First Ride: 2002 Kawasaki ZZ-R1200

I think it's fair to say the old ZZ-R1100 was more than a bit past its sell by date. I last rode one about three years ago, on a flat out European speed mission in the company of a Suzuki Hayabusa and Honda Blackbird.

Posted: 29 March 2008
by Alex Hearn

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.

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