Average fuel mileage: 38 mpg
Accessories and modifications: CCP Performance Machining bar-end mirrors; SBS Streetexcel sintered pads; Metzeler Sportec M3 tires; Works Performance Pro Piggyback Adjustable shocks; Race Tech fork springs/fork rebuild
Sharpening the edge of the modern-day Eddie Lawson ReplicaI've got a definite love/hate thing going with the folks at the ZRX Owner's Association (www.ZRXOA.org).
I love them-OK, most of 'em-because they're absolutely whacked about the ZRX. I've learned more from them about making the latter-day ELR stop, go, turn and look sano in just a few months of surfing their forum than I would have in years of riding and tweaking one.
But they can be a cranky lot, especially when the object of their two-wheeled desires doesn't appear in these pages often enough, or doesn't receive the tweaks they feel it deserves. OK, I admit to being somewhat lax in both modifying and reporting on my metallic-green monster. (Hey, there's a shop full of other bikes to ride.) But it's embarrassing to be heckled so publicly!
Ah, well-no pain, no gain, right? And there have surely been gains to go along with all the (mostly) good-natured ZRXOA abuse, especially in the chassis and braking departments.
Job One was easy enough to identify: suspension, or a lack thereof. In stock form the ZRX's soft and gooey legs are functionally acceptable about a fifth of the time-say, during steady-state freeway cruising. Anything else and the 500-plus-pound thing's a pitching, wallowing behemoth, especially if you're over 200 pounds like me. The ZRXOA crew recommended high-quality shocks from several makers (hlins and Works Performance led the list), so I chose the latter's Pro Piggyback Adjustable units ($969/pair from www.works performance.com;  701-1010), which not only feature dual-stage compression and rebound circuits, but are valved and sprung specifically for the bike and rider in question-as all Works shocks are.
Up front I went with a Race Tech (www.race-tech.com;  279-6655) fork rebuild, another ZRXOA recommendation. Going in I'd figured the ZRX's tubes would get revalved cartridges in addition to firmer springs (chosen for my weight), new seals and fresh oil. But then RT's Paul Thede told me Kawasaki had gone to sealed, non-rebuildable/valveable cartridges in the ZRX fork as a cost-down measure in '04-which meant my '05-spec fork legs would get only new springs (1.0 kg/m), fresh oil and seals. Trick replacement cartridges, Thede told me, cost Big Dollars (nearly $2000!), while this simpler tweak, with labor, came to just $322.
Downstream, testbike manager Michael Candreia fitted a set of SBS Streetexcel sintered pads ($35.95/caliper, get 'em at your local dealer) to the ZRX's calipers, and then spooned a fresh set of buns-Metzeler's brand-new Sportec M3 radials (about $390/set from www.us. metzelermoto.com;  368-5826)-onto the Rex's aluminum wheels.
Out on the road Mr. Rex felt firmer straight away, but remained unbalanced front-to-rear even with proper sag settings. The front end rode higher than the rear, which muddled steering and made the bike run wide while cornering. To fix this we slid each fork tube up in the triple clamps 10mm (lowering the bike's front end by the same amount), then rotated the rear axle's eccentric adjuster to the "tall boy" setup, with the axle in the lowest position.
The result? A total transformation. The bike felt easily 60-80 pounds lighter in all sorts of riding situations, and especially during backroad or aggressive use. No longer did the front end dive drastically and uncontrollably when one hammered the harder-biting, more controllable front brake entering a corner. No longer did the bike wallow and weave at speed on a rolling, undulating backroad. No longer did Mr. ZRX run wide exiting fast corners. And no longer did it take extra muscle to heave the thing into corners. Wheel control was excellent through even the biggest hits.
Best of all, perhaps, was the bike's more controlled and compliant-yep, more compliant-suspension action, even on potholed, sharp-edged city streets and freeways. There's typically a tradeoff when firming things up to gain a modicum of chassis stability; more spring rate and damping can sometimes turn things harsh during normal riding. But here was that often-elusive combination of wheel control and compliance we find on really well-suspended-and usually expensive-sportbikes in a twin-shock, steel-framed, carbureted and retro-styled naked bike. Nice.