has always managed to squeeze eyebrow-raising power and speed from
its 899cc engine. Top speeds of the ZX-9R since it’s launch
in 1994 have either been class leading, or right in the thick of
the superbike group. In recent years Kawasaki's big Ninja has been
relegated to the back of the pack and sent off as a sports tourer,
but what a difference a (model) year makes. We were able to have
a ZX9R on test for a couple of weeks courtesy of Paul Cross, Marketing
Manager of Kawasaki in Bourne End, and upon collection had a brief
run-down of the features on the new bike.
are last year's six-piston Tokico calipers, with newly designed,
four piston Nissin calipers in their place. Larger discs now measure
320mm, and with those powerful calipers clamping on the rotors
there’s a lot of initial bite, which took a little adjusting
to, but it was a very linear progression making it both controllable
and very reassuring. Two fingers are all that’s required
to get you hauled down from the ballistic speeds this bike is
capable of. It is quite possibly the best front brake we have
ever experienced on a standard motorcycle, but it’s definitely
one that requires considerable respect from the less experienced
rider. Now we’ve covered the amazing stopping power, it’s
time for the "go" part?
There’s nothing really different about
the four-cylinder engine, it is still DOHC four valves per cylinder
lump and continues to have the highest compression ratio of any
superbike at 12.2:1, but is fed by a new set of 40mm Keihin CV
carburettors for this year. It also has Kawasaki's Throttle Responsive
Ignition Control (K-TRIC) system which calculates the optimum
ignition timing for any throttle setting and helps get the most
from the fuel/air mixture on each power stroke. The motor now
spins up quicker due to the modifications to the flywheel. A smaller
diameter and an addition of 10% to the weight of the flywheel
reduces the gyroscopic effect. This doesn’t hurt the ridability
of the big Ninja and it seems to help the handling in some ways.
The ram-air system is still in the same position as last years
bike and feeds the carbs from under the headlight. This gives
the ZX9 a definite growl when you open the throttle wide, so much
so that that’s where it tends to be most of the time! The
power delivery seems to extend from just above tick-over to its
12,500rpm redline, not only that but what’s delivered comes
with a hefty amount of torque making this bike a ideal candidate
for long distance runs.
from the brakes, the frame and suspension are the most noticeable
improvements to the new ZX9R. The front forks seem to be a little
on the soft side with factory settings, but have plenty of adjustment
to accommodate all types of riding. Damping, rebound and compression
are all well matched to the bike for the road, and it has adjusters
that do actually have an effect. The swingarm on this year’s
bike is all new. It has been strengthened by 20% and is now a
hexagonal, rather than square cross-section, and is also braced.
The shock linkage has had its ratios adjusted and is now far more
linear as the rear suspension moves through its entire travel.
The rear shock seems to work well and is also very adjustable
in only a few minutes, so track days and passengers don’t
pose any problem. Still at the rear the exhaust now has a Titanium
silencer that has also been repositioned for better (more aggressive)
looks and increased ground clearance.
Having an enormous power output and numerous
back end modifications is all well and good, but can it change
direction and turn in without any groans and awkward moments?
Yes, it can - probably a lot better than you may think! The 2002
ZX-9R has had additional frame stiffening as well. A new front
engine mount has been added nearer to the steering head improving
the engine's function as a stressed member. All the engine mounts
are now solid rather than rubber and this has only been possible
because the engine is so smooth. The new stiffer frame gives quicker
response, and a more precise feel due to changes in the offset
and pitch of the forks (less offset and more pitch). All somewhat
subtle frame changes, but all seem to be very effective over the
previous models. Getting on the bike gives you the immediate feeling
of its size. This bike is not a small bike, compared to its rivals
it is wide, high and with the higher bars and larger fairing you
think it’s not going to be a supersports bike. Its instrumentation
is all analogue, with digital odometer, dual trip meters, clock
and temperature gauge. Turn the ignition key and the instrument
needles climb around the dials and back as everything sets itself.
Crank the choke (yes it’s still a carb motor as I mentioned),
press the starter button and the engine revs to around 3000 rpm.
Adjust the choke lever and bring the idle down to 2000 rpm and
its time to put on your helmet & gloves. By the time that’s
done its ready to ride.
Strong, useable power is the name of the game
with this bike, and its available whenever the engine is running.
This power is delivered with minimal vibration, you just get a
very slight hum coming through
the bars and pegs, just enough to let you know it's running. On
initial acceleration the bike just utilises that torque and literally
takes off, an endless stream of useable power right through the
rev range makes this bike a pleasure to ride both fast or slow.
