At the press launch for the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s NHRA dragstrip back in December 2011, we watched in amazement as multi-time dragracing champion Rickey Gadson reeled off numerous uncorrected 9.3-second runs on a stock 14R with nothing more than lowering mods and a two-teeth-smaller rear sprocket (which actually makes the gearing taller). We can recall when 10-second quarter-mile times for open-class machinery was considered a major achievement; and when we became the first publication to record a nine-second quarter-mile with the 1998 Kawasaki ZX-9R (June ’98 issue), it became cover-worthy news.
But now it’s looking like we’re knocking on the door of eight seconds in the quarter-mile. Think about that for a second; eight seconds used to be the exclusive domain of custom-built dragracing machines, with extended swingarms, huge engine displacement, and/or forced induction with drag slicks. Try to approach eight seconds with any four-wheeled vehicle and you’re talking six figures before you even reach the start line.
The ZX-14R test bike sitting in our shop suddenly got us to thinking: What would it take for us to get into the 8-second bracket with the big Kawasaki?
Although it would’ve been easier to call in a pro dragracing pilot to deal with the riding chores, we thought we’d try to keep the modifications to a minimum to start, and that includes the rider. Thus, yours truly would be put in the hot seat. While I haven’t participated in any dragracing competition since my latter days at Motorcyclist Magazine, I handle most of the acceleration testing for SR, so while I possess a modicum of skill required to traverse that 1320-foot strip of tarmac, I hopefully would be up to the task. I have turned an 8-second quarter-mile before, riding one of Lee Shierts’ fire-breathing creations back in 2001 (“Baby ‘Busa,” April ’01).
The Brock’s Clutch Mod Kit consists of heavier clutch springs plus all necessary spring hardware, and a spacer that replaces the stock spring washer to disable the slipper clutch for smoother starts. The installation took all of 20 minutes with the right tools.
The Brock’s Performance Radial-Mount...
The Brock’s Performance Radial-Mount Front-End Lowering Kit includes all the parts you need to drop the front end of the ZX-14R to help get better launches. We also raised the fork tubes in the triple clamps to make the job of locking the front end down easier.
The Dynojet Power Commander...
The Dynojet Power Commander V included with the Brock’s kit comes pre-mapped for your particular application. Our unit was mapped for pump gas/dragstrip use, and the engine ran flawlessly.
The Brock’s Flash 2 reflashed...
The Brock’s Flash 2 reflashed ECU from Guhl Motors offers numerous benefits, including a 500-rpm higher rev limit, removal of numerous electronic safety protocols, and holding the secondary throttle plates open earlier for quicker throttle response.
The next step was to procure the right modifications required to get us to our goal of sneaking into the 8s. Coincidentally, one of the attendees at the Kawasaki ZX-14R press launch was Brock Davidson, owner of well-known straight-line speed merchants Brock’s Performance (www.brocksperformance.com). We recalled that the lowering components on the bike Gadson was riding at Las Vegas were from Brock’s, and a quick perusal of the company’s extensive online catalog reveals a plethora of go-fast parts are now available for the maximum Ninja.
The Brock’s Fully Adjustable...
The Brock’s Fully Adjustable Window Links replace the dog bone links in the rear suspension linkage to allow easy lowering of the Kawasaki’s rear end. Installation was a snap with the proper stands, and the instructions were very thorough.
In a smart marketing move to make things easier for consumers, Brock’s compiles groups of related parts together in various packages for both the Suzuki Hayabusa and the Kawasaki ZX-14R that save 10 percent over buying the pieces separately. We opted for the ZX-14R Dragracing Package ($1795 for the kit with polished stainless steel exhaust) which includes the Brock’s Performance Alien Head 2 full stainless steel exhaust, a Dynojet Power Commander V fueling module that is pre-mapped for your particular application (street, race, pump gas, race fuel, etc.), a set of Brock’s fully adjustable rear suspension lowering links and front-end strap-down kit, and a clutch modification kit that uses heavier springs and disables the stock slipper clutch for smoother launches. Brock’s also recommended its Brock Flash 2 reflashed ECU from Guhl Motors ($375), which provides a 500-rpm higher rev limit in addition to other electronic mods, including holding the secondary throttle plates open earlier.
