Now all motorcycle enthusiasts know the story of the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, allow us to bring you up to speed. First launched in 2006, the ZX-14R owes its existence to the top speed cold war that raged amongst Japanese motorcycle manufacturers in the 90s. Japanese bike makers went beyond the litre-class formula to create bikes like the Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird, the even faster Suzuki Hayabusa and the ZX-14’s immediate predecessor and the most powerful bike in the world at that time, Kawasaki ZX-12R. But this one-upmanship was brought to an end just as the ZX-12R came out when manufacturers reached a gentlemen’s agreement to cap top speeds at 300kmh.
While top speed stopped being the reason to build faster bikes, the lust for ever quicker motorcycles has proved to be insatiable. It’s from this thought process that the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R was born in 2006. Since then it has seen one generational change in 2012, and this was the very same bike that was launched in India in 2013. Fast forward more than two-and-a-half years and we now have an upgraded version of this monstrous Ninja that has landed in India. So how much have things changed then?
Apart from the glaring difference in paint scheme, there’s not much to visually differentiate this 2016 model from last year’s. Of course, by glaring we mean that the bike is still green and black, but now the front features more prominent use of black on the fairing, while the bellypan is now green. There also a new smattering of black on the tail, but the major visual differences pretty much end there. Look closely and you’ll see some new bits of kit such as the Brembo monobloc calipers on the front wheel, but we’ll get to that later.
The other major differences which aren’t apparent when you’re looking at the bike, but become obvious when you get on, are the changed handlebar position and a new seat. But apart from these changes, this new 14R remains fairly identical to the outgoing model. Even the instrument cluster design, with its large twin analogue pods and a digital screen in the centre is unchanged, aside from the fact that the digital screen background can now be changed from black to white for better contrast.
What about the motor and its performance?
The second generation of the ZX-14R was launched back in 2012, and it came with a host of major upgrades. A major engine overhaul and the inclusion of a racing-derived electronics suite amongst other things were the big changes back then, and it endowed the 14R with a lot more performance. Thankfully, these aspects of the ZX-14R have been left untouched for 2016.
So there’s still 210bhp on tap (with ram-air) and 15.6kgm of torque, and the ZX-14R is one of just a handful of bikes in the world that can clock a standing quarter-mile in under 10 seconds in absolutely bone-stock trim. But it’s not the outright acceleration and the big horsepower numbers that make this bike so special; it’s the humungous tractability of the motor. You can pootle about town at a hair over idle revs in unreasonably high gears. The 4th gear at 40kph feels completely natural! When you wind on the gas, the ZX-14R pulls forward with out a hint of snatch or stutter.
Furthermore, the Low power mode offers only 75 percent of peak power and softer throttle responses to make the ZX-14R easier to ride even in the wet. To head into the ballistic zone, stay in the Full power mode, and let the rev needle sweep up and past the 4,000rpm mark. From here on, the ZX-14R accelerates away consistently as if being pushed forward by some biblical force. It almost lets you experience what the Apollo crew must’ve felt when their Saturn V rocket ignited, launching them towards the moon.
So what are the big changes then?
Well, the most important change, at least in our books has been the revision of the front brakes. Now the 14R gets Brembo M50 monobloc calipers in conjunction with 310mm semi-floating rotors and a radial master cylinder – the same setup doing braking duties on the Kawasaki H2, H2R and the new ZX-10R. This endows the bike with supreme feel and bite for the front brakes – something you really can’t do without on a machine capable of doing 300kmh. In our brilliant traffic conditions, we got plenty of opportunities to test out the brakes and each time, they helped to shed speed progressively predictably and rapidly.
Apart from the front brake, the other major change is a brand new rear suspension unit from Ohlins. Apart from compression and rebound adjustment, the TTX 39 from Ohlins offers a remote preload adjustor which makes it really easy to set up the bike for different loads. But more importantly, damping at the rear works significantly better than before, with the bike being able to shrug off bumps, creases and stones on the road with utmost ease – again something our wonderful road network threw at the ZX-14R with reckless abandon. At city speeds and on bumpy roads so good is the compliance of the Ohlins setup that it makes you wish the front end was also as compliant!
A subtle, but significant change that Kawasaki has made is an improvement in ergonomics. One of the biggest complaints with the earlier 14R was that its riding position was rather stretched out. Now, with the handlebars 13.2mm higher and 13.3mm closer to the rider, even shorter riders feel immediately at home on the bike. Coupled with the fact that now the handlebar grips are 16.8mm wider, parking the bike or taking U-turns in tight places has become much easier. Kawasaki has also replaced the seat with a new design called a 'Gunfighter seat'. Now we were unable to figure out just why it’s called so, we do know that it’s now more comfortable and also helps the rider cope better with the bikes phenomenal acceleration. For a bike that can accelerate from 0 to 100kmh in 2.5 seconds, we’ll take all the help we can get, thank you very much!
All these alterations have resulted in a bike that’s significantly improved in its riding experience. It now handles better and also provides more confidence to attack corners at higher speed. Now don’t get us wrong, the 14R hasn’t suddenly been transformed into a lithe little sportsbike. But, the weight transfer is less apparent and so you do enjoy hustling it a bit more. The ZX-14R is incredibly enjoyable through faster and more sweeping corners, the tighter stuff makes its size and weight fairly apparent. Well, it does weigh a portly 270kg, but it has become less tiring to ride than before.
Is that all?
Nope, there are a few other, smaller changes all around the bike as well. Kawasaki has gone for a contactless gear position sensor in the gearbox, which seems to have made gear shifts a whole lot smoother than before. There is also a steel braided clutch line which not only looks better, but works better in providing consistent clutch feel as well. And finally, the ECU and exhaust system have been revised to comply with Euro IV emissions norms, thankfully without affecting performance in any way.
So what’s the final word?
While the ZX-14R does feel a lot better than before, and more approachable now to riders of varying proportions and skill levels, we can’t help but wonder what its place in today’s world really is. As a 'hyper sport tourer', it certainly has the performance deserving of that title and (relative) comfort as well. But in the Indian environment, this approach towards fast and comfortable travel seems a bit outdated. The current crop of adventure touring motorcycles might not have the muscle or the finesse to match the 14R, but they’re sharper, lighter and in most respects that matter, sportier as well. And to top it off, they work significantly better in conditions such as India’s. However, for those looking to bring out their inner Ricky Gadson at the drag strip, it’s impossible to do better than this green giant. Just that you’ll have to fork out Rs 17.90 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for those quarter-mile dreams.