First Ride: 2002 Kawasaki ZX-9R

And so to the 2002 ZX-9R, also tweaked for this year and feeling distinctly healthier for it. The motor feels the same, but the handling (once adjusted) is definitely better...



And it looks heaps better, too. Kawasaki have re-designed the rear seat cowl so it looks swoopy and interesting instead of plain old dull, there's now a GSX-R-stylee swingarm with heaps of tough-looking bracing, and a smart new paintjob. The ZX-9R has always been a big bike and still is, but therein lies part of its appeal. Despite being continually out-gunned on the supersport front by the ever-developing FireBlade and white-hot R1 and GSX-R1000, the ZX-9 has always appealed to riders who wanted something less mental and more useable on the road.

Not to say it ain't fast. The Nine has always topped-out north of 170, and the latest model will be knocking on the door of 180mph in the right conditions. We only got to ride the bike on the track, and after spending most of the day on the new ZX-6R I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive about how the big ol' ZX-9R would handle Pau's nadgery corners. True enough, on stock settings the 9R was a wobbler. Low and soft at the back end to make it more comfortable on the road, the Kawasaki lumbered confusedly around after the nimble 6R - not what we were expecting at all. Some major tweaking was needed.

So we tweaked like buggery, and lo and behold if we didn't get the Big Blue Bus handling pretty damn well. The real key behind getting a 9R to handle is to jack the rear ride-height up - always was - to give almost another inch of altitude between the tail unit and swingarm. The difference in seat height is marked and (coupled with dropping the forks through the yokes 10mm to really slam the bike onto its nose) so is the effect on the handling. Where before the Nine didn't want to turn into corners and wallowed on the way out, now you could use the excellent new brakes to full effect, demolish speed on the way into a turn, roll the 9R onto its side with a positive shove on the bars, lean til the pegs kissed-out and feed back in the 135bhp motor as quick as possible. Much more like it, and allied to the new stiffer suspension units you could really hustle the new ZX-9R round Pau.

To be honest, unless you were of a particulary timid nature, this is how you'd want to run your 9R on the road as well. In this set-up it can run with more hardcore company, while still being far more practical in terms of comfort and two-up ability. Kawasaki have given the motor a light breathing-on, but it was hard to discern any noticeable difference. The wicked scream from the ram-air-fed motor above 8,000rpm is there, the sudden punch in the pants that kicks the front wheel into the air in the first two gears is all present and correct, the usual bungling when trying to start the motor and pull away when the motor's cold rears its annoying head.

Loved the new blue paintjob. With its new sleek 'n' pointy tail unit, looks 20mph faster than its predecessor straight away. Apparently the bracing on the rear swingarm is there more for cosmetic purposes than any functional element, but either way it looks the nuts and given the 9R's better handling, I'm prepared to believe it's doing something good at the back end.

And that's pretty much your lot. Another year, another re-vamp to see the ZX-9R right for another couple of years. Engine-wise it's pretty much identical to the model it replaces, handling-wise it's superior once you've spent the time and trouble setting it up. And at under eight grand retail price, it's heaps cheaper than the competition. But Kawasaki are going to have to make some big changes soon if they want to keep up...

Verdict:
Cosmetic changes and suspension tweaks eke out the ZX-9R
for another year, and quite effective they are too. Those looking for superbike performance with real-world comforts, look no further.

SPECS

TYPE - SUPERSPORTS

PRODUCTION DATE - 2002

PRICE NEW - £8999

ENGINE CAPACITY - 988cc

POWER - 149bhp@10,600rpm

TORQUE - 80lb.ft@8100rpm

WEIGHT - 170kg

SEAT HEIGHT - 840mm

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 164mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

And it looks heaps better, too. Kawasaki have re-designed the rear seat cowl so it looks swoopy and interesting instead of plain old dull, there's now a GSX-R-stylee swingarm with heaps of tough-looking bracing, and a smart new paintjob. The ZX-9R has always been a big bike and still is, but therein lies part of its appeal. Despite being continually out-gunned on the supersport front by the ever-developing FireBlade and white-hot R1 and GSX-R1000, the ZX-9 has always appealed to riders who wanted something less mental and more useable on the road.

Not to say it ain't fast. The Nine has always topped-out north of 170, and the latest model will be knocking on the door of 180mph in the right conditions. We only got to ride the bike on the track, and after spending most of the day on the new ZX-6R I have to admit to being a bit apprehensive about how the big ol' ZX-9R would handle Pau's nadgery corners. True enough, on stock settings the 9R was a wobbler. Low and soft at the back end to make it more comfortable on the road, the Kawasaki lumbered confusedly around after the nimble 6R - not what we were expecting at all. Some major tweaking was needed.

So we tweaked like buggery, and lo and behold if we didn't get the Big Blue Bus handling pretty damn well. The real key behind getting a 9R to handle is to jack the rear ride-height up - always was - to give almost another inch of altitude between the tail unit and swingarm. The difference in seat height is marked and (coupled with dropping the forks through the yokes 10mm to really slam the bike onto its nose) so is the effect on the handling. Where before the Nine didn't want to turn into corners and wallowed on the way out, now you could use the excellent new brakes to full effect, demolish speed on the way into a turn, roll the 9R onto its side with a positive shove on the bars, lean til the pegs kissed-out and feed back in the 135bhp motor as quick as possible. Much more like it, and allied to the new stiffer suspension units you could really hustle the new ZX-9R round Pau.