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2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Press Intro... from Brock's Point of View
Friday, December 23, 2011 Dragbike.com - Brock Davidson

 

By Brock Davidson
Photography by Kevin Wing and Adam Campbell

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson


I’m not exactly sure what has gotten into the Japanese giant, but when you twist the throttle on their new flagship, you had better be ready for some serious (controlled) acceleration. Gone is the miserable neutering that would allow a healthy 600 to momentarily jump out in front of the original 2006 ZX-14, unless of course you removed the restrictive secondary butterflies, or added an aftermarket gizmo called a TRE (pre-2008 ZX-14,) but these came at the expense of releasing a harsh burst of power which could only be considered disruptive at best if you were trying to enjoy your favorite twisties. Instead, the new 14R rewards the rider with smooth, even what I would consider deceptive power delivery via sophisticated electronics inspired by the 2011 ZX-10R KTRC Traction Control System. But let’s digress for a moment and talk about a little modern ‘go-fast’ history and milestone model introductions.

 

In this day and age, the history of the open class hyperbike really begins in 1999 when Suzuki unleashed the Hayabusa, and it simply crushed everything previously considered fast. I haven’t exactly figured out why some of the others have been so unwilling to try and compete with the mighty Busa; odds are it revolves around liability, but one thing is for certain, Yamaha and Honda are still firmly rooted ‘under the porch’ in this category. In 2006, Kawasaki released the first generation ZX-14, and I for one, was thrilled. I ran down to my local dealer, purchased one for myself and documented my performance enhancing escapades for all to see. Read about the ZX-14 Diaries here:

 

 

I truly enjoyed my 14 and it became an instant favorite in my stable; apples to apples it was smoother, faster, handled better, stopped quicker, and was considerably more comfortable than a Gen 1 Busa, in my humble opinion. The 14’s only real flaw came when you decided to move to step two – hot rodding the engine. Most drag racers and many ‘slammed and stretched’ aficionados only like to keep their engine stock for so long, you know? But with the 14, if you left the engine alone and just bolted-on aftermarket performance or customization items, the bike was a fantastic platform as its large and ever-growing fan base indicates.

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson



The overall gap between the 14 and Gen 1 Busa was enough to get some Busa owners to jump ship to Team Green and entice new purchases, but from a loyalty (and many financial based) standpoint, quite a few Busa owners simply opted to build their existing engine to keep up. The Busa is very hot rod friendly, and the aftermarket world is teaming with parts to help the performance gap be eliminated and preferably reversed quickly, quietly and inexpensively in one’s own garage. So much for Kawasaki’s attempt to build a better mouse trap. Drag racers are cheap; what can we say…?

 

Enter the Gen 2 Busa in 2008. Even though it wasn’t the type of ‘suplex from the top rope’ that the Gen 1 Busa proved compared to the competition, it was a REALLY good bike based on a refined version of the dominant Gen 1 Busa and still retained its ‘buildable’ engine layout. Read about ‘Chronic’ the dragbike.com Gen 2 Busa project bike here:

 

 

Kawasaki re-released their 2008 ZX-14 at the same time, in an attempt to boost somewhat lackluster 2007 sales, with modifications that included (drum roll please) opening the secondary throttle plates on the 2008 unit at basically the same rate as adding a TRE to the earlier machines (which received rather anticlimactic, “That’s it?” response from the go fast community.) They made a couple other changes also, but after the addition of the aftermarket mods that we do were performed (pipe, Power Commander etc.) the Gen 2 Busa was quicker and faster than the 08 ZX-14, and that’s really the only thing that anyone who buys these bikes really cares about at the end of the day and we have all been sitting in this same state since 2008 with only the ‘bold new graphics’ versions entering showrooms each year, until now.

