Kawasaki Ninjas Invade Times Square

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Lieback’s Corner (#19) / 9.24.2012

Times Square – the heart of New York City. This junction at Broadway and Seventh Avenue encompasses the drastic commercialization of America, delivering non-stop visuals to thousands of people on a daily basis. And due to the many shows stationed there, millions more are reached worldwide.

This power of commercialization is not only felt when arrives at Times Square, it can also quickly influence viewers on future buying decisions, whether it’s a handbag, a bite to eat, or, in Kawasaki’s universe, a motorcycle.

And after months of preparation that involved everything from health inspection clearance on special packs of green Kawasaki M&Ms to loads of insurance papers signed to bring motorcycles to Times Square, Kawasaki held one of the most impressive motorcycle unveilings to date last Thursday, aptly naming it “Ninja Times Square Takeover.”

During this takeover at the place known as “The Crossroads of the World,” Kawasaki grabbed a few hours of the world’s global eye while unveiling its latest 2013 models – the Ninja 300 and the revamped ZX-6R, which returns with the larger 636cc engine.

Although an ingenious marketing strategy on Kawasaki’s part, the event also had some underlying effects – it helped push the general image of motorcycling into the mind of Americans, something needed for an industry struggling due to the current economic condition.

But first the event.

The evening before the Ninja Times Square Takeover, Kawasaki put on a relaxing reception for journalists just off Times Square, discussing all the details. A few of Kawasaki’s feats in performance were on display, setting the green mood – a 1973 Z1 (arguable the original superbike), at 1984 GPZ900 (think Tom Cruise in Top Gun), the new Ninja 300, the revamped ZX-6R, and a special treat for race fans like me – a Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R piloted earlier in the World Superbike season by factory rider Tom Sykes.

And things only got better when Sykes himself walked into the room. The Brit had just returned to his home just north of London Monday from Nurburgring World SBK, and was immediately flown to New York City. For a manufacturer that struggled in world-stage racing over the past few years, Sykes is displaying how far Kawasaki has arrived in terms of performance. With two rounds left in the 2012 World Superbike Championship, Sykes is one of three riders with a realistic chance of earning the title (BMW Motorrad’s Marco Melandri and Aprilia Racing’s Max Biaggi are the others).

Although up for 26 hours, Sykes excitedly discussed the 2012 World SBK series, and how much the team achieved this season in regards to the ZX-10R’s performance. But after an Italian dinner, and almost getting slugged by a man shaving his legs on 39th Street (welcome to New York City, Tom!), Sykes and his wife fled to their hotel for sleep, as I also did with the fiancée, wanting to be charged for Thursday’s event.

A resident of Northeast Pennsylvania, I’ve spent a fair amount of time roaming New York City, and have observed the madness of Times Square on all days of the week. But upon leaving the hotel that Thursday morning, a special madness surrounded Times Square due to the amount of motorcycles on the streets.

Making a right down Broadway from 48th, thousands of other New Yorkers and I were met with a line of Kawasaki Ninja motorcycles of all ages and models. In the mix was everything from a rare ZX-7RR to Kawi’s latest ZX-10R to a ZX-14R decked out as a sport tourer. These bikes were a few of the more than 60 that were invited by Kawasaki to attend the event. The riders, each picked from dealers in the Tri-State area, would later all ride into Times Square as a planned event, possibly the most motorcycles in Times Square at one time.

But things really picked up from 47th to 45th streets. This is where anyone could tell that Kawasaki’s Ninja Times Square Takeover was just what the name implied. Spectators were met by a huge Kawasaki Racing trailer, which was surrounded by many special-edition race motorcycles. And beyond the trailer was a chained-in area where famed sportbike stunt rider Jason Britton and his Team No Limit partner Eric Hoenshell put on three shows throughout the day. This area also hosted appearances by nine-time world champion drag racer Rickey Gadson and AMA Supercross Champion Ryan Villopoto, along with an Icon fashion show, various models showing off the latest in Icon men and women motorcycle wear.

Beyond the chained fence and across 46th Street were a few 2012 Ninja models, including a white ZX-14R that everyone stopped to throw a leg over. Next to the Hypersport was some tattoo painting and balloon making for the kids, many youngsters later observed roaming Times Square with these green and black balloons that resembled motorcycles.

Also in this area were two green ZX-14Rs hooked to a race simulator. This allowed those who dared to go head-to-head with Gadson, seeing just how quick their quarter-mile reaction times really were.

All this commotion on Times Square was planned for one reason and one reason only – to unveil Kawasaki’s latest 2013 offerings – the Ninja 300 and the ZX-6R. And at 1:45 p.m. sharp, a perfectly coordinated effort brought a white Ninja 300 to the stage, breaking the bike’s cover to the public for the first time.

Then, out of a wooden box billowing with stage-action smoke, Kawasaki unveiled its all-new ZX-6R, the bike that returns to the 636cc motor for the first time since 2005. The bike was pulled from the crate in its typical Kawi green color scheme, opening the eyes of the many motorcycle fans on Times Square, and also the normal passersby that fill the location on any given time of any given day.

Was it a success? Due to the spectacular fashion of the Ninja Times Square Takeover, Kawasaki showed it has the energy (and of course the resources) needed to present its latest products to the largest audience possible. And Kawasaki couldn’t have picked a better week; the takeover occurred two days following the 11th anniversary of 9/11, when thousands of people were attending memorials, and in the middle of Fashion Week.

Of course, the Ninja Times Square Takeover was great for Kawasaki’s promoting efforts, but it was also great for the entire motorcycle industry. Why? Thousands of people left New York City that day with two-wheel impressions lingering in their minds. And any event that brings motorcycles to the forefront of one of the busiest towns in the world is, in my mind, without a doubt a success.

Photography by Ron Lieback