Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R - Motorcycle Consumer News

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R - Motorcycle Consumer News
Model Evaluation
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R
Bigger, badder
and quicker
than ever
by Scott Rousseau
N THE MID 1990s, the Ninja ZX-11 reigned supreme as the
fastest and most powerful production sportbike available,
capable of a staggering 176 mph terminal velocity. But then
in 1997, Honda came along with the 178-mph CBR1100XX
Blackbird and stole Kawasaki’s thunder. In 1999, Suzuki escalated the conflict with its supremely powerful and aerodynamically efficient GSX1300R Hayabusa, widely recognized as the
first motorcycle to officially break the 190 mph barrier (although
MCN achieved “only” 188 mph during its evaluation). Kawasaki
prepared to return fire with an all-new model, the ZX-12R, in
2000. Early rumors were that pre-production 12Rs were easily
breaking the 200-mph barrier.
But then European regulators took notice of Kawasaki’s quest
for speed, and some countries threatened to ban the sale of the ZX12R outright. To appease the Euros, the Japanese agreed to a 300
kph (186 mph) speed limit for their fastest motorcycles, more or
less cementing the Hayabusa asthe fastest production bike ever.
(Note: MV Agusta’s $135,000 F4 1100 CC and Ducati’s
Desmosedici are claimed to be faster, but these could hardly be
considered production bikes, and we’ve yet to see real top speed
numbers posted by legitimate news sources.)
The focus has since shifted from who can build the outright
fastest sportbike to who can build the quickest and most powerful. Debuting in 2006, Kawasaki’s Ninja ZX-14 has run virtually neck and neck with the Hayabusa on the dragstrip for the
past five years, but for 2012 Kawasaki has introduced a practically all-new ZX-14R that aims to reaffirm its top-gun status.
Engine & Performance
When we last tested the ZX-14 (February 2009), we noted that
it not only fell short of the Hayabusa’s peak rear-wheel horsepower, 163.1 to 171 hp, but it also lacked the low-end grunt
needed to launch it past the Hayabusa in the quarter-mile. Our best
result with the old ZX-14 netted a 9.83-sec. e.t., @ 143.44 mph,
falling short of the 9.77 @ 145.97 mph run recorded by our last
Hayabusa test unit (February 2008) and well short of our all-time
quarter-mile king, the 2006 GSX-R1000, which turned in a surprising 9.55-sec. pass @ 143.02 mph (April 2006). Apparently,
JULY 2012
Kawasaki engineers have done their homework, as the ZX-14R
can lay down 9.6-sec. passes at will; our best run on the new 14R
was in 9.62 sec. @ 149.00 mph, 60 mph coming up in just 2.77
sec., and 100 mph in just 5.08 sec. How’s that for quick?
The increased grunt comes courtesy of a heavily redesigned,
liquid-cooled, DOHC inline four-cylinder engine with more displacement than ever before. Starting with the same basic bottom
end as the ZX-14, Kawasaki engineers retained the ZX-14’s
84.0mm bore dimension but increased the previous 57.0mm
crankshaft stroke by 4mm, netting an additional 88cc to bring the
14R to 1441cc. Longer rods (115.5mm vs. the 14’s 112.5mm)
were required to maintain a similar connecting rod ratio, which
is important for both power production and reliability because it
decreases sidewall thrust of the pistons against the cylinder
walls, reducing friction and freeing up precious horsepower.
The pistons are also all-new forged units that are 6mm lighter than
the ZX-14’s, yet stronger due to the addition of boxed wristpin
supports. A new, taller cylinder block was also necessary to
accommodate the new stroke and rods.
The ZX-14R uses the same basic cylinder head as the ZX-14,
but its oval-shaped intake ports are now hand polished and its
combustion chambers are surface-milled rather than cast,
reducing the number of sharp edges in the combustion chambers
(compression ratio is increased from 12.0:1 to 12.3:1). Its intake
valves are unchanged, but its exhaust valves are larger, and new
camshafts increase both lift and duration.
