Now that Kawasaki have released the 2008 version of the ZZR1400, with which they’ve supposedly resolved the bike’s main problem – a lack of low-end stomp – is it now finally the greatest Ninja ever built? Twenty years from now, would people go all misty-eyed when they remember the 2008 Kawasaki ZZR1400 Ninja? Because they sure as hell do, when they talk about the original heavy-hitter from Kawasaki – the 1990s ZZR1100 Ninja.
Here on Faster and Faster, we’ve written about the endlessly fascinating ZZR1100 before. A peak power output of 123bhp [145bhp, claimed] and a top speed of around 275km/h don’t sound hugely impressive today, but back in 1990, the ZZR1100 must have been an absolute revelation. It was a worthy successor to the 1988 ZX-10 (110bhp, 250km/h top speed), which itself came after the 1984 GPZ900R (100bhp, 240km/h), the first truly ‘modern-era’ sportsbike from Kawasaki.
But coming back to the ZZR1100, how does the bike compare to the ZZR1400? Recently, we happened to come across a copy of the June 2006 issue of PB magazine, which has an excellent story on the two Ninjas. PB buys a much-used ZZR1100 for US$1,900 and their writer, Dale Lomas, rides it from the UK to Germany for the press launch of the ZZ41400. ‘It’s gritty, lumpy and thoroughly unsanitised. I love it and I hate it in one great, big, ambivalent, emotional gush,’ says Lomas.
The story moves to Germany, where Lomas meets Kawasaki’s Yuji Horiuchi, the ZZR1400’s Project Leader, and someone who had also worked on the ZZR1100. Talking about the ZZR1400, Horiuchi says ‘The new bike captures the spirit of the ZZR. We have built this as the benchmark. The flagship. This is Kawasaki!’
Later, having ridden both bikes back to back, Lomas says ‘The old 1100 feels like a monster. It’s smooth, organic and torquey enough to spin the 170-section tyre if you’re not careful. You know you’re riding a powerful bike when you tootle the 1100 around.’
Of the 1400, he says ‘By contrast, the 1400 feels like one of those big-capacity, small-output bikes that manufacturers pitch at the size-conscious Japanese market. All weight, no torque!’ Ouch! And wait, here’s more – ‘The most amazing thing about the new ZZR is the lack of ferocity below 5000rpm. Under this, it feels like a pussycat,’ says Lomas.
However, when he finally gets to fully open the taps on the 1400, there’s redemption in store for the ZZR1400. ‘The step in power at 6000rpm is like a sheer cliff, ascending a thousand feet into the clouds. This isn’t a bike – it’s a personal teleporter,’ gushes an obviously over-awed PB writer. ‘On cam, the ZZR1400 is an unstoppable force. The concentration required to use its power is draining. But it’s satisfying and life-affirming,’ is how Lomas sums it up.
Coming back to the ZZR1400’s lack of low-end torque, while the PB story is about 18 months old, Motorcycle-USA’s test of the 2008 ZZR1400 says, ‘After a few minutes in the saddle, it is easy to confirm the ZX [the ZZR1400 is labeled ZX-14 in the US] has tossed aside its velvet glove approach to making power for a more manic one, which culminates in a claimed increase to 203 horsepower.’
M-USA’s Ken Hutchison, who rode the 2008 ZZR1400, says, ‘Twist the throttle on this bike and it makes power with authority right out of the gate. No more easing into it, no more pussy-footing around. Hooligans will be happy to know it wheelies with less effort and speed-junkies will revel in the quicker acceleration once that light goes green. Kawasaki's department of mind-boggling motors has returned to its age-old philosophy of offering big, bad-ass bikes to those folks who like to let the good times roll.’
Great, so Kawasaki have cured the ZZR1400 and given it the low-end rush of power that you’d expect from their flagship sportsbike. Umm… but we still think the ZZR1100 is the cooler of the two. Certainly, the 1400 would be quicker, faster, and more powerful. It would also have better brakes and suspension. But for us, 123 horsepower and 275km/h in the year 1990 is a bit more impressive than a claimed 200bhp [usually 170 – 175 horsepower on the dyno, in most bike magazine tests…] and 300km/h in the year 2008.
If we could have a brand-new ZZR1100 today, we’d take that over the ZZR1400. And let’s just leave it at that…
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