Buyer Guide: Kawasaki ZX-9R

Comfy, ultra-reliable, cheap and 170mph fast. All the inside information on the cruelly underrated and too often overlooked Kawasaki ZX-9R from the people who own them

Click to view: Kawasaki ZX-9R owners reviews, specs and image galleries.

Yesterday’s man. Always the bridesmaid. Give a bike a bad name and it sticks. The sports bike market in the UK is incredibly competitive and like animals on the African plains, any hint of weakness can mean disaster. If you’re a wildebeest, you get eaten, if you’re a bike which isn’t the class leader, you probably won’t sell well.

The ZX-9R was never top dog in the unlimited sports sector nor did it have a following like Honda’s FireBlade, Yamaha’s R1 or Suzuki’s GSX-R1000. From Kawasaki’s business point of view it wasn’t good news but as a motorbike it’s still a superb machine. It handles and brakes well, most riders find it pretty comfy, it’s got character, it’s reliable and it’s 170mph fast. But there were always bikes which could lap a circuit slightly faster so the ZX-9R played second fiddle.

A comparative lack of popularity on the used market is a good thing. The 9R’s massively under rated and can be picked up for a bargain price. The C-models and onwards may only be a couple of percent slower round a circuit than rivals but that translates to bargain used prices. The 9R’s got another ace up its sleeve. It’s more comfy and practical than its rivals. It’s larger and more spacious. The E and F models have very generous screens as well. It was always marketed as a sports bike but it’s got a useful amount of tourability and practicality too.

The first 9Rs were the heaviest of the bunch and don’t handle as well as later machines. B suffix bikes (1994-1997) weighed in at 215kg. The Blade was light and it was right, plus the big Kwak had other handling issues which meant it was never going to be captain of cornering. That all changed from the 1998 C suffix models onwards but even then the 9R was never flavour of the month.

A clean ZX-9R is a great used buy, especially the C models and later versions. Forty two ZX-9R owners filled in out on-line survey telling us all about their bikes. They’ve done almost half a million miles on these machines so you can believe what you read here.

What to pay

This is a real ZX-9R strength – it’s excellent value on the used market. The B models are getting tired and they’re less desirable than the later, lighter bikes which followed. A reasonable B goes for around the £1200 mark and high mile or tatty bikes can be had for under a grand. Rough C models can be had for £1500 while decent ones go for £1800 or more. The best standard, low mile examples make £2300 upwards. E-suffix bikes start just below £2000 and the cleanest ones can fetch over £3000. The most desirable examples are the F-suffix bikes with many minor improvements and more durable four-piston front brake calipers. These sell for between £2500 and £3500 – but only pay that upper figure for mint dealer bikes with full service history and less than 10,000 miles on the clock.
You’ll get the best deal on private sale bikes and as they’re so reliable it’s worth doing rather than paying more and buying from a dealer. But check what’s on offer before you buy. While some dealers seem to overprice ZX-9Rs by up to a grand, there are others who are very competitive and pretty near private sale prices.


Because it’s a long running model there are plenty in breakers if you’re looking for used parts. Swot up on the differences between the model years as there are a lot of changes, some subtle, some more obvious.

  • Bar end weight £13.68
  • L/H mirror £54.00
  • Rear brake pads £33.04
  • Clocks (complete) £743.47
  • Headlight (complete) £271.10
  • Clutch lever £11.10
  • L/H front indicator £30.37
  • Front brake discs (pair) £458.13

(Prices for C1 model)

Known Issues

  • Service history

Valve clearances and carb balancing are scheduled every 7,500 miles. Check when it was last done as the main service including those jobs can cost over £400.

  • Wheels

The paint’s poor and prone to flaking or bubbling off. Many bikes will have had the wheels powder coated, re-painted or polished. Look carefully to spot a quality job and be wary of unlacquered bare metal if you ride in the wet or winter.

  • Swingarm

Finish is poor on this too. Have a good look, including the underside.

  • Gearbox

A handful of C1 models are said to have suffered problems, especially with third gear. Opinions differ as to whether the issue was solved on the C2 or not until the later E models.

  • Discs

Front discs are known to warp occasionally on C models.

