Let me kick this feature off by assuring you that Kawasaki's new Ninja ZX-14R (ZZR1400 for the rest of the world) is no one-trick horsey... Now that's perhaps not what you want to hear if your interests lie purely in straight line sprinting, but for the rest of us it means there's a new motorcycle in town for the sports-touring market. And it's a good motorcycle at that.
Kawasaki's focus with the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R was to make it more versatile and practical for everyday use. Sure enough, as its flagship motorcycle it still had to carry the 'wow' factor that's become synonymous with the model since its global launch back in 1990 – where it awed the world with a genuine 149 horsepower output – but it also had to be more user friendly and as capable of everyday riding as it is for sprinting down 400 meters (quarter-mile) drag strip. In short, the Kawasaki ZX-14R was taken aside and taught a few manners by the white coated tuning engineers of Kawasaki. And what a great job they've done.
There aren't many times in life when you can genuinely hold our hands up and say that controlling a 200 horsepower hypersportsbike is actually quite easy, but for the select group of people who have sampled the new 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R, it is indisputably one of those moments. And that's simply down to the huge developments that have been made to the Kawasaki ZX-14R. While its core values are still shared with its predecessor, the introduction of electronic aids, improved geometry and more relaxed riding position have made the Kawasaki ZX-14R a friendly, green giant. Kawasaki claims to have taken all the weak points of the old ZX-14R and honed them to a level of supremacy for a motorcycle in this field. Which is hard to contest. The Kawasaki ZX-14R comes with ABS and Traction Control, unlike a lot of Traction Control systems, Kawasaki prides itself on having a system that is proactive, as opposed to reactive, to a slide. Using a number of sensors in the wheels and throttle, the ECU is able to determine and predict when the system is likely to be needed, meaning you can be club handed and still get away with it most of the time – as so many riders around the world have discovered on many occasions with the Kawasaki Traction Control system. For myself, level three proved to be a little too controlling, level two allowed for the perfect safety net – not too intrusive, but offering enough support to control a slide before it got out of hand and you found yourself of the road and wondering what happened. Level one was the least intrusive of the settings, but it was also the least predictable. It flirted more with slides and also allowed for much more raw power, which is not always what you expect as you work your way up the clean-cutting gearbox, extracting more and more speed from the heavily revised 1441cc Kawasaki engine.
In the search for more power, the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R's engine saw the most of the project overhaul. An increase in engine capacity to 1441cc was the fruit of a 4mm longer stroke, while the cylinder head was graced with taller inlet and outlet cams, polished ports and an increased compression ratio of 12.3:1. The pistons were also revised with thinner skirts and pumping losses reduced via the application of larger diameter cylinder bypass holes. All of which added together with the ZX-14R's new, larger bore exhaust system to produce a class leading final drive figure of 200 horsepower.
But the best bit of the makeover is the way the enhanced engine delivers its performance. From low revs up to its 11,000rpm limiter, it makes more power and torque than its predecessor, but it delivers its output in a much more refined manner, that is as equally controllable at low speeds at it is flat out with throttle full open. And to aid the deceleration of the Kawasaki ZX-14R, the ZX-14R has been equipped with a back-torque limiter.