2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R | First Look

Bigger displacement, more power and traction control

It’s not supercharged like recently revealed patent documents suggested, but Kawasaki’s 2012 Ninja ZX-14R does get a displacement increase to produce more horsepower, along with variable power modes and traction control to make that added power easier to harness. All this plus sharpened styling and a slew of incremental chassis upgrades make this essentially an all-new model. It’s the first redesign since the ZX-14 debuted in ’06, and formidable competition for Suzuki’s Hayabusa, the dominant hypersport.

The “R” suffix is new for ’12, and indicates the direction of this second-generation revision. Stretching the stroke from 61 to 65mm bumps displacement from 1352 to 1441cc, while higher-lift cams, polished intake ports and higher-compression pistons are said to increase mid- and high-rpm power. Engine durability has been improved with a stronger camchain and tensioner, a new oil-jet system to cool the underside of the pistons, thicker crankshaft main journals and beefier connecting rods.

Great power is nothing without great control. The ZX-14R offers more of this with the addition of the KTRC traction-control and ignition-management system from the ZX-10R superbike. Three ride modes—full power, medium power and a third mode for wet weather or other low-traction situations—let pilots tailor power delivery and manage traction to suit conditions. An up/down toggle on the left-hand switchgear changes the setting, and a bar graph on the LCD info screen relays the system’s effects. The ZX-14R also features a slipper clutch for the first time, to protect the drivetrain and stabilize the chassis when downshifting entering corners. New forged-and-machined 10-spoke wheels reduce unsprung weight by 3.3 lbs., further improving acceleration and handling.

Kawasaki’s ZX-14 was already an adept roadburner, equally at home sport-touring or sprinting down the quarter-mile. The new R-version, with its refined chassis and body, high-tech electronics and even more horsepower, should only enhance the Alpha Ninja’s all-around riding capabilities.

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
MOTY's Mini-Me

Now looking remarkably like a downsized version of the Ninja 1000—Motorcyclist's pick for 2011 Motorcycle of the Year—Kawasaki's Ninja 650R has been thoroughly revised to embody more of its big brother's celebrated versatility. The fuel-injected, 649cc parallel-twin is essentially unchanged—as are the chassis components—but a new frame, updated bodywork and a revised cockpit significantly improve comfort and all-around ability.

New angular bodywork not only looks modern, but also keeps engine heat off the rider and now features a three-position-adjustable windscreen. A stronger subframe supports a two-piece saddle with wider, thicker foam—addressing a notorious sore spot on the old model—while wider handlebars are now rubber-mounted, like the footpegs, to abate vibration.

Available in black, red and lime green for just $7499, the Ninja 650R remains one of the best two-wheeled deals in America—especially after factoring in the claimed 50-mpg fuel-economy rating.

Rear view shows tapered hexagonal mufflers, each with its own catalyzer, which operate in conjunction with revised fuel injection to reduce hydrocarbon emissions.