  • Suspension adjusters

Make sure they all turn freely and aren’t too chewed up.

  • Electrics

If possible, check the voltage with a multimeter when the bike’s running. It should be between 13 and 15 volts. If you haven’t got a meter see if the headlight becomes slightly brighter as the bike’s revved from tickover. One owner reported generator failure, another reg/rec failure in our survey.

Owner Case Study: "I’ve owned seven of them"

Fran Drew has owned seven in total and currently has three useable 9Rs and several in bits

“The C model copies the original FireBlade geometry but with more power. I’ve ridden newer bikes like R1s but I’d rather modify my 9Rs than have the latest, greatest thing which will always be about to date and depreciate.

“I did 6,000 miles on my first 9R. I fitted an Akrapovic exhaust, air filter, skimmed the head and fitted an ignition advancer and it made 137.8bhp at the wheel – more than new GSX-R1000s were making at the time. Then I got a cosmetically damaged C2, did it up and did 8,000 miles on that. Next I saw a 50,000 mile C1 for sale on for a grand and thought I could make money on it. Occasionally it popped out of third gear – a known gearbox problem. But if you clean the gear selector and get the chain adjustment spot on, that’s all that needs doing nine times out of ten and that was the case with this one. It rode better than my 15,000 mile bike but I swopped it for a FireBlade which I didn’t like.

“I’m thinking about building a big power bike next  with an E engine, a turbo and a supercharger. There are some bikes over in Australia with GT28 turbos making well over 200 bhp, some even more than 300bhp.”

“I’m also thinking about fuel injecting one too. It’s mainly to increase economy. As standard I get about 42mpg but I think ridden gently it should be good for 50 or 60mpg. Z1000 throttle bodies space correctly, I’d need a MegaSquirt kit and some sensors too.”

The nuts & bolts

Tyres and running costs
Fuel consumption’s good – typical of old school, big power, in-line four Kawasakis. The average in our survey was 40.6mpg although plenty of people get 50+mpg on steady motorway runs. Hard thrashing can make it drop below 30mpg.

Average tyre life is 5,463 miles front and 3,758 rear. Hard use, including track riding can see tyre life of just 2000/1000 miles while more durable rubber, used gently can last 12,000/10,000 miles.

The most popular tyres are Bridgestone’s sports touring BT-021 with 12% of owners using them. Everyone’s happy with them except William Gerry who says the fronts wear extremely fast. Pirelli’s sports touring Diablo Strada is the next most popular with 10% choosing them. Just one person is using Pirelli’s latest sports touring tyre, the Angel ST but they get 8,000 miles from a rear despite never managing more than 3,000 from other options and recommend them highly as a result. Avon’s grippy Viper Sport, Dunlop’s cost conscious D207E, Michelin’s excellent all round Pilot Road 2 and Avon’s Storm ST all come equal third with 7% of owners choosing each of them.

The most popular brake pads are EBC by a massive margin with 48% using them and most think they’re good. Carbone Lorraine and original Kawasaki come next with just 7% each and again everyone seemed pretty happy with their choice. As is often the case in these surveys there’s one person who uses Bendix and reckons they’re the best of the lot.

A service is due at 4,000 miles then 7,500 then 12,000, then 15000 and so on every 3000 to 4500 miles. These generally alternate minor/major. The 4,000 minor service involves a good checkover plus new engine oil and spark plug check. The 7,500 major service also includes valve clearance checks, carb balancing, a new air filter and more. The next major service at 15,000 miles includes new fork oil and brake fluid too.

Average price paid in our survey for a minor service was £144 while a major one came it at £321. Three owners had paid £450 or more for the major service. It’s not outrageously expensive but bear in mind 7,500 miles is not that long an interval between major services so it’s worth factoring in if you do a lot of miles. It’s not a difficult bike to work on – 60% of owners do it all, 40% do some. Valve clearance checks and carb balancing require special tools and are not for beginners.

