2002-2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200

Smart Money

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kawasaki

The big ZZR1200 arrived with a mildly bewildering split personality: part 145-horsepower cruise missile, part comfy long-haul sport-tourist. Was it a kinder, gentler ZX-12R or a slimmed-down Concours with anger-management issues? Both, actually, which is hardly a bad thing if you slow down long enough to think about it. After that, this one runs as fast as physics and the local constabulary will allow.

Way back then, Kawasaki figured a stronger, more comfortable version of the beloved ZX-11 would bury entrenched 'Bahnstormers like the Ducati ST4S and Triumph Sprint ST under an onslaught of sweet handling and Japanese horsepower. Especially when it cost about $5000 less. Adding 3mm more bore and a 1.6mm longer stroke bumped displacement to 1164cc. And those horses arrive in methodical fashion from idle to 6000 rpm, followed by an eyeball-flattening stampede from 8000 to the 145.2-bhp peak at 9750. That's stronger than Honda's CBR1100XX or an equivalent Suzuki GSX-R1000. Those ponies live in a stout twin-spar aluminum chassis, complete with a steel subframe designed to carry a passenger and the optional Givi hard luggage. Roomy, upright ergos are more humane than a ZX-11's, and the 609-lb. 1200 still covered the quarter-mile in 10.12 seconds at 136.9 mph.

Four years later the 1200 lives on, despite a few problems. A noisy top end can tip you to worn or pitted cams that weren't replaced under warranty. The 40mm Keihin carbs can ice up in cold weather. That subtle buzz through the grips and saddle at 5000 rpm gets tiresome after a few hundred miles. Spring preload is the only adjustment on the '02 model's 43mm Kayaba fork. Adjustable rebound damping arrived in '04. The seat is comfortable enough until time and miles compress its foam. Those four-pot Tokico calipers generate enough friction to warp the thin front rotors. Steering-head bearings tend to loosen over time, producing a touch of headshake under deceleration. And all that heft is hard on the front tire, which may not outlive the rear. While you're looking around down there, have a look at the frame, swingarm, shock linkage, brake calipers and any other surface that lives close to the road. Peeling paint on the outside can mean bigger trouble beneath. But if the ZX-12R is too much and an old-school Concours isn't nearly enough, this is the 168-mph alternative you've been waiting for.

Big speed in a comfortably sporty package with vroom for two.

Average suspension and brakes, a bit of freeway buzz, anti-theft styling.

Watch For
Excessive top-end clatter, warped front brake rotors, worn/loose steering head bearings.

Rapid transit for those who can't cozy up to a Ninja.

2002 $5345
2003 $5810
2005 $6865

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