Kawasaki ZX-9R revisited

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Introduction

After a couple of days on Kawasaki’s revamped ZX9R in Arizona earlier this year, we thought that it might not be a bad idea to grab it again this summer and share it amongst the CMG staff. That way they could not only feel special (and therefore work for even less money), but also give their opinions on the beast.


Scott Smith (in full riding gear) grins madly after wheeling down main street at 200 Km/h.

FIRST VIEW – SCOTT SMITH (Webmaster)

Wow. That was my first thought looking at the ZX-9R. The last sport bike I had owned was an ’89 RZ350, the last sport bike I’d ridden was a friend’s GSX-R750.

I’ve ridden for 10 years but it had been awhile since I’d ridden a sport bike and my excitement was tempered by a fair degree of concern that I’d end up dropping the bike within a couple of blocks of Rob’s house.

My concerns were unwarranted as I quickly learned the ZX-9R is a very easy bike to ride. Sure, there’s tons of power on tap, but if you choose not to use it, the ride doesn’t suffer.

What did suffer, however, were my hands and butt on a ride up to my cottage. The airflow over the windscreen helped to lift some of the weight off my hands but not enough to eliminate some serious pain over 2 hours. My butt suffered a similar fate on the thinly padded seat.

In addition to the comfort issues in trying to use the ZX-9R as a sport-touring bike, a Carburetion glitch hampered city travel. An unsteady idle would lead to an occasional stall in stop-and-go traffic, and the power seemed somewhat lacking on a green light launch. Hopefully this was just a setup problem on our tester.

The above issues notwithstanding, the ZX-9R was a blast to ride. Getting up to cruising speed occurred in seconds, and passing was effortless. City traffic was also easy to handle. The ZX-9R has very useable power and beautiful handling to weave your way through traffic. Six piston brakes ensure a safe stop when the need arrives.

Performance aside, this bike is a beauty – the striking dual headlights, quality of the fit and finish, and the “pure sport” look of the bike add up to a real head turner.

At a suburban mall early one Saturday morning, I noticed an older woman park a few spaces down from me in an otherwise empty parking area. Walking towards the entrance, this 60+ year old couldn’t take her eyes off the ZX-9R. As she passed by she said to me “That is a beautiful bike”.

I couldn’t agree more.


Main cosmetic update is to the lights and large air scoop below them.

SECOND VIEW – BARB (CMG Tester)

Some time ago I fell in love. The object of my affections was the Honda CBR900RR, and in my opinion, this bike “did it” for me. I never thought that another bike could come close to the handling, speed and overall brilliant engineering of this motorcycle, until recently, when I was afforded the opportunity to sample the 2000 Ninja ZX-9R.

Kawasaki Canada provided CMG Online with their red/black version, which has a relatively tame look to it. The red rims are a nice touch, and the bike’s appearance generated a positive response from those that I polled. It still has that darned “Ninja” moniker on the tail section, but I’m learning to live with that.

This, however, is where the tameness ends.

Swing a leg over the 31.9″ seat height, twist the throttle on this 4-stroke, liquid-cooled in-line four, and you’ll quickly realize that this bike was built to go; and to get there fast! The acceleration, right from idle, is “snap your head back” fast. The handling leaves nothing to be desired, and although I found the stock suspension settings to be a bit stiff, the bumps in my test ride were transmitted through the bottom of the bike, not just the front end, which made for a slightly harsh, but well planted feel. (If this were my personal bike, I would definitely experiment with the suspension settings.) Rubber operator footpegs and a comfortable seat that doesn’t shove you against the tank helped with the enjoyability of the ride.

The brakes were awesome, and matched the power of the engine. You’ll need brakes this powerful to deal with the sensitive throttle, a point which you must be aware of before you take this bike out.

Positive features of the ZX-9R include the useful and unassuming mirrors; the side by side headlights (my personal preference – unlike the stacked variety that can be found on the Hayabusa); the dial-type speedo and tach (temperature and mileage are conveyed digitally); the cut outs in the front fairing which allow for your fingers on the handgrips not to be squished during those tight, full-lock slow speed gas station turns; and the passenger grab bars (although you may wish to instruct passengers to hold your waist during hard acceleration, that is unless you like getting kicked in the armpits as they struggle to maintain their seating position).

Although I only had the ZX-9R for a day, (damn that Harris!) I know that it’s not the bike for a lot of congested traffic. All told, the ZX-9R is a sleeper. It’s an awesome machine that seems to miss its rightful place in the spotlight that is showered upon its flashier rivals.


Harris looks about as comfortable as a goat at a Satanic ritual (and just as cool.

THIRD VIEW – Editor ‘arris (Le Grand Fromage)

At initial glance, the ZX9R seems to be trailing badly behind the likes of the Honda CBR929RR Fireblade, Yamaha’s legendary R1 and the latest super-hyper-sports bike, Suzuki’s GSXR1000. In fact it looks positively large, slow and porkier than a ham sandwich (with extra mayo). Well, it is. But it’s all relative.

Kawasaki’s 2000 revamp didn’t do it much favour either. Cosmetic and mechanical work saw no real significant changes to power and weight, and the ZX is the only 1 litre class super-sport bike still with carbs and conventional forks. Having said all that there’s still a claimed 140 bhp on tap, albeit with a dry mass of 183 Kg.

On the road the first thing that you notice is the ZX’s massive spread of power. Kicking in around 4,000 rpm, it pulls hard up to 8,500 rpm, at which point it takes off, with a very strong surge of power all the way to the 12,000 rpm red line. This is one of the major advantages of a larger capacity sport bike, a much more usable spread of power as opposed to the peakier 600s. The result is a more relaxed ride, with less need to constantly flick through the gears to keep the revs up and the power flowing.

A hard application of power from slow speeds or while exiting a corner can easily see the front end start to lift off the ground in first and second gears. Keeping on the power will keep the lift going, should you be that way inclined. Thankfully, the ZX has probably the best front brakes in the business. Two massive 310 mm discs up front are clasped by a pair of 6 piston calipers. If that techno babble leaves you flat, just be assured that they have the power to stop when you’ve overextended your time exploring the power band.

Opposed piston (and there’s six of them) stoppers do the biz when you overextend your abilities.

The extra kilos do show themselves once you’re in a twisty section of black top though. Whereas a lighter bike can be hauled over from a knee scraping left to a knee scraping right with relative ease, the ZX demands more muscle and time to do so. It’s not that it won’t do it, it’s just that it’s a tad reluctant.

On the open highway is where the ZX’s extra mass and roomy cockpit count. Cruising at, err, brisk velocities, it will happily hold its own, even around relatively tight bends, with the confidence that only a competent chassis and a bit of pork can give. And it does it in relative comfort.

Anybody who has experienced a modern super-sports bike will no doubt testify that comfort is the first casualty in the war of high performance. Well, although the ZX leaves a lot to be desired in seat padding, it is the best of the bunch when it comes to giving the rider space. The fairing doesn’t demand contortions or a severe backward bend in the neck in order to see clearly, and leaves you in a pose that you could probably keep for hours, or until you find yourself in jail, whichever comes first.

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