Monday, December 17, 2007

War of the Ninjas: Kawasaki ZZR1100 vs ZZR1400


The 1990s Kawasaki ZZR1100. Mysterious, black, very cool, very, very fast...

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.’


The Kawasaki ZZR1400. 200bhp, 300km/h top speed. It'll blow you into the weeds

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…

More Kawasakis:
Kawasaki ZXR750: The real deal!
Kawasaki GPZ750 Turbo: Blow hard...
Supercharged Kawasaki ZRX1200: Blown away!
Fast past: Gary Nixon rides the Kawasaki ZX-RR...
Faster and faster: Kawasaki ZZR1400 Turbo!
2008 Kawasaki ZX-10R: Extreme performance...
Face off: 1988 Kawasaki ZX-10 vs 2004 ZX-10R!

External links:
Bikers, you're going to love this!!
And here's something for fans of the Triumph Daytona 955i...
Motorcycle-USA: Ducati 848 first ride...

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't know much about either bikes, but good to know that you guys at Faster and Faster don't subscribe to "Newer is always better."

You just earned yourself a few more brownie points!!

Anonymous said...

The only reason the ZZR 1400 lacked low end punch was Kawasaki's decision to totally choke off the throttle bodies with secondary butterflies that don't open until 6,000 rpm or so. Removing them is a piece of cake and turns the bike into the brute it has always wanted to be. Just be sure to remap the FI. Once comparison I saw showed a 28% increase in torque up to 5,000 rpm on the dyno. Absolutely love mine.

hardboiled said...

I had a zzr1100 to. It was just plain nutz on acceleration. I dare say the 1400 would be better but both bikes will out do the rider anytime. So the real question is...

"How big are your balls?"

hardboiled said...

Just one last thing to add about the zzr1100. It's a nightmare in the cross winds of flat Cambridgeshire.

Anonymous said...

To the writer of this shootout, who said ..."If we could have a brand-new ZZR1100 today, we’d take that over the ZZR1400."
I may well be able to help you out, as I have a 1994 D1 that has been in storage after covering just under 290 miles.
Yes, you did read the mileage correct!
Will be taking it to the Copdock Motorcycle Show later this year, and may well be open to offers.

Anonymous said...

I too had a 1994 zzr1100 and loved it, the sheer grunt and speed of the bike just blew your mind every time you opened it up, but that was not the only thing I enjoyed about it. To me it was and probably still is one of the few real sports tourers ever made. In that I mean it was more sports than tourer, but if you wanted to you could cover long distances very quickly with reasonable comfort. Not only that, it gave you excellent mileage to boot, 50mpg plus if you just doddle along at the posted speed limit. But wait there’s more, if you had a partner you could take them as well and still have enough space to carry more than just a spare pair of undies as a change of clothes. The ZZR1100 did all things very well. I to would buy another one if Kawasaki would bring it out again, albeit with a few up dated changes.

killerchef said...

Zzr1100 was first love...unique look and brute power then..after 300000 km still does not miss a beat and rests in garage now..got hayabusa 2008 now...and boy..technology has come a long way

Anonymous said...

I have a ZZR1100 1994, and it still goes as hard as ever! A friend of mine bought a new Blackbird 1100 and the ZZR put it to shame.
Would buy a new one tomorrow if they bring them back!

Anonymous said...

I have a 93 D1 and love every shoulder pulling, back breaking, wrist aching mile I have ever done on it. It was and still is a beast of a bike and I would take one any day over a modern softie, smoothy, clinical 14

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