Air entering the snout of the ZX-14R’s fairing passes through
a new, less restrictive air filter element that increases airflow to the
14R’s bank of 44mm throttle bodies. It also gets an Idle Speed
Control valve (ISC) that automatically handles cold starts, lowers
emissions and smooths throttle transitions during deceleration. It
clearly works, as the 14R’s throttle response is silky.
Big pentagonal-section dual mufflers now house the catalyzers
that formerly occupied the collector section of the ZX-14’s
exhaust system, and new stepped header pipes measure 38.1mm
in diameter where they exit the head and increase to 42.7mm en
route to the mufflers. We were pleasantly surprised that the 14R
offers ample cornering clearance despite its enormous mufflers.
The net effect of all this re-engineering yields a staggering
amount of horsepower—189.34 rwhp @ 10,000 rpm and 112.09
lb.-ft. of torque @ 7500 rpm to be exact! That’s 26.2 more horsepower and 11 more lb.-ft. of torque than the ZX-14, and yet the
shapes of the torque and horsepower curves are virtually identical. The increased torque makes the Kawi more flexible than
ever, and its dual gear-driven counterbalancers keep the engine
nearly vibration-free throughout the rev range. Despite its beastly
persona, you can casually short-shift the brawny 14R around
town, relying on that locomotive-like torque for potent acceleration without generating unwanted attention; it’s Kawasaki’s
version of “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
But if do you feel bold enough to unleash all of the 14R’s
fury—and you have the space to do it—you’ll find the ZX-14R
is easier to launch than ever before, thanks to a new engine management package that incorporates two power modes (“Full” and
“Low”) and three levels of KTRC traction control (or four, if you
count “Off” as a level), adjustable via a switch on the left handlebar. “Low” mode reduces the 14R to 148 rwhp @ 10,750 rpm
with 89.4 lb.-ft. of peak torque @ 6500 rpm, which is intended to
make the 14R more manageable in less-than-ideal riding conditions, like rain-slicked pavement. The difference between the two
modes is obvious on the street, too. In “Low” mode, the 14R is a
bit more friendly, although there’s still plenty on top to quicken
the pulse of all but the most hard-core acceleration junkies.
It’s also a good idea to let the KTRC system help, because it
really does, especially when launching the ZX-14R from a
sion of the M5s is less than favorable. When blitzing his favorite
mountain roads, Danny Coe discovered that aggressive riding
will overtax their adhesion, and even less aggressive testers
witnessed the traction control intervening to avoid wheelspin at
slower speeds. Coe also noted that the front wheel locked up too
easily during our brake testing. With the ZX-14R’s power, the
Metzelers’ compounds were undoubtedly chosen to give the 14R
a shot at respectable tire life, but if we owned the 14R, we’d fit
stickier rubber and skip the burnouts.
With this much power and weight, good brakes are imperative,
and the 14R has them. Its dual semi-floating 310mm petal discs are
covered by radial-mount four-piston calipers fed by a radial pump
master cylinder, and they offer excellent power and a precise
modulation feel. Out back, the 14R’s 250mm petal-style disc and
two-piston caliper work well, although some of our testers would
prefer a little better feel at the brake pedal.
Coe was able to stop the big 14R’s in an excellent 116.03' from
60 mph, but avoiding front-wheel lock-up was difficult. In fact,
with its hard tires, the 14R fairly cries out for ABS. European-spec
14Rs have ABS, but Americans can’t get it, even as an option.
We question Kawasaki’s decision not to make ABS standard here
too, and we hope that the 2013 models will have it.
standing start. Our best quarter-mile time was achieved in Mode
1, which still allows the 14R to wheelie off the line, while the ECU
retards ignition timing to help the rider maintain control. With the
KTRC turned off, preventing unwanted wheelstands was difficult,
and that cost us precious tenths of a second. Mode 2 eliminates
any chance of a wheelie right from the start, while Mode 3 approximates the level of traction control found on the Concours 14—
best for maintaining traction on dirt, gravel or other slippery
surfaces. As an added safety feature, the system will always
default to the highest level of intervention used after the key is
turned off, but if the system is in “Off” mode, it will default to
Mode 1 when the bike is restarted.