We turned to Kawasaki’s Joey Lombardo (former race mechanic on the factory Honda and Kawasaki AMA teams) to help with the installation of the parts, as he has extensive experience with disassembling the various components on the ZX-14R. This turned out to be a smart move, judging by the trickery required to remove the numerous body panels on the Kawasaki in order to gain access so we could install the exhaust, fueling module, and clutch kit. Where there surely would’ve been cursing and tools flying through the air — as well as cracked bodywork — in our shop, a monk-calm Lombardo deftly disassembled and removed the bodywork in a matter of minutes.
Despite its numerous pieces,...
Despite its numerous pieces, the Brock’s Alien Head 2 stainless steel full exhaust system went together and fit perfectly on the Kawasaki, something that can’t be said of many other aftermarket systems. The Alien Head 2 exhaust not only jettisoned 32 pounds of excess weight, it also boosted power by 10 horsepower on top.
Unlike some aftermarket components that we’ve had the, um, trying experience of installing, all of the Brock’s components went in without a hitch. Particularly impressive was the Alien Head 2 full exhaust system; everything went together and lined up perfectly without any muscling or bending required. Even the clutch kit was a literal 20-minute installation (although having the proper tools such as the special clutch tool and 3/8-inch impact driver to remove the inner clutch hub nut certainly helped). The biggest hiccup we encountered was plugging in part of the Power Commander wiring to a connector that was buried deep underneath the fuel injection.
Some dragracing aficionados are probably wondering why we didn’t get swingarm extensions or a custom extended swingarm for the ZX-14R (extending the bike’s wheelbase makes it more difficult to wheelie, helping launches), or a quick-shifter. Again, we wanted to keep the major modifications to a minimum to start; getting into the eight-second bracket within the stock wheelbase parameters and without shifting aids was one of our goals. This credo also extended to the fuel we used, as instead of race gas that might gain us a tenth of a second or two, we opted to run pump gas this time. Continental (conti-online.com) offered up a set of its Sport Attack 2 tires, the same type that are used in Gadson’s dragracing school, and Vortex (vortexracing.com), 800-440-3559) provided a 40-tooth rear sprocket for the gearing options.
Strapped to Kawasaki’s Dynojet dyno, our ZX-14R pumped out an additional 10 horsepower, with a peak of 203 horsepower at 10,250 rpm.
Our 60-foot times were stuck...
Our 60-foot times were stuck in the 1.60 range, which is OK by magazine editor standards—but just a little bit quicker than molasses in winter by pro racer standards.
With everything loaded up, we headed out to Auto Club Famoso Raceway in McFarland, California, just north of Bakersfield. Things appeared to be going smoothly; too smoothly, in fact. And Murphy’s Law quickly appeared as we rolled in and met up with the Famoso track personnel.
“OK, need your NHRA license number for the paperwork,” asked the Famoso gentleman. Um, I need an NHRA license? Even though we’re renting the track with our own insurance? “Yes, track policy for our insurance. We can’t let you run unless you have a license.” Can I just fill out the application here? “Yes, but you need a doctor to sign the physical exam form.” In other words, I needed to get a physical in order to get signed off…and Famoso Raceway is 20 miles from the nearest city (Bakersfield).
Ah yes, yet another magazine story snafu. As Lombardo and I quickly began searching the internet on our phones, one of the ladies from the front office nonchalantly walked over and handed me a sheet of paper with a name and number scrawled on it. “This doctor will see you today if you head over there right now.” I quickly jumped on the Yamaha FJR1300 that I’d ridden out to the dragstrip and zoomed down to Bakersfield, despite some trepidation on just how legit this doctor was going to be. I need not have worried; the place was a fully staffed and clean medical clinic (and yes, I had to do the hernia cough test…the things we do in the name of a good magazine story…).
With signed physical exam papers in hand, I managed to evade California’s finest state troopers as I zipped back up to Famoso after swiftly pissing away (yes, pun intended, I did that test as well) two hours of possible track time. While Lombardo warmed up the ZX-14R, I hastily tugged on my leathers in preparation to make my six demonstration runs in front of the track personnel as the final part of my NHRA license paperwork.
The license demonstration runs provided a good chance to get some practice time on the Kawasaki and see how different it would be from the stock bike. When I made a full launch on the third run, I quickly discovered that getting my left foot up to make the first-second upshift was a bit more difficult than with the stocker. It basically felt like attempting to climb onto the back of a fleeing fire truck; a good deal of concentration was necessary to convert one of the two flailing lower appendages behind me into something that could activate the shift lever in time to avoid the rev limiter.
