2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 Model Introduction

However, there's a lot more to it than just going as fast as you can in a straight line. It's all about the launch; those first one or two seconds where you are modulating the clutch and throttle to ensure the best time across the first 60 feet of track. I'm embarrassed to say I never really got the hang of modulating the clutch, even with the amazingly patient and understanding Gadsen lavishing me with attention.

Still, I was able to get my times down to just over 11 seconds, with a terminal speed of over 140 mph. That's fast, considering the pathetic, limp-wristed runs I was putting in, (actual Gadsen quote: "Man, you need to pin it! You didn't have it pinned in first, you didn't have it pinned in second, and I don't think you even had it pinned in third!") and a testament to the incredible clutch and throttle control sensitivity this machine possesses.

"Man, you need to pin it!" Rickey Gadsen tells Gabe Ets-Hokin. "You didn't have it pinned in first, you didn't have it pinned in second, and I don't think you even had it pinned in third!"

Drag racing is fun, but we wanted to test the bike on the street, so a few of us opted for a street ride rather than the high-speed oval. I hopped on a ZX-14 and followed the team of Kawasaki people and photographers out to the Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles from downtown Las Vegas.

During the ride to the park, I had more time to admire the build quality and nice features on the bike. It has a very high-quality, well-made feel to it. All the controls work smoothly and have a heavy, finished sense to them. Both the brake and clutch lever adjust to fit your hand. The instrument panel offers plenty of information in a wide, easy-to-read format. I entertained myself on the boring, flat, 75 mph ride out to the park by watching fuel economy on the rider information display vary between 25 and 55 mpg (expect about 38 on level ground at 75 mph).

I also noticed the comfort level; it's pretty good. The seat is broad, flat and supportive, with plenty of room to find a perfect position. The bars are pretty high and come back to meet the rider for a mild, yet sporty seating position, a little more comfy than a Honda VFR. The bike is also pretty compact, with a low center of gravity; 5'6" me could paddle the bike around a parking lot with both feet flat, thanks to the seat and tank being relatively narrow up front and a chassis that felt as light as the aforementioned VFR. The footpeg height felt about perfect for me.

"It's a true GT machine: big, fast and good-handling, showcasing the taste and social status of its well-heeled owner."

Comfort isn't as good as it could be, but there's always something imperfect with every bike, right? In the case of the ZX-14, the windscreen isn't quite the right height. It's designed for optimal aerodynamics at extreme speeds with the rider tucked in, not for a big guy with a wife and a tankbag. The windblast is noticeable at even 75 mph. Also noticeable is the seat, which feels good for an hour, then starts to bite a little because of too-soft foam. Invest in aftermarket seat and windscreen manufacturers if you want a stock tip. I also predict most sport-touring riders will want to add an inch or two to the handlebar mount for even more comfort.

Going into and through the park were lots of different kinds of curves to test the big bike's cornering abilities. Unfortunately, they had to be taken at mostly legal speeds, as one of Kawasaki's riders had received a present from the Nevada Highway Patrol the prior week; Kawasaki's PR department read us the riot act about speeding before the ride. Even so, at moderate speeds the Kawasaki felt light and easy-to-turn, imparting lots of rider confidence with a stable, friendly style that made me think this would be a very good sport-tourer. If you do get into a corner with too much speed, the outstanding binders should get you down to your comfort level quickly.

You can take the boy out of the trailer park, but you can't take the...

Since we're on the subject of "quickly", this is a bike that will intimately familiarize you with that word. The acceleration is scorching, and the heavy chassis irons out the ripples in the road and makes you feel like you're on your own personal bullet train. The motor is also very smooth, the extra counterbalancer giving the motor an electric feeling that has you leaving it in fourth or fifth gear if you ignore the gear indicator on the instrument panel. The bars, seat and footpegs transmit a minimal amount of vibration, even if you wedge your boot up against the frame where that 190 hp motor is solidly-mounted.

The Park had a few 15 mph turns that crested blind rises, but the bike only felt a little hard-to-manage in these. The ZX-14 isn't about earth-shattering power -- although it is the most powerful machine around -- or about blistering top speeds, as it's limited to only 186 mph. It's all about a smooth, refined, easy-riding package that will attract budding dragracers and experienced sport-tourers alike.

