Kawasaki's new ZX-14R has taken power and acceleration to a whole new level.
Kawasaki brought out multi-time dragracing champion Rickey Gadson to coach the press on the finer points of launching the ZX-14R.
Oh yeah, we almost forgot, the ZX-14R does a fine job of going through corners and is plenty comfy for long rides...
We have to admit we were taken aback slightly by the promotional videos released on the web by Kawasaki a month ago that brazenly featured the Suzuki Hayabusa getting its tail section handed to it at the dragstrip by the new ZX-14R. There was no messing about with “Brand S” obscure references or blurred out images; it was plain to see that Kawasaki was stating unequivocally that the latest iteration of the ZX-14 was going to be the new power king and open a can of whoop-ass on the ‘Busa, no ifs, ands, or buts. A bit audacious, if you ask us—although perhaps not so much if you look back on Kawasaki’s history of pavement ripplers…
Thus, it was no surprise that Kawasaki chose a dragstrip to introduce the latest ZX-14R to the motorcycling press. And after being given the opportunity for a day of multiple runs on Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s nicely prepped NHRA dragstrip under the tutelage of Kawasaki dragracing champion Rickey Gadson—in addition to a nice street ride on the undulating road leading to Nevada’s infamous Valley of Fire—we can say this: those videos were not just brash trash-talkin’. The new ZX-14R’s mind-boggling power will indeed put the hurt on the Hayabusa, and any other stock production motorcycle in a straight-line speed contest.
...one run through the gears is all it will take to tell you that Kawasaki has emphatically reclaimed the title of most powerful production sportbike...
You don’t gain this much power with just displacement
We’ve already covered the details on the upgrades to the ZX-14R here, but we’ll do a brief recap for those too lazy to click on the link. The engine grows 89cc in displacement from 1352cc to 1441cc via a 4mm longer stroke, with a completely new cylinder head design featuring machined combustion chambers and reshaped intake and exhaust porting to work with the hotter cams. All-new forged pistons that are six grams lighter force a higher compression ratio of 12.3:1 (from the previous 12.0:1 spec). The bottom end is strengthened with connecting rods sporting beefier small ends, and a crankshaft with thicker main journals. Transmission gears have an improved heat and surface treatment for more durability and smoother action, while a slipper clutch keeps aggressive downshifts from upsetting the chassis.
The 44mm Mikuni DFI throttle bodies remain, but a larger and thicker air filter with 10% more surface area and 40% more flow capability allows the larger engine to breathe better. The exhaust system features tapered header pipes and larger volume mufflers to allow high flow without excessive noise.
With such a monster engine on tap, Kawasaki equipped the ZX-14R with the latest version of KTRC (Kawasaki Traction Control). There are three levels of intervention that can be accessed via a switch on the left handlebar; Mode 1 and 2 are “ultra-sport” oriented with similar characteristics to the ZX-10R’s S-KTRC system, and Mode 3 is for maximum traction on variable surfaces in the vein of the Concours 14’s KTRC system. Naturally, the ZX-14R’s system can be turned off as well. Two “Power Modes” are also available, with the “Low” power mode providing 75% of full power with a milder throttle response for sketchy pavement conditions.
Keeping the ZX-14R’s substantial power under control required beefing up the aluminum monocoque frame, with more than 50% of the castings and forging modified for increased rigidity. A longer (10mm) and stronger swingarm complements the stiffer chassis, while extending the wheelbase 0.8 inches for a total of 58.3 inches to try and keep the wheelies at bay. Suspension rates for the fork and shock were tweaked to handle the increased power, and new 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels drop a substantial 3.3 pounds of unsprung weight.
Does this all deliver?
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 emphatically reclaimed the title of most powerful production sportbike—even without a Hayabusa alongside for direct comparison. The power and acceleration are brutal enough that there is no doubt regarding the ZX-14R’s superiority. 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), and third gear wheelies require little effort. 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 up 35 mph in sixth gear, take your hand off the throttle, and the engine will keep the bike rolling along just by idling.
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 engage it, ruining the run.
Interestingly enough, the KTRC system on the ZX-14R is developed to the point that in Mode 1, it can actually help most riders obtain optimum times. Mode 2 is even more helpful for intermediate and novice riders, as it prevents wheelies (whereas Mode 1 is mostly hands off on wheelie control). 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, we almost forgot—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. Brakes 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…
Check out the next issue of Sport Rider Magazine for a more in-depth First Ride review of the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R. And stay tuned for a full test once we get our hands on our own test unit.