ZX-14R’s popularity doesn’t just come from the brawniness of its 1,441cc inline-four. The bike is as happy meandering two-up on a country road as it is screaming down the drag strip or dry lake bed. The secret to the ZX-14R’s broad appeal comes from embracing technologies, like ABS brakes and traction control, that add more usability for a wide range of riders and riding styles. But yeah, the horsepower still has a lot to do with it.
The Ninja ZX-14R’s engine is more than supremely powerful; there’s also plenty of polish and refined manners to go along with it. The engine’s dual gear-driven counterbalancer setup has been optimized to work with the mill’s heavy-duty crankshaft and long-stroke dimensions. The end result is smooth power across the entire rev range.
High-lift camshafts are operated by a high-performance cam chain and tensioner system to help ensure high-rpm reliability. Lightweight forged pistons also help durability and are cooled by an oil-jet cooling system that pumps a continuous stream of lubricant at the underside of each piston. (Testing shows the engine runs considerably cooler with this race-spec system.)
The impressive durability built into this high-compression powerhouse continues with its super-strong alloy connecting rods which have beefy small ends. Similarly, it uses stout 40mm crankshaft main journals. Transmission gears are heat- and surface-treated for smooth shifting and a long service life.
Feeding this class dominating engine is a large, high-flow, air-cleaner element that helps prevent debris ingestion without restricting performance and a Digital Fuel Injection (DFI®) system that offers automatic idle adjustment and helps reduce emissions. Exhaust exits through a high-performance system with large-diameter tapered header pipes and large-volume mufflers, each with an advanced catalyzer to minimize emissions.
The benefits of all this hot-rodding are substantial, as there’s class leading power virtually everywhere across the rev range. The advantages are most profound in the mid-high rpm range, but incredible acceleration is still available from as low as 4,000 rpm. This translates into the sort of thrust riders can appreciate in a wide variety of situations, whether it’s powering up a freeway on-ramp to merge with fast-moving traffic or cruising along a deserted backroad on a sunny, Sunday-morning ride. On the ZX-14R, total domination is just a twist of the throttle away.
Beyond just being impressively strong, the engine’s manners are also effectively managed by a combination of its back-torque limiting “slipper” clutch assembly, a three-mode KTRC traction control system and a two-mode Hi/Low power selector system. The first two KTRC modes are intended to maximize acceleration similar to the ZX-10R’s S-KTRC. The third mode is tuned for low-traction (wet/slippery) conditions, similar to the Concours® 14 sport tourer’s KTRC. The KTRC system can be turned-off by the rider and its settings and the Hi/Low ignition maps can be selected with the bar-mounted toggle/push switch. KTRC activity can be monitored on a seven-segment real-time bar graph in the cockpit’s LCD info-screen. The back-torque limiting clutch technology comes directly from the racetrack, and helps eliminate the wheel-hop and stability-eroding torque effects of energetic downshifting and braking while cornering, or during spirited – or emergency – stops. It also helps protect the bike’s drive train, for optimum durability.
The result of all this refined and high-tech hot rodding is arguably the finest open-class sportbike engine ever built – and an engine this capable needs a similarly competent chassis in which to live and thrive. The ZX-14R is up to the job, and then some. Kawasaki engineers designed its chassis to deliver a light-handling and maneuverable personality. To provide a sweet-handling character coupled with real sport riding performance, the engineers designed the frame’s aluminum castings and forgings to have unique flex and rigidity characteristics. So, while its monocoque alloy frame and aluminum swingarm designs look similar to the original ZX-14, they have vastly different flex characteristics, stiffer in some places and unchanged in others. The net result creates an ideal balance for the ZX-14R’s world class power and acceleration capabilities.
Front and rear suspension tuning helps maintain the balancing act of wheel control, ride compliance and maneuverability. Both the 43mm fully adjustable inverted fork and multi-adjustable single shock offer excellent response throughout a wide speed range, while the beautifully machined 10-spoke wheels reduce unsprung weight to aid acceleration, handling and suspension action.
The Ninja ZX-14R ABS features a powerful and responsive Nissin sportbike anti-lock brake system (ABS), for additional rider confidence on mixed or slippery surfaces. Triple petal-type brake rotors and radial-mount calipers help provide powerful, fade-free stops and a progressive feel at the lever.
Of course, with this much top-shelf performance, you also have to look good. Dynamic styling has been a Kawasaki hallmark since the days of H1s, H2s and Z-1s, so it’s only fitting that the pinnacle of a long line of sportbikes looks the part. From tip-to-tail, the ZX-14R’s bodywork honors the imposing, angular and flowing shapes that have made recent Ninja models some of the most attractive sportbikes in existence. The front is especially imposing, with a highly aggressive nose fitted with a unique quad-headlight assembly and a large ram-air duct to stuff cool atmosphere into the intake system. The traditional 4-fin theme along the fairing’s sides has a pronounced 3D design, while great effort was expended to hide hooks and fasteners as much as possible. The bike’s tail section is especially well-sculpted, with faired-in turn signals and a cool rear seat cowl – standard on all U.S. models – boosting aesthetic performance.
The fairing package offers functional benefits as well as aesthetic ones. The seat, for instance, offers excellent thigh support and helps make it easy for vertically challenged riders to reach the ground. The bodywork’s venting system effectively extracts heated air from the engine bay and away from the rider and passenger.
Instruments and controls are fully up to the latest standards, with a multi-function switch on the left handlebar that handles all system functions. You can toggle the LCD screen using the upper/lower buttons, and easily scroll through fuel consumption, remaining range, battery voltage, external temperature, traction control, etc., choosing and adjusting functions using the ‘select’ button in the center of the toggle switch. There’s even an “eco” indicator on the LCD screen that lets riders know when they’re getting maximum economy and fuel mileage.
The end result of all this technology and all these features is a dominating open-class ride – a supremely smooth, powerful and refined sporting motorcycle that’ll gladly go anywhere there’s asphalt and do it with an uncanny level of competence. High-aggression Sunday-morning rides? No worries. Two-up along the coast for the weekend? Easy. Commuting to and from work? Simple. Weekend bracket racing at the local dragstrip? Cake.
See? It’s difficult to compete with an open-classer this good at so many things. It’s a fact our competition knows all too well.
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