1999–2005 Kawasaki ZRX1100/1200 | SMART MONEY

MC Garage tips for buying a pre-owned ZRX1100 or ZRX1200 (Z-Rex!).

Kawasaki has never been shy about touting its racing successes, and one of its earliest homages to its on-track prowess was the ZRX1100/1200, a modernized tribute to the bike that carried Eddie Lawson to the AMA Superbike Championship in 1981 and '82. Although old-school—some might say hopelessly outdated—by today's standards, the burly and versatile ZRX makes up in versatility what it lacks in cutting-edge technology.

The beating heart of the ZRX is a liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine that displaced 1,052cc when it first came out and got a boost to 1,164cc in 2001. Based loosely on the ZX-11’s powerplant, the ZRX’s carbureted mill got a retune that punched up the midrange and gave it a broad, flat torque curve—more than 60 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm and peaking at 72 at 6,000 rpm. Peak horsepower was 97 at the rear wheel; it’s not much these days considering the displacement, but it’s adequate just about any day for seat-clenching acceleration. The displacement bump in ’01 upped those figures to 113 hp and 80 pound-feet of torque.

The ZRX’s chassis—steel-tube frame, twin shocks, and an elaborately braced swingarm—has “retro” written all over it. Up front a pair of 310mm rotors paired with six-piston calipers brings the 544-pound ZRX to a halt, while at the other end a single 250mm rotor with a single-piston caliper does its best to help. Both the 1100 and the 1200 roll on 17-inch wheels shod with 120/70 tires up front; the 1100’s 170/60 rear was upgraded to a 180/55 for the 1200.

For a race-inspired bike, the ZRX’s seating position is friendly—no prostrate-yourself-before-the-god-of-speed crouch—but the tiny fairing does little to blunt the wind. A welcome touch of retro is the bolt-on tubular handlebar, which can be swapped out for a lower one. Handling, while far from 600-class quick, is predictable, and the feedback from the chassis inspires confidence. Not too much, though, because at a certain point you realize you’re on a large, heavy bike that’ll bite back if you twist its tail too hard.

Kawi's ZRX, Honda 919, Suzuki Bandit, Yamaha FZ1: Which is the ultimate factory fighter?

Aftermarket shocks and a fork kit do wonders for suspension competence, and the eccentric drive-chain adjusters can be rotated 180 degrees for more ride height at the rear and quicker steering. The brakes are just okay; better pads and braided-steel lines make a big difference. The handsome stock exhaust ends up on the shelf more often than not, replaced by a lighter, louder one. Make sure the jetting has been adjusted and checked out on a dyno; the ZRX gets sulky if it’s not spot on.

Condition is an issue on any used bike but more so on the ZRX; without its signature look it’s still a nice big-bore standard, but so is a used 1200 Bandit, usually for less money. Try for a stock one that’s been garaged because the finish on some of the exterior parts—especially the engine—doesn’t always hold up well. A barn find or a bike that’s been living in a carport should be dragged out into the daylight and inspected closely. Finally, as any ZRX aficionado will tell you, the green ones are definitely the fastest.

Cheers

Big ol’ brute of a scoot dressed up in ’80s Superbike chic. Good power and handling make the deal even sweeter.

Jeers

A diet and a workout plan wouldn’t hurt. Often modified, not always well.

Watch For

Dodgy aftermarket muffler, poor jetting, corroded surface finish.

Verdict

A blast from the past that plays very well in the present. Fast Eddie would approve.

Value

1999 / $3,005
2000 / $3,250
2001 / $3,635
2002 / $3,895
2003 / $4,195
2004 / $4,520
2005 / $4,915

Also Smart…

2002–2007 Honda 919

A contemporary of the ZRX, Honda’s lithe if underpowered 919 proved that a previous-generation supersport engine in a basic chassis could be a fine deal. Light handling, plenty of midrange torque, and Honda quality mark the 919. So does backpack stench from the high-mounted exhaust and neck pain from the bike’s total lack of wind protection.

2001–2005 Suzuki Bandit 1200S

The last application of the vaunted air/oil-cooled GSX-R engine lives here, tuned for about 100 rear-wheel horsepower but a massively wide band of torque. Soggy suspension and brakes made the half-faired 1200S better suited to sport-touring duty than canyon strafing, which is totally fine with the typical Bandit owner.

2001–2005 Yamaha FZ1

High-tech suspension and a nearly full-power R1 engine in a steel-tube chassis doesn’t sound like the recipe for success, but the FZ1’s perfect combination of performance and sporting prowess allied to good weather protection and near-ideal, real-world ergonomics made Yamaha’s naked bike the overdog in the early 2000s.