The ZX-14R’s six-speed transmission and clutch have also
been changed to accommodate the increased torque and horsepower. First gear is taller than the 14’s to make the 14R a little
more manageable when getting underway, but overall gearing is
tighter, thanks to a one-tooth larger rear sprocket (42T). Its
shift action is generally smooth and positive, although on a few
occasions we did catch false neutrals when downshifting.
The ZX-14R’s new slipper clutch—a first for the biggest
Ninja—is designed to prevent the big motor’s compression braking from causing rear wheel to hop under deceleration. Assisted
by a radial-pump master cylinder, the new clutch imparts a linear
feel, but it also delivers odd feedback through the lever when the
throttle is chopped, similar to BMW’s K1600 models and Ducati’s
APTC clutches.
Ergonomics, Controls & Instruments
The ZX-14R is more comfortable than its sportbike looks
would suggest. The junction between the gastank and its wellpadded “gunfighter”-style seat has been narrowed to allow greater
freedom of movement in the cockpit, and its windscreen offers
generous wind protection, plus the handlebar levers have rotary
adjusters to tailor their reach to large and small hands alike.
Ridden hard, the ZX-14R’s thirst for petroleum rivals that of a
developing third-world country, but the 14R’s ECO (economy)
Mode offers a small measure of relief. Unlike the Concours 14’s
separate ECO mapping, the 14R’s automatically adjusts the fuel
delivery to optimize fuel economy. When the rider is considered
to be conserving fuel, an Eco Mode icon is lit in the lower left
hand corner of the 14R’s dash. By keeping an eye on ours, we
were able to achieve an average of 32.9 mpg.
Speaking of the LCD dash, it’s easy to read and houses a
full complement of trip functions, including average speed and
average mpg. But we also like the fact that the 14R uses big
analog gauges for the speedometer and tachometer.
Chassis & Suspension
Final Thoughts
Kawasaki has accomplished its mission to make the ZX-14R
quicker and more powerful than its great rival, the Hayabusa,
although we wonder how long it will be before Suzuki answers
back. In the meantime, the new 14R boasts mega horsepower,
up-to-date technology (power modes and traction control) and
surprising versatility. There’s a lot of beauty in this beast.
The ZX-14R’s monocoque aluminum chassis uses the same
23.7° rake and 3.7" of trail as its predecessor, but the steering
stem area has been re-engineered to provide additional flex for
better feedback, and its aluminum swingarm is 10mm longer,
stretching the 14R’s wheelbase .8" to 58.3", to shift additional
weight onto the front tire. Despite these changes, there’s no mistaking the 14R for any other sportbike. Its long and low feel is a
genetic trait that dates all the way back to the original 900 Ninja,
and it’s as stable as a steamship in a straight line.
But that taller cylinder block does raise the CofG, and although
the 14R’s steering is crisp and precise in the twisties, the big
Ninja packs a lot of weight—at 584 lbs., it’s nearly 20 lbs. heavier than the old ZX-14. Combine that weight with the 14R’s titanic
horsepower and some of our testers found it to be a handful when
the road gets really tight and technical.
The ZX-14R’s fully adjustable 43mm Kayaba male-slider fork
and Kayaba rear shock—the latter connected Kawasaki’s trademark Uni-Trak suspension linkage—are carried over from the
ZX-14. Stiffer front and rear springs deliver a more sporting feel,
says Kawasaki, but they must obviously also contend with the
14R’s increased heft. Even so, dialing in the suspension was easy,
and the majority of our crew preferred more preload at both
ends along with more rebound damping in the fork and more
compression and rebound damping in the rear. Set this way,
the Ninja’s ride quality is less supple on freeway expansion
joints and bumpy city streets, but that’s a tradeoff we’ll accept
in order to better harness the 14R’s power and weight when
canyon carving. And there’s still plenty of adjustment range
available to make the 14R more sport-touring friendly.
