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 new Ninja ZX-14R does get a displacement increase to produce more horsepower, along with variable power modes and traction control to make that extra 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 2006, and formidable competition for Suzuki’s Hayabusa, the dominant hyper-sport.

The “R” suffix is new for ’12, and indicates the intention of this second-generation revision. Stretching the stroke from 61mm to 65mm bumps displacement from 1352cc to 1441cc, while higher-lift cams, polished intake ports and higher-compression pistons increase mid- and high-rpm power, Kawasaki says. Engine durability has been improved with a stronger cam chain and tensioner, a new oil-jet system to cool the underside of the pistons, thicker crankshaft main journals and beefier connecting rods made from a stronger material. The new engine is an even better foundation for high-performance modifications, which is important in this category.

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 or other low-traction situations—let riders tailor power delivery and manage traction to suit available conditions. An up/down toggle on the left-hand switchgear lets the rider change 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 or braking into corners.

The geometry of the over-engine monocoque frame is unchanged, though more than half the existing frame castings and forgings have been modified to alter flex and rigidity characteristics for improved handling. The swingarm is 10mm longer as well, with added gusseting to maintain rigidity. The fully adjustable, 43mm inverted fork and rear monoshock have been revised internally to better resist bottoming, while the brake discs are now made from a more rigid material and revised pads deliver stronger stops and a more progressive feel at the lever. New forged-and-machined 10-spoke wheels reduce unsprung weight by 3.3 pounds, aiding acceleration and steering.

Kawasaki’s ZX-14 was already an adept open-class machine, equally at home sport-touring across the desert southwest 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.

Though it looks familiar, bodywork is new from tip to tail. The signature fairing fins have a more pronounced 3D design to better extract heated air from the engine compartment.
A more aggressive nose, with a “toothier” quad headlight array, makes the ZX-14R more imposing from the front. The oversized ram air duct routes cool air directly into the airbox.
Indicators at the bottom of the LCD panel display power mode and traction-control data. A bar graph in the lower right communicates the level of intervention when KTRC is activated.