2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 Model Introduction

By Gabe Ets-Hokin, Mar. 19, 2006
 
 
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High-speed stability would be demonstrated on the vast oval of the Speedway. The bike's "awesome" acceleration would be experienced on the quarter-mile drag strip, and finally a street ride would wow us with the bike's comfort and flexibility on the street. Say no more: we're ready to ride.

The first day of the introduction was reserved for the dragstrip and high-speed testing on the big oval of the Las Vegas Speedway. However, a threat of rain the next day prompted Kawasaki to set up a street ride for the afternoon. I would try my hand at the dragstrip in the morning; Publisher Sean "Dirty" Alexander would also do the dragstrip in the morning then he'd head out on the high-speed oval in the afternoon, while I took a spin on public roads. After dividing the journalists up into groups, we were driven to the dragstrip.

Gabe: What's 'pin it' mean? Gadson: Get off my racetrack!

"I was a bit nervous about popping my dragracing cherry..."

It was my first-ever dragstrip experience; I was a bit nervous about popping my dragracing cherry on the most powerful production bike ever built. I was hoping that Kawasaki's emphasis on rider-friendliness and the presence of dragracing champ Rickey Gadsen would help me look good.

The first day of the introduction was reserved for the dragstrip and high-speed testing on the big oval of the Las Vegas Speedway. However, a threat of rain the next day prompted Kawasaki to set up a street ride for the afternoon. I would try my hand at the dragstrip in the morning; Publisher Sean "Dirty" Alexander would also do the dragstrip in the morning then he'd head out on the high-speed oval in the afternoon, while I took a spin on public roads. After dividing the journalists up into groups, we were driven to the dragstrip.

It was my first-ever dragstrip experience; I was a bit nervous about popping my dragracing cherry on the most powerful production bike ever built. I was hoping that Kawasaki's emphasis on rider-friendliness and the presence of dragracing champ Rickey Gadsen would help me look good.


Dirty Drags It In More Ways Than One

The wind noise is annoying, growing louder on the straights and subsiding just enough in the corners for me to hear the subtle grinding noises emanating from the lower left side of the new ZX-14. A little playful experimentation reveals that it sounds different through NASCAR turns one and two than it does between three and four. Funky, this exercise -- surreal even. Grinding noises switch to my left boot as I dip it below the lever to shift up from fifth to sixth gear just before Las Vegas' start/finish line. It seems like the ground is right under my kneepuck from the time I enter NASCAR turn three all the way around to the exit of NASCAR two. That means the only time the ZX-14 isn't cooking the left shoulder of its tires is when the bike is upright on the back straight.

Thanks to our man Al for immortalizing the moment!

Let's think about that for a second:

Speed: 180 mph.

Ground clearance: Zero.

Over a mile spent on one section of tire at speeds between 150- to 180-something mph. So what? Lots of bikes do those speeds, it really shouldn't be a problem, right? Wrong. This is a 550Lb motorcycle with a 210Lb rider, pulling insane banking-induced G-forces at extreme lean angles. Bring your diapers and hug your tire engineer.

Those Bridgestone engineers didn't want to hug me back when I stepped off the bike after my first five-lap session. It seems the other journalists in my "Torque" sub-group have been commenting on how fast I'm going through the banking and the laptimes (which they aren't "officially" recording) are in the neighborhood of 10 seconds per lap quicker than the other guys.

Now, there are Japanese techs pouring over the rear tire with temp guns and note pads and next thing I know the bike is whisked away for a tire-swap. I guess others hadn't taken Kawasaki's "no limits, go ahead and see what she'll do" speech seriously. By the way, the answer is: She'll effortlessly peg the speedo and stop pulling as the "gentleman's agreement" 300 kph (186 mph) soft-limiter takes hold. I figure my actual speed was probably closer to 170ish given the usual speedo error and the fact that it was achieved on the side of the tire, making the rpm and wheel speed read higher than they would if the bike was straight up on the longest circumference of the tires. Regardless, we were going plenty fast enough to verify the big Ninja's basic stability at elevated velocities and there's little doubt that the ZX-14 makes an excellent hyper-velocity gentleman's express.

