Basking in 200-mile-per-hour speculations at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, it was a slick, 176-horsepower bullet aimed at Suzuki's all-powerful Hayabusa. Despite being limited to a paltry 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) by an international gentlemen's agreement, Kawasaki delivered one very sophisticated rocket of a motorcycle. Aside from the aluminum-monocoque chassis structure and obligatory Ninja badges on its flanks, resemblances to the preceding ZX-12R are unconditionally non-existent. Though top speed is electronically limited, mild tweaks will push it past 190 mph. Anyone with a pulse and average skills can click off 11.5-second quarter-miles at 120-plus mph far easier than on the shorter, peakier 12R. Given a few bolt-on bits and a tankful of VP race gas, nine-time world champion Rickey Gadson can click off 9.3-second passes at 150 mph as long as the rear Bridgestone holds out. That, sports fans, is quick.
Starting with a riding position that splits the difference between supersport and sport-touring, the maximum Ninja is equally adept in the real world. A relatively low seat and high, wide bars accommodate a suitably broad range of rider sizes, though tall types will wish for more legroom. Fueling is essentially perfect, and though power delivery is a twinge soft below 3000 rpm, it's anything but from there to 11,000. The '08 model arrived with more bottom end and midrange muscle from a quieter version of the 1352cc four, exhaling through more efficient mufflers and wrapped in a stiffer monocoque.
At 563 pounds with a full 5.8 gallons of super-unleaded on board, the 14 is longer, lower and 112 lbs. heavier than an '06 ZX-10R. Compared to a '06 Hayabusa, it's noticeably smoother and more refined as well. The maximum Ninja is more agile than such mass might suggest, though it's happiest in fast, sweeping bends. Relatively flaccid rear suspension on the '06 and '07 models serves up a posh ride around town, but lets the bike wallow at speed, especially under a big, aggressive rider. Brakes are excellent. Fuel mileage-usually averaging about 31 mpg-is not.
Though bits like the air filter are more accessible than the old ZX-12's, all that bodywork and the monocoque skeleton still complicate DIY upkeep. The big boy runs hot, especially around town. Early models tend to overheat. An aftermarket aluminum fan ($39.95 from www.muzzys.com) helps there. And make sure the frame recall (NHTSA Campaign 08V222000) has been handled on any '06 or '07 you're considering. Other than that, you're looking at the fastest, most comfortable Kawasaki product short of the 217-mph efSET bullet train-for millions less.
Mind-altering acceleration, surprising agility, excellent brakes.
Voracious appetite for fuel and rear tires; exit vents inspired by the George Foreman Grill.
Overheating, excessive bottom-end noise, loose/worn steering-head bearings.
Comfort and speed in one slick package
2006 | $6470
2009 | $7650
2005 | $8770
Not as strong or as fast as its Japanese competition, the origi
2003 | $5350
Introduced way back in '97, Honda's 137-horse cruise missi
2005 | $6880
Suzuki's first-generation Hayabusa has ruled the roost sin