Look out BMW and Suzuki, the new ZX-14R is definitely deserving of its R moniker.
No matter what gear or RPM, simply twist the grip and get ready for a rush of acceleration unmatched by any stock bike. Torque off the bottom is simply astonishing and midrange is as strong as you’d expect, as is the herculean top-end surge.
Simply whack the throttle in the lower gears and it’ll wheelie like a lightweight sportbike. Forget high-RPM clutch slips, just a blip of throttle and a slight tug is all she needs to go airborne. Like to smoke up? Switch off the TC and give it hell, she’ll paint it down as long as you’d like. And yet it can be lugged down to 1500 RPM to happily chug around a waiting police officer.
Track days are possible, sport touring is a given, commuting would be a pleasure and grudge night victories at the local drag strip are practically guaranteed. If you’re looking for the baddest straight-line stallion on the planet this will likely be it. It might have taken Kawasaki a few years, but there’s a new king and it’s painting the town green.
This baby’s got some lungs,...
This baby’s got some lungs, 1441cc of capacity to be exact. What used to be 1352cc in the previous generation was stroked another 89cc and fortified with a worked cylinder head. Inside the high-flow head Kawasaki hand polishes the intake ports and machines the exhaust side to take advantage of the bigger cams. For the green at heart, Kawi fortified the injection system with an ECO mode that manipulates timing and fueling adjustments for a claimed 20-percent increase in economy–and based on the 41-MPG we noted at 85 MPH, we believe them.
On the outside the new Kawasaki ZX-14R might resemble the model it replaces, but the similarities stop there.
“We wanted to keep the distinctive styling characteristics the ZX-14 is famous for, but under the updated skin is a new bike that doesn’t just nudge the bar, it substantially raises it,” Kawasaki Product Manager Karl Edmonson said.
And raise the bar it does, as its performance leap forward is greater than any previous update in the Hypersport class—Suzuki included. In fact, Kawasaki is so confident that it is deeming the ZX-14R as the most powerful production bike in the world (and for good reason).
During the recent press launch at Las Vegas Motorsports Park the Kawi engineers explained that since the release of the ZX-14 in 2006, it had been a game of cat and mouse with the Hayabusa. Just as one would make a small improvement the other would counter the following year. Team Green was tired of pussyfooting around; it was going big and was determined to send Suzuki packing.
Early dyno reports show figures in the 190 HP range at the wheel with an equally stout serving of torque nearing 110 LB-FT. Although there wasn’t a dyno at LVMS to confirm the reports, the drag strip was ours and even pro racer Rickey Gadson was on-hand to show the journos what the bike could really do by laying down an impressive 9.6 @ 151 MPH run. The density altitude that day was hovering just over 3000 feet, so figure another two-tenths when corrected to sea level, which means the stock bike is good for roughly 9.40s. What’s even more amazing is the fact these times were achieved by launching at 3500 RPM. Just a few ticks over 3 Gs and that’s all it needs to rocket out of the hole. Anything more and it’ll wheelie or the rear hide will spin in a cloud of smoke–it has that much grunt.
To make the event even sweeter, Gadson hopped aboard a stock-motored ZX-14R that had been lowered and strapped with Brock’s Performance equipment and was geared taller with a Vortex sprocket. The taller (numerically lower) rear cog allowed the brutish motor to stay in the meat of the powerband longer and the lowered stance tolerated more aggressive launches. When the smoke cleared, it nailed a 9.25 @ 156 MPH run. We’re looking at a high 8-second bike with $200 worth of mods.
In order for a stock-motored streetbike to touch 8-second ETs it has to generate serious horsepower, and Kawasaki went to great lengths in updating the motor. Most notably the stroke has been increased by 4mm for a total displacement bump of 89cc. The motor now measures a hefty 1441cc. This increase in displacement comes from longer rods with size increasing tweaks to the small ends.
New box style forged pistons cut weight by 6 grams per slug and the undersides of each piston are cooled and lubricated with an externally fed oil jet system. This trick addition moves the cumbersome plumbing outside the motor for greater room in the top-end.
Bend ‘er in and around she...
Bend ‘er in and around she goes. The improved chassis can’t hide this Hypersport’s girth, but the big gal sure can dance for her size.
In a move straight out of the history books, Kawasaki is hand porting the intake side of the cylinder head, a process it pioneered into mass production with its ’84 Turbo 750.
The high-tech head also features machined construction instead of the previously messy cast process for even greater flow. The exhaust ports have also been shaped for more CFM and the compression ratio is now hovering at 12.3:1.
More aggressive cams with increased lift and longer duration help open the valves higher and longer, taking advantage of the revised airbox that cuts resistance by 60 percent.
There are new tapered header pipes that help accelerate spent gasses into the large volume silencers, but this is one aspect we don’t feel we need to elaborate on as an aftermarket exhaust is imperative to increase power and cut weight. Ditch the stock pipes straight away!
Throughout the press introduction Kawasaki stressed the importance of current owner feedback during the design process of the new model. Much to everyone’s surprise, Kawasaki listened. Gone is the annoying clatter upon fire-up, a huge complaint with previous models.
“We used a new hydraulic/serrated tooth type cam chain tensioner that dramatically reduces the mechanical noise on cold starts, it still has the strength of the older serrated design but the hydraulic enhancements does away with the noise many owners disliked,” Edmonson explained.
Kawasaki also addressed the heat issues many owners complained about. Previous 14s would nearly cook the riders at slow speeds, but now thanks to prominent side vents, better aero work and a second radiator fan, we’re happy to report no more boiled legs during the slow stuff. The heat is now quickly expelled out and around the rider.
To keep the Green Peace party at bay, Kawasaki made sure the most powerful bike on the market is also one of the more economical ones, at least for its size. Much like its sport touring cousin, the Concours, the ZX-14R now has an ECO mode. But instead of just a dash indicator that signifies when your right hand is behaving, the ECO mode on the ZX-14R will alter timing and fueling maps at steady throttle inputs to actually improve gas mileage by a claimed 20-percent. At 85 MPH on the interstate we saw an indicated 41-MPG, a tremendous feat for such a powerful motorcycle.
Like all models before it, the 14R still utilizes counter-balancers to cut the vibes. As noted during the street ride, nary a vibration is felt until the triple digits. At that point they still aren’t obtrusive, instead it’s just enough to remind you that the big fella is getting ready for blast-off. As one would expect, the mirrors are as smooth as butter and offer a clear view of any highway patrol cruisers trying to sneak up on you (it’s the only chance they have).