Living with a 2005 Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Warren 'Wozza' Pole blagged a Kawasaki ZRX1200R in 2005 and wrote this here review on it

August 2005

Ever since Noah were a lad I've been raised on sportsbikes. Others have come and gone, but left to my own devices and I'll be back on a sportsbike before you can say 'shredded licence'.

I decided it was time for a change. But to what? I needed something big and fast that looked the business, would ease my daily London riding, but could also pull mongo wheelies, destroy country roads and turn its hand to motorways. So, after much soul-searching, I realised Kawasaki's mean, green ZRX1200R fitted the bill, which is why this Eddie Lawson rep now resides in my garage.

And it's been an interesting month. There have been highs, like the way I still can't stop gawping at it when no-one's looking, or the discovery of the cavernous underseat boot and Ÿber-easy chain adjusters. I love it in the urban sprawl and am still finding it a revelation turning up minus the numb fingers, dead wrists and squashed nuts I'm accustomed to. Pillions seem to adore it, luggage is readily bungeed on and the mirrors and brakes are brilliant.

But it's not all sweet nothings. For starters this bike is so quiet I have to check it has actually started. As for the horn, you'd be better off with a bicycle bell, and despite carbs can I get it to backfire? Can I bollocks.

In like-for-like group tests with these bikes, the ZRX has always been my winner, but this is relative. Line it up against big bikes in general and it's ever so slightly lame and lardy.

But I was prepared for this. I'm convinced there is an utterly belting bike in the ZRX but at the moment it's smothered in a hefty blanket of cotton wool. I'm not planning to make the bike something it isn't, but I am planning a few small changes.

First, that exhaust has to go. A race system should liberate what the motor can do without buggering up smooth running. Then gearing. A few teeth up at the back (or a couple down at the front) should perk things up and sacrifice 20mph I never use. Finally I'd like some rear ride height to help the big Kwak hustle a little better.

Sadly the ZRX has just gone back to Kawasaki HQ to have some gremlins addressed - a strange coolant leak and a lowdown running issue - so work will have to wait.

November 2005

For all the ZRX's good points (comfort, styling, torque), the more time I've spent with this bike, the more it becomes apparent far less lurks below the surface than you might expect. But then this is sound marketing from Kawasaki - you want big power? Buy a ZX-10R. Want a slick naked bike? Buy a Z1000. Want perfect handling? Buy a ZX-6R. I'm sure you get the point.

All of which means the ZRX is ripe for tweaking simply because Kawasaki appears to have paid so little attention to it in the first place.

I started with gearing. This bike has 1200cc, which means it should pull your arms off from tickover in every gear, but instead it has a go then gives up in favour of a gentle whoosh. Not good enough.However, one Renthal race gearing kit later (one tooth down at the front, one up at the back) and the ZRX has become far perkier. So much so it now happily wheelies in second gear and the shove this bike promises is at last starting to be delivered. Hallelujah. For the princely sum of £50.97 there's probably no other mod that'll do so much for so little. Have a word with B&C Express (www.bandcexpress.co.uk, (01522) 791369) to get some for your bike, but don't forget you may need a new chain too if your bike's done a few miles.

Next came a gem of a mod that cost absolutely nowt. By rotating the eccentric chain adjusters 180¡ you can actually gain yourself about 20mm of rear ride height, all of which takes us another step down the road towards making the ZRX as fun as it should be.

To go further though I needed more professional help because now it was suspension surgery time, something the ZRX is in dire need of should you wish to do anything more than potter about. While the front end seems bearable, this is only because the dire back end makes it feel good in comparison. Those twin Kayaba shocks may look smart, but quick bumps in town have the back end skipping, hard braking has it chattering and ripples on faster roads set the whole bike into a sea sickness-inducing wallow.

I took the patient to old-school suspension heroes Hagon in Essex. These guys may not have the saucy ways of …hlins and the like, but they've been building suspension units since the dawn of time and unless you're planning a serious assault on the British Championship chances are they've got just what you need, and for a lot less cash than the competition.

After a chat about what I was after (better compliance as standard with more adjustment into the stiffer end of the spectrum), some bouncing up and down and a bout of thoughtful chin stroking, Hagon MD Derek whisked my bike away.

