I never intended to ride this bike. Indeed it wasn’t even on my must try list, but it should have been. In riding this bike I gave in to peer pressure, a number of friends, vague acquaintances, and even total strangers (though very few of my family) were suggesting, and some insisting, that I hop on this bike and take it for a spin. Peer pressure is a great way to get into trouble – I highly recommend it in well-timed doses.
Until this recent wave of “word of mouth media” the ZZR-1200 was not even on my radar. Kawasaki has successfully made this the least publicized sport-tourer/super-tourer I had never heard of; maybe I missed that month’s bike mags while on the road or something, or just never got to the end of the alphabet to look up it’s specs.
On paper the bike makes a mixed impression. Touring periodically takes me over mountain passes in questionable weather so carburetion had me concerned. Plus carbs require a bit more tune-up time than FI; more money out the door over the long term. Plus, in mankind’s race to digitally re-master the world, carburetion seemed a bit old school against fuel injection. Topping off the carb concerns is the fact that everything else on the ZZR-1200 spec sheet seemed borrowed from other Kawasaki bikes, namely the ZX-9 and ZX-12, left this ride with the feel of a parts bin bike.
But parts binner it is not. Think of the ZZR-1200 more as a ZX-12 all dressed-up and ready to go out for a night on the town. The styling is distinct, with smoothed lines and headlights that many have commented resemble a certain well-trademarked cartoon mouse, a Mercedes C-type, or a Power Puff girl all grown up. But strange as it is I think the looks could grow on me – I tend to like bikes that stand out in a crowd.
Stand out it does, in 160 ways at the crank and 130’ish at the back wheel. Those ways are, of course, horses; that puts the ZZR right up there with the likes of the Blackbird and Hyabusa for output, but it does so in a much more comfortable and relaxed fitting wrapper.
Once on the road the true nature of this bike was revealed. Test riding this bike was sort of like going to dinner with a charming, relaxed, well-dressed stranger… and then realizing that your dinner date is actually a hired killer; it may all be bright conversation now, but in an hour you’ll probably be dead.
This bike has a comfortable chassis, good suspension that makes for a solid ride, a front-end that soaks up the road but still gives you a good feel, and 130 horses in the rear that are ready to go at a moment’s notice with a pull that comes in strong from the merest twist. The transmission needs a bit of work; shifting into first occasionally ground just a little – this might have been a lack of break-in on the part of the test bike, which had only 145 kms on it.
The ZZR, like the Blackbird, falls into the license-killer category for me. The vast, huge, helpings of power are smooth but come on strong; kudos to anyone who uses the full range of this throttle. I’ve been riding a K1200RS for some time and am used to liberally applying throttle when coming out of the corners. With this engine a gentle dab will do you, lest you unsettle the rear tire. In a straight line however, feel free to revel in the bass of the engine note and the occasional sonic boom.
So, given the power to the rear wheel you may conclude I scared myself on the ZZR. The answer is – yes. It was brilliant fun! It had me simultaneously wide-eyed and giggling. For the entire duration of my test ride I left nothing but a trail of pee. This bike is fast, and it handles well, though it would have been improved if my ankle were fully healed so I could properly weight shift or hang off (this is a sport-tourer where you can do this without looking like a poser).
Sportbike-style front-brake-only stopping is a little soft and I found myself needing to use the back more than usual to haul the bike down from speed and in panic stops. There was, however, no fear of stoppie-ing (no hope of the spell check catching that) with the bike’s long-ish wheelbase. But the soft front binder is a weakness.
So Kawasaki certainly got the sport part right; twisties, cloverleaves and any other asphalt beware, the ZZR is out there and chewing you up. So what about the touring aspect?
Well the ergos are good, the bars positioning left my wrists were ache-free after about an hour out. Vibration was minimal through the bars and the suspension compliant to the road without being soft. The seat was comfortable, but then this was not a month long tour so I can’t really say if that would maintain. And of course there is hard luggage available, colour matched Givi or Givi-alike. Unfortunately the wind noise was overwhelming; the aero dynamics are such that my head and chest were completely exposed and no amount of laying on the tank or shifting about could rectify it.* I found it too uncomfortable for any duration with the stock screen and would probably have to seek an aftermarket solution.
This bike is closer to being my choice than the Blackbird simply because I found the ergos better suited to my frame, though both bikes would require aftermarket screens for my use. The price point is also alluring, this being an unsung sport-tourer in Canada ensures that bargains are to be found or created in the purchase dealing. Unfortunately, the power for me is actually too much (gasp – there I put it in print!). This is a bike I would need to build up to, especially after my recent accident. But once I’m there I most certainly would consider another date with the assassin, I mean I survived the first one – that’s a good indication right? Maybe it likes me?
Special Thanks to Richmond Motorsports for the use of their demo ZZR-1200.
* Dubbed “the Worlds Loudest Helmet”, the Schuberth Concept ensures an exceptionally subjective and possibly hearing-damaging assessment of a bike’s wind and engine noise.