Best Sportbike of 2023

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

Best Sportbike of 2023: Kawasaki Ninja ZX-4RR

Yep, we know this one is a bit of a shocker. How in the world can the Kawasaki ZX-4RR win our Best Sportbike of the Year award? At close to $10,000 and less than 60 horsepower (in stock trim), we’ve clearly lost our minds. Well, it comes down to two things:

  1. As hard as it is to believe, we didn’t get a chance to ride the latest-spec BMW S1000RR or M1000RR – two machines easily capable of winning this award. We won’t bore you with the reasons why, but if we haven’t ridden the bikes, then we can’t nominate them for an award.
  2. As we say every year, sometimes our awards reflect more than just bike performance, but a greater overall impact to our sport. We think this is where the ZX-4RR gets bonus points.

With that little explainer out of the way, let’s explain why we picked the little Kawi as our Sportbike of the Year. What it boils down to is Kawasaki having the cojones to bring back the 400cc Inline-Four – something that hasn’t been done since the late 80s-early 90s. There’s something about revving a bike to 16,000 rpm that doesn’t get old. Being able to do so without putting your license at risk (blatantly, anyway) has its own charm that many take for granted.

Being hampered by a lack of power forces the rider to learn and rely on skills rather than muscle to go quickly, which then better prepares them for a proper big-bore motorcycle. Or, if you’re the tinkering type and want to get more out of the bike you already have, the ZX-4RR really wakes up to a simple ECU flash, as we demonstrated earlier this year. We can tell you that a ZX-4RR, uncorked and able to breathe freely to 16,000 rpm, is a very entertaining ride that really shows the potential of what the platform can do.

Clearly the hope is that other manufacturers catch on and we can relive the small-bore sportbike battles that are still the stuff of legend to this day.

Best Sportbike of 2023 Runner-Up: Kramer GP2 890RR

If I were really biased I would have given the GP2 the top spot in the Sportbike category. This little weapon is basically everything I would want in a track-focused motorcycle. However, I fully understand a bike that you can’t register for the roads is only appealing to a very small group of you out there, and just because I happen to be one of those people, doesn’t make it a worthy choice for top honors. However, despite that, it certainly is good enough for the Runner-Up spot.

At 138 horsepower and a little over 300 lbs, I really mean it when I say the GP2 is a weapon. Try and find any bike out there that comes remotely close to those numbers and that kind of performance. You can’t. The LC8c engine sourced from the KTM 890 Duke is pretty far removed from the donor bike it came from. With lots of head work and titanium bits all around, the innards are pure race bike, and it sounds gloriously pissed off when paired with the open exhaust. Back that with a Mectronik ECU straight from the highest levels of racing and the electronic aids that affords, and the GP2’s intentions are quite clear. This is as close as the average mortal like you or I will get to riding a Moto2 machine.

And I didn’t even mention the bespoke chassis yet. Designed with one purpose in mind – getting around a track as fast as possible – experiencing something like this highlights the difference between a highly modified production bike and a motorcycle that was designed from the ground up to do one thing. The specificity of its intentions become clear. Production bikes, even really nice ones, just feel like blunt objects in comparison. The GP2 goes exactly where you tell it to with minimal effort. It carves a line like nobody’s business, and as you’d expect from a bike that weighs so little, direction changes are effortless. Then as you get on the gas again, the raucous sound coming out the pipe continually inspires the rider to press even harder.

All this fun, excitement, and capability for “just” $40,000. I’m not saying I could afford to spend that much on a motorcycle, but considering what you get in return, it’s far cheaper than an actual Grand Prix bike. If I could, I wouldn’t hesitate to add one of these to my collection.

Become a insider. Get the latest motorcycle news first by subscribing to our newsletter here.

Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

More by Troy Siahaan

Join the conversation
2 of 15 comments
  • Ariel Ariel on Dec 13, 2023

    In theory light weight and decent power should be a great combo...hence why I own a Husky 701 SM. I put a deposit on the 4RR when I first heard about it. At 250+ pounds in gear I accepted I'd have to redo the suspension regardless. When I heard about factory-neutered tune I canx my deposit. After doing the math it came to the same price or more to equal a 6r. Light weight is fun but it's awfully hard to justify such a bad value purchase. Reminds me of the Honda GP bike for the streets that was insanely priced but lower power than a Beemer with factory setup.

  • 91LT250R 91LT250R on Dec 20, 2023

    The ZX-4RR is a great choice. This bike is exciting. Too bad it won't be around in 5 years due to the price for what you get. The Kramer is just a terrible bike. It's a track only bike. If you had a track bike category I would be fine with the win, but it is cost prohibitive and isn't even street legal. Did Kramer improve the KTM engine's reliability? We know that isn't the engine's strong suit.