It’s a common complaint and one we don’t get on modern bikes as they tend to employ injection rather than carbs. In cold (not necessarily freezing), damp conditions, ice can build up inside the carbs while the bike’s being ridden causing it to run poorly or even cut out all together. There are several ways to beat it. First, make sure the filter on the circuit which takes warm coolant to the carbs is unclogged and installed the correct way round. Some owners say a top quality fuel, BP Ultimate or better still, Shell V-Power helps. Another option is additives such as Silkolene’s Pro FST. We’ve heard of people using surgical spirit in the same way (it’s cheaper). If you fancy trying it, Boots and Superdrug are good sources but avoid brands with a high content of castor oil. E models onwards suffer less.

Superb. Despite being an older bike, 86% of owners hadn’t had a single problem and 14% had had just one minor problem and that was it. We’ve surveyed plenty of newer machines which suffered far more, so it’s a massive thumbs up for the 9R here.

Of those which did go wrong, we had each of the following reported once: clutch problem, six piston calipers needed re-build, starter relay fuse failed after getting wet, generator failed, fuel tap broke, regulator/rectifier failed.

We’ve heard of a couple of bikes warping front discs but no one in the survey reported this. We think it was only a problem on C models as E onwards had beefed up rotors. Unless you’re ridiculously hard on the stoppers all should be okay.

We asked what owners would check if buying another ZX-9R. Popular answers included the gearbox jumping out of third, six-piston calipers for seizure, the neutral switch, clutch action, steering head and swingarm bearings, head gasket and when the carbs were last balanced and valve clearance checks done.

While reliability’s excellent, finish isn’t quite as good. 40% of owners complained about the paint on the wheels and 29% weren’t happy with the coating on the swingarm. The frame, footrest hangers and fasteners also came in for some grief from a few. 

Although never a huge seller, the ZX-9R was sold for a decade so there are plenty about. B models are getting a little scarce. There’s a great owners forum at with loads of excellent advice, tips, banter and some events and ride outs.

Out of 42 owners, just five still had the standard exhaust fitted to their bikes. The most popular replacement is Akrapovic with 17% using them. Next came (now defunct) Micron with 12% then joint Scorpion and (also defunct) ART with 10% each. There were 15 brands of exhaust in total and no massive complaints about any of them. Several owners thought a quality full system released an extra 5-10bhp and possibly more if combined with a free flowing air filter and jetting mods to suit such as a Dynojet kit.

There’s a huge range of other mods and extras owners told us about ranging from Audi TT headlights to a 950cc big-bore blueprinted engine. Ignition advancers (four degrees) are very popular, especially with jet kits, air filters and exhausts. Double bubble screens are also common and about the only touring mod mentioned in the survey although one owner fitted Helibars which are higher than standard to increase comfort.  No-one had hard luggage.

Quite a few owners increased rear ride height which can be done with a spacer on the shock, or fitted shorter tie bars, or a posh, adjustable shock (Öhlins is favourite). This speeds up the steering. Some dropped the clamps down the forks a few mm to make their bikes even more nimble – at the expense of some stability and ground clearance. Braided steel brake lines are very popular but we think this is due to the age of these bikes and because they’d be cheaper than replacing knackered original ones with Kawasaki items.

Your Reviews

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Owner Case Study: "I owned a B and a C model"

James Cater had a B model and did about 11,000 miles on it

“The suspension’s a lot stiffer on the C. The B was like sitting in an arm chair. The C feels more sporty. I think the riding position’s more aggressive with higher pegs too. I prefer the looks of the B though. They’re both great with pillions – I was scraping the pegs two up.

“I haven’t had a single problem with my C and I’ve done 11,000 miles. The engine on the B blew at 30,000 miles. I don’t know exactly why but a piston hit one of the plugs and smashed it flat. I swopped it for a used engine myself which wasn’t too hard.

“I owned three VFR750s before and the ZX-9R’s just as good an all-round bike but they’re faster too. It does everything and mine gets ridden daily all year round and for weekend fun.  Better still, it’s an all-rounder that can keep up with my mates on the latest superbikes. The worst thing about it is the brake calipers have to be cleaned regularly or the pistons seize. I had a bit of carb icing recently but cleaning the air filter seems to have fixed it. The only time I’ve been off the bike was for a few weeks when we had the heavy snow earlier this year so it really is used in all conditions. The wheel paint chips and peels, and it’s the same story with the pillion footrest hangers.  The rest is VFR quality.”