Kawasaki's fastest still feral and furious

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 07:30 25/02/2014
Kawasaki ZX14R SE
Fairfax NZ

KAWASAKI ZX14R SE: Absolute power, without corruption.

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An old Pirelli tyre ad used to espouse the wisdom that ''power is nothing without control''. With the latest Kawasaki ZX-14R you get more of both commodities.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1441cc liquid-cooled dohc 16-valve inline four with electronic fuel injection; 149kW (200bhp) at 10,000rpm and 165Nm at 7,500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Aluminium monocoque spine frame with die-cast aluminium double-sided swingarm, Fully-adjustable 43mm inverted front forks, fully- adjustable Ohlins TTX39 rear shock.
Price: $23,995
Hot: You get Ohlins rear suspension plus a portfolio of electronic riding aids for no increase in price; still as fast and as furious as ever.
Not: Luggage-challenged design and sportsbike ergonomics limit touring convenience and comfort; not the most licence-friendly ride.
Although the over-achieving 1441cc inline four is the same as that fitted to last year's Kawasaki hyper-bike, more of its 200bhp maximum can now reach the road thanks to Kawasaki fitting a three-mode traction control system to the 2014 ZX-14R. And as this particular ZX is a special edition that comes fitted with an Ohlins rear shock, that newly fitted TCS isn't as needed as it once was, as the rear tyre of the Kawasaki now tracks over bumps while maintaining more contact with the road surface.

It's a total win-win scenario with this bike, given that the $23,995 price-tag is the same as last year. So you get two-grand's worth of Ohlins TTX39 rear shock, and an entire suite of electronic riding aids, essentially for free with the latest limited-edition Ninja 14.

What's not to like?

I suspect the pearl-white metallic paint and OTT gold flame highlights won't be to everyone's taste.

Kawasaki has never been shy when it comes to decoration, and having chosen a retina-searing day-glo green as its racing warpaint, it now appears to have used the wardrobe of the cocaine-snorting Chinese psycho from the The Hangover as inspiration for the livery that adorns the Ohlins-enhanced Ninja. I was also reminded of a bathroom with gold- plated taps every time I approached the SE.

Fortunately, the ZX-14R SE quickly cleanses the mind of these first impressions as soon as you ride it. It's so fast that it can instantly clear the brain of all conscious thought, leaving the rider totally engrossed, wide-eyed, in the moment.

Last year's ZX was just as capable of this use of instantaneous speed as a brain-erasing tool, and just as eager to fling its fragile human cargo towards far horizons with a force resembling gravity. Yet I never really developed a bond with the last ZX-14R I rode.

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It seemed unable to decide whether to be lardy sportsbike or a slightly uncomfortable but ultra- quick sports-tourer. Suspension that would hammer sensitive parts of my anatomy into the fuel tank shrouding, and a thirst resembling that of Alice Cooper's on tour, weren't exactly enhancements to our relationship.

This ZX-14R isn't the nut-cracker of old. Gonads enjoy a much more pain-free ride aboard the SE, the Ohlins shock calming any encounter with bumps that used to pitch the rider out of the saddle and forward to a much milder and more comfort-enhancing level. You feel more insulated from the effects of sharp-edged bumps and dips on the SE, yet there's still plenty of seat-of-the-pants feedback about the traction status of the rear tyre.

Speaking of which, the fitted Bridgestone Battlax S20R Hypersports radial is an impressive tyre, but the challenges of transmitting about 190-bhp's worth of power after driveline losses shouldn't be underestimated.

Here's where the new KTRC traction system comes in, and it operates with a similarly fine calibration to that of the slightly more sophisticated version fitted to the ZX-10R superbike.

Kawasaki ZX14R SEUnlike some Italian bike makers, who seem to have marketing departments that demand as many TCS settings as possible, Kawasaki generally offers just three calibrations, making selection so simple that it can be done safely with the bike in motion.

The big ZX reserves ''3'' for dodgy road surface use, leaving ''1'' a sporty tail-out riding mode and ''2'' the perfect choice for touring on decent surfaces.

When the rear tyre broke away when powering the SE out of tight turn in''1'', I was amazed at how much slack it cut my riding skill before chiming in. KTRC can also identify intentional wheelstands from uncontrolled ones, and will only take remedial action with the latter when either ''1'' or ''2'' is selected. In ''3'' all wheelies are considered a no-no.

There are also two throttle modes for the latest ZX-14R, one that keeps the throttle wide full open if that is what the rider wishes through the last two-thirds of the rev range, and one that only gives access to 75 per cent of the engine's power in that band of revs. I confess that I rode the SE with the throttle set to ''F'' for 'Full' and the KTRC set on ''1'' 99.9 per cent of the time.

It still felt an immensely predictable and satisfying ride, even when filtering through urban gridlock.

The 265kg mass of the ZX-14R remains a major handicap to any track aspirations that its owner may harbour for it. It'll eat superbikes for lunch on the straights, then endure the ignominy of having them all come past again in the braking zone for the next corner. A 10mm wheelbase stretch given to the 14 recently has also slowed its capacity for mid-corner speed.

So it's definitely not a proper alternative to a one-litre sportsbike, but nor is it as comfortable as most sports-tourers over any distance. As for luggage, buy a pannier-equipped ZX1000 SX instead, as there's no convenient place to put it on the ZX-14.

Kawasaki's fastest bike therefore remains an impressively feral and furious motorcycle, but one with a more limited range of applications than many buyers will realise.

That doesn't prevent it from being a complete blast to ride.

Kawasaki ZX14R SE

- The Press

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