2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 | Review

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2011 ZX-14

Do you want to go insanely fast? Does aiming your motorcycle at a distant vanishing through a grey halo of speed-induced blur make you feel truly alive?

Twisting the throttle of the 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 will give you the experience you crave. Wind tunnel designed plastic and a high revving, high displacement inline-four pumping out an undisclosed amount of horsepower enable the brave to conquer the open spaces in short order.

There is little one can say about the differences between the two Japanese hyperbike screamers because it is nearly impossible for a mere mortal to test this class of motorcycle at its extreme end of performance.

Given a rider with the skill and strength of will to hit the limiter in sixth gear, there is a distinct problem in finding a suitable location for such a test.

A track day will tell you much about the low and midrange torque and horsepower, but long before you get close to the top end you run out of strait and all your concentration goes into wrestling the behemoth through corners designed to challenge a 600.

The logical venue is a standing mile time trial on a dry lakebed, but that does not lend itself to an informal test, not to mention the dismay the fine folks at Kawasaki might suffer at having a loaner bike entered into an official competition.

In the West, we have a very big desert with some lovely long, strait roads where one can join the 200 MPH club if so inclined.

Of course, that comes with the risk having your bike spend some time in an impound lot, or at worst spread across the landscape in very small pieces after trying to bunny-hop an endangered desert tortoise.

In the end, it is all pointless because the manufacturers have agreed to limit top speed to 300 kph (aka 186 mph). Despite the previously stated difficulty, if you are looking for a machine of the caliber of the Ninja ZX-14, there are characteristics that distinguish it from the other bike in its class.

Styling is a concern when it comes to the motorcycles we choose and the ZX-14 has that. Every angle is purpose built to accomplish the main task of the machine; slip through the ocean of air as cleanly as possible.

Contours ramp down from the passenger seat cowl, cutting through the rider compartment, over the four slashes along the tank, to culminate at a point on the ground preceding the front tire.

The lower fairing channels cooling air through the lightweight Denso radiator and around the engine compartment while deflector wings under the swing arm smooth the flow of air around the rear wheel. Front and back turn indicators fuse into the bodywork; the only thing distracting the flow of air over the fairing is the large ram air intake duct between the evil grin of the headlights.

Cool, high-pressure air channels through the central duct into the 1352cc four-cylinder DOHC engine, passing the 44mm Mikuni throttle bodies with 32-bit ECU controlled duel throttle valves.

Fine-atomizing injectors spray 75µm droplets of fuel at a 20-degree angle to cover a wider area of the combustion chamber to give a controlled even burn. Each of the four spark plugs has its own ignition coil allowing the ECU to optimize the tuning of each cylinder independently.

Perfect primary balance and dual gear-driven balancers reduce vibration to an absolute minimum while special piston profile and insulation in the magnesium timing chain cover reduces mechanical noise. The sound produced by the ZX-14 has an appealing turbine ambience and urges the rider to turn the throttle further.

A six-speed transmission is overkill in the Ninja ZX-14, as it can easily suffice to have only five gears, perhaps even four, for the majority of riders who throw a leg over this God of Speed.

The transmission started out very tight, but after a hundred miles the dogs wore in and slick shifting became the norm. The hydraulic clutch uses a radial-pump master cylinder–same as the front brake–which gives a clean look.

However, the throw is too close to the grip preventing two-fingered clutching. The slipper clutch works well; clicking down a couple gears and dumping the clutch gives a satisfying ratcheting down in speed without locking the rear wheel.

Handling, while not quick, is confidence inspiring. At the speeds capable by the ZX-14, you want extremely predictable handling so quick steering is replaced by strait line stability and precise corner tracking.

Engine placement in the hollow box aluminum frame plays an important part in the Ninja’s handling. Front to rear balance is carefully designed into the bike to give the desired handling characteristics for a machine with a clamed curb weight of 567 pounds.

The road interface comes in the form Bridgestone Battlax tires, both wrapped around attractive cast wheels with offset center ribs so wheel weights can be located precisely along the centerline.

Kawasaki’s twin 310mm petal front discs, with radial-mounted, four-piston calipers and rear 250mm petal disk with twin-piston caliper, provide admirable stopping power.

Each piston in the calipers has its own brake pad, which increases cooling efficiency and decreases the chance deforming due to heat. Braking is unaided by ABS, which saves weight but a motorcycle capable of such high speeds can use all the help available when slowing down.

The frame is a combination of box aluminum and cast aluminum to give strength and rigidity while remaining light and wraps around the engine, which is a stressed member to add torsional rigidity and further, save weight.

Dampening on the 43mm inverted cartridge forks is stiff in initial throw to resist dive during braking and the Uni-Track linkage rear suspension is fully adjustable, linear in action, and helps lower center of gravity by lowering linkage position.

Despite its high output, power application is smooth across the whole rev-range making the ZX-14 very predictable. Below 3000 rpm, the ZX-14 is quite tame and very easy to ride around town.

Digital Timing Advance in conjunction with exhaust design and high displacement gives the Ninja exceptional low and mid-range power with a very friendly throttle response. Between 3000 and 5000 rpm, you have an outstanding highway machine with comfortable ergonomics for the long ride away from civilization.

The bike is necessarily low for high-speed aerodynamics but this helps in mid-speed situations because the air hitting your chest helps take the weight off your arms from the forward positioned bars. Once the speedo hits the triple digits, the full effect of the wind tunnel designed body comes into play. Tucking into the envelope cut by the fairing feels natural and the sensation of pure speed overtakes your mind, driving out all mundane thoughts.

The 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 combines attractive styling with mind-boggling performance in a package that pleases even if it never ridden to its full capability. You do not have to be super-human to ride one, but if you are, let me know what it is like at the redline in sixth.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 | Motorcycle Specs:

  • Engine…Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four valve per cylinder, inline-four
  • Displacement…1352 cc
  • Bore x stroke…84.0 x 61.0 mm
  • Compression ratio…12.0:1
  • Fuel system…DFI with four 44mm Mikuni throttle bodies
  • Ignition…TCBI with Digital Advance
  • Transmission…6-Speed
  • Final drive…X-Ring Chain
  • Rake/trail…23 degrees / 3.7 in.
  • Front tire size…120/70 ZR17
  • Rear tire size…190/50 ZR17
  • Wheelbase…57.5 in.
  • Overall height…46.1 in.
  • Overall length…85.4 in.
  • Overall width…29.9 in.
  • Front suspension / wheel travel…43mm inverted cartridge fork with adjustable preload, 13-way compression and 11-way rebound damping adjustment / 4.6 in.
  • Rear suspension / wheel travel…Bottom-link Uni-Trak® and gas-charged shock with adjustable preload, stepless rebound and compression damping adjustments, adjustable ride height / 4.8 in.
  • Front brakes…Dual semi-floating 310 mm petal discs with dual radial-mounted four-piston calipers
  • Rear brakes…Single 250mm petal disc with twin-piston caliper
  • Fuel capacity…5.8 gal.
  • Seat height…31.5 in.
  • Curb weight…566.7 lbs.
  • Color choices…Candy Lime Green / Ebony, Ebony
  • MSRP…$13,599
  • Warranty…12 months
  • Good Times Protection Plan…12, 24, 36 or 48 months