First Ride: 2002 Kawasaki ZZ-R1200

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By Alex Hearn on Sat, 29 Mar 2008 - 06:03

Visordown Motorcycle News


Compared to both - especially the Busa - it felt gutless in the midrange, and was only just a match for the Blackbird up top. And when I say up top, I mean wire tight in sixth gear - irrelevant in the UK but very relevant when you're racing yer mates abroad (er, yeah...). Roll ons - any speed, any gear - left the ZZ-R gasping, sucking fumes and going backwards. Plus the weedy front forks were woefully underdamped and too lightly sprung, leading to wallowing, wobbly vagueness when shoved hard. In all, it felt like a bike designed in a previous decade, which it obviously was.

The old bike is just that. Kawasaki have committed the ZZ-R1100 to the annals of history, the ZZ-R1200C1 is here. The parts bin has been heavily raided, the stylists let loose and a new model birthed. Is it better than the old ZZ-R11? In short, yes, by a very good margin. How does it fare against its peers? Don't know but the new ZZ-R feels firmly back in the running - good news for the legion of die-hard ZZ-R fans who've been itching to trade in their ageing irons.

112cc of extra capacity turns 1,052cc into 1,164cc - or, in other words the basic DOHC 16-valve engine of the ZRX1200 has been transplanted and turned ram-air fed ZZ-R (the original ZZ-R11 motor spawned the ZRX11) Confused? Don't be, it's called model rationalisation, and Kawasaki have specialised in it for years - it also lends a certain history...

So - nuts and bolts. Deep behind the ZZ-R12's familiar satin-black engine finish ZX-12R-style (stronger, redesigned skirt contours) pistons lurk while the crankshaft has been rebalanced to suit the pistons and the all-ally cylinder head runs plated bores. Four Keihin CVKD40 carbs are fed by twin fuel pumps and link throttle position to the digital ignition, further downstream each muffler houses a pair of catalytic converters. The radiator gets a pair of fans blowing through it and - one for the owners' club - the oil sight glass is now on the right hand side of the engine.

Chassis-wise the aluminium beam frame is beefier, the swingarm pivot's been lowered 3.5mm (effectively raising the ride height), the fork rake's been sharpened 1.5¡ to 25¡ and the fork offset reduced 5mm to 30mm - all to speed up the ZZ-R's steering. Front forks are 43mm diameter teles with adjustable spring preload, while the Uni-Trak shock gets new linkage ratios, a remote spring preload adjuster (nice touch) and rebound damping tunability. Stopping the 236kg (dry, claimed) mass are a pair of 320mm discs squeezed by two four-piston Tokico calipers, while a single 250mm disc and twin-piston caliper slow the rear wheel. Wheels are three spokers nicked from the ZRX1200, with the cush drive borrowed from the ZX-12R. The bodywork's all new, obviously and very roundy, curvy touch-feely.

You know you're on a Kawasaki the second the ZZ-R12 cracks into life - the engine's got that raw-edged quality that so defines a Kwaka motah. It's buzzy, a little tingly at some engine speeds (on the over-run mostly) but delivers a ram air'd rasping howl when you twist its tail which drills through your core. And, unsurprisingly, it's damn, plain fast. But usable fast, driving hard off the midrange; with 6,000rpm on the board the thing's cooking and it piles it on from there. Dial up 11,000rpm (where the redline starts) you will be travelling fast - and if you're in top gear the speedo will be indicating 300km/h (186mph). I tried to make it go faster, on a clear bit of peage I tried very hard - helmet under the tank paint and the rest of me tucked in tight. But it refused, that's ya lot... speed limited? Yup.

Like 186mph is slow, I know - the truth is though that unlike some really fast bikes (Kawasaki's ZX-12R for one), you can make good use of the ZZ-R12's engine a lot of the time because it's good and strong everywhere - off the bottom, in the middle and up top. The asthmatic woes of the old ZZ-R11 are banished...