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

 

I’m going to briefly touch on the introduction of the 2010 BMW S1000RR. Because it makes about the same peak power as the two brands/models above, yet weighs the better part of 100 lbs. less as we set them up, it really must be classified as a performance milestone of its own. With the BMW’s ultra short wheelbase and incredible power, it’s basically unrideable (to quick elapsed times) in the quarter mile -- at least in stock wheelbase form -- unless it’s in the hands of a professional jockey. As a result, and unlike the Busa and 14, the RR’s wheelbase must be extended to truly utilize its power-to-weight ratio for drag race purposes. At the time of its release in 2010, there were no other bikes in the 1000 cc category which even came close, so big bike comparisons were inevitable. Now that Kawasaki has released the 2011 ZX-10R, the BMW S1000RR now enjoys some ‘in class’ competition. Quite frankly, it’s a purpose built, lightweight, nimble sportbike more suited for canyon carving and road race track days than straight line assaults or late night boulevard prowling and tune and test drag sessions, so I’m going to try to refrain from referring to it, as much as possible, in the open class wars.

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson


So back to the 2012 ZX-14R Press Introduction: We are in Vegas -- a fitting spot for Kawasaki to hold its press introduction for the 14R in today’s economic climate. US big bike sales have steadily declined since 2008 (due to the recession,) so WHY would any company in their right mind allocate funds towards a declining market? Let’s talk about a gamble… The theme of Kawasaki’s 14R presentation was simple: Total Domination. They are so confident in their work on the new 14R, that they believe truly performance-minded enthusiasts will simply HAVE to have one. I also attended the dealer show in Orlando and this opinion was resonated across all lines: dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides, watercraft, etc... Kawasaki intends to establish themselves as the number one Japanese manufacturer in all areas, and it looks like they have decided that this down economy is the time to do it; the ZX-14R is their opening salvo to let their intentions be known. After all, this mess can’t last forever, and I’m guessing they don’t think their competition has deep enough pockets (or the willingness) to combat their assault. Will they dominate and end up on top when the smoke clears? History will tell the tale.

 

Click here for my real time impressions from my street ride on the new 14R

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

This single shot sums up my day’s riding on the new 2012 ZX-14R… FUN!


I could get very long winded about how well the new traction control system works on the 14R, but instead I’m just going to say that it’s seamless and confidence inspiring. In traction control mode three, you can’t spin the tire in a gravel parking lot. In TC mode two, you can whack the throttle wide open in first gear and the bike won’t let you scratch up the back of your shiny new helmet as it includes wheelie control. For novice and experienced riders alike, there is a mode you will appreciate at some point in your travels. Read about it and the rest of the technical spec’s here:

 

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

 

The Drag strip… Typically my favorite part:


I say typically, why? Because in my world, I wouldn’t be seen at the drag strip on any stock height bike with the mirrors on. Seriously, I would stay home and wash the cat or do laundry first. I spend my long days in front of a computer running my business -- not practicing my launch or exercising -- and have done so for many years. This means I can do a fine job embarrassing myself at the drag strip, and don’t have the need to make a bike harder to ride (or slow it down.) For those of you who may not know, the simple addition of a Brock’s Performance lowering kit can lower the elapsed time of a difficult to ride machine, such as the ZX-14R, by as much as four tenths of a second in the quarter mile. This is accomplished by lowering the overall bike and rider’s center of gravity and allowing the rider to apply more power SOONER in the run. (I know… I invented it.) This is especially important for heavier riders because their increased body mass makes the bike try to ‘loop’ out from under them more so than with a lighter rider. It also requires approximately twelve horsepower to push the mirrors of a modern sportbike 140 miles per hour. So we take them off, or fold them in, or do something besides just let them hang out in the wind making us go slower. YES, all of this knowledge is a bit of a curse sometimes, especially when I’m at the controls, but I try to make the best of it.