A requirement for many dragstrips...
A requirement for many dragstrips is a kill switch tether, so that if the rider somehow leaves the bike the engine will immediately shut down.
We decided to try our first handful of runs with the Kawasaki’s traction control set to level 1. The ZX-14R’s TC system is one of the better ones on the market, with the least intrusive level 1 allowing just enough wheelspin for maximum acceleration while straight up without excessively intervening…as long as you don’t loft the front end too high. Allow too much wheelie, and the TC will start to noticeably cut power.
My first runs were in the 9.3-second bracket, with a best of 9.341 seconds at 155.11 mph. I noticed that I was hitting what was either the rev limiter or activating the TC at the top of first gear just before I shifted. I was shifting at an indicated 11,000 rpm on the tachometer, but something was cutting power. It turns out that the Kawasaki’s engine builds revs so quickly in first gear that the tachometer can’t keep up; shifting at a lower rpm cured the power cut issue without negatively affecting times.
Our continued frustration...
Our continued frustration at hitting a wall at 9.2-second E.T.s resulted in us frying a clutch by midday, forcing a clutch replacement that ate up precious time.
One aspect of dragracing that isn’t well known is how difficult it can be to keep the bike headed in a dead-straight line when launching off the start (just like roadracing, traversing excessive distance when not necessary is detrimental) while dealing with all the other physical aspects of controlling the bike. Simultaneously feeding out the clutch and controlling the throttle to get maximum acceleration without wheelying — while preventing the bike from leaving you behind on the dragstrip’s concrete launch pad — astride a bike like the ZX-14R requires significant physical effort. Like other riders, pro dragracers have learned to keep their bodies in a certain position to ease this problem, something I needed to figure out in a hurry.
During the next set of runs, I was able to get into the 9.2-second bracket without too much trouble. The Kawasaki is so powerful that launching at lower rpm — as in 3000-3500 rpm — is paramount to a good run, otherwise the engine will overpower the clutch too easily. We then decided to try turning off the TC to see how much, if any, improvement could be made.
Unfortunately, that move didn’t bring the expected results. A few times the tire spun up off the line and ruined the launch, and in others, the launch was fine but it appeared there was some tire spin down the back end of the run, as the rpm was a tad higher than it was in previous runs.
It was at this point that we frustratingly appeared to hit a barrier. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past the 9.2 mark; we tried changing tire pressures, making the gearing taller with the one-tooth smaller Vortex 40 tooth rear sprocket (which even extended the wheelbase a little), changing launch rpm — nothing seemed to help. The frustration resulted in continued attempts that eventually ended up frying a clutch pack, necessitating a clutch replacement by Lombardo that ate up more time. My 60-foot times (which play a huge role in the E.T.) were stuck at the 1.60 mark, which I was told by a few pro dragracers is just a tad quicker than molasses in winter.
The day ended with my best run being a 9.225 seconds @ 156.17 mph. While an impressive time for a stock wheelbase bike with basic bolt-on mods and pump gas, it’s still a long ways off from approaching the eight-second barrier. We were left to pack up and figure out our next plan of attack for the next attempt in the future.
Due to time constraints, these dyno figures are from Kawasaki Motor Corp USA’s Dynojet dyno, not our Superflow dyno. Still, the numbers are relative, and the power boost from our mods is clearly visible in the graphs.
THIS ISN'T FINISHED
While obviously disappointed to have not achieved our goal on the first try, this demonstrates just how difficult quarter-mile dragracing on a motorcycle really is. It’s definitely not a matter of simply giving it full throttle and lettin’ ‘er rip. You only have 1320 feet to get everything right, and when you’re dipping into the nine-second bracket, the compression of time and space makes running laps on a roadrace track seem like an eternity.
While in hindsight it would have helped to have a pro racer help with riding and tuning tips (and even riding chores) in order to succeed on our first try, we wanted to approach this like any weekend racer would. We’ve got a few more tuning tricks up our sleeve that we’d like to try, and we’re going to attempt at keeping the bike in as streetable form as possible — and then maybe even go all-out with some major mods to see how quick we can really go. Stay tuned. I’m not reaching for the short sword to perform seppuku just yet…