New for 2012: Kawasaki - First Look

Is the ZX-14R the most-powerful and fastest-accelerating production motorcycle on Earth? Plus, a new frame for the Ninja 650R, KAMS for the Vulcan 1700 Voyager and optional ABS for the Ninja 1000.

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Blame the liability lawyers, but “massively more powerful” is as descriptive as Kawasaki is willing to get regarding the performance of its new-for-2012 ZX-14R. No peak horsepower or torque numbers have been released. Claimed top speed? Forget about it.

Considering its specification sheet, this new machine should be even more of a beast than its predecessor, thanks in large part to a top-to-bottom rework of the previous powerplant. Internal engine updates include a 4mm-longer stroke that boosts displacement from 1352cc to 1441, camshafts with more duration and lift, polished cylinder-head ports, lighter forged pistons cooled by underside oil jets, a beefed-up crankshaft and revised fuel-injection settings. An all-new, catalyzer-equipped exhaust system features shaped and tapered header pipes. The last ZX-14 that Cycle World tested produced 163.7 hp and 103.7 foot-pounds of torque ("Turn & Burn," July, 2008; down from 170.2 hp and 103.8 ft.-lb. of the original '06 model).

About the motorcycle’s actual performance, here’s what we do know: This past September, nine-time world drag-racing champion Rickey Gadson tested a pilot-production ZX-14R at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That NHRA-certified quarter-mile strip is located 3700 feet above sea level, and ambient temperature on that particular day was 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Gadson’s best pass was an uncorrected 9.71 seconds at 147.90 mph, which is both quicker and faster than he claims to have ever gone at that track on any stock, previous-generation ZX-14.

Furthermore, at an eighth-mile track in Barona, California, also more than 3000 feet above sea level, Gadson posted a 6.34-second, 118.87-mph run, likewise uncorrected for altitude. “Almost 119 mph,” he exclaimed. “That’s unbelievable!”

At both venues, Gadson was able to experiment with the ZX-10R-derived, three-mode KTRC traction/wheelie control and new slipper-type clutch. KTRC is controlled by a handlebar-mounted toggle/push switch, and the system’s effects can be seen on a seven-segment bar graph on the cockpit’s liquid-crystal display. There are also two power modes: Full and Low.

Just like on the ZX-10R, Full power and KTRC Setting 1 deliver the least interference and, thus, ultimate performance. “If you whack open the throttle, the bike will stand right up,” said Gadson.   “You have to modulate the clutch and throttle.” If, however, you roll on the throttle smoothly, wheelie control steps in.

Setting 2 increases wheelie control and further reduces rear-wheel slip. “It slowed me down by two-tenths of a second--9.7 to 9.9--and the bike didn’t wheelie,” said Gadson. “You can feel the difference; it’s a slower motorcycle.” Setting 3 turns the brutish 14R into a middleweight, allowing the rider to negotiate even dirt roads without concern. Low power mode provides full performance up to 60 percent throttle opening. Beyond that, just 70 percent of maximum engine output is available. Perfect for those times when you get caught in a sudden downpour.

While the ZX-14R greatly resembles the previous model, allegedly only the taillight is interchangeable. A new quad-headlight assembly and more aggressive nose punctuated by a large, central ram-air duct lead the way, while the four-fin theme along the fairing’s sides has a more pronounced three-dimensional appearance. Revised venting helps to extract heat from the engine bay and away from the rider and passenger. The seat was reshaped for greater support. Actual seat height is the same: 31.5 inches.

According to Kawasaki, more than half of the previous monocoque frame’s aluminum castings and forgings have been modified, the goal being different flex and rigidity characteristics. The swingarm is more heavily gusseted, too, and 10mm longer. Wheelbase is 58.3 inches, an increase of .8 inch. Fork and shock valving are revised for increased bottoming resistance and more sporting performance. All-new 10-spoke wheels are more than 3 pounds lighter a pair than the previous hoops, reducing unsprung weight. Claimed curb weight is 584 pounds, a 17-pound bump. MSRP is $14,699, an $1100 upcharge.

The ZX-14R isn’t the only updated model in Kawasaki’s 2012 streetbike line. The Ninja 650R, Vulcan 1700 Voyager and Ninja 1000 have received improvements, as well, with most of those changes, including a new perimeter-style frame and a more rigid swingarm, going to the middleweight parallel-Twin.

More midrange grunt is claimed, resulting from changes to the exhaust system, and clutch pull is lighter. Ergonomically, the handlebar is .8-inch wider, and the two-piece saddle is thicker and wider. Both are rubber-mounted. Ditto the footpegs. Dunlop Roadsmart II tires are standard. Kawasaki claims a 10 percent increase in maximum carrying capacity from a new backbone-type subframe to go with increased ride comfort from the 41mm fork and preload-adjustable shock.

Moving along, the $17,899 Vulcan 1700 Voyager is equipped with the Kawasaki Air Management System (KAMS), which routes heat from the radiator and rear cylinder/exhaust pipe to the ground. Kawasaki says this system is particularly effective in warm weather while stopped in traffic. Finally, the $11,199 Ninja 1000 is now available with anti-lock brakes for a $700 premium.

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 650R - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look

2012 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 ABS - First Look