The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R defends its hyperbike status by embracing
excess. The mill is up to 1.44 liters, a 0.89 liter increase (or roughly
a scooter’s worth) over the outgoing ZX-14. Engine improvements include
lighter and stronger pistons, a more aggressive camshaft profile, and
revised intake and exhaust ports. To manage all this power, the ZX-14R
comes with a two-setting power mode and three-stage traction control
system that can be switched off, while a new slipper clutch promises
reduced rear-wheel hop during aggressive downshifts. Change wasn’t
limited to the powertrain; more than 50 percent of the ZX-14R’s aluminum
frame has been modified for rigidity, while a longer (and therefore
more stable) swingarm is countered with stiffer springs and lighter
wheels. Finally, restyled body panels feature a cleaner look with hidden
fasteners, and also improve the Kawasaki’s heat management.
Tech Tidbit: Much to the relief of moto hooligans
everywhere, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R’s new traction control system can,
in fact, be turned off. But as we discovered at the dragstrip, the
electronics are smart enough to know when you’re doing a burnout. Thanks
to an override in the system, vaporizing the rear tire at a standstill
is perfectly permissible, which says to us that Kawasaki knows how to
keep its core constituents happy.
Favorite Detail: The price. Its sub-$15,000 cost of
entry makes the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R a staggering bang-for-buck
performance bargain, offering Porsche 911 Turbo S-like acceleration for
the price of a Nissan Versa.
Driver’s Grievance: Though this bike is capable of
securely warping you into hyperspace with traction control, stopping is
another matter. Although ABS is now available on many motorcycles, the
obscenely fast Ninja ZX-14R doesn’t offer it, despite its bombastic
claims for blistering speed.
Bottom Line: Kawasaki achieves astounding levels of
performance with the 2012 Ninja ZX-14R. This is a motorcycle with brute
power that’s (finally) tamed by an appropriately responsive and
instantaneous traction control system. But while Kawi keeps its bragging
rights for building the world’s quickest and most powerful
mass-produced bike, the title comes with a caveat, because the ZX-14R
isn’t available with ABS for the U.S. market. So buyer beware: While
bikers with many miles under their belts will be able to enjoy this
engineering achievement while also keeping it under control, newer
riders may easily overstep this bike’s braking limits. As deliciously
tempting as the ZX-14R’s outrageous performance may be, this land rocket
can just as easily nip you in the rear.