Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

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Year: 1999(V) Mileage: 5619. Price £4699.

Kawasaki’s ZZ-R1100 was the first bike to be designed as a very, very fast sports-tourer, equally at home on sweeping mountain roads in the Alps as it is blasting along French motorways at 140mph all day long.

The 1100 is perfect for those of you who want to travel at speed and in comfort, without the need for something more cumbersome, like a GoldWing or BMW.

But it doesn’t just come into its own when it’s loaded up for a long trip. You can also enjoy the sheer power of the big Kwak with a couple of hours of Sunday afternoon scratching – though it’s not the best-handling bike in the world.

The ZZ-R has been in production for an age now, with few changes to the successful formula since 1990. It’s only next year we’ll see the first real serious updates to the model (see page two).

A newer ZZ-R will feel no different to this three-year-old example, though a couple of things did become obvious when we tested the bike. The most frightening was the front brakes, or lack of. While this bike has never had brilliant stoppers, the ones on this example had the ability to improve your corner entry speed by a good 10 per cent. The first time they were used in earnest the lever came straight back to the bar, leading to trapped fingers. This highlights why you should always ask for a test ride – just looking the bike over didn’t reveal the problem.

Another thing we noticed was a very slight bend on the clutch lever, a slight twist of the forks and a tiny scuff on the left-hand mirror. When we sat on the bike, it was apparent the bars weren’t quite straight – a sure sign it had been dropped. Further investigation showed it had been nothing more serious than a tumble off the sidestand rather than a proper crash, so it was easily fixed.

Aside from those two niggles, this was an excellent example of a low-mileage ZZ-R. There was enough power on tap to go at silly speeds if we wished and the suspension was still new enough to offer predictable handling at all speeds. Wind protection was good and most pillions will be comfortable over a distance of several fuel tanks.

At first glance the huge Kawasaki seemed to be in pretty good condition, with no obvious marks on the bodywork to show it had done more miles than the clock said. However, always take a look under the seat and under the footpegs because this gives a better idea of how the bike was looked after. Bodywork is really easy to keep clean and give a good overall impression, but the bottom of the footpegs were coated in grime and the underside of the tail unit showed this bike had been used in all weathers. It didn’t look any the worse for it, though, but then Kawasakis are generally built to withstand the worst the British climate can throw at them.

The previous owner had added some quick-release fasteners to the fairing, but the rest of the bike remained standard – always a good sign that someone has looked after the machine.

As on most big and powerful bikes, tyres wear quickly – the rear on this one was on the last 1000 miles of its legal life. The state of the rubber is something for buyer and seller to barter over.

What the latest model has: New paintjob, but for 2002 it becomes the ZZ-R1200.

What to watch out for: Thanks to the ZZ-R’s power and sheer weight, it tends to get through cush drive rubbers. To check how worn they are, see how much snatch there is on the chain as you select first gear. A new set of rubbers will cost you around £37.

Rumours have been circulating in the U.S. about ZZ-Rs destroying the No3 cylinder, so take that into account if you’re looking at a U.S. import. As far as we’re aware, there are no such problems on UK machines. Check the frame number to see if the bike you’re looking at is an official import.

As we’ve seen, the brakes can be suspect. In addition, due to the Kawasaki’s speed, they can wear out quickly. Look for heavy scoring and thin pads. Replacements aren’t cheap.

The ZZ-R’s front end is weak for a bike of this size and the fork oil tends to get overworked, as it’s thin to begin with. Ask the owner when it was last changed and be prepared to get it done on a bike showing only 5000 miles.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff