Kawasaki’s new Ninja blends fast with finesse.
By Bill Heald
Competition is a beautiful thing, and engineering rivalry can be especially alluring. In fact, things can get downright steamy when two motorcycle companies that specialize in high performance square off with incredibly potent sport bikes to compete for the title of fastest production motorcycle on the planet. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R and its nemesis, the Suzuki Hayabusa, have been locked in a high-speed grudge match for ages, and you might think that with stakes like these, the competitors would be stripped-down dragsters designed for one purpose: to set the fastest time in a quarter-mile sprint. While this is a goal of these machines, there’s something much more appealing going on—and it’s best exemplified by Kawasaki’s new ZX-14R. Threatening to yank your arms from your sockets with instantaneous scenery blurring acceleration is one thing—doing it with a bike that is a polished pleasure to live with during more sedate, sane riding moments is even more impressive.
At first glance, the new 14R looks like a machine with a sinister purpose, for it is long and low, and its massive 1,441-cc transverse-mounted inline four is shrouded in aggressive, aerodynamic bodywork. This is a true technological wet dream in that from its carefully sculpted lines to the latest internal-engine sorcery, the engineers have tackled the daunting task of making massive amounts of horsepower on two wheels user-friendly. This machine will respond to every control input with pulse-quickening dispatch, but the level of stimulation is up to you, thanks to engine output that can be tuned using two different systems. The first involves selecting fuel-injection mapping to deliver either full- or reduced-power modes (if you don’t trust yourself with all those wicked ponies), and the second lets you tweak Kawasaki’s traction control software with a switch on the handlebar. This advanced system was developed in racing circles and balanced with real-world testing, and lets you tame the dragon between your legs to suit road conditions.
The chassis that cradles this beast is very unique, for, as with previous king Ninjas, the frame is a monocoque design. Instead of using traditional beam or trellis architecture, the 14R’s structure is based on an aluminum box that stretches from the steering head in front to the swingarm mount in the rear. With the engine case’s rigidity serving as an integral part of the chassis, this structure is strong, lightweight, and perfectly suited for both stability and responsive handling on the road. This is a real achievement, for high-speed steadiness and quick steering are often at odds with each other, yet Kawasaki has cracked the code admirably.
With capable riders able to cover the quarter mile in less than ten seconds, the ZX-14R has attacked its Suzuki rival with a truly brilliant weapon. The blade does the work, but a comfortable handle makes wielding such a potent device a pleasure in any situation.
|Engine type||Liquid cooled inline four|
|Bore x stroke||84 mm x 65 mm|
|Fuel system||Digital fuel injection|
|Ignition||TCBI with Digital Advance|
|Front suspension||43-mm inverted cartridge forks, fully adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Single gas-charged shock, fully adjustable|
|Front brakes||Dual 310-mm petal discs, radial calipers|
|Rear brake||Single 250-mm petal disc|
|Front tire||120/70 ZR17|
|Rear tire||190/50 ZR17|
|Fuel tank||5.8-gallon capacity|
|Seat height||31.5 inches|
|Curb weight||584.3 pounds|
|Base price||Standard colors: $14,699; Golden Blazed Green $14,899|