The results were enlightening. Dyno testing of the original shocks proved they were rather unwell with minimal adjustment, and the compression adjusters making absolutely no difference whatsoever. As for the fork springs, Derek likened them to something you might find "inside a Czech air rifle".

Hagon's own progressive fork springs went in at the front while a pair of their Nitro shocks, built for my weight and requirements, went in at the back. So far these have only been tested hacking across London but already the chattering over bumps and on the brakes is gone while weight transfer under braking is better controlled and finally some degree of sophistication and compliance has been found.And all for the reasonable sum of £362 including a two-year warranty and free servicing. Get yours from www.hagon-shocks.co.uk or call the fine chaps there on 0208 502 6222.

Now we're heading in the right direction, the serious test is yet to come because I'm off on a four-day hack into France for a trackday with a bunch of mates who are all on GSX-Rs, Blades and the like, and all of whom want my head on a platter. Fully aware of this, and fully aware of the childish need to beat them, I have a couple more tricks up my sleeve including R&G crash protectors to be fitted (just in case, ahem), a Yoshi RS-3 end can to slap on (to hopefully banish the big hole at 4500rpm and add a few more ponies), and a set of fresh BT012SS tyres, because the touring-spec OE BT020s aren't
really up to track antics. Will the ZRX hold its head up high? I'll let you know when I'm back.

February 2006

BEING PRETTY AVERAGE to start with, the ZRX is the sort of bike on which even the smallest tweaks make massive improvements - which meant that the catalogue of fettling I administered before a trackday showdown in central France left the mighty Zed utterly transformed.

Spinning the eccentric chain adjusters 180¼ added rear ride height for free, a Hagon suspension overhaul meant the bike suddenly had compliance and adjustability at last, while Bridgestone 012SS rubber gave me a fighting chance of not only managing the hack to the Val de Vienne circuit, but also of staying the right way up when I got there.

Then there were the R&G crash protectors (£150 to you guv'nor, from www.rg-racing.com, 01420 521100) because I really didn't want to be stranded in deepest France for the sake of a holed crank case should a measly lowside try and spoil my fun, the lowered gearing for extra punch and the Yoshi RS-3 titanium race can (£393.47, www.phoenixnw.co.uk, 01782 569800). Yes, I've been busy.

I've not dynoed the Zed with the Yoshi yet although I can tell you it's sliced a whole 2.84kg off the bike's weight. Nice, but who really cares about figures? The important thing is this can is another big step toward making the Kwak as badass as it looks because it liberates some all important noise - not too much, but the bike now has a beautiful rich, burbling growl instead of its previous asthmatic whimper.

Total fettling cost so far is £956.44 (not including the tyres because they needed replacing anyway) and since this has made the ZRX twice the bike it was I'd say that's money well spent. Not that I actually spent it because, being a consummate sponger, I got all the parts, not to mention the bike, for nowt, but you know what I mean.

And so to France. With my trusty Oxford tailpack bungeed to the capacious pillion seat and the vast underseat boot stuffed with a huge lock and some waterproofs, we were away to Dover. And then, after a swift fry up as P&O conveyed us imperiously across the channel, we were disgorged into France.

I was slightly concerned that when we hit the peage for real I'd struggle to hold a good pace against my two mates (on their ZX-6R and GSX-R750 respectively) but, as it turned out, once you get into the swing of it and hunker down slightly, 120mph on the ZRX is no bother all day long.

Proceed above that speed for more than five minutes, though, and you'll know about it.

Then there were the wheelies.

Oh what joy. In its standard peaky, strangled form the ZRX is not a natural wheelier. It needs a massive effort to fire the front end high enough to let you catch second gear, and even then it's a fine line between being out of the power and the whole thing flopping down again, or finding yourself in the top end, sending it skyward once more and heading for a flip. But, with the midrange restored, the peakiness reduced and the gearing dropped she now leaps salmon-like in first or second and can be blasted through the gears from there. Superb. Or at least it was for a while, but we'll come to that later.

