2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 Model Introduction
How many of you out there like to go fast? I see everybody raising their hands. Okay, how many of you like to go really, really fast? Not as many hands now, but still plenty.
All right then, how many of you like to go really, really fast all day long, and then, when you get where you're going, make a few passes at the local drag strip?
Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of you out there, and Kawasaki is betting they have the bike for you. It's the all-new 2006 ZX-14. It makes a claimed 187 hp (190 ps), will go 186 mph, and they showed it to the press in the global capital of wretched excess, Las Vegas Nevada.
After the requisite meet-n-greet booze-n-food fest on our first night in Sin Central, we were transported to the massively opulent Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a tech briefing and product demonstration. Karl Edmundson, Kawasaki's Sportbike Product Manager, kicked off the tech briefing by showing slides evoking Kawasaki's history as "the manufacturer of the most powerful motorcycles on the planet"; motorcycles like the fearsome H1 triple from 1969, the Z1 of 1973, the GpZ 900 (the first Ninja) of 1984 and most recently, the ZX-11, the bike that triggered the top speed wars of the 1990's.
Edmundson told us that the ZX-14 was "just a continuation of our legacy." In 2003, Kawasaki announced a "new focus on sportbikes", and introduced the ZX-6R followed by the '04 ZX-10R. Both bikes were great machines that shattered all kinds of performance and competition records, but Kawasaki felt they needed a "flagship" model, a motorcycle that would have a reputation for being the fastest machine available, while still being comfortable and pleasant to ride. The ZX-12R was plenty fast, but it just didn't have the reputation of being as comfortable and easy handling as some of the competing models.
The ZX-14 "evolved" from the ZX-12R. It has a similar monocoque chassis and engine architecture, but was designed to be lighter, faster and less intimidating. The boys in green achieved this by focusing on refining the chassis and motor.
"The motor of a super-powerful flagship bike like this will be the natural focal point."
The motor of a super-powerful flagship bike like this will be the natural focal point, so Kawasaki made sure it wouldn't disappoint. They started with bore and stroke figures of 84 by 61 mm for a displacement of 1352 cc. They added an extra counterbalancer so the engine would be smooth enough to be mounted as a stressed member, without vibration-absorbing mounts. Despite the extra displacement and components, the motor has smaller dimensions than the ZX-12R's.
It uses a 12.0:1 compression ratio to squeeze the mixture from the four 44 mm Mikuni throttle bodies. This produces a claimed 187 hp, 197 with ram air effect at speed. The last Hayabusa we put on the MO Dynojet Dyno, in 1999, made 157 hp at the back wheel. Top speed is limited by the bike's ECU to 186 mph, thanks to an international "gentlemans" agreement. Edmundson said the USA didn't receive ungoverned models, simply because dealers in countries with governed models would object; grey market importers would buy up USA models and sell them there.
Speed freaks, take heart: it's probably an easy software modification to make. On the way to the drag strip, one drag-bike website guy loudly proclaimed he could do it right there with a pair of wire-cutters.
Okay, we knew it would be fast. But how will it handle? The ZX-14 has a second-generation aluminum monocoque chassis. A monocoque, as those of you with a Vespa, Volkswagen Beetle or most any modern car will know, is a rigid structure made out of metal sheets. The design has "more inherent rigidity" than a twin-spar design, according to Kawasaki and is lighter and stronger than the ZX-12R design. It is more rigid laterally, but less rigid torsionally, for better handling and feedback at high speeds. Additionally, the solid engine mounts should provide better stiffness and rider feedback. Wheelbase measures a tidy 1460 mm, and the whole bike weighs in at a svelte (claimed) 480 pounds dry.
The 5.8 gallon fuel tank extends under the seat for better mass centralization, but is slim (for a bike this size) to keep the bike as manageable and comfortable as possible. The clip-on handlebars look lower than they actually are. Suspension components include 43 mm inverted forks up front (that look like the ZX-10R's) and a redesigned rear linkage and extra-long swingarm. The rear shock has a 13-way compression adjuster and an 11-way rebound adjuster as well as being adjustable for preload (but there's no remote adjuster). Front forks are adjustable for preload, compression and rebound as well.
Brakes and clutch have been revamped, too. The brakes have four-piston, radial-mounted calipers with one pad per piston grabbing 310 mm "petal" type full-floating rotors. ABS is available in other markets; Kawasaki seems to think we're happy managing brake lock-up ourselves. The brake master cylinder is a radial-pumping job, as is the clutch master cylinder. Kawasaki seemed very proud of this last feature, calling it a "direct action" clutch. They claim the radial master cylinder gives the unit exceptional smoothness and feel.
"Good job with the styling, giving an impression of speed without being too boy-racer looking."
Kawasaki didn't stop with a great motor and chassis; they also wanted the styling to be as distinctive and aggressive as possible. The bike is two inches longer and one inch lower than the ZX-12R and is equipped with four projector-beam headlamps for maximum illumination and a distinctive look. On the sides of the bike are a pair of louvered side panels that blend in nicely with similar panels behind the front fender, even if I think they look more like styling touches than functional pieces.
Those louvers fit into the bike's aerodynamic scheme, very important for a flagship bike that desires to be the fastest and most powerful on the planet. They also reduce drag and add stability at highway speeds, according to Kawasaki. Overall, I think they did a good job with the styling, giving an impression of speed without being too boy-racer looking, but still on the good side of the exciting/bland border.
Kawasaki was also proud of the instrument display. There's an analog tachometer and speedometer: no wacky LCD tachometer for the flagship. Above the twin clocks is a large information display that shows instant and average miles per gallon, battery voltage, a gear indicator, and a diagnostics display. There's also programmable shift and launch lights to aid nascent drag racers. These instruments are operated by a Controller Area Network (CAN) that greatly reduces the size of the wiring harness and the weight and complexity of the instrument cluster.
Edmunton finished up the briefing by telling us we would have three riding portions to evaluate the bike over the next two days.