BUT DOES IT DELIVER?
Kawasaki had a stock ZX-14R...
Kawasaki had a stock ZX-14R on hand that they lowered and geared two teeth taller in the rear (to help smooth out the launch). Gadson promptly ran two uncorrected 9.3-second runs without breaking a sweat.
So what does all this add up to? Basically this: one run through the gears is all it will take to tell you that Kawasaki has indisputably reclaimed the title of most powerful production sportbike — and that’s without a Hayabusa alongside for direct comparison. No maybes, no “stand by until…” — the Kawasaki’s power and acceleration are brutal enough that we can easily state it is hands down the most powerful mass-production sportbike we’ve ever ridden.
Even with its hefty 584-pound wet weight and 58-inch wheelbase, the ZX-14R will easily go vertical with the front tire in the first two gears with just the throttle (provided the traction control is turned off — more on that later). Snap the fairly grippy 190/50 rear Metzeler M5 Sportec Interact tire loose with the clutch, and you can keep it spinning with barely any throttle. There’s so much torque on tap that you can lug the bike at 35 mph in sixth gear, take your hand off the throttle, and the engine will easily keep the bike rolling along just by idling.
Throttle response is silky smooth, yet the engine is very responsive; the Kawasaki’s engine gains rpm very quickly for a powerplant with this much torque. The power builds in a linear fashion for the most part, although there is a major increase in steam at 6500 rpm that begins the launch into hyperspace. From that point on up to its 11,000 rpm redline, the ZX-14R pulls like no other motorcycle off the showroom floor. Our butt dynos are predicting about 190 horsepower to the rear wheel, a quantum leap above the old ZX-14 (nevermind the latest gen ‘Busa).
Kawasaki brought over multi-time dragracing champion Rickey Gadson to show the ZX-14R’s quarter-mile prowess, as well as school the assembled press on how to properly launch Team Green’s new ballistic missile. Gadson nonchalantly reeled off a couple of uncorrected 9.7-second/147-mph-plus passes on a bone-stock, non-lowered machine just to drive home the point of how powerful the ZX-14R is, then went about coaching each motojournalist as they made their own dragstrip runs.
This was a good thing, as it turns out the ZX-14R is so powerful that it requires a deft touch to launch properly. The engine is so responsive and torquey that you need to keep the revs below 3300 rpm at launch (yes, that’s right, 3300 rpm) in order to load the engine, otherwise it will spin up the clutch and cause the front end to skyshot when you fully disengage it, ruining the run.
Some are probably worrying that the traction control is too intrusive, but those fears are unfounded. The KTRC system on the ZX-14R is developed to the point that even in Mode 2, the bike is still plenty of fun to ride. Wheelies are curbed for the most part, but there’s still major acceleration available as long as the traction is there. Mode 1 allows enough wheelspin to have serious fun as long as your riding skill is up to the task, and is hands-off on wheelies for the most part (although we could hear the ignition fluttering just a bit during extended power wheelies). Forget about Mode 3 unless you’re attempting to ride on a dirt road or in conditions that most riders would call extremely risky.
Just how torquey is the ZX-14R? Gadson and Kawasaki brought out a lowered ZX-14R with bone-stock engine that the dragracing ace used to swiftly uncork an uncorrected 9.31-second pass. Gadson revealed before making his run that they had actually increased the gearing on the bike by dropping two teeth on the rear sprocket in order to smooth out the power enough to allow the rear tire to maintain grip off the line. When’s the last time you heard of increasing the gearing in order to go quicker?
As far as the bike’s other attributes — oh, right, there’s other riding it can do besides scorching any straight chunk of pavement it sees — the updates to the Kawasaki’s suspension and chassis have paid off handsomely. During the street portion of the launch into the Valley of Fire, we found the suspension to be much more controlled while still offering a smooth ride, with much less chassis pitch during braking and acceleration. The slightly upgraded brakes (the petal-style discs are still 310mm diameter but made from a “more rigid” steel, along with new brake pad compound) offer superb power and feel, a good thing considering the ZX-14R’s monster power and acceleration capabilities. The revised saddle is more comfy for long rides, and the dual counterbalancers do an excellent job of canceling out engine vibes. In fact, slap on some soft luggage and we think Kawasaki may just have the ultimate supersport-tourer on its hands — nevermind the fact that the company has basically wrested the Most Powerful Sportbike crown away from the Hayabusa with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the forehead…
THERE'S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
Kawasaki reps were keeping tight-lipped on any questions referring to horsepower claims with the new ZX-14R, which is probably a by-product of memories stemming from the 1999 pre-release debacle that surrounded the ZX-12R. All they’d do is crack a smile and say, “We’ll let you find out for yourselves when you dyno it…” That type of confidence means bad news for the competition. And good news for those of you out there whose unspoken motto is “Too much is never enough.”
Needless to say, we can’t wait to get our hands on a test unit. Stay tuned…SR
2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R
MSRP: $14,699/$14,899 (Golden Blazed Green Special Edition)
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, DOHC inline-four
Bore x stroke: 84.0 x 65.0mm
Compression ratio: 12.3:1
Induction: Mikuni DFI, 44mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler M5 Sportec Interact
Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Metzeler M5 Sportec Interact
Rake/trail: 23.0 deg./3.7 in. (94mm)
Wheelbase: 58.3 in. (1481mm)
Seat height: 31.5 in. (800mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal. (22L)
Claimed wet weight: 584 lb. (266kg)