Arriving at our hotel for the weekend, we found that the lads from Farside Sportsbiking (organisers of trackday holidays par excellence including this very trip, find them on www.farside-sportsbiking.co.uk or 01423 815216) had a great feast laid on. So we stuffed ourselves in preparation for two days on the
challenging Val de Vienne circuit.

And to start with the ZRX did well, keeping pretty much everything else there at bay (I'd not told anyone I'd ridden there before, ahem) and although pushing it really hard was never an option, enjoying it on the track was now very much on the menu thanks to the hugely improved suspension. Cheers, Hagon.

Things went downhill from here, though. All of a sudden there was a cacophonous clattering from the top end, accompanied by smoke billowing from the exhaust, and a complete absence of power. Bugger.

Whisked back into Dr Kawasaki's surgery after travelling home in a van, the verdict was big end bearing failure. Why? The most likely culprit was a lower oil level (the bike was due a service at the time) coupled with the deleterious gravitional effects of all those wheelies. So now she's all back in one piece I'll be keeping a closer eye on the oil level, although cutting down on the mono antics may be a trickier prospect altogether, especially since I've only just turned it into a wheelie monster...

Next on the ZRX 'to do' list are a Gerbing heated jacket and a Muzzys megaphone system. Proper 'old skool', it should set the Zed's lines off a treat without losing the helpful power gains of the Yoshi. We shall see.

April 2006

I HAD BIG plans for the Zed this year. Having already liberated some of the performance I always suspected was lurking in that motor, and beefed up the bike's handling with a few mods, I was all set to add more handling and another 20bhp and see where that got me. Although now I think about it, that would most likely have been a spell at Her Majesty's pleasure.

It is with great sadness I have to impart that this will be my final ZRX report because it's heading back to Kawasaki next week. Arse.

So let's start with the good bits. First, this is a very easy bike to live with. The riding position makes
perfect sense just about everywhere and the bike's packed with useful features such as mirrors that work, a pillion seat which actually carries pillions, and a cavernous underseat storage area big enough for a bike cover and a chain. All of which means should your happy and giggling pillion invite you in for coffee after your ride out, you can go safe in the knowledge your bike is secured to the nearest lamp post and all but invisible, rather than fretting it'll be nicked and leaving before the kettle's boiled. 

And then there's the motor, which, with the addition of an end can, was really the star, burbling menacingly, punting the bike forwards with stacks of lowdown shove and helping it wheelie into the sunset at a flick of the clutch. Very pleasing. Obviously the handling did reach its limits on track, but what do you expect from a bike this size? That said, with the Hagon suspension overhaul, there was enough to push the bike and enjoy it rather than being frustrated. 

Things weren't all sweetness and light, however. Most notably ill was the way the motor went pop after the big end bearing gave up the ghost. However, as this happened when the oil level was low and the bike was being thrashed mercilessly on track after repeatedly being stood on its back wheel along French autoroutes, this is very unlikely to occur to a well-serviced bike - all that's needed is a keener eye than mine on the oil level and service intervals.

And then of course there was last week's highside. Ahem.

A highside conjours up dramatic images of flying bodies, cartwheeling bikes and heroic survival (if you're lucky), but mine was none of the above. It happened at approximately 12mph leaving a car park. Cold tyres, too much throttle and a dozing mind were all it took for me to find myself both very sideways and very aware I'd caught on far too late to do anything about it. Thoughts of a graceful lowside were rudely banished as the tyres bit at the last minute and the bike pitched me over the top. Just to compound my misery this happened in front of a bus stop packed with schoolkids who pissed themselves.

The R&G crash protectors (www.rg-racing.com) fitted last summer did their job admirably, saving the engine cases from holes and allowing me to salvage some dignity by picking the bike up and leaving the scene just as soon as I'd retrieved the numberplate and bar end which had fallen off. There's a small dent in the tank from the bar catching it, the other bar is bent and the Yoshi RS-3 exhaust is now rather secondhand, but other than this the Zed coped remarkably well with being thrown on the floor.

But after sharing so much together, I've got to say I'll be very sad to see the ZRX go, because if you're prepared to go looking for it, this is a bike with a lot to give.