Road Test

Kawasaki ZZR Review - 2/3

As Splitting Heirs contests go, this would seem the most one-sided fight yet. Only it's not. Thought the ZZR1400 to be the ultimate speed king? Well, maybe you've never ridden a 2002 ZZR1200 then...


Kawasaki's engine lineage isn't what you would call entirely clear. What constitutes a new motor, and what's just a 'modified', is never made crystal. We can at least say for sure that the 1200 motor is a development of the 1100's. The extra displacement came by way of a change to alloy bores that allowed an extra 3mm diameter over the 1100's iron liners which together with an extra 1.6mm on the stroke created the 1,164cc capacity. The motor's claimed 160bhp (ram-air assisted) converted to a real world 145bhp on the dyno. In some ways then, the motor's old-school - after all its got carburettors - Keihin 40mm CVKs. Remember them? But there was new tech in there too - the K-TRIC throttle position sensor for optimised ignition timing and the KLEEN catalytic converter system.

The 1400 motor isn't listed as 'new' but with significantly bigger bore and stroke dimensions it's a full 188cc bigger than the ZZR1200. Now fuel injected, according to Kawasaki the new engine has been massively tuned, their figures putting the ZZR1400 as 25% more powerful than the ZZR1200. Yep, Kawasaki claim 200bhp with ram-air assistance, Only here's a thing: on Carbontek's dyno that 200 figure converted to 165.7bhp at the rear wheel - a figure which is barely 14% up on the ZZR1200's motor. Now that doesn't sound so earth shatteringly massive does it?

And if we'd known that when we came to do our side-by-side roll-on tests we wouldn't have been so shocked at the outcome. You see, there we were at 5.30am on the motorway to Dover, checking out 60 to 120mph top gear acceleration. And what happened? Dead heats. Actually not even that. Some the ZZR1200 won. The only difference was rider reaction time; whatever was won or lost was done on the initial twist of the wrist. We even tried the same roll-ons in fifth and fourth gears - and still no discernable differences.

Holy cow! Can this be true? Well, we rang Kawasaki UK when we got back and told them. The response wasn't official, but they explained that the real power gains - as is the modern way - are really found in the higher realms of the rev range. So we probably wouldn't be finding the differences sub-120mph.

Not that the ZZR1400 is in any way underwhelming. It's still blindingly fast, and the way it accelerates from 150mph with a dollop of full throttle is quite indecent. But despite mind warping acceleration, you may care to down-shift a gear before trying to waste the odd old-school rocket ship. On the motorway the ZZR1400 wasn't scoring the points it should, and the ZZR1200 was easily its match. Those old carbs made for smooth pick-up, less snatchy for sure, and it felt altogether very relaxed. It was probably the tall screen (fitted as standard) that helped create a very laid back atmosphere - quick checks of the speedo frequently revealed far faster velocities than anticipated.

But put these two on some twisting roads, and some really twisting, well contoured ones at that, and you'll find the ZZR1400 steams away. Only now we're not convinced that's entirely due to the motor, however strong it is, for often the technique to fast progress with the 1400 was to short shift and let the motor torque.

The ZZR1400 motor also struggled, curiously, when ridden sort of 'furiously' for the photoshoot. When turning in the road for repeated passes past the photographer the ZZR1400 would fluff badly off the bottom, requiring clutch slip and a good handful to get it going. By contrast you could U-turn the ZZR1200 and then, with a deft dip of the clutch, launch the old 'un up the road with a satisfyingly large and lusty wheely. Trying to wheelie the 1400 in these circumstances was best avoided, the throttle's response being quite unpredictable.You can thank the Euro 3 regulations for some of that.

Continue Splitting Heirs: ZZ-R1200 v ZZR1400 - 3/3


Any bike with the letters ZZR on the side, even the diddy 600, has gained a reputation for being a thrustworthy way of getting around. I have spent more time on the 14 than any of the others and hadn't ridden a 12 until this test. Categorising the 12 is easy if you look purely at the dynamics. It is podgy, fairly soft and gets a bit ragged if things get silly on the road. But is that what this bike was designed for? Not really.

When it came to things that we thought the 14 would walk, the 12 dug its pig ugly heels in and fought back like George Foreman the second time round. The motor on the 12, (considering it had done 35k) is stonking. I could more than put up with turning a fuel tap on and off if it meant I could have a set of carbs rather than the slightly fluffy EFI that the 14 had. The handling felt planted but in an 'overweight take it steady' kind of way, rather than the balanced poise that the 14 has thanks to the use of quality adjustable suspension and brakes.

Once into a bend the 12 felt okay, but getting it there and, more importantly, trying to drive it out was nowhere near as easy or satisfying as on the 14. The versatility of the new bike shows how things have moved on since the launch of the 12, it can handle pretty much anything you throw at it whereas the 12 still does the straight-line fast bit no worries. Anything else and you've got to be a brave man and have faith in the tyres as the old girl wobbles and lurches.

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