As a Grand Tourer-type motorway and A-road blaster the ZZ-R12 rocks on - it's a solid, dependable bus that never gets out of shape. The suspension is much improved over the previous bike - the forks especially - tauter and firmer, the steering's much sharper too, as are the Tokico four pot calipers bolted to the fork legs. Point and squirt it like a supersports bike and it does come a little unglued, bouncing around just a little too much, its dignified composure disturbed. Make no mistake, this is not a featherweight missile but it will go where you point it and'll scuttle through corners nicely. Connected to that boiling furnace of an engine the chassis as a package works and makes covering a lot of ground - very quickly - very easy, something Honda's Blackbird has specialised in for a long time. And, after a day in its seat I can honestly say the ZZ-R12 is going to be as comfortable as the Blackbird for hounding long hours in the saddle.

The ZZ-R12's looks did grow on me over the course of the launch. I really like the groovy lava lamp lookalike rear light but the front of the bike's a bit uninspired, moonfaced. The view from the saddle is good though; tidy, solid and nicely proportioned. Actually the whole bike wafts solidity and is really well screwed down - it's an honest, much refined product that hangs together really well. And it's still a Kawasaki so has the edgy character that is so addictive for some. At least now, in 2002, and a full 12 years after it spawned the rivals that were to follow it, the ZZ-R12 is back in the hunt as a full-on intercontinental ballistic tourer - about bloody time.

VERDICT

Compared to the old ZZ-R11 the new ZZ-R12 is a vast improvemet. It's also very good at being what it is - a very fast and competent sports tourer.

SPECS

TYPE - SPORTS TOURER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £7695

ENGINE CAPACITY - 1164cc

POWER - 158bhp@9800rpm

TORQUE - 91lb.ft@8200rpm

WEIGHT - 236kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 800mm

FUEL CAPACITY - 21.2L

TOP SPEED - 186mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

Compared to both - especially the Busa - it felt gutless in the midrange, and was only just a match for the Blackbird up top. And when I say up top, I mean wire tight in sixth gear - irrelevant in the UK but very relevant when you're racing yer mates abroad (er, yeah...). Roll ons - any speed, any gear - left the ZZ-R gasping, sucking fumes and going backwards.

Plus the weedy front forks were woefully underdamped and too lightly sprung, leading to wallowing, wobbly vagueness when shoved hard. In all, it felt like a bike designed in a previous decade, which it obviously was.

The old bike is just that. Kawasaki have committed the ZZ-R1100 to the annals of history, the ZZ-R1200C1 is here. The parts bin has been heavily raided, the stylists let loose and a new model birthed. Is it better than the old ZZ-R11? In short, yes, by a very good margin. How does it fare against its peers? Don't know but the new ZZ-R feels firmly back in the running - good news for the legion of die-hard ZZ-R fans who've been itching to trade in their ageing irons.

112cc of extra capacity turns 1,052cc into 1,164cc - or, in other words the basic DOHC 16-valve engine of the ZRX1200 has been transplanted and turned ram-air fed ZZ-R (the original ZZ-R11 motor spawned the ZRX11) Confused? Don't be, it's called model rationalisation, and Kawasaki have specialised in it for years - it also lends a certain history...

So - nuts and bolts. Deep behind the ZZ-R12's familiar satin-black engine finish ZX-12R-style (stronger, redesigned skirt contours) pistons lurk while the crankshaft has been rebalanced to suit the pistons and the all-ally cylinder head runs plated bores. Four Keihin CVKD40 carbs are fed by twin fuel pumps and link throttle position to the digital ignition, further downstream each muffler houses a pair of catalytic converters. The radiator gets a pair of fans blowing through it and - one for the owners' club - the oil sight glass is now on the right hand side of the engine.

Chassis-wise the aluminium beam frame is beefier, the swingarm pivot's been lowered 3.5mm (effectively raising the ride height), the fork rake's been sharpened 1.5° to 25° and the fork offset reduced 5mm to 30mm - all to speed up the ZZ-R's steering. Front forks are 43mm diameter teles with adjustable spring preload, while the Uni-Trak shock gets new linkage ratios, a remote spring preload adjuster (nice touch) and rebound damping tunability.

Click to continue the Kawasaki ZZ-R1200 review

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