If he tucked-in any more than this, Sean found his forward view obscured by the ZX-14's tall dash and black windscreen masking.

More impressive than the ZX-14's sheer speed and stability is the fact that Kawasaki didn't sacrifice comfort or handling to meet those requirements. In fact, I found it quite easy to initiate turn-in, even at speeds over 170 mph. The steering is very light with a surprisingly quick off-center response for such a long and stable chassis. This is a great combination of attributes and will probably allow the ZX-14 to comport itself well in the canyons, as long as its ground clearance limitations are kept in mind.

There was neither the room nor the proper geometry at LVMS to discover the true terminal velocity of a ZX-14, but I have absolutely no reason to doubt that it will be good for every one of those 186 mph on straight/level ground. Furthermore, I suspect that number will be closer to 195 mph once the aftermarket goes snip-snip on the limiter, 200+ with the limiter removed and the usual bolt-on exhaust and computer mods. Only one way to find out...

"It really seems like a piece of cake to launch this bike from a standstill."

In the mean time, the dragstrip doesn't lie, and the speed limiter doesn't come into play, when your 1320 feet ends at 150 mph. This means the engine's true potential becomes a bit clearer with a little extrapolation. Given the ZX-14's 550Lb claimed wet weight and the fact that LVMS' Drag Strip is located 2,100' above sea level, and that an internet weenie like Motorcycle USA'sKevin Duke takes a bone stock ZX-14 for multiple passes between 9.6 and 9.9 seconds with trap speeds in the 150 range and a non-drag racing 210Lb internet publishing weenie like myself drags one to a 10.33 at 145, it's probably safe to assume that a stock ZX-14 has enough motor to embarrass a stock Huyabusa.

"Sean is pretty sure this clutch could launch battleships without fading."

It really seems like a piece of cake to launch this bike from a standstill. The long wheelbase helps to tame the wheelies, while the excellent clutch makes torque modulation a snap. If you flub the launch, have no fear, as the Nuclear Reactor has no problem pulling even the fattest of editors back out of the hole. Speaking of fat editors and flubbed launches, the 14's new radial-master clutch lever and kryptonite discs seemed nearly immune to poor launch technique. I'm fairly certain this setup could launch battleships without fading. In fact, I think the total ZX-14 package is ideal for someone looking to get into streetbike drag racing. The chassis is friendly and the components are durable... just add gas, tie down the suspension and make passes till your heart's content.

-- Sean


I was trembling mildly as I found myself staring at the light tree, engine growling at 5,000 rpm, body leaned over the tank. Team Muzzy racers Gadsen and Ryan Schnitz were both there, full of helpful advice on my first run. The light turned green, and I gave it gas, releasing the clutch as the bike lurched forward.

"Drag racing is a singular sport; it's a lot of training, preparation and skill for 10 seconds of competition at a time."

I had a crummy start, but the bike still accelerated so fast I had to make a Herculean effort to get my feet back up on the footpegs to shift to second, fighting against gravitational forces trying to pull me off the bike. Second was followed almost immediately by third as I found myself hurtling down the track, literally accelerating faster than a cinder block dropped off of a bridge. The wind blast turned into a roar as I whipped past the quarter-mile marker. A glance down at the big speedometer showed the needle swinging back past the 140 mph mark. I had never experienced such an incredible increase of rate.

Turning the bike back towards the pits revealed a light-feeling and steering motorcycle. The brakes had the same sensitive and powerful feel that the 2006 ZX-10R has, seemingly not affected by the extra 90 pounds during regular riding. Returning to the pits, I was amazed at how much slower I was than the other riders, but pleased when I shaved a tenth of a second from my time every run I did.

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06 ZX14 9908
06 ZX14 9908
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