The Kawasaki Ninja series of motorcycles is 30 years old this year. That’s an incredibly long time, longer than even some of our readers would have been alive. And while perhaps the brand doesn’t have the allure that it once did of being at the forefront of the motorcycling world (though bikes like the current ZX-14R and Ninja 300 are still top of their class), it has an incredibly rich history and some motorcycles that bared its name were in fact quite revolutionary. Even timeless.
In part 2 of our look at the Ninja’s, we’ll start off the the mighty ZX-12R – a lost opportunity for many.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R
A victim of the motorcycle top speed wars, the ZX-12R was Kawasaki’s flagship bike for the 21st century and was to go head to head against the Suzuki Hayabusa for the title of world’s fastest sports bike. In the end that title went to Suzuki by default, as Kawasaki effectively detuned the ZX-12R before its release as part of a “gentlemen’s” agreement between the Japanese manufactures to appease the European Union, who threatened to ban high performance motorcycles if the continuing quest for more speed didn’t stop.
Despite being slower than either the Hayabusa or the Blackbird, it’s still a fantastic bike that still looks fantastic so many years on.
Originally intended to have a staggering 190 bhp (which if released, would have been more powerful than any other bike for another 5 years), it featured the first mass produced aluminium monocoque frame, a liquid cooled and direct fuel injected engine and a sleek, aerodynamic shape. Eventually, that power figure came down to 178 bhp, but was still able to hit the triple metric ton (300 kph/186 mph).
Regardless, is still received rave reviews and many favored it over its faster competitors due to its extremely comfortable ride and great looks.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R
The ZX-6R was released in 1995 and is still produced today. At the time, it was very similar to the ZX-9R released the year earlier. Aimed at the super sport category, the 599 cc capacity sports bike weighed 454 pounds (wet) and could hit 60 mph in 3.6 seconds on the way to a top speed of about 166 mph.
The ZX-6R is unusual in that over time, Kawasaki would have to models of the bike for sale. Initially, the ZX-6R was the 599 cc capacity bike, allowing it to be entered in capacity restricted super sport races. But in 2002, Kawasaki feared losing sales to competitors such as the Yamaha R6 and Suzuki GSX-R600, they increased the capacity to 636 cc, giving it more power and a more linear torque curve.
To allow it to continue to race, Kawasaki also produced the ZX-6RR, which had the original 599 cc capacity engine.
Over the years, Kawasaki has oscillated between the two models being available. As of 2013, only the 636 cc capacity bike was being manufactured.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Released for the 20th anniversary of the Ninja name, the Ninja ZX-10R was released as the spiritual successor to the bike that started it all, the GPz900R and the direct successor the ZX-9R. It was designed well and truly to be the ultimate track bike.
It received critical acclaim and achieved its goals superbly, though at the cost of everyday practicality. It weighed a mere 432 lb (only 1 lb more than the ZX-6R of the same year) and produced 175 bhp with a top speed nearing 300 kph. At the time, it’s handling was probably the best of the liter bikes available.
Over the years, the bike has had overhauls in 2008 and 2011, with the latter models featuring traction control, an intelligent braking system and optimal ABS for those wanting the bike as an everyday rider.
From its launch in 2004 until 2006, the ZX-10R had the unenviable reputation as having the highest collision damage loss claim rate of any motorcycle registered between 2000 and 2006 in the United States.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14
The flagship of the Kawasaki line-up upon its release in 2006 and arguably still is today. It was powered by the most powerful engine Kawasaki had ever produced and also features a brand new aluminium monocoque chassis. Powered by a massive 1,352 cc capacity inline four, it created 197 bhp (with ram air intake) and 136 nm of torque at 9,500 bhp, it was electronically limited to a stop speed of 300 kp/h (by way of comparison, the Suzuki Hayabusa of 2007 made 175 bhp, though it did create slightly more torque).
It’s insectoid like front didn’t appeal to everyone, but it’s straight line speed, comfort, balance and handling did. While it was primarily aimed at the sport touring market, it’s incredible engine, quality brakes and well worked suspension meant it was still quite capable at the track. A classic since it’s release.