When it comes to top speed and acceleration, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R is a brutal machine. But it also has a gentle, practical side, as our reviewers discovered.
Tester 1: Eugene Herbert – Boardroom assessment and fair-weather rider
While it is true that many riders enjoy Harley-Davidsons and related cruisers, they have never been the benchmark of riding freedom, in my humble opinion. Many others favour the upright stance of the adventure 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 the bargain Triumph 1050 Sprint ST. Or this Kawasaki.
The Ninja ZX-14R easily bridges the gap between superbike and efficient road bike or tourer – all the while catering for the “hooligan” element.
The ZX-14R is probably one of the more forgiving bikes in this league as the package inspires confidence when 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 usability for a wide range of riders and riding styles. The re-engineered motor is immensely powerful, with ample traction, so there’s no point in switching off the intelligent traction control.
While road testing testing is ideally done over the weekend the bike must inevitably be weighed up in the context of a commute. While I haven’t ridden many bikes in the last year (thanks to a knee replacement) this ride was surprisingly comfortable as the leg angle at no time felt excessive or constrictive. This is courtesy of 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 allowed time to reflect on the instruments and controls which are fully up to the latest standards. A multi-function switch on the left handlebar 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 centre 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.
Freedom and ease of commuting is one of the reasons I ride bikes and given the sheer size of the ZX-14R, 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 manoeuvrable at speed and idling. Yet it maintained a degree of edginess and sensuality to make it an appealing ride.
Tester 2: Derek Kirkby – Superbike trainer and weekend fan
The Kawasaki ZX-14R is an extremely powerful machine, with its 1 441 cc 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 and no traction control setting is a bit wild and only recommended for 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 it is placed makes the ZX-14R a very 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 in contrast to a true superbike, the rider is not lying on the tank, with all that pressure on the wrists. The seat height is well suited to short riders.
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 would be a welcome development. In addition, I would have liked to see the indicators incorporated into the mirrors, to improve visibility.
The ZX-14R is a versatile and exciting open-class bike for a track day, long touring trips and commuting. And its styling will definitely turn heads on the breakfast run. A lot of bike for your buck.
Specifications of the Kawasaki ZX-14R (2015)
- Engine 1 441 cc liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder
- Gearbox 6-speed, X-Ring chain
- Power 147 kW (200 PS) at 10 000 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
- Fuel capacity 22 litres
- Warranty and servicing 2-year warranty with 12 000 km service intervals
- Price R189 995