Road Test

Kawasaki ZX-9R Review

On the face of it, this is a pretty odd bunch of motorcycles. Take the motors for instance - a 781cc V4, an 955cc inline triple, and an 899cc inline four. Hmm, not exactly the most comparable bunch on the planet.

Kawasaki ZX-9R

Halfway up the M1 at midnight on the coldest day of the year is hardly the most likely of places for a perfect motorcycling moment. But somewhere, somehow, the planets aligned and everything clicked into place as the ZX-9 and I made our way north for the beginning of this test.

The motorway was dry, pretty empty - as you'd expect with most right-minded folk being smartly tucked up in bed with someone (or something) good and warm at such a godforsaken hour on a freezing night - and the starred sky above was so big and clear as to be awe-inspiring. The air felt especially fresh too thanks to its being so bloody cold. And as I took this little lot in, all the while below me the ZX-9 was ravenously gulping down deep lungfuls of the chilled air through its vast intakes, seemingly also enjoying the atmosphere's crisp, cold density. The tacho hovered gently between seven and eight grand while the speedo needle swayed in the 120-ish mph region and the bike never once felt strained or frantic. Just long-legged and relaxed.

Adding to my sense of general wellbeing was the 9's riding position because being a tall bugger, if a bike's uncomfortable I tend to know about it before most. As it was the pegs were pleasantly far enough away, the bars flat, wide and high enough and the seat roomy and squashy enough for me to arrive at the end of three-hour trip with nothing more than a slightly stiff neck caused by my rucksack. The fairing was an absolute result too, with the screen being low enough to direct all the turbulence somewhere into the middle of my chest where it did an excellent job of easing any undue weight on my wrists, while leaving my helmet peacefully unbuffetted.

All things being considered, I couldn't have wished for any other bike at this point and the ZX-9 did an excellent job of getting me where I wanted to go with the minimum fuss.

Best bit about the whole experience though was that although the ZX was a perfect traveling companion, it also had soul and a certain X-factor that made the experience invigorating rather than plain old efficient. For starters there's no doubt it is a serious piece of motorbike thanks to the sheer size and poise of the thing. If you're in any doubts, go and sit on one in your nearest showroom and see how darned fat the petrol tank is - this bike ain't messing about. Then there's the noise and stomp coming from the motor to make things even better.

But enough of this eulogising already. Surely I must be mistaken. After all, isn't this the very same ZX-9 that constantly loses the big-bore sports shootout on account of being lardy, softly-suspended, butt ugly and out of its depth at the track.

Indeed it is, and in a test of pure performance up against the assorted flagship sports tools on offer today (FireBlade, R1, etc), the ZX-9 is now certainly past its prime. If you know your onions at the track then you'll never lap as fast on a 9 as you will on any of its supersports competition, and that's a fact, but this doesn't make for a bad bike. Remove the 9 from that arena where it really is born to lose, use it to its strengths - getting places very fast and having a bloody good time as you go - and it is a blinder.

However, one thing that even the most beautiful of winter Peak District mornings couldn't hide the next day was that the XZ-9 is still far from the most beautiful of motorcycles. Purposeful it certainly is, chunky and hard it also manages well, but beauty is never a word you'll often find associated with the big Kawasaki.

Especially in the colours our test bike was in. I mean look at it - the poor thing certainly isn't playing to its strengths dolled up in black, brown and purple. Really, what were the boys in the Kawasaki paint shop thinking of?

But back on the road again and the Kawasaki continued to impress. After all, although it may have always fallen to the bottom of the heap at the track against the R1 and that lot, it could always run with them, and even occasionally throw in a few surprises on the road so it was no surprise it was coming up trumps here.

The Triumph may match the ZX for torque, and even top it for horsepower on paper but ride the two back to back and the 9 feels the faster of the pair. Where the Triumph builds its speed gradually from lowdown, the Kawasaki gives you its power more urgently. Like the energetic dog that seems to be taking its owner for a walk, the Kawasaki is always pulling at the leash, scrabbling its paws and willing you to go faster as it begs for more revs.

Only slight fly in the ointment here however is the throttle response. Open the big Kawasaki up off a closed throttle at pretty much any speed and there's a slight pause before the power comes in. It feels like less than perfect fuel injection, but as the ZX is still running carbs it's a harder problem to pinpoint. Either way, this was one glitch that has left the Kawasaki trailing at the track before now and although that's not applicable to this test, it did mean greasy wintery roundabouts needed treating with a very measured throttle hand. It's a foible you quickly become used to and certainly isn't going to spit you off or anything nasty, it's just that jumping onto either of the other two bikes here it was instantly noticeable how much smoother they were making the transition from closed throttle to open.

But this slight glitch aside, the Kawasaki was the bad boy of this bunch, and the fastest too with enough handling to safely make use of its speed and see off the other two when the roads opened up, and with Kawasaki dealers offering knock-down prices for ZXs, especially last year's bikes (just the same as this year's apart from a few stickers), there has never been a better time for a slice of the ZX-9 pie.

Continue for the Honda VFR800 Review - 3/5

Kawasaki ZX-9R Specifications

PRICE NEW - £8380
POWER - 133bhp@10,900rpm
TORQUE - 70ft.lbs@9,100rpm   
WEIGHT - 183kg
TOP SPEED - 174mph

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