2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 - A Sin City Coronation for the New King of Quick

A Sin City Coronation for the New King of Quick

Photography by Tom Riles

Members of the press corps who specialize in such things were clicking off high-9-second runs at more than 140 mph in short order. Sport Rider's Andrew Trevitt--triggerman for Motorcyclist's dragstrip data--notched a 9.92 at 144.5 mph, and others shaved a 10th or three off of that. The key to that magic 9-second kingdom is covering those first 60 feet in about 1.7 seconds and doing everything perfectly from there to the end of the strip. (Times quoted at an altitude of 2100 feet. Sea-level times will be considerably quicker.)

"This bike makes horsepower in a totally predictable way," Burke said. "And that, along with all that clutch feel, makes it really easy to launch." By the end of the day, Burke had that part mostly figured out, but keeping his 6-foot/175-pound chassis motionless behind the 14's fairing while making those three perfect shifts was easier said than done. Still, 10.24 seconds at 140.3 mph ain't bad for a rookie.

With professional fingers on the trigger--Ryan Schnitz for example--the stock bike reels off a 9.65-second run at 147 mph. Armed with a few bolt-on bits from Muzzy's catalog--a lowering strap on the fork, plus a rear lowering link, exhaust system and VP race gas--Rickey clicked off various 9.3-second passes at 150 mph. At that rate, consider the Hayabusa officially dethroned.

Smooth, obedient power and excellent feel from a bulletproof, ZX-11-sized clutch get the job done like nothing else. The old ZX-12R would never have survived this kind of abuse. And the longer, lower chassis parks you closer to the sticky asphalt where drag racers like to be. Despite the Hayabusa's hard-earned reputation, there's no way a bunch of variously talented amateurs could go this quick on one. The cool thing is, the same friendly demeanor we noted on the strip makes the 14 more fun on the Vegas strip, as well.

Saddle up and you discover a riding position somewhere between supersport and sport-touring. It's more upright than the new ZX-10R, but less so than BMW's K1200S. Sitting 31.5 inches above the pavement (about an inch lower than the ZX-12R), the comfortably shaped seat gives vertically challenged riders more confident footing. The downside is a minor legroom shortage for 34-inch inseams. Thumb the starter and Kawasaki's biggest fuel-injected four is marvelously cooperative at any rpm. A new radial master cylinder makes the clutch smooth as well as bulletproof. Power delivery is a bit soft below 3000 rpm, but otherwise flawless right to the bike's 11,000-rpm redline. Kawasaki engineers finally must have gotten tired of all the whining about stiff shifting and driveline lash because there's none of either here. This all-new six-speed is its best yet.

Put it all together and the biggest Ninja flows through congealed Vegas traffic more easily than anything with a claimed dry weight of 474 pounds should. Deep-background, not-for-attribution sources put wet weight at 555 pounds: not quite 10 less than an '05 Hayabusa. The 14 is genuinely agile, steering around clots of taxis and hotel shuttles with much less effort than any of its 1198cc ancestors could have. Rake and trail numbers are only marginally different than the 12R, while the new 57.5-inch wheelbase is a bit longer. The difference is that the new aluminum monocoque frame shifts the engine and other heavy bits down and forward, centralizing mass and making the big boy a lot more willing to change direction.

We weren't on the sort of roads that force hidden handling foibles into the open, but a quick blast on some acceptably twisty pavement told us plenty. Flick may be a strong word, but Mr. Ninja rolls into fast corners much more readily than his ancestors--or Suzuki's highly capable Hayabusa. Aside from being a bit high-effort, Mr. 14's brakes dispense with Big Speed nicely. And there must have been a shakeup in the damping department at Kayaba, because the fork and shock are refreshingly compliant, with none of the harshness of previous efforts.

Dual balance shafts make Kawasaki's biggest sportbike engine its smoothest. There's nothing discernable as vibration at 70 mph in sixth. Fairing protection is fine for sporty sport-touring use. Mirrors are wide enough to deliver a useable rear view. And if the onboard trip computer is to be believed, getting 200 miles and change from one 5.8-gallon tankful should be easy. The seat seems comfy enough for an hour or three. The only glitch is that minor legroom shortage for taller folks; but still, this thing should make a great weekend tourer.

That distinct shortage of glitches may be the most remarkable facet of the new ZX-14. From the 1973 Z-1 to the 2000 ZX-12R, Kawasaki has earned a reputation for building some of the quickest, fastest things on two wheels. That speed came often at the expense of refinement, but not any more. From tip to tail, the ZX-14 seems as sophisticated and well finished as anything out there, and more so than most. Welcome to brutal horsepower and clich-shattering acceleration with no unpleasant aftertaste.

And what of the Hayabusa? It'll take some serious testing on our home court to settle that score. But right now, we're thinking Suzuki's meanest is starting to taste a little like chicken. MC

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