Wheels, Tires & Brakes
To help the heavier ZX-14R feel light on its feet, new 10spoke, cast-alloy 17" wheels are lighter by a total of 3 lbs.—
decreasing unsprung weight and reducing gyroscopic effects.
Measuring 3.50" wide up front and 6.00" out back, they’re fitted with Metzeler’s Sportec M5 Interact radials in120/70ZR17
and 190/50ZR17 sizes respectively. Unfortunately, our impresVisit us at WWW.MCNEWS.COM
JULY 2012
Model Evaluation
Left: Gone are the old ZX-14’s long, rounded mufflers. The ZX-14R’s enormous pentagonal-shaped silencers carry the catalyzers inside them rather than in the header.
Kawasaki says they were moved for space
reasons. Now changing to aftermarket
mufflers also removes the cats…hmmm.
Right: Topside view shows the new cockpit,
slimmed at the front of the saddle and the
rear of the ZX-14R’s 5.8-gal. gastank for
greater freedom of movement and a more
comfortable fit. The 14R’s repli-racer handlebars may limit comfort for some riders.
Left: The ZX-14R’s LCD screen gives the
rider access to a wealth of functional information, including the power mode and
traction control settings as well as a trip
computer. The analog speedometer and
tachometer are retro cool and easy to read.
Above: The ZX-14R’s seat has a gradual
contour, is well-padded and comfortable
enough for long rides. In case you hadn’t
noticed, our test bike wears the Special
Golden Blaze Green with Flame Graphics,
a $200 color option. Pretty snazzy, huh?
Right: Kawasaki shaved 3 lbs. off the ZX14R’s 10-spoke front and rear wheels, reducing unsprung weight and steering efforts.
The stock Metzeler tires may stand up to the
weight and power of the 14R, but hustling it
through turns will tax their grip.
The Ninja ZX-14R is a big motorcycle, and there is a lot to like.
She’s far more nimble than I expected, and her 9.62-second
quarter-mile acceleration backs up Kawasaki’s age-old mantra
of never leaving its riders short on power. The 14R combines its
brutal acceleration with added rider safety in the form of its
KTRC traction and wheelie control, but approaching the limits of
this motorcycle requires that the rider remain totally focused
on the road ahead.
The stock suspension settings, although comfortable, were
too soft for my riding style, but tightening them up made a world
of difference. Cornering became noticeably better and instead of
me responding to the reactions of the motorcycle, it responded
to me, a big improvement.
What would I change? The stock Metzeler rear tire had a difficult time coping with the demands of cornering traction, and
with the absence of ABS, the front tire on this 584-lb. heavyweight could be made to skid with only moderate lever pressure
during heavy upright braking. New tires, please.
JULY 2012
Bottom line: the ZX-14R hauls the mail, but if you intend to
explore its potential, you’d better be thinking well ahead of the
next curve. Its speed is intoxicating, but it demands respect.
—Danny Coe
I’ve always been impressed with Kawasaki’s Open-class Ninjas,
but the ZX-14R takes that fascination to a whole new level. In fact,
I’d give it a numerical value score of, say, 189.34—the 14R’s
exact horsepower output. Face it, unless you should happen to
run across Walt Fulton riding our 2006 GSX-R 1000 test bike,
nothing stock is going to beat you in an acceleration contest, and
even that old Gixxer doesn’t have the beans down low to outgun
the 14R in top-gear roll-ons. That the 14R handles lighter and
rides better than its 584 lbs. suggest is a surprise. That it
offers decent comfort and wind protection isn’t—the biggest
Ninjas always have. I’m a big fan of the 14R’s power, but I doubt my
driver’s license could handle the strain of actually owning one.
—Scott Rousseau
2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R
Type: ............Liquid-cooled inline four
Valvetrain: .... DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.,
shim under bucket adjustment
Displacement: ........................1441cc
Bore/stroke: ................84.0 x 61.0mm
Comp. ratio: ............................12.3:1
Fueling: .. Digital Fuel Injection, 44mm
throttle bodies
Exhaust: ......................4-into-1-into-2
Measured top speed ......186 mph*
0–1/4 mile ..................9.62 sec.
