2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Drag Bike Project

October 29, 2012
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R is a drag racing weapon  able to curn out 186 horsepower.
The 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R is a drag racing weapon, able to churn out 186 horsepower and propel a brave rider to almost 150 mph in less than 10 seconds from a dead stop.

Everyone knows that the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R is a drag racing weapon, even in stock trim. If you haven’t heard the rumors, its 1441cc Inline Four-cylinder engine churns out 186 horsepower and is capable of propelling it to nearly 150 mph in less than 10 seconds…from a dead stop. Something else you may not have known is that there are many companies who offer easy to install bolt-on parts that make it easier to launch and faster at the strip along with more consistent ET’s. Being consistent is key to success when bracket racing. Most drag strips utilize the bracket racing format but occasionally you run across the grudge match format which pits any and all vehicles head-to-head: Straight up without dial-in times and delayed starts for the quicker riders.

After the ZX-14R was anointed the 2012 Hyper-Bike Shootout crown as the best all-around big-bore sportbike on the market we decided to fine tune this ballistic missile and eek a little more out of its drag racing prowess. After all, this is where the ZX-14R was intended to compete. The quick and dirty synopsis is we needed to lower the bike and stick a kill switch on it since many tracks require a tether kill for any motorcycle capable of breaking 11-seconds in the quarter mile.

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We tricked out the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R with some upgrades to make it a more competitive drag bike. Check out Ken’s Friday Night Grudge match win in the 2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Drag Bike Project Video.

We sourced a set of Muzzys Sportbike Radial Caliper Strap Brackets which mount quickly and easily to the front brake caliper mounts. The gold-anodized units are CNC-machined from billet-aluminum and feature the Muzzys logo etched in the side. They are subtle but allow the use of a lowering strap to drop the front end. This has become a common practice among motorcycle drag racers who don’t want to go through the more-permanent process of lowering the fork in the triple clamps. For this venture we installed the Schnitz Racing lowering strap, basically a tie-down with mounting points that attach each end to the Muzzys brackets. Simply wrap the strap up and around the triple clamp and cinch it down. This allows you to lower the front end as much as you want. When you’re done racing just release and the bike is back to stock height.

As any experienced motorcycle drag racer will tell you, a lowered bike is easier to launch. Although dropping the front alone makes it much easier to launch the bike aggressively, in order to maximize the effect you should lower the rear to. There are a number of options available but when it comes to lowering a big bike, the folks at Myrtle-West.com are a great place to start. A Myrtle-West 3-Hole Adjustable Lowering Kit is a longer linkage that replaces the stock linkage on the rear shock and offers up to over two inches of adjustability at the back of the bike. We opted for the middle setting which drops the back about an inch and a half. The installation process is more involved and critical than the caliper brackets so we used a trained technician to do the install. It took less than an hour and was well worth the peace of mind knowing it was done right.

We added a set of Muzzys Sportbike Radial Caliper Strap Brackets to allow the use of a lowering strap to drop the front end.
The Myrtle-West 3-Hole Adjustable Lowering Kit replaces the stock linkage on the rear shock.
(Above) The Muzzys Sportbike Radial Caliper Strap Brackets along with Schnitz Lowering Straps took care of bringing the front-end down. (Below) A Myrtle-West 3-Hole Adjustable Lowering Kit replaced the stock linkage on the rear shock, allowing for up to two inches of adjustablility.

The last piece of the quick and easy drag bike upgrades was a My-Pro Tether Kill Switch. The black, machined aluminum mounting bracket fits cleanly on the right handlebar next to the throttle housing. A nylon tether cord tugs and un-plugs a stout male fitting from the switch unit in case of a crash. Installation took under an hour again by our certified mechanic. Installation of any these items is best done by an experienced Kawasaki technician but instructions are provided with each item so the do-it-yourself rider can get the job done too. Expect to spend three or four hours in the confines of the garage if you do it yourself.

Once the bike was complete we loaded her into our trusty toy hauler and headed to the Friday Night Drags at our local Champion Raceway with my entire family in tow. Despite what you may believe the drag racing scene is a family-oriented event. If your kids dig engines, burnouts, competition and race cars then it’s worth the price of admission just to go watch – but it’s even more fun when you are there to race. My family has seen me ride on the street but have never seen me compete or actually haul ass on a bike except in images and videos so it was cool just to have them be a part of the action.

This was a special Grudge Match where street-legal vehicles would compete, straight-up in head-to-head battles. There were only a handful of bikes signed up for the grudge match though and I would soon find out why. The first three runs were all head-to-head for practice with nothing on the line. Good thing too as I hadn’t been at the strip for quite a while. My first run versus a lowered GSX-R1000 was a 10.03 @ 144 mph. The lowered ZX was obviously going to be formidable so I was pretty happy with the result. Remember, these are uncorrected times on a clean track with temps in the mid-70s and 1100’ elevation. These were very good conditions for racing.

With family watching from the stands  Ken laid out a nice  long burnout before beating a stock Kawasaki ZX-9R.
With family watching from the stands, Ken laid out a nice, long burnout before beating a stock Kawasaki ZX-9R.

My next run was against a stock Kawasaki ZX-9R. With my kids cheering from the stands I made sure to lay a nice, long burnout before staging. I cut a great light and saw in my peripheral vision that the 9R ripped a big wheelie so I knew I had him covered. That pass turned out to be the fastest run I had ever made at my home track to the tune of 9.92 @ 145.9 mph. When I pulled up to my kids in the grandstands they were going nuts. They were super-excited that I ‘won’ since they didn’t really get what we were doing out there. My mom and aunt didn’t share in their excitement though. Mom said, “…yeah, that’s cool Kenny but it scares the hell out of me. Just wait until you see one of your kids going 150 mph on a motorcycle and then tell me how it feels…” She followed that up with a hug and a proclamation that it is much more impressive in person than on video.

