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.
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.
Here’s a look into the eye of the storm; the happy zone where things happen quickly, very quickly. The new gauge cluster sports the basics like an analog speedometer and tachometer, but ups the ante with amenities like fuel consumption, ambient temperature, battery voltage, multiple trip meters, a shift light and even a launch light. The left bar switch is home to the traction control system and power modes that come in handy when the strip gets slippery.
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.
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.
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).
Team Green also went to great lengths to harness the newfound power—a serious traction control system chock full of different settings and power modes instantly tames the beast when required. The most intrusive, Mode 3, borrows its roots from the KTRC unit found on the Concours, allowing for maximum traction in the slipperiest situations. Not that we recommend such behavior, but a short bout on a gravel road during the press launch proved that even a handful of throttle can’t shake the complex computer system.
Mode 1 and Mode 2 take it one step further by borrowing from the books of the S-KTRC found on the ZX-10R. Mode 1 allows for serious launches and substantial powerwheelies. The TC system reacts differently depending on the throttle input, as a handful of throttle in Mode 1 will result in an unassisted wheelie. Riders beware, you can loop it easily. But a quick roll-on or launch keeps the front end just a few inches off the ground to maximize acceleration.
Mode 2 cuts all forms of wheelies and wheelspin while still permitting seriously aggressive launches without the drama. Mode 2 only cost Gadson a tenth compared to turning the system off. Forget worrying about flipping or losing the rear tire, it’s so seamless it feels like a cheater mode.
Helping add to the fortress of tech controls are two selectable power modes, the full buck and a low setting that chops 25 percent of power from bottom to top.
The chassis and suspension also didn’t go unchecked either. Over 50-percent of the last generation’s monocoque frame has been revised. A new steering stem gives way to stiffer bits for optimized flex and a 10mm longer swingarm also enters the mix to help combat wheelies and to improve drag launches.
On the suspension side of the equation the 14 received stiffer spring rates on either end along with revised damping rates to create a combo that’s claimed to work more efficiently when higher in the stroke.
The ZX-14R finally handles on par with the sporty Hayabusa, a bruiser that kills curves far better than it looks capable of. The ZX-14R is quick and confident, no doubt due large in part to the new lightweight multi-spoke wheels that shave over three-pounds of rotational mass compared to the previous hoops. You wouldn’t know the new model is a claimed 17-pounds heavier than the outgoing bike, as it now tips the scales at 584-pounds with fuel.
In the cockpit a new instrument cluster with a fresh analog speedometer and tachometer lead the way to a center-mounted display. The tach is easy to read, but the speedo can be tricky under acceleration only because the needle is moving so quickly to the right.
We didn’t have any quibbles about the LCD screen, which flashes a silhouette of the ZX-14R’s distinctive front end each time the key is turned. After the Hollywood introduction you’ll find a fuel gauge, gear indicator, dual trip meters, odometer, clock and other helpful features like temperature, real-time fuel consumption, fuel range and average fuel consumption. The programmable shift light is back, but it’s now situated smack in the line of sight (another complaint owners expressed about the previous model). A launch control light is also new this year, which means the desired launch RPM can be set and the light will flash once the needle reaches the set blast-off zone. It’s add-ons like these that demonstrate how focused Kawasaki is on claiming the undisputed crown at the drag strip.
There’s a reason the new 14 doesn’t look drastically different from the old bike: “Our research showed that people like the ZX-14 because it’s distinctive. When you pass one on the road going the other way the quad headlights and side fins are unmistakable, as is the patented V-shaped LED tail light,” Edmonson said.
The quad projector-beam headlights remain, but are now lumped into pairs on either side with shared lenses. What appear to be two headlights is actually a family of four. The quartet of side grilles are now more prominent not only for form, but function as well.
Along with revised lines, Kawasaki also spent some time relocating fairing fasteners out of sight for a tidy look and better aeodynamics. Other tasty bits of flare include stainless steel instrument cluster rings, a classy upper triple clamp and a standard tank pad to fend off unwanted scuffs.
The 2012 ZX-14R is available in two base colors, a Metallic Spark Black and a Candy Surf Blue for $14,699. For a cool $14,899 a Special Edition Golden Blazed Green example sports machined-faced wheels and a matching upper triple along with color-matched panels and trim along with special graphics. SSB
*89 engine cc increase in size over last year’s model
**Rickey And The Rocket
** The hypersport class is all about big numbers, big performance and big style. So it only made sense that the only question on every-one’s mind was, how fast? With pro drag racer Rickey Gadson in the saddle, the stock ZX-14R went 9.6 @ 151 MPH. To make things more interesting he hopped aboard a slightly modified example that sported Brock’s Performance lowering links and straps along with a smaller Vortex rear sprocket. The lowered stance helped keep the front wheel down and the taller gearing allowed the bike to better surf the waves of torque. The result—a blistering 9.25 @ 156 MPH run. This means that in good weather and at sea level, a lowered, strapped and geared ZX-14R might touch the eights. Wow.
2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R
** **Engine: Liquid cooled, double-overhead cam, counter balanced, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine
Bore and stroke: 84 x 65mm
Displacement: 1441 cc
Horsepower: 190 HP (est)
Torque: 110 LB-FT
Wet weight: 584 pounds
Quarter mile time: 9.6 @ 151 MPH
MSRP: $14,699 Metallic Spark Black and a Candy Surf Blue, $14,899 Special Edition Golden Blazed Green