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Terminal Velocity

Road test & photos by Adrian Percival

Some people say that any bike with this sort of power and performance is not needed on today’s roads, I say s*d that just give me more. This bike is awesome in every respect, it has a presence, power in abundance and incredible speed but of course it’s no lightweight. Everything about this bike is large, from the monster brakes to the truck like dimensions of the exhaust can, yep everybody knows you’re there, but not for long!!

So the Lord said “make haste and take it down your favourite 14 mile stretch of road", so I did – a few times! Now I have ridden that road more times than I care to remember on numerous bikes as varied as a vintage Sunbeam to Gixxer 1000’s, but I have to say that it was the fastest 14miles of B**** that I have ever done!

The acceleration of the ZX12R is nothing short of incredible. In true Kawasaki tradition this engine, which produces over 175BHP is more than ready to take on all comers, anywhere, anytime. With truckloads of power and torque on tap, the ZX-12R accelerates out of corners at an incredible pace, the huge 200 section rear tyre digging deep to put all that power down to the road. Its deep and powerful sound that accompanies the rapid acceleration is the acoustic complement to the wind noise ripping through your helmet as you gain momentum at a frightening pace. Passing cars? No problem. Twist the throttle in any gear and reach Warp factor 12 a few moments later, downshift and nail it and you may see God! I quickly found the arm-straightening power intoxicating and difficult to resist, so much so that on a quiet stretch of unrestricted Autobahn I was alarmed when glancing down at the speedo to see a reading of 190mph, and I had only just changed up to 6th! At these speeds, the excellent wind protection of the big ZX12R was much appreciated

It’s on the twisting A & B roads that big, powerful bikes like this are usually most challenged, but even though the ZX12R tips the scales at a mighty 213kg (that’s 43kg more than a GSX-R1000), the ZX carries the extra bulk well. Steering rake has been increased to a rather steep 23.5 degrees, and the fork offset has been reduced, thus providing improved, and much quicker turn-in characteristics. The changes made to the 12R chassis revolved around shifting the weight forward in the interest of keeping the front end planted, and it seems to have worked since it absolutely no problems running alongside and in front of its track-happy lightweight brethren. When attacking a truly twisty road, it came as a welcome revelation that the ZX was actually capable of being flicked from side to side without an inordinate amount of muscle. When pushed hard in slow speed corners, the additional weight does finally become noticeable, but nothing to really get wound up about. The ZX12R is not designed to shine in the track oriented lightweight class a-la GSXR, R1, Blade etc, but the fact that it pulls its own weight so well (slight pun there) is just a bonus. I doubt a bike like this will be regularly ridden that hard on roads that tight by the majority of prospective owners, so only those mad enough to take it to a track day are likely to complain about its weight. They shouldn’t have bought one in the first place then!

In the interest of keeping that awesome power to a manageable and more useable level, the crankshaft weight has been increased by 2kg, which is partly responsible for the smoother delivery. A new oval-shaped pulley operates a bank of 46mm throttle bodies, helping the rider feed fuel gradually to give smoother throttle response when first cracked open. The new ram-air intake has now been cleverly incorporated into the front cowling to create a more aesthetically pleasing nose, while the 30% increase to its surface area makes the system more functional than the snorkel like intake it replaces. The new bike thus has an absolutely linear power delivery and has got rid of that slightly annoying ‘hunting’ feeling when cruising at normal speeds. Although the bodywork on the new bike has only been slightly tweaked, it does benefit from a one-point reduction in drag coefficient letting it slide through the air easier (as if it needs to!). The 12R still retains the wings on the lower fairing, which effectively do nothing, but they do give you something to talk to the spectators about. “Yes sir, those help to keep the bike stable at speeds over 150mph, just like a Porsche rear wing really.”

The majority of the aluminium monocoque frame is hidden deep beneath the bodywork, but the portion of the design that is left uncovered is innovative enough to keep the onlookers entertained. The powder-coated alloy frame and the flat-black plastic covers blend together well with the look-a-like carbon fibre exposed fuel cell. Spent fuel exits through the stainless steel headers of the 4-2-1 system before being quietened by that huge square footage of gleaming end can delivering the finishing touch on the new-look mega Ninja.Once its time to slow this cruise missile down then an awesome set of 6-piston Tokico calipers and 320mm discs scrub off your speed very quickly. With the kind of velocity this bike generates, it's good to know you've got the tools to slow it down.

Once you have arrived at your destination (namely my favourite café for afternoon tea!) and you have gathered your senses, you may then begin to notice some of the little things that make this bike functional. The dash has a digital display with the fuel gauge, two trip meters, an odometer and a clock, all of which are handy stuff no matter who you are or where you’re riding. The traditional analogue tacho and speedo look good and are easy to read whether you’re tucked in or cruising along. Changing gear on the ZX couldn’t be any easier with its 6-speed box being as smooth as anything I have ridden. The improved characteristics come courtesy of an increased shaft diameter that reduces clearance between the gear selectors for a more precise feel. With the exception of one false neutral between 4th and 5th, the gearbox was fantastic throughout our test proceedings. The clutch was also easy to operate, with a relatively light and positive action, and the lever pull wasn’t tough enough to warrant any complaints

With nary a curve that can't be taken at over a ton (he say’s, getting use to it now), the redesigned ZX12R felt smooth and planted. Up front, the 120/70-17 Dunlop is situated between adjustable 43mm inverted forks, which are stiffer than those of the previous model. This change and the new 5mm-shorter shock compliment the latest chassis alterations. So what is the 2002 Kawasaki ZX-12R good for? Just about everything you can think of. It's smooth, very comfortable and, of course, is faster than anything you have ever ridden before. The Mega Ninja can be thrashed (if you can) down any A or B road or it can help you tap into terminal velocity on an unrestricted bit of German Autobahn near you.The ZX-12R is an excellent mix of touring comfort and sports performance. However, inexperienced riders seriously need not apply. But if you've got a few years riding under your belt, the ZX12R is the wild card ride for you. The biggest cost to any ZX12R riders may be their licenses!!


This bike is an asphalt-consuming beast, an Exocet missile and is by far the most exciting bike that I have ever ridden. It annihilates everything on the road no matter how large or small. Not only does it look good with its updated bodywork but its wickedly powerful and great fun to ride.

Bottom line, If you own a smaller displacement sportsbike and get the urge to outrun a ZX12R owner down your favourite road, just make sure it’s not their favourite road too, you might be in for a big surprise as a couple of R1’s were! If you want fun and long distance riding, this bike is the one for you, just watch your license!

Tech Specs

  • Faster than almost any other vehicle on the road.
  • Loads of power & torque.
  • Great Brakes.
  • Speed is limited to only 186 mph.
  • Feels lighter than it really is.
  • Can still be detected by radar.
  • Draws crowds wherever you go.
  • I want one - permanently!

Motorbikes Today Rating

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

Overall Rating: 5 star



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