Someone in Kawasaki's design department must have done something right with the new ZX-14, because it certainly looks like a fast motorcycle-it looks so fast, in fact, that cops will pull you over even when you aren't breaking the law! I found this out almost immediately after picking up our ZX-14 test unit from Sportland 2, the Kawasaki dealership based in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, that carefully and expertly prepared our bike for evaluation. I left the shop and headed north on I-43 back toward Milwaukee, and even though I was relentlessly monitoring my speed in heavy Friday morning traffic, I still found myself 10 minutes later having an impromptu discussion with a Milwaukee County sheriff's deputy about the big Z's accelerative abilities. Not that I was speeding, mind you-in fact, Officer Friendly radared me at one mph below the posted limit, 64 in a 65-but another deputy in an unmarked squad traveling in the opposite direction a few miles earlier "visually observed" me across six lanes of traffic going "at least 75 mph" and called out the all-points bulletin on the candy-blue sportbike. Lack of an actual speed measurement didn't stop Barney Fife from writing me up for "Unreasonable and Imprudent Speed: Est. 75 mph," complete with a $202 fine, based on the other officer just looking at the bike! Score one, then, for Kawasaki's design department (even if the bike's cop-magnet aesthetics are bad news for owners). If they wanted a fast-looking bike, they certainly got one.
Fortunately for performance junkies like us, the ZX-14 has all the acceleration it needs to back up those speedy good looks. Of course I didn't mention it to Deputy Dipshit, but at 75 mph, the '14's tach needle is just over halfway across the gauge face in first gear (!), and the engine is just waking up. Know this-the ZX-14 is a shockingly fast motorcycle. With the all-new 1352cc motor putting an honest 177 hp to the rear wheel, the ZX-14 rightfully earns the title of most powerful production sportbike ever built, but even more impressive than the number alone is the way the bike delivers that power out on the road. Although a bit soft on the bottom, at over 3000 rpm the big Ninja just flat rockets, in any gear. Power delivery isn't manic at all-just instant and amazingly prodigious, a sensation much like a jet airplane on takeoff.
Thanks to a rangy, 57.5-inch wheelbase, a carefully calibrated Uni-Trak rear suspension and a substantial, 570-pound wet weight, the ZX-14 has little tendency to wheelie; coupled with a flawless hydraulically actuated clutch (one of the best we've felt on any motorcycle), the ZX-14's power is very easy to put to the pavement and translates into mind-bending forward acceleration. As impressive as the acceleration is, however, what impresses us just as much is the ZX-14's high level of refinement-the dual-counterbalanced engine is virtually vibration free; the riding position is humane and wind protection is excellent; the transmission slips into gear without complaint; and even at legal speeds and small throttle openings, the fuel injection is glitch-free, giving the bike a highly refined and luxurious character much like a big Mercedes or BMW sedan.
We've got roughly 700 miles on the bike, all in stock trim, and so far the only obvious complaints we've identified are some minor handling ills. For day-to-day riding, the ZX-14 hides its bulk amazingly well and feels very balanced and easy to turn. Start pushing the pace hard in the twisties, however, and the stock bike starts arguing with you; a too-soft rear shock and a too-low rear end make it resist turning in on the brakes and also cause it to run wide on corner exits. If we were going to rail on this bike (and it would certainly be capable), our first swap might be an aftermarket rear shock with a stiffer spring and adjustable ride height so we could jack the back up a bit.
We've got other plans for this one, though, which mostly involve going fast in a straight line. We're taking this ZX-14 to our first-annual Top Speed Shootout slated for September 23-24 in Maxton, North Carolina, where we're hoping to make it go more than 200 mph in the standing-start mile. Accordingly, our first chassis changes will involve lengthening and lowering the bike, coupled with a host of motor mods to override the factory electronics that govern the bike to 186 mph, and maybe a bit of nitrous, too, aiming for the 220-plus hp we figure it will take to get to the far side of 200 mph. Needless to say, you'll be able to follow our progress with this bike in the next few issues of the magazine. In the meantime, we'll be spinning wrenches in the shop-when we're not in traffic court fighting bogus speeding tickets doled out by overzealous, radar-deficient cops, that is!
A set of these gorgeous forged...
A set of these gorgeous forged aluminum wheels from Gale Speed are on the way-to both lighten up and brighten up the bottom of our ZX-14. And this is just the beginning of the mods we've got planned.