Floats like a butterfly stings like a bee.
Before getting on board, the ZZ-R appears to be a large machine by anyone’s standards. The fairing stretches from its extended proboscis all the way down the lengthy side panels to meet with the rear wheel. The rear section of the tail fairing is equally as stretched out, matching the front ends design and balancing out the whole image. The tank is huge and makes all but the largest of riders stretch to get around it but surprisingly, once seated and in contact with all the reference points, like footrests and bars, the bike loses a lot of its size. Press the button and the smooth engine bursts into life, let the tick over settle and select first gear, you cant select any other gear when most Kawasaki’s are static thanks to the gearbox safety feature disabling this function, and we are ready for the off. Once on the move all of the mass is lost and that big machine feels to be a shadow of its former self. The engine is flexible, lacking little in the usability stakes and just seems to get stronger as the speed builds. Revolutionary for its day, the ram air effect provided by the small vent in the nose, and it is this that creates much of the power at speed with stunning acceleration available on demand.
Journalists at the bikes launch back in 1990 complained of a sluggish handling when at speed but few had stopped to think of what they were actually trying to do before commenting. Any machine traveling in the upper stratospheres, a shade under 200mph, is generating some pretty serious forces particularly gyroscopic and few sports tourer machines built since 1990 have beaten the ZZ-R in the handling stakes. What should be a road going leviathan is in fact an agile and athletic machine, letting the revs carry will see the front wheel lift in the first two gears while changing direction, braking or simply just throwing the ZZ-R around yields surprising results. For such a large and lengthy machine the ride is superb. No machine this big deserves to handle so well and yet the ZZ-R carries the weight and size as if it simply doesn’t care. It is hard to say how or why it does it but clearly lots of design work and experience of making big capacity bikes do what the should hasn’t gone to waste here. The bikes predecessors are all great performers too, the GPX1000 and the ZX10 were all capable machines and this has carried through in the ZZ-R. There can be some pushing of the front end mid corner when the taps are opened up which can make keeping a tight line difficult but in the bikes defence, there is some considerable torque at work here, those horses are going to gallop so hang on and enjoy the ride. The noise that is created by the ram air intake, as it tries to keep the open mouths of the 40mm carburettors fed, starts as a hollow honk and ends sounding more like a jet engine on full afterburner taking off.
What is the best aspect of this ground-breaking machine? It is hard to single out one area but the arm stretching acceleration has to be up there in the rankings, as indeed has the comfort factor. It is roomy and able to seat two in total luxury for mile after mile. With a range in excess of 200miles per tank full this is mile munching at its very best. When fully loaded the suspension is in the outer limits of its capabilities and the front end could do with stronger springs and damping. The ZZ-R can return a sporty ride or mile-munch with the best of them and, when ridden with spirit, should not be underrated in any genre of tarmac riding.
There can be no better way for any bike manufacturers to enter a new decade than with a highly developed and ground-breaking machine. Kawasaki not only achieved this task with relative ease but also added a new category in the biking world line up when they effectively stuck the attributes of a sports bike and tourer together to form the tag Hyperbike.
Kawasaki were no strangers to the formula, they already had a good few years practise with stunning machines like the 1000RX and ZX10 under their belt. These were both direct developments of the GPz900 of 1984 and used many lessons learned in this machine to create the near perfect large capacity sports motorcycle. Despite outwardly looking identical to the ZX10 engine in fact no parts are interchangeable between the two power plants. Kawasaki really pulled out the stops in the pursuit of ultimate power and beefed up crank pins and opened out ports and valve size to create a 12 percent increase in power from a mere 6 percent increase in capacity. The redline of the engine was increased by 500 revs to give the pistons a speed of 4000 ft a second but, thanks to the stronger crank and bottom end, no loss in reliability. When first introduced many doubted the wisdom of so much power, fearing that the public would not be up to the job of keeping it all in check. Those fears proved unfounded however and the ease of use proved to one of the chief attributes behind the designs success.