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The Trans-Continental Express is now leaving from Platform 1

Road test and photographs by Adrian Percival

Some years ago I owned the predecessor to this bike, the ZZR1100, and then I thought that it was the fastest Sports Tourer around. But having just had a new ZZR 1200, the old model has just been blitzed by this exceptional machine. The powerband is wide and smooth, and the acceleration (particularly, above 5,000 rpm) is literally breathtaking. This is now clearly the fastest "sport tourer" we have ever ridden. That fact remains unchanged after the introduction of shaft-driven competitors from both Yamaha and Honda. Yamaha will definitely come close with the FJR1300, but as we currently have one on test we’ll let you know soon! When I collected this bike from Kawasaki I also got a ZRX1200, needless to say I couldn’t ride them both back so I picked them up with my car and trailer, and boy did I feel the weight of both these bikes trailing behind. A grand total of about ½ a ton of motorcycles is enough to make you realise that you may just have to cruise it back on the M40!On first impression you might dismiss the ZZR1200 as just a revamp of a decade old design, not so, there are so many changes it really is a new model. The ZZR1200 does have some components derived from the old 1100, although not identical. Most notably, the new twin spar aluminium frame as well as different steering geometry, a different subframe and swingarm, and the engine (which was completely re-engineered and was introduced in the Kawasaki ZRX1200R last year). The ZZR1200 is a new design in its own right, only carrying over a few design elements from one of the fastest production motorcycles ever manufactured.

Now don’t get me wrong but this is a ‘BIG’ motorcycle. Not only is it long but it’s also heavy at 236kg dry, and with its 1.5mtr wheelbase you would think it would be somewhat ponderous on A & B roads. When you get on it the first thing you notice is a huge ‘car style’ dash with almost every gauge and gizmo on it! It integrates well with the almost total protection fairing, which became obvious a little later when I got caught in a heavy downpour! The second thing you notice when you ride this bike is the immensely powerful engine, and after just a few miles on the ZZR it becomes obvious that this bike is not as first impressions would have you believe. The handling has a fluid feel to it and is responsive, it’s total stability in corners gives you great confidence, and it actually turns in with the greatest of ease (which belies its size and weight). The ZZR actually has light steering, and has the ability to change direction like a smaller, lighter machine. This bike definitely has more handling potential than most sports tourers would care to try.

The engine in the ZZ-R is an absolute gem in more ways than one. It is to some extent related to the engine found in the ZRX1200R, but surprisingly the ZZR version of this motor delivers even more power! The better breathing with the twin exhausts and the several other changes to the engine all seem to have helped in giving this bike an enormous 158bhp. Now displacing a total of 1164 cc, the ZZR has a new cylinder head design, with a new water jacket and bolt layout. Rocker arms are now sintered-tipped, rather than chrome-tipped, for longer life and less friction. The pistons in the ZZR are also a new low-friction design containing reinforcing ribs a-la ZX-12R. Twin fuel pumps are also used each feeding a pair of cylinders making sure plenty of fuel reaches the large and powerful motor, and 4 downdraft 40 mm carburettors controlled by Kawasaki’s K-TRIC throttle position sensor system now feed the cylinders.

The ZZR1200 has a huge capacity to eat up the miles in total comfort, and at ballistic speeds (if you want to), but it is an absolute doddle to just cruise around and do some genuine touring. The new riding position is pretty comfortable on a long trip, yet still relatively sporty. The seat shape does tend to push the rider forward a bit on longer rides but the wind protection from the all new fairing is outstanding and a clear cut above any sportsbike. The mirrors are wide enough to be useful, and are almost vibration free. So an extremely smooth ride, a strong, torquey motor, and good fuel economy makes for a great tourer. On my first proper tank-to-tank run I was pleasantly surprised to see just under 200 miles from the 23ltr fuel tank, not at all bad for a 1200! In the same vane though I also got just under 125 miles from it when I was returning back from Germany and just happened to be on an open empty motorway. The throttle fiend kicked in and in no time at all I found myself cruising at ridiculous speeds. I can now honestly say that even with luggage on the back it will cruise all day at 175mph. Needles to say that tank of fuel didn’t last long (about 40mins in reality!).

This is a very fast motorcycle, and the brakes are up to the task at hand. I would rate the brakes, overall, in the "good" to "very good" category, maybe just behind that of the current crop of sportsbikes. But with 320 mm discs up front brake upgrades are easy and relatively affordable. A simple change in pad material and the fitting of steel-braided lines would yield all the stopping power you are ever likely to need. As delivered, the brakes are very linear, with good feel, but require a strong pull on the lever when braking hard. The rear brake is a 250mm rotor with the caliper lifted straight from the awesome ZX12R. The illumination at night is also very good. The dual-H4 bulbs and multi-reflector headlight design gives a good spread of light on dip beam albeit a bit low in standard setting. The ZZR does have a remote headlight height adjustment mechanism, but it is not the easiest thing to get to under the new fairing. Sports tourers carry passengers and/or luggage (bags will be available) and do really need this feature, because the added weight can significantly raise the beam angles. This is offset to some extent however by the remote preload adjuster that does help to keep the ride height stable after adding the extra weight. The main beam performance though is nothing short of stunning. I can honestly say that I wish I had lights that good on my car!!

Overall the styling was given the ‘thumbs up’ by most people, but it was the rear of the bike that gave mixed reaction. I quite like it as it’s different and it gets rid of those unsightly indicators on rubber stalks. Most bike designers seem to just say ‘oops I forgot to put indicators on it, let’s just put these on’ getting them straight from the 1980’s old parts bin! Come on guys sort out our bike indicators and make them all part of the design.


The ZZR1200 is a very capable and highly interesting choice for a sports cum tourer style of bike, and very surprising in many ways. It is far more than a "warmed over" ZZR 1100, and would be a good choice for the rider looking to hang with his sportsbike mates on those Sunday blasts around the countryside. With this bike you get much greater comfort and versatility, and in the same vane very few bikes will walk away from the ZZR1200 in a straight line. I can really only think of only two other bikes that would seriously give this latest creation from Kawasaki a run for it’s money and those include Kawasaki's own ZX12R and Suzuki's Hayabusa. Ridden well, the ZZR will hang to just about anything on any A or B road, and at the same time it provides a great platform for long distance touring, with or without a passenger. Yes the Transcontinental Express is back – big time!

Tech Specs

  • Engine size: 1164cc DOHC 16v in-line 4
  • Claimed power: 158bhp
  • Claimed torque: 92ft-lb
  • Weight: 236kg
  • Tank capacity: 23lt
  • Seat height: 800mm
  • Wheelbase: 1500mm
  • Service interval: 8000mls
  • Ins group: 16


Motorbikes Today Rating

  • Engine: 5 star
  • Braking: 4 star
  • Comfort: 5 star
  • Handling: 3 star
  • Fun factor: 3 star

Overall Rating: 4 star


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