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Review: Kawasaki Ninja ZX14R
Driven April 2014
You know how most motorcycles need an introduction because they tend to be standing around in a stable full of competition that is closely matched. Well, the Kawasaki Ninja name may make you think this motorcycle too needs a few words by way of background.
But then, this Kwacker isn’t just another Ninja. In fact, it isn’t just another motorcycle at all. The ZX-14R is so far ahead of the game that it is difficult to find a parallel, much like the motorcycle that it has beaten the pants off, the Hayabusa, to claim this privilege. Quite simply, this is the king of the hill. And it is called the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R. Fastest production motorcycle in the world.
We know what you’re thinking: “It doesn’t look like much at all”. That’s what we thought too when we first arrived at the Kawasaki office in Pune to collect the bike. But we soon realised that it’s an incredible shade of green with shiny flakes sprinkled in, so you can’t see the odd-looking bug-eyed four-headlamp front end once you’re astride. Problem solved, then.
Now, we all know that the world’s most powerful motorcycle in production needs a playground worth its while to truly show us what it’s about. But to get to such a playground, we had to first escape Pune, and its mess of under-construction flyovers. This tends to be difficult with Kawasaki’s typically heavy clutches and the extremely hot toasting ovens under the fairing. Fortunately, it wasn’t the hottest day in January, and we found a much longer but traffic-free route out of the city.
Once on the Bangalore highway, we could set about stretching the ZX-14R’s legs. Correction. We thought we were stretching its legs. With power mode set to ‘F’ or full power, and traction control at level ‘2’, we pushed on. There is obviously immense power available from the 1,441cc, in-line four motor that is rated at more than 200bhp, but the way it reacts around the 5,000rpm mark is truly mind-bending.
It feels as if afterburners have kicked in, and you’re suddenly being propelled at twice the rate that you were, all the way to the redline. The throttle is crisp and the traction control system in complete command. You can go a step further and set traction at level ‘1’ for razor-sharp response, or turn it off altogether. But we’d suggest that last step only be attempted by professionals under controlled conditions.
This is, however, in complete contrast to riding the ZX-14R in ‘L’, or low power mode, with traction control at level ‘3’. The bike feels rather docile, as power is restricted after the initial burst from idle, and since the riding position isn’t as forward-biased as the litre bikes, it feels almost unflattering.
Add to that the fact that the large twin-exhaust cans make barely any noise and the experience could almost pass off as riding the Ninja 650. Okay, maybe that’s a bit exaggerated, but you get the picture. Keep in mind though, these settings are the safest possible and meant for difficult conditions, like rain and gravel, and in that respect, they work wonderfully. In fact, you could be pottering around town in third doing 40kph all day. So yes, the fastest production motorcycle in the world is also the most docile superbike in the world.
But let’s get back to the fast bits.
On open stretches of highway, the ZX-14R is perfectly at home. The riding position doesn’t stress you out, and the speedometer keeps ticking past triple-digit speeds, twice over, without a hitch. You can ride along with traffic, and when you find a clear stretch, the Kwacker simply leaves everyone else in the dust. Eating up empty pieces of tarmac with great efficiency and speed is its particular speciality, and it does it a little better than you expect it to, every time.
Speaking of expectations, we thought the ZX-14R would be slightly difficult to manoeuvre. After all, it does carry a fair bit of weight around. Again, surprise. Despite the laws of physics seemingly going against it, this Kwacker is incredibly agile and changes direction very well. In fact, it gives you enough confidence to chuck it into corners
and come out smiling on the other side, wanting more. It manages to mimic a litre-class bike’s handling ability rather closely, and is great fun when the road gets twisty.
Even around tighter corners, the ZX-14R does incredibly well and urges you to push a bit harder. If you leave the traction control at level ‘3’, the electronics will ensure there’s no slippage at the rear wheel, allowing for maximum grip at all times, and if you can handle the power, you can set traction control to a lower setting, or switch it off altogether for some heart-popping power slide action.
Simply put, the Ninja ZX-14R is an incredible mix of performance and ease of use. There’s no doubt about its performance credentials, with quarter-mile strips being dealt with in a bit over nine seconds; at the same time, it is also possibly the easiest superbike to use across a range of riding conditions.
Unlike some other hardcore performance machinery, the ZX-14R seems to greet you with open arms; it mollycoddles you into a sense of safety, and on your attempt to become a better rider, it’s happy to let you take it one step at a time. Make no mistake though, if you stray too far off its gridlines, it will put the fear of God back in you in a split second, just to remind you who really is boss.
1,441cc, 4-cyl petrol, RWD, 200+bhp*, 0-100kph: 2.6sec*, top speed: 300kph (limited), kpl 16.7, Rs 16.9 lakh (ex-Pune)
Ease of use, superb handling, incredible acceleration. Given all that, it really doesn’t matter how it looks.