The next day started late because of rain, and Dirty and I started even later because of some extended craps-shooting and Scotch-drinking on a different kind of Strip the night before. Luckily, there was time for me to take another shot at getting my quarter-mile times down below 11 seconds.

I failed to do it, but plenty of other journos were able to. Several of us even got times down below 10 seconds, a feat for a bone-stock bike with no tie-down straps or wheelie bars. One very light and brave individual from a rival website was able to get his times below 9.7 seconds, just a tick slower than Gadsen and Schmitz's best times.

I've never thought about clutches so much at a new model introduction, but that's a testament to the ZX-14's very solid one. About 35 riders made at least 15 runs each on eight bikes, in addition to the many set-up and demonstration runs made by the Kawasaki people, but I didn't notice any notchy shifting or slipping until I was making my very last runs at the end of the day, on a bike that had probably done almost 100 launches.

The radial-pump clutch master cylinder and heavy-duty clutch pack (which must be made out of cast iron or whatever materiel lines Dirty's stomach) had astounding feel and sets a new standard for hydraulic clutches. For a rider learning the ins and outs of dragracing, this is an important feature, as it will be for a sport-tourer who will be piling up mileage on this big, fast, comfortable machine.

As a flagship bike, our initial impression is that the ZX-14 really works. Even if it can't go 200 mph, it offers ample speed blended with light handling and good comfort. It's a true GT machine: big, fast and good-handling, showcasing the taste and social status of its well-heeled owner. We here at MO are heels, if not actually well-heeled, and we look forward to testing this bike further, especially compared to some of the other manufacturers' flagship sportbikes like the Hayabusa or the BMW K1200S. In the meantime, I think Kawasaki has built a new favorite bike, one that is definitely good enough to hang the flagship banner from.


** Specs provided by Kawasaki Motor Corp. **
Engine Type: 4-Stroke, 4-Cylinder, Liquid-Cooled, DOHC, 4 Valve Cylinder Head
Displacement: 1352 cc
Bore & Stroke: 84.0 x 61.0 mm
*Claimed* Maximum Torque: 113.5 lb-ft / 7,500 rpm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Fuel Injection: DFI with Mikuni 44mm Throttle Bodies (4)
Ignition: TCBI with Digital Advance
Transmission: 6-Speed
Final Drive: X-Ring Chain
Rake/Trail: 23 degrees / 94 mm.
Front Wheel Travel: 4.6 in.
Rear Wheel Travel: 4.8 in.
Front Tire Size: 120/70 ZR17
Rear Tire Size: 190/50 ZR17
Wheelbase: 57.5 in.
Overall Height: 46 in.
Overall Length: 85.4 in.
Overall Width: 29.9 in.
Front Suspension: 43 mm Inverted Cartridge Fork with Adjustable Preload, Stepless Rebound and Compression Damping
Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak with Adjustable Preload, Stepless Rebound and Compression Damping, Ride Height
Front Brake Type: Dual Semi-Floating Petal Discs with 4-Piston Calipers
Rear Brake Type: Single Petal Disc
Fuel Tank Capacity: 5.8 gal.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
*Claimed* Dry Weight: 474 lbs.
Color: Passion Red, Ebony, Candy Thunder Blue
Warranty: 12 months
Good Times Protection Plan: 24, 36 or 48 months
MSRP: $11,499

* Price and specifications subject to change


Key Features According to Kawasaki:

Distinctive Ninja® Styling Most Powerful Production Kawasaki EngineNext Generation
Monocoque Aluminum FrameComfortable Riding Position

1,352cc Four-Cylinder, DOHC(KP) Engine

The most powerful production Kawasaki motorcycle engine ever.Tuned to provide smooth power across a very wide rev range while raising the legendary Kawasaki horsepower standards to a new level.Carefully planned engine design keeps it compact and narrow. Chrome composite plated(KP) aluminum cylinder bores are lightweight, durable, and quickly carry heat away from the combustion chamber and piston for supreme durability at high power outputs.

