We spend a day aboard Kawasaki's flagship to see whether the ZX-14R has only the thrill of speed on offer or does it have any surprise stored underneath its monstrous soul
Since the inception of combustion engines, one aspect has always remained vital in the advancement of automobiles, and motorcycles on the whole and that is top speed. Year after year engineers have strived hard to make their motorcycles go faster than ever before and when it comes to the crown of the fastest production motorcycle the stakes get raised considerably. The roots of the Kawasaki ZX-14R can be traced back to the era between mid 1990 and early 2000, when the Japanese trio of Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki were engrossed in a dogfight for the tag of the fastest production motorcycle manufacturer. Kawasaki was ruling the roost till mid 1990’s with its ZX-11 before Honda clinched the crown from its grasp with the Super Blackbird. The boffins at Kawasaki didn’t take it too kindly and fought back with the ZX-12R to regain its crown. When most motorcycle enthusiast thought that the fight for the crown would be restricted between Kawasaki and Honda but that wasn’t to be as suddenly out of the blue Suzuki entered the fray with its Hayabusa in 1999 and was swiftly crowned the fastest production motorcycle in the world.
Also around this time there was a growing impetus in both Europe and America to place import limitations or ban open-class motorcycles due to their ever expanding speed ceiling. Fearing backlash, the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers and their European counterparts penned down an agreement to limit their bikes top-speed to 300km/h and it was labeled as the “gentleman’s agreement.” But Kawasaki didn’t take the success of the Hayabusa munificently and came out with its latest flagship, the ZX-14R to topple the Busa from the top in 2006. Suzuki was quick to counter and released the updated Hayabusa in 2008 and it appeared the bird would rule the roost in the near future. It seemed Kawasaki wanted to end this skirmish once and for all with the 2012 ZX-14R.
The supposed “gentleman’s agreement” to keep a tab on horsepower was tossed out of the window, and the fastest, most powerful production bike ever was released to a surprised motorcycle industry that never saw it coming. The ZX-14R was given an up-date to maintain its reign at the top by embracing excess in 2012 by hiking its displacement and endowing it with more power. To handle this jump in power, the bike was fitted with electronic aids like power modes and three-stage traction control. Kawasaki made its foray into the Indian performance market with the new ZX-14R and we got an opportunity to spend a day with the beast and to judge ourselves whether it really stands up to its reputation of a machine which was built with only one principle and that was SPEED or is there something else on offer?
Looks that matter:
The first visual that strikes your mind as your eyes scrutinize the bike is that it’s big and it has no qualms about its size and bulk. The 14R was conceived for speed and it can be easily understood from the bikes silhouette as aerodynamics has played a major part in the minds of the designers while developing it. The most striking feature of the bike is the front of the bike with its quartet of projector beam headlamps, flanking a large, gulping air-intake, redefines the word menace. Behind the headlamps, one finds the side-by-side tachometer and speed gauges along with a LCD information center, which displays a plethora of information like engine temperature, oil temperature, fuel gauge, range, gear indicator etc. The instrument cluster looks dated when compared to that of the ZX-10R but it excludes an old-school charm with its analogue dials and simple layout as analogue speedometers especially are becoming extinct in this segment.
The four ribs along the side fairings are finished in a contrast of black, which apart from adding to the bikes visual appeal are also instrumental in channeling the hot air away from the bikes motor. Everything about the ZX-14R screams macho, like in the case of its bulging fuel tank, sofa like seats and those humungous twin-exhaust pipes finished in black, which proclaims to the world that it means business and it isn’t afraid to flex its muscle or shy to get into a scuffle. The rear of the bike is tapered down from the front and houses a V-shaped LED taillight below the grab rail. The Kawasaki ZX-14R is an attention-grabber wherever we went and it isn’t hard to notice among the crowd too with its shade of sparkling green.
What lies beneath the skin?
The powerplant is where all the efforts of the Kawasaki engineers was centered as they wanted to maintain its supremacy as among the most powerful bikes money can buy. How did they go about with this endeavor? Quite simple actually, by embracing excess! Boring out an engine for gaining power is a norm but when the stock poweplant is a monstrous 1,352cc mill, one gets an idea of the lunacy we are talking about. Thus the 1,441cc, in-line four-cylinder motor along with ram-air came to life pumping out 213PS @ 10,000rpm and an astounding torque rating of 164.2Nm @7,500. Other changes made to the revised mill include, lighter box-style forged pistons, new external oiling system which results in less reciprocating mass and lower overall temperatures. The compression ratio also has been hiked to 12.3:1 while to improve heat dissipation a second fan has been added as well.
