Special K: Project ZX-7R

The Kawasaki ZX-7R is overweight, lardy and obsolete. Just like Bert in fact. But take both of these old buggers, strip them bare (well, maybe just the bike), put them on the track and what do you get? Carnage, probably. Behold Bertie's project ZX-7R

In this pothole covered, copper-infested, diesel-strewn, Gatso-riddled sceptic tank we call the United Kingdom, enjoyment on two wheels is increasingly frowned upon.

Trackdays are the antidote to this malady, but it's disconcerting to see nine grand's worth of superbike scraping its wallet-wrenching way into the gravel after just two laps of the first session of the day. Thankfully, there is a solution. Buy an old banger and whack it on the track with minimum of outlay. The golden rules being to keep it simple and keep it cheap. But which machine? What you want is something that's been around for ages, is proven and yet has hardly changed in that time. This would mean plentiful availability of spares for when you bin it, as well as good base settings and all-round know-how for tuning engine and suspension.

Personally I've always had a soft spot for Kawasakis and especially the ZX-7R. Since the late 1980s, I've watched spellbound as a succession of madmen have raced the inline-four ZXR and later the ZX-7R with varying degrees of success against the dominant twins in domestic and World Superbike. David versus Goliath. I liked that. And while I'm more of a Goliath than a David in size, the thought of a ZX-7R trackie worked for me on a number of levels.

Firstly, they've been around and unchanged since the launch in late '95, which means oodles of cheap machines and parts around. Secondly, since then they've been raced very competitively in the hands of privateers, which means they have the potential to be great track machines while assorted racers will have some cheap odds and sods knocking about. Thirdly, while 'neon bogey crush' has never been the new black for any debonair autumnal collection, there are few more stirring sights and sounds in racing than an angry green-meanie screaming its tits off on full-chat through Craner Curves...

Over the years the ZX-7R has sold steadily and built up a cult following thanks to virtues including its planted front-end, reliable and tunable engine and quality standard suspension. The downside is that at 203 kilos, it - like my chunky self - is a porky sod. This pork we should be able to slice off by ditching lights, mirrors, clunky stock bodywork, pipe, etc, and replacing them with wafer-thin race clothes and a freer-breathing system.

A trawl through the classifieds revealed a good few possibilities, but many were either immaculate examples (Kawasaki owners are a proud bunch) or too new and too expensive. But, after a few weeks of searching I found the perfect match. It was a P-reg 7R, in green which had been crashed then bought cheap with the purpose of being put back on the road. Alas, it had been left to fester as the bloke struggled with a problematic personal life (read 'woman') and the big Kwak became the sad victim of an 'it or me' moment. I commiserated with the poor sod, before parting with £1,200 for the bike and bits. Considering an average condition runner would have set me back £2,200 privately, I was happy.

Next up was to sort out some racy bits and pieces. Brand-new bodywork with Sistine Chapel paint was out of my league. Instead, I turned to the racing classifieds for inspiration.

Bingo. A box of 'nearly-new' race bodywork was going for a grand, including a race tacho, two full side fairings, race tank, race tail-unit, one front fairing and other bits and bobs. A phone call revealed an Akrapovic race pipe, race radiator, flat-slide carbs and two green road wheels were also included. More haggling saw me part with £850.

My next problem - I'm not good with the old spanners. Adjusting the chain on my Raleigh Grifter, circa 1979, would result in an oddment of leftover wing-nuts and self-tappers. Best get a bloke who can wield the tools with the manual dexterity of a 70s porn starlet playing the skin flute, while at the same time having small enough hands to get into the sorts of nooks and crannies that my old Cumberlands couldn't. Enter, stage left, our own road testing 'Diddy' Daryll Young. Daryll comes highly recommended, having raced competitively, spannering his own bikes in the process and running a successful bike shop for 17 years. There's nowt he doesn't know about bikes. He's also cheap...

Firstly we had to assemble the bare bones of the bike. Time for a reality check as we found that some of the saucy race bits were actually fairly useless. Like the flat-slide carbs which had lots of screws and bits missing. We reasoned this wasn't such a problem as the standard carbs properly set up (a must on the 7R) would probably work better and give us a more useable midrange. But the biggest bummer was the race rad. It's seriously gorgeous and featherlight, but some bonehead had angle-grinded off one of the elbow joints, leaving me with the prospect of sourcing an expensive standard rad and fan set-up, as the bike I'd bought didn't have one.

Salvation came about by hanging around the pits at Donington Park at the final British Superbike round. Two superb fourth places for Glen Richards obviously put the Hawk Kawasaki mob in a good mood, and a bit of begging, bowing and scraping at the back of the pits from me saw the promise of a new elbow joint being welded to the rad. Doubtless if you're handy with welding gear you could do the same. We left the radiator with them and carried on with the clean-up operation.

My big worry when buying the bike was the state of the thing. It was dirty as hell, so while pulling apart all the various bits and pieces, I cleaned them all using Yoshimoto's range of cleaning products. Yoshimoto supplied the mag with a load of cleaning stuff ages ago so I took the opportunity of 'liberating' a can of each for home use. They do everything from bug-shifting Purple Helmet polish, through to chain lubes, contact cleaners and brake cleaner. All have daft names but all work. Despite the a spruce up the rear shock still looks a bit rusty, so I may have to get Maxton to revalve and respring it, which will cost around £150. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and buy a replacement.

Slapping the bike together we used genuine Kawasaki parts for sensitive areas like oil filters and gaskets, but not for chain and sprockets. We lowered the standard 16/43 gearing set-up to a 15/44 with Renthal sprockets to step up acceleration a touch - on most tracks it's getting to 130mph that counts, rather than having a 160mph top end...

On the electrics front, the original wiring loom stays, although the clocks were disconnected and the race tacho put in their place. We then plugged the tacho in and bagged up the un-necessary wires and zip-tied 'em to the clock mounting. The rear part of the loom was again pulled back and zip-tied then secured under the tail unit.

The lightweight tank looks the business, giving a real race bike feel but it does cause a slight problem because try as we might, the standard airbox will not fit under it. For the purposes of tuning we were going to change the panel filter anyway, but now it's looking likely that race filters will have to be used.

By now the bike was starting to look like a race machine, although we still have to sort a few things out before it turns a wheel in anger in time for next month's track test, where we (hope) to get our own Niall Mackenzie and Hawk Kawasaki's Glen Richards on board to see what they think of it. Before then I have to get the bike running properly with its stage one tune.

This means taking it to PDQ in Slough for some dyno time. It's going to cost, but a few hours on the dyno along with a DynoJet kit and K&N filters should mean a good power curve and an answer once and for all as to whether that gloriously sexy Akrapovic race system will work with the standard-ish motor.

In addition, I'm angling at getting a good 'bulk-buy' deal for some other bits and pieces such as PDQ's new Race Tech DIY fork revalve kit and some rearsets.

I'd love to replace the six-pot Tokicos with something a bit better, but I'm going to have to settle for a pad change for now. The spare green road wheels have been slotted in, carrying the old slicks they came with (they look great), but the purple wheels will probably get a set of wets for those rainy track days ahead. Can't bloody wait.