Kawasaki has always prided itself in building ludicrously fast hyperbikes. The ZZR1100, launched back in 1990, was the first of the 180mph busting breed. After trundling along for several years it was updated to the ugly but good ZZR1200 before a brief hiatus and the new style ZZR1400 emerged in 2006. Now in its second generation, the ZZR1400 has been updated for 2012 with more power (like it was lacking...) and a host of electronic gubbins.
The expanded 1,441cc engine has a 4mm longer stroke than before with increased torque and power and a few internal changes to improve performance. Apparently the acceleration of the old bike wasn't quite scary enough because, as well as boosting power, Kawasaki has down-geared the ZZR - nice. The monocoque chassis is redesigned for improved handling and ABS, traction control and power modes are fitted to help you modulate the craziness. Though Kawasaki doesn't quote figures you are looking at a genuine rear wheel figure of 197hp and 120lb ft of torque. On a bike that is so much about image, you would have thought Kawasaki would have been screaming from the rooftops about touching 200hp.
With hyperbikes it is all about the engine and the Kawasaki's lump is simply staggering. Mind-bendingly fast in every single gear with a surge of acceleration that simply doesn't give up - even in top gear. Given suitable environs - not your local bypass, we should hasten to add - the ZZR will accelerate hard through the gears to the top side of 180mph before you even notice what's happening. In top at 70mph you can count two seconds to 100mph and about three more to whip through 140mph. So that's two seconds to get banned and less than five to end up in jail with a new friend looking at you while nursing a trouser tent. That's a scary prospect. Which is the slight issue with the ZZR.
When you are riding the ZZR it is simply too easy to speed without noticing it. You can pull out to overtake a lorry and the next thing you know you are at 120mph. The engine is so powerful and the chassis so stable in a straight line that silly speeds are hit without any warning - something not helped by the speedo. The ZZR has always had a fondness for analogue and not digital displays on its speedo and they are a clutter of numbers. The gap between the digits is too small and it's hard to tell if you are going 70, 80 or even 110mph at a quick glance. And see how far that gets you in mitigation in front of the magistrate.
Setting the motor aside it's hard to argue much of a case for a hyperbike like this. Big lads like them for the extra power but, aside from that, the reasons for riding one seem a little limited. Though more relaxed than a sports bike the riding position isn't that comfortable for distance work and there are better places for racking up the miles, excellent Versys 1000 among them. In order to build in stability to the bike the ZZR is long, low and certainly less sporty than the Versys. In fast sweeping corners the ZZR is rock stable, but through tighter bends it feels long and takes effort to turn. It is in no way a bad handling bike, it just isn't that quick steering and errs of the side of stability rather than agility.
ZZR owners past and present will rave about the monster torque and power of the engine. If this is your thing then the new ZZR1400 certainly has this by the bucketful and the addition of traction control and ABS can only be a good thing. But a proper tourer like a Versys, BMW GS, Triumph Explorer or KTM SMT is more comfortable and certainly fast enough up to 100mph. Having said that, it's bloody good fun to let a ZZR off its leash every now and then ... in a controlled environment on a closed road, naturally...
Engine: 1441cc 4-cyl
Torque: 120lb ft@ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 186mph (restricted)
Weight: 265kg (dry)