Also the new re-mapped ECU prioritises fuel efficiency over power when the throttle is used astutely and an ECO indicator flashes on the dash. To ensure that the firepower generated by the motor doesn’t overwhelm the rider, Kawasaki has endowed the 14R with a three-mode S-KRTC (Sport Kawasaki Traction Control), which can be altered on the move via thumb control. Modes 1 and 2 both gives credential to acceleration, with Mode 2 adding wheelie control, while Mode 3 is reserved for extreme low-traction conditions like riding in wet. If you want to go berserk and feel that you have the control skills of Ricky Gadson, well you can switch off the traction control completely and try to tame this bull by its horns. Apart from the traction control system, there’s a two-mode power selector that swaps between Full and Low power mode, the latter reducing output by 25 per cent once you go beyond 6500 rpm. One might think whether all this electronic wizardly really helps in real world and the answer is a resounding YES.
Open the throttle and the ZX-14R just darts off the line like a missile with ferocious acceleration that is quite nerve-wracking and one can sense the traction control combating out valiantly to keep the front from pointing skywards and laying down the power in a respectable manner. It’s not very amusing to feel so much intervention by the electronic wizardry in first gear, but when the electronics struggle similarly in third gear, you begin to appreciate how much ammunition this Ninja packs. Power is available in every gear, virtually everywhere across the rev range and one doesn’t have to work his way through the revv band to hit the sweet spot, which is truly remarkable. The engine is smooth and refined with very negligible vibes at the apex of the powerband while the six-speed gearbox offers precise and crisp shifts. Apart from the enormous power the motor generates another highlight of the flagship Ninja is the tyre shredding torque as the rear wheel spins freely without any hostility in second gear roll-ons! The 14R isn’t one of those breed of bikes which makes you feel at home the moment you sit on the saddle as one has to slowly adapt to the firepower on tap and it requests you judicious use of the wrist to stay out of trouble. This nature of the bike eggs the rider to spend more time on the saddle as it gradually unravels its potential and dynamics making it addictively engaging.
Matter of maneuverability
Though, the ZX-14R was developed to reign the drag strips across the globe that doesn’t mean it is a slouch when it comes to handling. It does not flop into corners like a 600cc super-sport, nor is it reluctant either in facing them and feels well balanced. The monocoque frame has been revised extensively compared to the previous model while the swingarm has been beefed-up by 10mm and the KYB suspension wears firmer springs at front and rear, with revised damping to match. These improvements in the chassis and the suspension have endowed the 14R with notable handling prowess given its mass of 268kg. The bike handles fast sweeping bends with aplomb, while the thickly padded and wide seat along with the comfortable and relaxed ergonomics of the Ninja showcases its touring potential. Slow speed handling is neutral but it makes no prejudice about its weight when one encounters a tight turn as every ounce of its weight makes its presence.
Despite its massive dimensions, the ZX-14R has impeccable manners while riding in an urban environment as one can ride it easily without breaking into a sweat and the brilliant cooling system on the Ninja gets highlighted marvelously. Stability at high speeds is admirable both in a straight line or while leaning through a fast corner. The ride quality of the flagship Ninja is supple as it absorbed the dips, cracks and bumps seamlessly. To keep all the firepower in control, Kawasaki has provided with radially mounted Nissin calipers to grasp on twin semi-floating 310mm discs at front and a single 250mm unit at the rear. The bite and feel from the brakes are satisfactory and the Indian models get ABS as standard. ABS adds to the rider’s confidence, as it allows you to pull the lever and push the pedal aggressively, without worrying of the bike skidding out of control. The back-torque-limiting slipper clutch help smooth sloppy downshifts and is useful while engine braking. The ergonomics of ZX-14R are an apt compromise between strict performance on the quarter-mile, and long distance comfort and the bike really comes in its element while smooth and fast cruisingas it gobbles up miles after miles effortlessly.
The last stand:
The Kawasaki ZX-14R is sure to win many admirers among the Indian performance motorcycle consumers who have a soft spot for big faired bikes and like the international spectrum it would be pitched against its arch nemesis, the Suzuki Hayabusa in our country. Speed and acceleration are in the genes of the ZX-14R but it isn’t restricted to only these two aspects. As apart from excelling in these avenues, the big Ninja is also an able supersport-tourer as Kawasaki has provided a massive 22-litre tank, while along with ECO mode one can ride for close to 300km on a full tank. If acceleration, top speed, intimidating looks and comfortable touring capability are what you are looking for in your next big bike then look no further as the ZX-14R is the bike for you. Though, it is priced steeply at Rs16.9 lakh, still, it is among the better all-round performance bikes that money can buy you in this part of the world.