WRIST: Dave Sonsky
MSRP (2012): $14,699
Unfortunately for me, Kawasaki recently noticed a rather conspicuous absence from its press fleet, and has asked for the ZX-14R back. This bike has been a riot on a daily basis and has consistently delivered, regardless of what I've asked it to do. Our time together hasn't ended on bad terms, nor have I had my fill of the '14, either. In fact, I've already started shopping for softly crashed examples in hopes of purchasing one for a more significant project. It's not surprising that there are few to choose from. This isn't a bike folks tend to flip—not literally, thanks to standard traction control, or figuratively, in the financial-gain sense. There just aren't many disappointed ZX-14R owners who are desperate to get rid of their bikes. Good for Kawasaki, bad for cheapskates like me. Having clocked 8800 miles over the past 10 months, it's fair to say I've learned a lot about the bike. The '14 has hauled me to trackdays and drag strips, toured two-up, and commuted, all without a single issue.
Respecting the bike's "do-all" nature, I tried to keep modifications to a bare minimum during the loan period to avoid disturbing its natural aptitude for handling all things speed related. It has been just the basics for the most part: a larger windscreen to improve wind protection; slip-on pipes to cut a considerable amount of weight and accentuate an already gorgeous exhaust tone; and a quickshifter for a touch of lazy luxury. These mild mods weren't necessary because the ZX-14R is quite exceptional out of the box, but they were budget-friendly and added a nice, personal touch.
Were it my own bike, I think it would be fun to dig in with more focus and make the Ninja a true street monster. It really wouldn't require that much cash, or effort. I'd capitalize on its strength (power), and concentrate on its primary drawback (excess weight). Carbon-fiber bodywork (painted Kawasaki green, of course), aftermarket suspension or at least stiffer springs, and a full exhaust with a fuel-management system would make the '14 an utter brute at the strip, a hoot at the racetrack, and generally a lot more nimble around town. No turbo or expensive wheel swaps necessary, just standard mods that most sportbike owners do anyway. Unlike "most" sportbikes, however, the foundation here is already so astonishing.
There is only one other option in the hypersport segment—Suzuki's Hayabusa—and having ridden it back to back with the '14 I can say there's really no comparison in ability to either stop or go. The ZX-14R surprised me ride after ride; it's outrageously fast, supremely comfortable, and draws groups of admirers even when standing still. In short, extremely hard to give back.