Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Text: Warren Sobat • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Naked bikes continue to grow in popularity as manufacturers from Asia and Europe jump on the bandwagon. Kawasaki was a pioneer in developing the modern standard and they have stuck to their guns by offering the ZRX1200R for another production year. As one of my daddy's favorite clichés goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

In 1996, Team Green was one of the first to come out with a retro-styled, standard liter-class motorcycle reminiscent of the '70s superbikes, and they did it with style. Available in a racing legend Eddie Lawson replica green motif, the ZRX1100 featured classic styling with a modern engine and chassis. Although not a huge seller for Kawasaki in the beginning, it spawned a new age of "naked madness." The early version featured an engine pulled straight out of the sport-touring titan ZX-11 with a pair of coil spring rear shocks and a sturdy double-cradle frame. More than enough for back-road roosting and front-wheel aerobatics.

In 2001, not satisfied to leave well enough alone, they gave the ZRX a larger engine and a sturdier frame and swingarm, breathing new life into an already beautiful package. Make no mistake, this is a huge bike, and approaching the ZRX can be intimidating. It has a muscular look with its large five-gallon fuel tank and wide "king and queen" style seat mounted above its beefy twin shocks and enormous exhaust muffler. You can almost hear your heartbeats racing as you throw a leg over the saddle.

The former 1052cc power plant has been bored and stroked to a respectable 1164. Kawasaki claims a 13 percent increase in power over the ZRX1100 and horsepower numbers have been reported to be in the 100+ range. The engine has a sweet, deep, throaty burble when you thumb the starter and that burble builds to a howl as you twist the throttle open.

Power is excellent on the ZRX. Pulling away from a stop is a practice in moderation. Anything more than conservative wrist turns easily lofts the front wheel. Torque is delivered by the bucketful, pulling hard from about 3000rpm all the way up to 9000. Power delivery is very smooth and drive-line lash is ameliorated by a urethane rear-wheel damper plucked from Kawi's Ninja bike line.

A five-speed transmission transfers power from the engine to the rear wheel. Shifting was fairly effortless and almost unnecessary given the torque of this beast. On a curvy road, you can almost forget about shifting and opt instead to let the engine do the braking and driving.

Preserving its retro look and to save on costs, all this power is nestled into an antiquated double-cradle tubular frame but with a few improvements incorporated. A gusset has been added behind the steering head to increase frame rigidity and an underside brace lends extra support to the oval aluminum tubular swingarm.

The 43mm fully adjustable forks in front and a pair of aluminum shocks in the rear (also fully adjustable) handle road-soaking duties with great efficiency.

The feeling transmitted, once you're up and moving, belies the big standard's size. If I hadn't known there was a 463-lb. liter-class bike beneath me, I would have sworn it was one of the newer 600cc standards.

The whole setup works remarkably well. Throwing the ZRX through curvy rural back roads did little to upset the suspension. Ride and steering felt very neutral to the point of underestimating the bike's potential. Riding in on sharp turns the big standard was begging for more. Meanwhile, lock-to-lock steering travel and a wide handlebar allow for excellent low-speed maneuvering. Slipping through heavy urban traffic is a breeze.

Ergonomics is where the ZRX really shines. The foot pegs are slightly lower and farther forward than full-tilt sportbike specs. The wide handlebar, so reminiscent of yesteryear's superbikes, requires a moderate reach that is kind to the lower backs of the more mature. These two factors combine for a riding position that is comfortable enough to string together a few 100+ miles-a-day rides with little discomfort. Passenger accommodations are generous enough to keep muffled complaints from the passenger's helmeted head to a minimum.

The smallish fairing and windshield mounted over the headlight gives very good wind protection, keeping full blasts off your chest, and helmet buffeting is practically non-existent.

Accessories available from Kawasaki for the ZRX are limited to a tank bag, tank bra and a custom seat made by Corbin. Customers have a choice of colors: a silver/gray/black setup or a red/black/silver that looks like the old GPZ model.

The ZRX is a great bike. The MSRP of $ 7,899 is more than reasonable for an all-around package that can go from curve strafer to weekend tourer to daily commuter with ease and style. However, it does seem odd that Kawasaki would continue to offer this bike, considering their release of the Z1000, which dials up the contemporary meter on the naked-standard for about $ 600 more.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Retail Price $ 7,899
Warranty 12 month / unlimited mileage limited factory warranty
Maintenance Schedule 600 / 3,500 / every 4,000 miles
(1,000 / 5,600 / every 6,400km)
Importer/Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp., USA 9950 Jeronimo Road Irvine, CA 92618 phone (949) 770-0400
www.kawasaki.com

Engine
Type 4 cylinder, inline, four stroke
Cooling liquid
Valve Arrangement four valves per cylinder, DOHC
Bore & Stroke 79.0 x 59.4mm
Displacement 1,164cc
Compression Ratio 10.1:1
Carburetion Keihin CVK 36x4
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

Transmission
Gearbox 5 speed
Clutch wet multi plate
Final Drive chain drive

Chassis
Frame doulbe-cradle tubular steel
Wheelbase 1466mm (57.7in)
Rake (horizontal/vertical)65° / 25°
Trail 107mm (4.2in)
Front Suspension cartridge type fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm (1.7in)
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 119mm (4.7in)
Rear Suspension braced swingarm with twin shocks
Adjustments spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel 122mm (4.8in)

Wheels & Tires
Type hollow 3 spoke
Front 3.5 x 17
Rear 5.5 x 17
Front Tire 120/70-ZR17
Rear Tire 180/55-ZR17

Brakes
Front Brake 2 discs, 6 piston calipers
Diameter 310mm (12.2in)
Rear Brake single disc, 2 piston caliper
Diameter 250mm (9.8in)
Combining no

Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 790mm (31.1in)
Dry-Weight 223kg (492lb)
Fuel Capacity 20l (5.3gal)

Performance
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)122hp
Torque n/a
Top Speed n/a
Acceleration n/a
Fuel Consumption n/a
Fuel Range n/a
Equipment rubber mounted handebars, aluminum passenger grab rails, large capacity 5.3 gallon fuel tank, adjustable clutch and front brake levers.

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram

Engine 5/5

Chassis 5/5

Brakes 5/5

Comfort 3/5

Luggage w/accessories 3/5

Equipment 4/5

Design 4/5

Bike for the buck 3/5