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.
Despite not being allowed to use an EXUP valve due to Yamaha patents on the design, the bods at Kawasaki got around this with a 4-1-2 exhaust system, that went some way into fooling the engine it was driving into a load at low revs and yet, still provided the capacity to shift the gas flow high up in the rev range. The result is a super smooth power delivery above 5000rpm, that barely hints at the sort of power that is on tap, that is until you look at the speedo.
Much work was carried out in the aerodynamic department, once again using experience from previous work on the GP500 racer of the early 80’s as well as the later road machines, with a large bulbous frontal area enabling a high top speed and sublime handling once up there. The nose is also home to the ram air duct that forces the airflow down into the 15-litre air box tucked away under the fuel tank, before it then passes down through the 40mm carbs and straight into the engine. When Kawasaki built the ZX10 they had developed an advanced cylinder head design that used small inlet tracts and large valves to make the most of the inlet forces, they went the next logical step with the ZZ-R and backed up the pressure with the ram air inlet system the first of such designs on a production motorcycle. Also new on the ZZ-R was a compact valve lift operating system that enables the valves to be set at a steeper included angle for a straighter route into the chambers. To facilitate a large fuel capacity the engine was tilted forward 2 degrees, which also serves to load the front end further for enhanced handling
In the early days of the hyper bike, few others joined in the battle for top speed supremacy. Honda had the CBR1000 but in reality that couldn’t hold a light to the big Kwak when it came to top speed or indeed handling. The Honda is deceptive however and its smooth power and soft handling makes the bulbous machine feel like it is many miles an hour slower than it actually is, nonethe less it never challenged the 175mph top speed of the ZZ-R or got within a whisker of the acceleration times either.
The lack of any serious competition meant the ZZ-R remained unchanged save for a few minor updates and colour schemes changes for the next 3 years and even then the D model remained true to the original ethos.
In 1996 Honda came back with a real vengeance, having taken the time to develop the fuel injected CBR1100XX Super Blackbird while 3 years later the elite two brand hyper bike gang gained another member with the emergence of the Suzuki Hayabusa. Kawasaki up dated the ZZ-R to a 1200 in 2002 and more recently stole the march yet again with the ZZ-R14.
The years of evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, development has yielded a mega reliable and virtually unburstable power plant. There has been a few reported incidences of snatchey gearboxes and failures of the second gear among earlier high mileage examples but virtually un heard of since the introduction of the D model in 1993. Basically if a C model has done 12,000 miles or more and the gearbox is still intact then that’s it and there will be no further worries. There has also been some reported incidence of cam problems on the early D model, some have been found badly pitted although this is most likely attributed to a high tick over from cold and the bike being left on the side stand hence starving the far right of the engine of oil due to the lean.
The real problems are not caused by the bike itself but rather the elements with brake calipers and exhausts rotting through within a couple of winters if the ZZ-R is ridden all year round. Seized calipers will, if left for any period, cause warped discs and many ZZ-R’s will be fitted with aftermarket items and owners treat caliper seals and pistons as consumable items to be changed every couple of years or so. What out for damaged left hand exhaust silencers as this is the expensive part, it is as one with the four down pipes and the collector box so check prices before committing to buy if this is the case.
Few people would consider trying to contain more power than the ZZ-R produces. If kept in fine fettle the engine will throw a healthy 130plus bhp out at the rear wheel which is more than enough to keep the bike up there even against today’s machinery. Standing quarters are healthy enough to keep the ZZ-R up there alongside the Hayabusa and Blackbird particularly as the Kawasaki chassis enables a quick launch technique to be used away from a standstill when others are wheel spinning in a cloud a burnt tyre. In the interest of public opinion and political correctness, Kawasaki did limit the power output of some ZZ-R1100’s but this restriction was no more than a set of carburettor tops that limited the movement of the carb slide and with it the amount of petrol that could make its way into the engine and produce more horses. The cure is a simple one, fir the carb tops form a different machine in this case the ZXR750 that immediately liberated the full power and know one on the outside would ever know.
A Dynojet kit successfully smoothes out the throttle response around the critical 4-5000 mark while a simple ignition advance can also produce significant power gains. After market exhaust rarely improve on the standard set up which is a well thought out and cleverly designed system.
A controversial modification is the removal of the balance shaft, this simple yet effective job does give a boost in horsepower as well as lightening the bike by the weight of the parts taken out but at the expense of some smoothness low down in the rev range. The brakes could benefit from more feel and steel hoses are a must have if the original rubber hoses are still in place.
1986 GPX1000RXKawasaki launch ‘The Worlds Fastest Production Bike’ with 125bhp and a top speed a shade under 165mph meant it stayed that way for some time.
1988 ZX10Chassis number ZXT00B-000001
Kawasaki launches a successor to the 1000RX, the ZX10. More power and work on the body work showed in an even higher top speed. Most were restricted to keep politicians and the do-gooders happy.
1990 ZZ-R1100 C1Chassis number ZX10C-000001
The ZX10 comes of age with the new ZZ-R, a total revamp of the engine and chassis see the type take on the world and come out on top. First available in Black/Blue and Red/Silver paint schemes.
1991 ZZ-R1100 C2Chassis number ZX10C-013001
No mechanical improvements for this second model although two new paint jobs were released; ebony/grey and violet/purple now graced the big Kwak.
1992 ZZ-R1100 C3Chassis number ZX10C-024001
Distinguishable by its all black frame and fittings but little else has changed in the first 3 years of production. Paint schemes for this model were Black or Red/Ebony.
1993 ZZ-R1100 D1Chassis number ZX10D-000001
Several areas were updated for this new model. The rear sub frame is strengthened and larger diameter, floating discs replace the troublesome old style versions. A twin inlet ram air system now sits under the headlight, while a larger 24-litre tank and fuel gauge is added for the touring brigade. A larger volume exhaust also boost mid range performance.
1994 ZZ-R1100 D2Chassis number ZX10D-020001
Nothing to note but a colour scheme up date, Candy wine red and Teal green being the new shades available for this model.
1995 ZZ-R1100 D3Chassis number ZX10D-030001
A digital clock is added to the dash and two tone wine red becomes the colour to have.
1996 ZZ-R1100 D4Chassis number ZX10D-039001
Kawasaki sits back on its laurels and change only the colour Plain red or luminous green are added to the scheme chart.
1997 ZZ-R1100 D5Chassis number ZX10D-045001
Increase in power to keep up with the new Honda CBR1100XX
1998 ZZ-R1100 D6Chassis number ZX10D-050001
No changes were introduced
1999 ZZ-R1100 D7Chassis number ZX10D-058001
Factory fitted alarm and immobiliser now fitted as standard.
2001 ZZ-R1100 D9Chassis number ZX10D-059000
The last of the 1100’s to roll off the production line. Now only available in Red/Grey the type was officially discontinued in March 2002.
2002 ZZ-R1200 C1HChassis number ZX10D-JKAZXT20CCA000001
Just like the ZX10/ZZ-R transformation 12 years before the new 1200 gets a makeover with new body work, engine internals and chassis.