Gear-Driven Dual Engine Balancers(KP)

Already in perfect primary balance, dual secondary balancers virtually eliminate unwanted vibrations for extremely smooth engine operation and rider support.

Ram Air Induction(KP)

Central Ram Air duct produces a straighter path to the airbox for maximum intake efficiency. Similar inlet design to the Ninja ZX-6R and ZX-10R gives the ZX-14 consistent Kawasaki Ninja styling. This system takes cooler, high-pressure air from in front of the fairing and guides it through the air cleaner and into the engine for maximum power output.

Digital Fuel Injection(KP)

44mm Mikuni throttle bodies are fitted with sub-throttle valves(KP) that are controlled by the ECU to provide precise response and make DFI performance smoother, with response similar to constant velocity carburetors.32-bit electronic control unit works with dual throttle valve system to further enhance throttle response and control.A digital computer feeds the engine exactly the amount of fuel it needs for cleaner emissions and maximum fuel economy.

Digital Ignition

Digital Timing Advance enhances low-and mid-range power.
Four individual spark plug-mounted ignition coils fire each spark plug independently to achieve the optimum timing for that cylinder at that instant.

Radial Pump Clutch

Hydraulic clutch features a radial-mount clutch master cylinder for very smooth clutch operation.

Next-Generation Monocoque Aluminum Frame(KP)

Evolved from the ZX-12R, the frame is a hollow aluminum box that arches over the engine from the steering head to the swing arm pivot. It is narrow, strong, rigid and very light. Engine is rigidly mounted to increase the monocoque's torsional rigidity. Plus using the engine as a stressed frame member decreases the frame's weight by approximately four pounds. Engine positioned forward in the frame, wheelbase and front/rear weight balance were carefully designed to achieve high-speed stability and responsive handling. The monocoque section houses the air box and air filter in a space-saving design that actually simplifies air cleaner maintenance. Two screws hold a plate on the left side of the frame that allows air cleaner access. The battery is also housed within the frame and has simple access through the back side of the frame. The steering head and swing arm pivot areas are cast aluminum for superior strength and rigidity.

Inverted 43mm Cartridge Type Front Fork(KP)

Damping rates offer stiff initial action to resist front-end dive when braking. Stepless damping adjustment improves suspension performance.

Bottom-Link Uni-Track® Rear Suspension(KP)

Linkage rates provide linear suspension action. The bottom-link design concentrates the weight lower in the chassis for a lower center of gravity, which makes the bike more flickable.

Radial Mounted Petal Front Disc Brakes

Radial mounted 4-piston front brake calipers. Instead of mounting the calipers with threaded tabs cast near the top of the caliper, the radial design utilizes integrated mounting points at both the top and bottom of the caliper, with the mounting bolts inserted through the rear of the caliper instead of the side/front. This makes the caliper more rigid, which improves brake feel over a wider range of operation. A separate brake pad is used for each piston. One large pad can deform with the heat generated by hard track style riding, resulting in a loss of brake feel at the lever. Individual pads provide increased cooling efficiency and can absorb more heat without deforming so they maintain consistent brake feel lap after lap. Petal design brake discs provide better cooling and warp resistance. Radial-pump front brake master cylinder improves brake performance and lever feel.

Wind Tunnel-Designed Bodywork

Since the monocoque frame goes over the engine the fairing is uninterrupted by protruding frame spars, adding to the extremely long and low styling. Both the front and rear turn signals are integrated into the bodywork and have clear lenses to enhance the appearance. Quadruple projector beam headlights give the ZX-14 a distinctive nose. The outer lights contain position lamps and the high beams, while the low beams are in the center lamps.

Full Instrumentation

Dual analog speedometer and tachometer with white faces are easy to read. Multi-function LCD digital display includes an odometer, two trip meters, gear position indicator and a clock. Programmable shift indicator lamp illuminates at pre-set rpm to signal rider upshift. Programmable clutch engagement lamp illuminates at pre-set rpm to signal the rider to engage the clutch. A CAN (Controller Area Network) interface between the meter uses fewer wires while allowing a greater volume of information, such as estimated fuel mileage, to be exchanged.

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