The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R gets some important upgrades for ’12. Will it be enough to take the top honors in the class? Watch the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R Comparison Video.
For years Team Green’s top-of-the-line Ninja has flittered with excellence. But it wasn’t until this year that it had a true competitor capable of stealing the Hypersport crown with the 2012 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R ($14,699).
Like the Hayabusa, the Ninja is a true text book Hypersport bike. With a wheelbase of nearly six feet (58.3 inches to be exact—identical to the Suzuki) it’s a sizeable motorcycle that feels like it was made specifically for taller than average riders. But with a lowest-in-class seat height of 31.5 in., it is plenty capable of being ridden by smaller folks too.
Rolling the Ninja onto the scales reveals that it is indeed the heaviest bike in this comparison with a fully fueled curb weight of 584 pounds. That’s 11 pounds more than the ‘Busa and are you ready for this… a whopping 133 pounds more than the featherweight BMW. While it is substantially heavier, the mass of the bike is distributed evenly and positioned low in the chassis so the difference doesn’t feel that substantial when you’re rolling down the street.
(Top) The Metzeler Sportec M5 tires complement the Ninja’s chassis well and elevate feel when leaned over. (Bottom) Considering its engine size, it was no surprise that the Ninja recorded the worst fuel mileage.
Firing up the engine reveals a similar stealthy engine and exhaust tone as the Hayabusa. At idle the Ninja only produces 75 dB (a full 10 points less than the BMW and two higher than the Suzuki). Factor in engine speed (5500 rpm) and the Kawi still only emits 93 dB as compared to the BMW’s 102 figure. While it doesn’t offer the most pleasing sound it definitely reduces unwanted attention from other motorists and helps camouflage the fact that you are riding a machine capable of outgunning anything else on the road.
Right off idle the Kawasaki doesn’t offer quite as much immediate bottom-end thrust as the Hayabusa. It’s almost a moot point however because by the time the motor is spinning above three grand it’s now pumping out comparable acceleration with in excess of 80 lb-ft available from right around 4000 revs (more torque than the BMW engine is even capable of generating). Like the ‘Busa, the Ninja’s powerplant feels like a jet engine—emitting a whooshing noise as it cranks out a smooth stream of power that is so well metered that even a novice rider wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. Probably the biggest testament to the Ninja is how in a matter of a few seconds you can be traveling at triple digits speeds but the bike is so silky smooth that you’d think you’re only moving at 40 mph.
In terms of peak torque the Kawasaki aces both the BMW and the Suzuki with an output of nearly 111 lb-ft arriving at 7600 rpm. It also generates the most horsepower, belting out just a fraction over 186 horsepower at 10,300 rpm. Not only is it 7.58 hp more than the Suzuki and 10.26 more than the Beemer but this gives the ZX-14R title to being the most powerful production sportbike we’ve ever tested.
With all that power on tap it’s no surprise that the Ninja recorded the fastest zero to 60 mph acceleration time (3.02 seconds) at the drag strip. It continued through the quarter-mile in a time of 10.26 seconds at 145.2 mph. Although the BMW edged it out by a hundredth of a second the Kawasaki was noticeably easier to launch courtesy of its strong, responsive clutch and phenomenal traction/wheelie control system that allows the rider to literally mash the throttle without having to worry about the bike looping out backwards in a wheelie or spinning the back tire excessively under full-force acceleration. Like the other bikes, the Ninja employs different engine power mode settings which allow the rider to curtail power output based on road or track conditions or their own skill.
(Top) The dashboard is modern looking and very easy to read. (Bottom) Like the other bikes the Ninja employs multiple power modes to curtail the powerband based on road conditions or rider preference.
All that power paired with its relatively porky curb mass takes its toll at the fuel pump with the Ninja recording the worst fuel mileage figure of 32.1 miles per gallon. Fortunately it has the largest fuel tank capacity which helps net it a range of right around 186 miles between fill ups.
On the street the Ninja delivers a superb ride quality. It floats across road imperfections and the engine delivers minimal vibration through the footpegs and handlebar. Its large windscreen and oversized front fairing do a marvelous job of shielding the rider from wind which make long rides far more bearable than the BMW. The seat proves to be every bit as comfortable as the Hayabusa’s, too. Instrumentation is superior to both bikes with the Ninja offering a large high-resolution digital display with a variety of different functions. Don’t let the Ninja’s impeccable street manners fool you though because in the corners this bike has some serious potential.
Dip the Ninja into a turn and you’ll be surprised just how agile and responsive it feels. Ground clearance is good too. The Metzeler rubber that the Ninja rolls on helps the chassis deliver substantially more road feel than the ‘Busa. This makes it easier to hop on and go fast on the Ninja even with minimal seat time. Like the Suzuki, at an elevated pace, the Ninja’s rear suspension has a propensity to wallow. Slowing down the compression and rebound settings did help alleviate the condition but it never completely goes away. Even still, it’s incredible how much performance and road handling a bike of its size can serve up. As we mentioned before, the Kawi’s traction control system offers seamless engagement and allows more ‘wiggle’ room than the BMW (when compared in each bike’s lowest setting). Worry not, though as if you desire a higher-level of electronic intervention simply engage a lower traction control setting.
The Ninja’s brakes feel like a cross between the Beemer and Suzuki. Like the BMW they offer a good amount of initial brake bite as well as feel. Power is good too and the brakes are generally very easy to modulate though they aren’t quite as sharp as the BMW’s. On the track we were surprised to discover that the Kawasaki’s front brakes do have a tendency to fade during prolonged use. During the braking test the Ninja was able to stop from 60 mph in a distance of 107.3 feet. That’s 10.3 feet better than the Suzuki but still 9.6 feet farther than the BMW. Although not bad by any means better braking consistency during track abuse would make for a nearly perfect package.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Kawasaki is not how fast it is nor it’s high-level of comfort, but how crazy easy it is to command. Though it was designed for those seeking the utmost in thrills and straight-line performance we can’t help but think of the words ‘effortless’ and ‘friendly’ when describing what it’s like to ride it. Get out of the way Suzuki and BMW: from the street to the racetrack and everywhere in between the Ninja is the definitive Hypersport bike of ’12 and the clear winner in this year’s shootout.