Kawasaki ZX-14R – Road Test

When it comes to top speed and acceleration, the ZX-14R is a brutal machine. But it also has a gentle, practical side, as our reviewers discovered.

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Tester 1: Eugene Herbert – Boardroom assessment and fair-weather rider

While it is true that many riders enjoy Harley-Davidson and related cruisers, they have never been the benchmark of riding freedom, in my humble opinion. Many other riders favour the stance of the upright dual-purpose bikes, ideal for lane splitting as their mirrors tend to be slightly above most car mirrors.

Because so many riders gravitate towards these two classes it’s easy to forget the gran turismo two-wheeler – like the delightful straight-six BMW 1600 GT, Suzuki’s peregrine falcon (or ugly duckling?) or bargain Triumph 1050 Sprint ST. Or this Kawasaki.

The ZX-14R easily bridges the gap between superbike and efficient road bike or tourer – all the while catering for the “hooligan” element.

The re-engineered motor is immensely powerful, with ample traction, so there’s no point in switching off the intelligent traction control.

The ZX is probably one of the more “forgiving” bikes in this league as the package inspires confidence, whether screaming down the road (all safety factors considered). The secret to its broad appeal comes from embracing technologies like rider-selectable ignition maps and traction control, that add more usability for a wide range of riders and riding styles.

While testing is ideally done over the weekend it inevitably must be weighed up in the context of a commuting. While I haven’t ridden many bikes in the last year (thank knee replacement surgery) this ride was surprisingly comfortable as the leg angle at no time felt excessive or constrictive. This of course is thanks to the whole design, including the fairing package, which offers functional benefits as well as aesthetic ones. The seat, for instance, offers excellent thigh support and helps make it easy for shorter riders to reach the ground – both feet planted while standing at the traffic lights.

Particularly noticeable in the summer months is the absence of excessive heat as the bodyworks’ venting system effectively extracts heated air from the engine bay and away from the rider and passenger.

Using the bike as a commuter allows more time to reflect on the instruments and controls which are fully up to the latest standards, with a multi-function switch on the left handlebar that handles all system functions, most of which weren’t even used on the city drive. Yes, concentration on the road and on other drivers does ensure safe arrival at the office. The rider can toggle the LCD screen using the upper/lower buttons, and easily scroll through fuel consumption, remaining range, external temperature, traction control and so on, choosing and adjusting functions using the Select button in the center of the toggle switch. There’s even an Eco indicator on the LCD screen that shows the riders when he’s getting maximum economy and mileage. All in all quite smart.

Freedom and ease of commuting is one of the reasons I ride bikes and given the sheer size of the ZX I was expecting to meet some challenges in negotiating traffic. (What motorist is not envious of a biker – who makes easy work of a traffic jam as they trundle to the front – and then speed away?) Which brings me to the point – mostly easy, provided one remembers the fat exhaust pipes sticking out of the sides which could cause some embarrassment by wedging between two “hot hatches” which, by the way, probably produce the same power as the ZX (each).

Initially the ZX-14R wasn’t a bike I would have considered versatile and manageable enough to satisfy the needs of a an older rider. But regardless of its size and power it was forgiving and maneuverable at speed and idling. Yet it maintained a degree of edginess and sensuality to make it an appealing ride.

 

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Tester 2: Derek Kirkby – Superbike trainer and weekend fan

The Kawasaki ZZR 1400 SE aka ZX-14R is an extremely powerful machine, with its 1441cc motor pushing out roughly 147.2 kW (with an increase to 154,5 kW under the ram intake) and 162.5 Nm of torque. Who wouldn’t love this kind of grunt?

With all this power comes safety features like ABS, KTRC (Kawasaki Traction Control) and three power settings. These settings range from full to decreased power and the option of having full traction control active or no safety features – for those who want maximum excitement on the racetrack.

The full power no traction control setting is a bit wild in some instances and possibly only recommended to be selected on the race track where you have more traction and safety areas. Commuting in traffic the bike felt nimble enough to lane split and at low commuting speeds the temperature stayed around the 86 degree mark, which is quite good considering that I rode it on hot weather days.

The engine has no vibration at low or high speed and the way the engine is placed makes the ZZR a very well balanced motorcycle for its size. While riding on the freeway in 6th gear at about 115km/h it was just a matter of twisting the throttle for instant acceleration, with no need to gear down. The riding position is very comfortable and unlike a true superbike one is not lying on the tank, with all that pressure on the wrists. The seat height is well suited to short riders.

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On a long trip there is little space for luggage although they do give you the two luggage hooks tucked under the seat. The fuel tank capacity limits long trips between fill-ups. An extra 5 litres added by means of extending the tank into the frame might be a future option. In addition I would have liked to see the indicators incorporated into the mirrors to improve visibility.

A very versatile and exciting open class bike perfect for a track day, long touring trips and as a commuter. And its styling will definitely turn heads on the   breakfast run. A lot of bike for your buck.

Specifications

  • Engine – 1441cc liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder
  • Gearbox – 6-speed, X-Ring chain
  • Power – 147 kW (200 PS) at 10000 rpm (Max. power with Ram Air: 154 kW at 10 000 rpm)
  • Torque – 162 Nm @ 7 500 rpm
  • Weight – 268 kg (wet)
  • Top speed – 300 km/h (limited)
  • Seat height – 800 mm
  • Ground clearance – 800 mm
  • Fuel capacity – 22 litres
  • Fuel consumption – unavailable
  • Warranty and servicing – 2-year warranty with 12 000 km service intervals
  • Price – R189 995
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