I've got a confession to make-I haven't always been a fan of tricked-out sportbikes. In fact, when we started this magazine back in 2003, I was riding a Yamaha R1 that was bone stock right down to the factory exhaust can and the reflectors bolted to the fork legs. Before the R1 my primary streetbike was a road-race-prepped CBR600F3, made barely street-legal with an automotive fog light bolted to the race fairing and a license plate zip-tied to the tail. Compared to my souped-up CBR, the R1 was remarkably civil (as much as you can apply that term to a 140 hp sportbike!). It was comfortable, smooth and quiet, with a suspension that was calibrated perfectly for street conditions, and it was still blazingly fast. Even if it was virtually invisible at bike night, I enjoyed 30,000 painless, trouble-free miles on that bike without once feeling the urge to modify a thing, not even to take those damn reflectors off!
Recently, I found myself thinking fondly about my old R1 when I picked up our latest project bike, a Kawasaki ZX14. From the first minute in the saddle, your impression of the big Ninja is pure refinement and luxury. It's the most powerful production sportbike ever made, but it might also be the most sophisticated, with a smooth, silent motor, perfect injection, seamless acceleration, great clutch and gearbox and an ideal riding position. Why mess with that? Indeed, I was reluctant to go too far with this bike-eagle-eyed readers noted that even in the third installment of the project the ZX14 still wore the stock exhaust-almost an impeachable offense in this segment of the motorcycle world!
Well, my guilty conscience finally called me out (see the latest "Project Garage" installment on page 76 for details), and we tore into the ZX14's motor in a big way. With help from tuner Greg Moon at Moon's Super Cycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we added a Muzzys full exhaust, Muzzys nitrous oxide system and a bunch of other high-performance goodies that pushed the bike up to an impressive 214 horsepower. In just one day we transformed this refined gentleman of a sportbike into a manic, hyperactive beast. The exhaust note from the new street megaphone is painfully loud. Acceleration is immediate and violently abrupt. Our big Ninja now frightens small children and, more often than not, the grown adults sitting in the saddle as well. Its entire manner is angry, antisocial and utterly unfit for the public streets. It's one of the most thrilling and exciting motorcycles that I've ever ridden, and I've got no intentions at all of ever returning it back to stock.
Our Project ZX14, in other words, is the motorcycle that taught me to stop worrying and love tricked-out, tuned-within-an-inch-of-their-lives sportbikes. If I want creature comforts I can always jump in my car, with its cup holders and climate control. I love sportbikes for their inimitable ability to elevate my heart rate, and even scare me a little bit. I've come to learn, since the bad old days of riding around on a box-stock R1, that "the tricker the better" is the rule when big grins are the aim.