The next go-around revealed why not many bikes were there for the street legal grudge match. With six bikes in the bracket racing class it turned out that it was just me and local fast guy, Jerry Stinson on his stretched, lowered, properly-geared Hayabusa drag bike replete with air-shifter and a license plate. He runs consistent 9.5s-9.7s @ 140 mph so I knew I had little or no chance of winning. So when we lined up for our first head-to-head practice run I was just there for the show. Not only did he whip me off the line but he beat me by .40 seconds with a 9.7 @ 139 mph compared to my 10.1 @ 144 mph. When we came back around the starter was motioning for us to get lined up again and one of the other racers told me “This was it, so get a good start this time, man!”

Ken ended with the Grudge Match win and went home with a 32oz beer mug as trophy.
Ken’s made more passes aboard the Kawasaki ZX-14R than on all the other bikes he’s drag raced combined.

Back-to-back races with the grudge match title on the line! The crowd was going pretty crazy and I was freaking my lid a bit as I lined up. You can see in the video what happened next: I knew I had to cut a mean light if I stood any chance and unfortunately I red-lighted. He still kicked-my ass straight up too. I limped back to the trailer with my tail between my legs and said good bye to mom and aunt who were happy to see I had survived but bummed I lost. The kids were bummed out, too. I got out of my gear and went to find Stinson and talk to him about the race. It turned out that wasn’t the final! We were going to be the first official Grudge Match final after the 30-minute intermission.

That was great news. I had a chance for redemption now: If I could pull off a miracle. By now my 14-, 9- and 8-year-old daughters knew what was up and what I needed to do to win. My 5-year old son was just a spaz, driving everyone crazy by running around the bleachers making dirt bike sounds, burning out in the gravel and being a boy. For the final I stuck my kids on the roof of the starting tower so they could get a good view of the start, sequestering them from the general public. I was freaking out too, butterflies and self-doubt running through my head as I slipped on my gear.

Stinson was cool, too. I conceded the race saying something to the effect of “I don’t know where I am going to get a half-second in order to beat you, man” To which he replied, “That’s why we run the race though.” Since this would be the last pass of the night I made sure to put on a good smoke show. I could hear my kids screaming from the tower so I gave them my signature shout at the devil fist-pump, shook my head and proceeded to melt-off that stock Dunlop until I couldn’t see anything. The announcer claimed that this was going to be a hell of a match with Stinson having been the fastest ET of the entire night at 9.6 and me having the fastest trap speed at 146 mph. Things got quiet as I rolled into the first light. He matched me and went full stage.

Even though the Hayabusa got off the line faster than the ZX-14R  Ken was able to take the win after the Busas air-shifter ran dry.
Even though the Hayabusa was faster off the line, Ken was able to take the win after the ‘Busa’s air-shifter ran dry

I inched to the second beam. The lights dropped. I got a great start but he did too. I could see we were neck-and-neck but he was pulling away after second gear. I knew this was going to happen but then the miracle happened. I heard his Busa hit the rev-limiter as I scooted past him. I couldn’t believe it, he missed a shift and left the door open for me to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. His air-shifter ran dry and he didn’t grab the shift manually in time to salvage the pass. He was right, that’s why you run the race. I was pretty damn happy that I won because I never win anything.

I pulled up to my toy hauler and got my helmet off in time to hear my 9-year old screaming that I won, running at me full speed. She jumped up into my arms and kneed me in the nuts. It was a painful but awesome experience to see how happy she was. For all she knew I just won the NHRA drag racing championship and I was fine with that. The rest of the clan was happy too as they gathered around the trailer. Their next big concern was the trophy and whether or not I got one, how big it would be, would it have my name on it and all the stuff kids love about them. We hurried to the tower to claim my prize.

When they handed me a 32-oz beer mug with “Friday Night Motorcycle Grudge Match Champion” etched on the side my 9-year old proclaimed, “That’s not a trophy, that sucks!” Much to the delight of the event promoter and the ladies in the scoring tower, I reassured my kid that it was an awesome trophy I could use all the time! I talked with Stinson and thanked him for being cool during our three races and offered up a promise that I would be back so he could redeem himself at the next race.

At the end of the day its all about some friendly compeition between people who love to go fast.
At the end of the day it’s all about some friendly competition between people who love to go fast and spending some quality time with family.

When it was all said and done this experience just verified what thousands of people already know. Drag racing is a good time and a great place to bring the kids. You have quite a bit of down time between races and an opportunity to see cars, dragsters, trucks and motorcycles all racing. It’s super-cool and my kids loved it. It was also a great way to extend our time with one of my favorite motorcycles, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R. I have made more passes at the drag strip aboard this model motorcycle than all the other motorcycles I have drag raced combined. That wraps up our ZX-14r Drag Racing Project Bike and I hope you enjoyed both the technical info and the glimpse into my family life. As you can tell, I believe that motorcycles of all type can offer fun for the family. So, if you have a motorcycle and a set of leathers, head down to the local drag strip, bring the kids, plan to stay a few hours and have some fun. Who knows, maybe we will see you out there and if we do, make sure your air-shifter is full or we might beat you too.