Top 10 Best Kawasaki Ninja Motorcycles

In the 40th year of the legendary Kawasaki Ninja, we’re picking out the 10 best examples of the legendary Akashi supersports dynasty...

Jonathan Rea on Kawasaki ZX-10R

2024 marks the 40th anniversary of not just Kawasaki’s game-changing 1984 GPz900R, the bike that set the template for the modern superbike with its 16-valve liquid-cooled engine, but also of the whole Kawasaki ‘Ninja’ dynasty, as the GPz was also the first bike so named.

The bike itself was a ‘no-holds-barred’ machine developed over a full six years with the sole intention of raising the superbike bar to unforeseen new heights. It succeeded – and then some. Its engine and pioneering aerodynamic full fairing helped it towards a ground-braking 150mph+ top speed. Its integrated chassis made it a fine handler, dominating that year’s Production TT. It won countless magazine road tests and machine of the year awards, gained movie fame in the following year’s Top Gun and proved so good it remained in production a full 19 years.

The new Ninja name, however, was first applied only in the US as the suggestion of Kawasaki USA’s director of marketing Mike Vaughan and at first remained an American quirk until the bike’s continued success led to its successor, 1994 ZX-9R, being globally called the Ninja, too.

From then on, Ninja was the name for all Kawasaki supersports. When a 600 followed the 900 in 1995, that, too was a Ninja. When the ZXR750 was replaced by the ZX-7R in 1996 it was, too, as were the ZX-12R, ZX-10R and all others which followed, so creating a Ninja dynasty synonymous with high-performance Kawasakis. The supercharged Ninja H2/R is the most obvious. The revived, four-cylinder, supersport ZX-4RR is the most recent. To commemorate all of those Ninjas, here’s our pick of 10 of the best, in chronological order…

1984-2003 GPz900R Ninja

  • 908cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 115bhp, 155mph

Where it all started – the first Ninja, although it was initially only called such in the USA at the suggestion of US marketing manager Mike Vaughan. The GPz was not only the fastest bike in the world, but it also debuted the liquid-cooled inline-four engine yet managed to stop and turn corners properly.

1985-1997 GPZ/GPX600R

  • 592cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 75bhp, 140mph

One year after the 900R defined the modern superbike, the GPZ600R kick-started the supersport 600 class. Light weight, sharp handling and a screaming engine set a template the class still uses today. There was also, a 400cc version sold in Japan.

1994-2003 ZX-9R Ninja

  • 899cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 139bhp, 170mph

Kawasaki, like all other manufacturers, was caught out by Honda’s 1992 lithe but powerful FireBlade. Kawasaki then had sharp 750s, fast but heavy ZZ-Rs – but nothing to compete directly with the Blade. The ZX-9R was supposed to be the answer – the motor was good, but the chassis couldn’t match the Blade. Still a much-loved all-rounder, though.

1995-1997 ZX-6R Ninja

  • 599cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 105bhp, 160mph

Honda’s 1987 CBR600F had set the supersport 600 standard for fast, able all-rounder 600s but Kawasaki was the first to introduce a harder edge to the supersports class with the ZX-6R, with its screaming top-end, minimal midrange and firm, track-targetted suspension.

1996-2002 ZX-7R Ninja

  • 748cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 126bhp, 165mph

The successor to the ZXR750 was dynamically behind rival 750s such as Yamaha’s YZF and Suzuki’s SRAD but still popular. The styling and stark paint schemes grabbed the attention, front-end feel was legendary and although heavy, it rode well on the road. 

2000-2006 ZX-12R Ninja

  • 1199cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 185bhp, 186mph

Kawasaki lost its world’s fastest bike title in the 1990s, and the ZX-12R was built to win it back. Despite a powerful motor and aerodynamic bodywork, it couldn’t quite beat the Suzuki Hayabusa and a year later Japanese manufacturers agreed to limit bikes to 186mph.

2004-2005 ZX-10R Ninja

  • 998cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 175bhp, 184mph

The first ZX-10R was a wild ride with fearsome speed and is now considered something of a classic. Repeatedly updated, the 2011-on variant evolved into a true world-beater claiming seven WorldSBK crowns in eight years.

2006-2020 ZZ-R1400

  • 1352cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 187bhp, 186mph

Kawasaki reinstated the flagship position of its ZZ-Rs with the ZZ-R1400, with huge power, a turbine-smooth power delivery and plenty of comfort. The updated, 2012 1441cc version is even better.

2015- Ninja H2R

  • 998cc liquid-cooled supercharged inline-four, 310bhp, 205mph

Kawasaki had to go to extraordinary lengths to make the H2R match the impact of the early bikes of the Ninja dynasty, but with this virtually hand-built, supercharged hot rod it unquestionably re-energised the Ninja brand.  

2023- ZX-4R Ninja

  • 399cc liquid-cooled inline-four, 76bhp, 150mph

A re-invented, revitalised 15,000rpm-revving four that recreates the spirit of Kawasaki’s early 1990s ZXR400. Well-equipped, free-revving and fun it’s a worthy successor.