..........................@ 149.00 mph
0–60 mph ....................2.77 sec.
0–100 mph ........................5.08
60–0 mph ......................116.03'
Power to Weight Ratio ........1:3.09
Speed @ 65 mph indicated ....62.6
Electronically limited*
Final drive: ................................Chain
RPM @ 65 mph/rev limiter:..3790*/11,000
*actual, not indicated
Horizontal (nose
to) A: Passenger seat
(middle). B: Rider
seat (middle).
C: Handgrip (center).
D: Passenger footpeg
(center). E: Rider
footpeg (center).
Wheelbase: ................................58.3"
Ground clearance: ........................4.9"
Seat height: ..............................31.25"
GVWR: ..................................970 lbs.
Wet weight: ........................584.0 lbs.
Carrying capacity: ..............386.0 lbs.
Vertical (ground to)
F: Handlebar (center). G: Rider footpeg
(top). H: Rider seat
(lowest point).
I: Passenger peg
(top). J: Passenger
seat (middle).
––––––Open Sportbike––––––
Riding Impression
Instruments/Controls ::::;
Attention to Detail
Front:...... 43mm male slider cartridge
fork, adjustable. preload, compresF
sion and rebound 4.6" travel
Rear: ........Bottom-link Uni-Trak, single
shock w/adj. preload, compression and
rebound, 4.8" travel Instruments: Analog speedometer and Low end
189.34 hp
tachometer, odometer, 2 tripmeters,
Mid-range :::::
power mode, KTRC mode, clock,
coolant temp, range, battery charge, Top end
Front: ......Dual semi-floating 310mm
112.09 lb.-ft.
avg. mpg, current mpg,
petal discs w/radial-mounted fourIf there’s a flaw in the ZX-14R’s
power, we’re hard-pressed to
piston calipers Indicators: .. Hi-beam, t/s, neutral, low
find it. Don’t mistake its meloil pressure, gear indicator
Rear: 250mm disc, two-piston caliper
MSRP: $14,699, ($14,899 as tested)
injection in Full Power mode as
Routine service interval:........7500 mi.
89.37 lb.-ft.
demure. With 100-lb.-ft. of
Valve adj. interval:..............15,000 mi.
torque available at 6200 rpm, a
Front: ..120/70ZR17 Metzeler Sportec Warranty: ....1 year, unlimited mileage
M5 Interact M/C 58W on 3.50" x 17" Colors: Candy Surf Blue, Metallic Spark twist of the wrist will make you
feel like you’re on the Bullet
wheel Black, Special Golden Blazed Green
Train. You’ve been warned.
Rear:....190/50ZR17 Metzeler Sportec
M5 Interact M/C 73W on 6.00" x 17"
: Eye-watering, arm-stretching acceleration
Oil & Filter.................0.5..... ......$39.96+13.25$40.00
Battery: ..............................12V, 12Ah
: Surprisingly good handling for a 584-lb. missile
Air Filter....................0.4 ..........$55.24 ..........$32.00
Ignition: ..Digital w/ two power modes
Valve Adjust..............3.0 ........$160.06 ........$240.00
: Traction control and power modes can tame the beast
Alternator Output: ..490W @ 5000 rpm
Battery Access ..........0.4 ............MF ..............$32.00
Headlight: ................55W x 2/65W x 2
Final Drive ................0.25 ..............................$20.00
: Metzeler tires’ grip can’t harness all that power and weight R/R Rear Whl. ..........0.5 ................................$40.00
Change Plugs............0.9 ..........$39.96 ..........$72.00
: ABS is available, just not in America!
Synch EFI..................0.7 ................................$56.00
Tank capacity: ........................5.8 gal.
: Slipper clutch delivers funky feedback through the lever
Fuel grade: ..........................Premium
High/low/avg. mpg: ....36.0/27.4./32.9
Visit us at WWW.MCNEWS.COM
JULY 2012
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