sure there is any two wheel motorized vehicle that you can’t have fun on. My Dad has a 50cc Honda scooter, and I can even find redeeming qualities in it. Everything has it’s own character, but they’re all fun to ride.

      Report this comment

  12. Sean says:

    Great video review of what appears to be the ultimate GT bike. I’ve always found the ZX14 to have a more comfortable riding position than the Hayabusa. It’s also amazing to think a bike putting out 195 RWHP is getting mid-40′s highway gas mileage. Nice job Kawasaki!

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  13. Kjazz says:

    ….something about “more than a mouthful” comes to mind….hahahah! Love it!!!

    Report this comment

  14. AFW says:

    Leapfrogged the competition(Hayabusa/VFR1200/K1300S), similar to what BMW S1K did to
    the liter class.

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  15. John says:

    Needs more headlights

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  16. Hot Dog says:

    Nice reporting Dirck! What a breath taking machine. Most of my riding is on the upper Great Plains, so it is much easier to see deer in the ditch than amoungst the trees you rode through. It must be difficult to not want to pull the trigger on that baby and light the booster rockets! Whew!!! Now that’s a bike!

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  17. Marty says:

    I am a Kawasaki fan from day one and will love to see the road tests on this but I what I really want is the 650 ninja. That is about the perfect power plant for the street. Going to be another great year for team green. Yay!

    Report this comment

  18. harry says:

    At about 6:17 after a sign that says “turnout 1/4 mil there is a patch/splash of white paint?? on the road and it looks like the bike fished a little under acceleration. That stuff was slippery. Cool ride. A long term test is in order.

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  19. monsterduc1000 says:

    Power…Awesome! Styling…not for me. Weight…too much. I will stick with my slightly modded ’04 zx10r and ’06 monster s2r1000. Not as powerful (especially not the monster) but both are gorgeous, super light, and a delight in the twisties!

    Report this comment

  20. Gary says:

    It is hard to tell from the video, but it seems as though you never got it up into the real “meat” of the powerband. How tough is it to ride at max thrust on public roads? I imagine that much power could punt you from thrilla to killa in a few seconds flat. I understand the thrill of riding a huge wave of torque, but I am still not convinced this bike is not overkill.

    Report this comment

  21. Mike says:

    Very nice bike, but Ill keep my XX and the leftover $11000 in my pocket. From low 10′s at the track, to 1000 mile days. All that and still one of the best looking bikes on the road today.

    Report this comment

    • ROXX says:

      Amen brother. I love my 99 XX!

      Report this comment

      • Old Fogey says:

        well, that’s great that you can keep your old bike, but if you’ve been riding a smaller bike (600cc) for years and ready to upgrade, i think this would be an awesome bike to have! i like that it’s not really a supersport and the ergo is actually comfy enough for standard riding, plus you get one of the most technically advanced safety features and hp galore. if i buy this bike, i’ll probably keep it forever and not worry about getting another bike. my old 600cc has 110k miles and i think it’s time for me to get a nice black zx14r for christmas!

        Report this comment

  22. Stinky says:

    I know they make a Concourse, but a hardbag option would seem like a must! I remember what a great tourer the old ZX11 was in 95 when a friend and I took a 5000 mile trip. Those pipes seem to make any bags a tough fit. I want one!

    Report this comment

  23. Brian says:

    Superb review! The video report was excellent.

    Report this comment

  24. Brianzr7s says:

    Dirck,
    Great review again. i do check in daily to see what new reviews you’ve done. Did you happen to ask the K team if ABS from the European model could be retro-fitted or offered as an option? Does the 14r offer better handling than sport tourers and enough comfort for, say a 400 mile day?

    Report this comment

  25. S Calwell says:

    “measuring levels of overkill” indeed. This bike is “overkill” in so many ways. Too much power for almost any street application. All that technology covered by pretty plastic seems like the wrong approach to a high performance street machine with touring capability.

    How about making a bike easier to ride, rather than limiting the engine with too much power? How about a simpler, lighter, adequately powered (read, PLENTY of power at low, medium and high rpm’s) with a first class suspension and comfortable ergos? Oh wait! It is already out there. KTM calls it SMT, Triumph calls it Tiger 800. But the people this bike appeals to won’t even consider them.