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

 

The problem with press introductions are that the folks who provide the bikes, rent the track, fly you across the country, wine and dine you, etc... really want you to experience the bike as they designed it, not as you want to set it up. They also want them to look showroom stock in the magazine photos, which means the mirrors stay in place; frustrating for sure. Add to this the fact that I arrived with a ‘monkey on my back’ in that I had never managed to see my way into the nines on a stock height ZX-14 on TWO previous attempts; once in Vegas in 2006 and another in Fontana, California during the 2008 14 Intro. Both are high altitude tracks which atmospherically snip around two tenths of a second off of an elapsed time, but even at that, the power is there to do it. It’s just too damn difficult at stock height, plus I’ve been riding slammed bikes for too many years to just quit riding ‘the way I ride.’ Old dog, I guess? You can read about the 2008 ZX-14 press intro here where my dragbike.com co-writer on the story, Matt Polito, doesn’t pull any punches reminding me that I suck—it’s a fun read??

 

 

That being said, thanks to the power of Facebook, I was watching Rickey Gadson’s trackside updates between flights and saw some of the ETs and MPH he was running in Vegas preparing for the press launch.

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

With the addition of just a lowering kit and gearing change, Rickey G ran an incredible 9.25 @ 151.37 MPH on an otherwise stock ZX-14R in the Vegas altitude.

 

I was pumped. That should put him in the high 9.60s ‘up in the air’ (w/no lowering kit.) Sure, I’m pushing 215 lbs. suited, but I damn sure still know how to drag race a motorcycle and that’s some serious MPH – in short, it’s a fast bike. Nines should be a piece of cake!!

 

2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

“Ok Rickey, which one of the bikes is the fastest? I have more ‘beef’ to push down the track than the rest of these guys.”

 

The organizers of the intro had a schedule that included an extraordinary number of safety-based runs to get us all acclimated to the power of the new 14R. Mind-numbingly boring stuff like riding out 100 ft., clicking the bike into 2nd gear, accelerating to half track, and then coasting across the finish line over and over again. It took about 400 years (it seemed) before they allowed us to make full runs, but one part really got my attention. Even during the ‘burst and stop’ safety laps, one glaringly obvious point was made: This bike HAULS ASS - for real, no joke. It’s seriously fast, even bone stock. So when they asked us to put them in traction control mode two, roll out in the middle of first gear, and snap the gas wide open, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive at first. During my street ride, I found myself accidently controlling 3rd gear power wheelies in the default traction control mode one. (Oops, did I say that out loud?) To my amazement, in TC2 the front wheel stayed put, but the bike still accelerated very hard and without any abrupt interference. You could hear it ‘stutter’ a bit, although it was easier to hear as a bystander than as a rider since wind noise was louder than the stock exhaust as speeds increased. I’m very excited, because I believe this option could go a long way towards enticing novice riders to enjoy drag racing! FYI: Many ‘first timers’ shy away because they don’t want to be ribbed by their buddies for not going quick at the drag strip, and instead will opt for ‘roll-ons’ on the street since the launch is the most dangerous/difficult part of drag racing (horrible idea by the way.) For the first time ever, your bike can actually make you not only look faster than you are, but do it safely. Once you practice enough, your riding skills get better and your confidence is at an appropriate level, switch to TC mode one, and eventually turn it off. Don’t get me wrong, this little enhancement isn’t going to turn you into Rickey Gadson or Jeremey Teasley at the touch of a button, and if you're already a fast rider it will slow you down, but I witnessed journalist who would have otherwise been embarrassingly dancing in the elevens and gunning for the tens, record multiple passes in the 10.30 range that would have either:

  • Never happened
  • Stumbled upon once due to blind ass luck, or
  • Had their heroic attempt at stardom end at the expense of something/someone getting scratched up.
  •  

    You can take that to the bank.

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

     

    So, guess what happens when Kawasaki adds 4 millimeter of stroke, bigger intake/exhaust cams, and a hand finished cylinder head to a stock bike that is ALREADY almost impossible for me to ride at stock height? You guessed it… now it’s COMPLETELY impossible for me to ride?! My first session runs were all ten – ohhhhh somethings, and the blood was starting to boil under my helmet.


