Despite giving up some displacement to the Hayabusa, the 2001 Kawasaki ZX-12R made more peak power and was a hair faster. But that was only half the story, as the big Kawi was released amidst the top-speed limiter crisis of 2001 that ultimately prompted bike manufacturers to soften the power delivery and cap top speeds to 186 mph.
Rumors of pre-production ZX-12Rs flirting with 195 mph went rampant through the scene as Kawasaki postponed the launch of the bike several times. Sadly, we'll never know what Kawi had up its sleeve, but the production model was stunning nonetheless. The ZX-12R had the biggest top-end hit of the day with a chassis and handling characteristics that rivaled many literbikes. It may not have been as comfortable as a 'Busa, but it ran circles around it in the twisties and with some RPM on the dial it'd creep away from one too.
Try as it might, Kawasaki couldn't match the powerful sales numbers of the Hayabusa. Caught between the big 'Busa and the ultra lightweight literbikes, the ZX-12R never caught on and eventually faded into the shadows. After five years of weak sales figures, Kawasaki finally ceased production of the ZX-12R in late 2006.
Yet, like any niche bike, the ZX-12R has a devout following and is no less deserving today of the praise it earned when new. Current owners love the exclusivity of their Kawis as much as they like the high-horsepower motor. Most owners enjoy their ZX-12Rs on the street, but also frequent local drag strips and track days where all its glorious 1199ccs can be set free.