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    • Kate says:

      Seriously? Its like saying D cups are just too much for you

      Report this comment

    • Stinky says:

      Kawasake is making a 1000 Versys, this is a GT in a way. Could this class be called Hyperbike? Wretched excess, too much is just enough, foolhardy. Pretty hard to describe. I wanna testride.

      Report this comment

    • Tom says:

      Calling this bike overkill is an American-centric comment. In Europe this will be a VERY popular sport-touring bike, and Europe is now a larger motorcycle market than the USA even in this economy. Taking 195 rear wheel HP on the German autobahn ought to make for some fantastic high-speed touring days, not to mention the ability to upset nearly all of the supercar owners. The ZX-14 still might not outrun a Bugatti Veyron, but that’s probably the only one.

      Report this comment

  26. GS1100GK says:

    I cannot wait until mine comes in!!!!

    Report this comment

    • GS1100GK says:

      Kawasaki Green and at a discount to boot!!!

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      • Old Fogey says:

        been waiting a long time for the right bike to show up. i almost bought the bmw s1000rr, but i held back because my back probably wouldn’t hold up with such an aggressive ergo. but low and behold, kawasaki comes out with the zx10r, but still not comfy enough, and then BAM the zx14r arrives and i sat on it at the motorcycle show and it’s perfect ergo for my back! i ordered a black one and it should be here next month. it’s going to be awesome!

        Report this comment

  27. pat says:

    Dirck,
    excellent work again and with the videos its awesome.
    Great website,my favorite. Keep it up and i feel that you’re a great enthusiast,again excellent

    Report this comment

  28. allan says:

    thank you for the review. very nice.
    44mpg on highway, traction control, comfortable riding position,excellent brakes and throttle control

    Would have been on my list feb 2012, however no ABS for US model –killed the deal for me. Why kawasaki decided not to let US consumers of the 2012 model to have ABS – is unfair, and unexplainable

    Report this comment

  29. Gordon says:

    Dirck,

    Thanks for another great review!

    Is there any way you can provide hp and torque in SAE? There was no torque number in the first review and the hp was in STD. Also, it would be nice to see the charts with RPM on the x-axis instead of mph.

    Thanks.

    Report this comment

    • Dirck Edge says:

      Thanks, Gordon. We had time constraints and trouble tying into the tachometer feed when we did the Dyno runs. I will try to plot RPM on the 4th gear chart and post it here later. One of the things I like about the bike is it makes plenty of power at real-world, street RPM levels.

      Report this comment

  30. ROXX says:

    Ortega Highway.
    My stomping grounds!!!
    Dirk, I can meet you up there with my Blackbird if you want to ride it back to back and compare the smoothness between the two machines?

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  31. AFW says:

    Who would buy a Hayabusa or VFR1200 over this? Better in every way.

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    • MGNorge says:

      Maybe someone who happened to like either of those two more, for whatever reasons. Perhaps they have a Honda or Suzuki dealer close by with a long friendly relationship while the nearest Kawasaki dealers is waaaaay far away? I don’t know, you pick a reason. Thank god we don’t all want the same bike!

      Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      Someone without the financial means to buy an new bike? Someone who dislikes green or blue? It’s subjective, others may not agree that this is better and it may not be for their wants/needs.

      Report this comment

    • Pep says:

      I would buy the 2012 blue VFR1200F over the ZX14R or the Hayabusa. I guess I fit that demographic of over 40 and not needing the most hard edged bike out there but needing lots of refinement. I am one of those few who finds the VFR1200 gorgeous and the ZX14R or Hayabusa styling not so nice.

      I like the Honda V4 engine and single sided swing arm along with traction control, ABS and optional center stand which is must for my lifestyle. The VFR will keep my owned since new ZX11 company in the garage.

      That doesn’t mean I am not tempted with the ZX14R but my experience sitting on it at the show, did not fit me as well as the VFR nor feel as good for me.

      Report this comment

  32. Josh B. says:

    Argh… Photoshopping that “red” ZX14 would have been MUUUUUCH easier if I had that blue pic to begin with, LOL! It ALREADY has black rims/calipers and no flames… Oh well… :oP

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