    But then I remembered something as I waited for the second wave of journalists to make their passes. During the 2008 intro, I was so incredibly frustrated that I came up to the line at one point and just left the line like I was pulling away from a stoplight, and it worked better than trying to really ‘launch’. Being a heavier rider really does try to make the bike try to crawl out from under me, so by lowering the launch RPM, I can control the clutch easier to get me and the bike moving and then screw on the gas PAINFULLY SLOW to keep the machine from instantly snatching skyward and ruining the run.

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

     

    All of this extra 14R power is like having nitrous in the throttle, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for quick ETs on a tall, stock wheelbase bike.

     

    BROCK's ZX-14R 9.98 Pass

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Traction Control Demonstrated

     

    RICKEY's ZX-14R 9.31Pass

     

    In closing, Kawasaki engineers seem to have peeled a page out of the 2008 Gen 2 Suzuki manual with the 2012 ZX-14R as a seriously refined version of the earlier machines. At a glance, it appears to basically be the same, but as you investigate further, you realize that although it looks the same, almost everything is different. There is much more attention to detail, not only to the fit and finish, but also to the ride and comfort. As mentioned previously, the ZX-14 was a solid platform in the past, but it wasn’t without flaws. The rider and engine alike were exposed to rather large doses of heat at times. The cam chain tensioner design allowed the engine to rattle enough to scare some owners repeatedly back into their dealership for fear of pending engine failure, just to be told, “It’s normal.” These idiosyncrasies have now been addressed.

     

    In speaking with Kawasaki Heavy Industries ZX-14R Project Leader, Takeru “Tak” Ohshima, he explained that just like everyone else these days, money IS an object, so he and his team had to work within a set budget on the 14R project. He said that after they interviewed dealers and existing customers, one particular thing was clear: the US ZX-14 consumers had a desire for large amounts of smooth, reliable, usable power, and that dealers in particular had a bone to pick with a certain ‘bird of prey,’ so the engineering team set out to make sure there would be absolutely no questions on superiority in this regard, and they allotted a larger percentage of their budget towards engine development than towards any other area. “Total domination was our goal for the ZX-14R. It is the fastest accelerating, most powerful mass produced motorcycle on the planet - the king of all sportbikes,” explains Ohshima over dinner conversation as the quiet 32-year-old Shohei Naruoka, the 14R Engine Designer, agrees with a nod of approval.

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson


    These gentlemen do not lack confidence in their work and have done their homework, which became apparent as I quizzed them about their competition. I can promise you it’s going to get ugly for said competition when the slammed and stretched fans get their hands on the new 14R. Once all of this power is properly pointed forward by means of an extended wheelbase and the typical aftermarket goodies are added, Jerry Lewis should be able to clown his way into the eights. As far as the guys who prefer to build their own, it’s pretty hard to beat an OEM hot-rod engine, and I’m going to bet you’re not going to receive a warranty from even the top engine builders in the country. Add to that, once you start looking at the electronics package on the 14R, the aftermarket world just can’t offer up any items. So an apples to apples upgrade simply isn’t possible. Some of the ‘cheap drag racers’ might consider an MSRP of $14,699 (add a bargain-busting $200 for the blaze green custom look) a little steep, especially if they purchased waaaay back in 2008 or even before. Well, it’s reality check time guys… a 2012 ZX-6R now retails for $10,299. You can thank the declining value of our dollar vs. the Japanese Yen AND our economy/politicians for the majority of this two-wheeled performance sticker pain.

     

    Brock Davidson

    Good Luck, GO FAST and Ride Safe!

    Brock Davidson


    What I like:
    Thumbs up
    The Power!
    Thumbs up
    The attention to detail and refinement.
    Thumbs up
    The Power!
    Thumbs up
    Electronics Package
    What I don’t like:
    thumb down
    No anti-lock brake option
    thumb down
    Idiot light labeled ‘Shift/Launch Light’
    thumb down
    Integrated top engine case/cylinder
    thumb down
    Inability to see my engine when I lift up the tank

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

    Example of properly sized and placed OEM shift light that’s very easy to spot when all hell is breaking loose around you.

     

    2012 Kawasaki ZX-14R Brock Davidson

     


    Back to Main ZX-14R Page


 



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