Friday Forum Forage: 1998 Kawasaki ZX-11

John Burns
by John Burns

My apologies for returning so quickly to ZXForums, when we were just here two weeks ago. But this one knocked my socks off. The Kawasaki ZX-11 may have had more impact on some of our formative years than any other motorcycle. And this 1998 D model for sale in northern Arkansas (there’re a couple of nice roads there) appears to have been preserved in amber, right down to its shiny stock dual exhausts.

Kawasaki began cranking these out in 1990. The ZX-10 had been ridiculous enough, but the 11 took things to a completely different level, with a top speed about 10 mph faster – somewhere above 170 mph. Why? Who knows, but all sorts of improbable things seemed like good ideas in the 1990s.

Part of that amazing speed was down to the ZX’s new ram-air system, which just sounds aeronautically exciting. A pair of tubes right behind those mesh grilles pressurized the carburetor float bowls to compensate for the mighty maw-fuls of air the scoops were shoving into the sealed airbox at speed. The result was almost a different quality of acceleration.

The upgraded D model arrived in 1993, a year before the CBR900RR ushered in the race-bike for the street Open class theme. In the year this ZX was built, 1998, the Yamaha R1 finished prying open that can of uncompromising worms.

The ZX-11 was a sport-touring motorcycle with mind-bending performance; 147 claimed horsepower felt like a gross underestimation, and the ZX held the top-speed record until the Hayabusa came along – also in 1998. Not that the top speed ever really mattered except to the marketing people; the thing about this one was the effortless way it comfortably wolfed down the back way to San Francisco: Some of us had better things to do than ride around in circles on a race track.

The biggest flaw with this 25-year old example, says its owner, is this scratch he points out on the gas tank.

In fact, the owner mentioned a couple of other problems, the reasonable-sounding solutions for which were quickly suggested by the ZXForums’ knowledgeable members. Also, fear not the January, 2007 date stamps says the owner; the photos are but a few days old.

Would you rather have a brand-new Kawasaki H2 SX SE? Yes, I suppose so. But you might be surprised how close to it this old ZX-11 might run, for a mere pre-haggle $4100. This 25-year old Kawi may not be collectible (who knows?), but it appears to still be eminently rideable.

16,611 miles is just broken in.

The listing is here.

Related reading:

Open Warfare, 1996

Open Superbikes, 1997

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John Burns
John Burns

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  • Ricky J Ricky J on Jan 29, 2023

    JB, here's a possible story lead for you to chase down…back in the early '90s, Doug Mayer, the owner of Dublin Kawasaki in NorCal, was putting together a hot-rodded ZX-11 project. He told me that a massive amount of weight had been pared from the bike, with carbon fiber and titanium componentry featured extensively. I had the impression that its intended use was as a F-USA racebike, a something along the lines of Earl Roloff's "Terminator".

    The last I heard of it, the beast had been wadded in testing by a prominent racer-journalist, who was used to the shift pattern on his 250GP bike and accidentally downshifted…a very bad thing at speed at Willow Springs!

    Doug was a true motor-head: he used to build engines for the UOP Shadow Can-Am team, and later spent years with Rob Muzzy's squad. If he's still around, there might be some cool stories to mine from him!

  • Lovely bike. Always thought one would make a fine continental tourer but my priorities lay in other areas back then.