I found myself staying in much higher gears and using the bikes
torque to just make those ‘overtake’ manouevres, and
rolling on and off the throttle without the need to brake became
the ‘norm’ with the new ZX9R.
We took the ZX9 up to Cadwell
Park together with its little brother the new ZX636 to really try
out the bikes handling and speed capabilities. The new bike worked
very well around the twisting and hilly Cadwell circuit, there were
no real ‘moments’ and the ZX9 gave felt both predictable
and accurate on the steering and gave a good response from the new
suspension set up. Ground clearance is also very good. I only touched
footpeg down once, using the Michelin Pilot Sports fitted to the
test bike right to their edges. Just before I took the bike out
on track I made a few adjustments to the suspension settings, I
adjusted suspension and rear ride height, because the settings that
came on the bike were fine for the road but needed a little stiffening
up for the Cadwell circuit. A little more ride height in the rear,
with less preload and damping on the shock and more preload and
damping up front produced a very balanced motorcycle. Turn in for
a corner was definitely lighter, quicker, and more precise without
being twitchy under hard throttle on the way out. It’s also
fun to experiment with suspension settings and to see just what
difference your new ones actually make, some you win, and some you
lose, you can always put it back to the originals!
The awesome brakes on this bike
also worked really well, they never hinted at fade, or required
more than two fingers to slow you up from ridiculous speeds. Trail
the rear brake into or through a corner, or brake when you discovered
it closing in on you a bit suddenly, it only ever produced a mild
tendency to stand the bike up, which was again very safe and predictable.
The ZX9 is somewhat larger and heavier than
most of its rivals, but this fact alone is sometimes very welcome.
The fairing gave great protection whilst riding but the screen
is not quite as high as I would have liked. It does give you a
bit of buffeting unlike the ZX6 so the only mod here would be
to fit a double bubble windscreen to make the riding pleasure
weight of the bike actually aids in smoothing the normal road
bumps out, the riding position doesn’t fold you up like
some other Superbikes, and lets you move around on the unusually
comfortable seat. With the slightly higher bar position and the
distribution of the rider’s weight you feel perfectly balanced
on all the bikes contact points. As the bike doesn’t vibrate
there’s no ill effect in the comfort stakes, it can be ridded
for miles without the associated wrist, neck and arm ache. I found
that stops were much less frequent and became a necessity only
due to the tank range. The fuel economy at normal road speeds
(I’m not slow!) is also pretty good, averaging around 140
miles before reserve came in, but you'll need to remember to put
the fuel tap back to normal (Yes I forgot!) as there is no fuel
warning light, only the trip odometer (if you reset it when you
fill up), Kawasaki please put a fuel light on any new bikes!!
If you ever carry a passenger the rear seat
will be fine, it’s comfortable for shorter rides but the
passenger grab rails should have been retained. On the new bike
you will definitely find the passenger getting thrust up against
the rider due to the sheer stopping power of the brakes! The ZX9
also has a somewhat larger than usual rear seat storage area,
and can hold a set of waterproofs, a map, a lock and a whole host
of other things I tend to carry!I really enjoyed riding the new
ZX9R. I especially enjoyed the transformation it made when I adjusted
the suspension settings. Its fast, it’s composed on corners,
its comfortable for long distances and will definitely surprise
some riders of the newer, fuel injected, ultralight Superbikes.
Combine this with the bike's ability to adapt to commuting, as
a sport tourer, a sportsbike, a tracktool, or just going down
to the shops and you have a very attractive package indeed. I
thoroughly rate the ZX9 as an all-round bike, it will almost certainly
become many things to many riders.
a second opinion here!
- Model: ZX900-F1P Ninja ZX-9R
- Engine: 899 cc, Liquid cooled, 16 valves,
- power 144ps,
- 6 gear
- Frame: Aluminium, perimeter style
- Suspension: 46mm cartridge front fork. Aluminium
swingarm, Uni-Trak rear suspension. Both have compression/rebound
damping and preload adjustment.
- Tyres Front: - 120/70-ZR17
- Rear: - 190/50-ZR17
- Brakes: Front - Dual semi floating twin 320mm
discs with opposed 4-piston calipers.
- Rear - Single 220mm disc
- Wheelbase 1417mm
- Seat height 827mm
- Dry Weight: 186 Kg
Motorbikes Today Rating
- Engine 5 star
- Handling 4 star
- Braking 5 star
- Comfort 5 star
- Fun factor 4 star
Overall rating - 4 1/2 star
(if that’s possible!)
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