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Perfect for pushing your weight around

Published: 20 May 2002

Updated: 19 November 2014

One of the most exciting things I recall from my first year at MCN was getting a chance to ride Kawasaki’s ZZ-R1100.

In those days (I’m in my eighth year here now) the Kawasaki was the fastest bike in the world. And I was staggered by it.

It was, after all, the kind of machine that left a deep impression on everyone who tried it. In the years since, I haven’t ridden one at all. But as soon as I set off on my ZZ-R1200 I knew there was more to this new Kawasaki than a new set of clothes and a capacity hike. For example, I don’t remember the ZZ-R1100 having anything remarkable in the way of engine braking… something to do with the flywheel being designed to keep you spinning to maximum speeds. Let go of the slender throttle on the ZZ-R1200 and you have your third brake.

I also recall the ZZ-R11 feeling long and not particularly fast to turn. Somehow the ZZ-R1200 has achieved a fantastic combination of high-speed stability and a rate of turn some sports bikes would be proud of.

The BT020 tyres (which look to be lasting well with nearly 2000 miles on them so far) have a fairly sedate profile. But the steering head angle on the bike has been considerably steepened over the 1100. And you now get instant direction changes.

This is what impressed me most about the ZZ-R12 as I took the long way home for the first time. The feel of the bars and throttle, the huge power and the top-notch turn-rate make you feel like you’re on a sports bike.

But it does it without putting your back out.

The riding position feels relatively sporty, but the reach to the bars is comfortable, the wide seat takes your weight (not your wrists) and the height of the pegs and general dimensions feel just about perfect. It could have been built for me. Though gym and I are on first name terms these days, my belly remains more beer barrel than six-pack.

But carrying a bit of extra weight doesn’t feel the hindrance it might on a Blade or an R1. You sit in the ZZ-R12, rather than perched over the front wheel. You may need to whack up the pre-load, though.

The handbook says the stock settings are for a 68kg rider. I’m a 100kg rider – who regularly takes a pillion. I turn it up four clicks (from 12 to 16) when I’m on my own, and another four when someone is on the back, and that’s enough.

There are little hints at the original age of parts of this bike. The fuel tap, for example. That it’s there at all is something of an anachronism. That it doesn’t fall easily to hand for on-the-move switching leaves something to be desired. Still, I saw nearly 150 miles from the last tank.

But then it also has silky smooth carbs and I’m not complaining about that.

Kawasaki is still using split pins (mental note, check I have a spare or two before adjusting chain) through the rear spindle.

The good news for chain adjustment is the centre-stand, though I’ve yet to find a sensible pivot point to lift the bike on to it from. Some bikes go on to their stand with two fingers if lifted at the right point. The ZZ-R seems a big effort wherever I try.

The finish isn’t as tough as you might like. Mine is the same silver bike you may have seen in an earlier group test in MCN. It’s been passed around a few other bike test crews before coming to me, too, and the tank has been badly scratched.

To cover the damage and prevent any more I’ve ordered a one-off Motografix tank pad (01302-325252). For £20 they’ll make one to your specification, too.

Several owners (as reported on the dedicated Kawasaki ZZ-R1200 discussion board on have come across another finish problem (though I’m not one of them) – a rattle coming from the front at low revs. Some say it can be traced to a bad fit between the bottom of the headlights and the fairing. Indeed, there are reports from those whose dealers have added bits of rubber to prevent it, and from those who’ve tried similar do-it-yourself cures.

Others have found the problem has gone away after having an alarm fitted, when it was discovered a bracket needed tightening up.

I’ve now had an alarm-immobiliser fitted and I must admit, I was a bit worried the work might actually introduce the rattle. It didn’t. It’s a Datatool System III, a serious bit of kit which has all the usual service modes, plus a gentle blipped warning for anyone so much as touching the bike (and a riot for anyone who tries anything else).

It also has an arrangement to give you hazard warning lights. Press both buttons on the funky alarm remote and all your indicators flash at once in a BMW style. Smart. It’ll cost you £200, but since you aren’t likely to fit it yourself (have you seen all those wires?) we’re talking £300 fitted.

Datatool did plan on fitting a digital gear indicator for me, too, but found the old-style cable-driven speedo doesn’t lend itself to such things.

Instead, we have a top toy no cockpit should be without: a gearchange indicator. And it is actually relatively useful.

Clever circuitry means it can be bent gently around the top of your speedo so one glance at that general area will give you both speed and a rev guide.

The lights show green in lower revs, orange when it’s a good idea to change and red when you’re heading for the limiter. It costs £69 from Datatool (01420-541444).

Because they are relatively bright, you " see " them in your peripheral vision even when you’re looking directly ahead (unlike the rev counter).

I’ll be organising a get together for ZZ-R1200 owners soon.

If you are interested in joining, either e-mail me at the address on this page or look out for postings on the ZZ-R1200 board on

Our readers testing the ZZR

The new ZZ-R appeals to everyone, from vicars to coppers – and we’ve got both on our long-term test panel. They, along with other owners, will give us updates about how their bikes are performing,

what extras they’ve fitted and how happy they are.

Name: Martin Howse. Age: 43. Job: Vicar. Address: Colchester, Essex. Annual Mileage: About 4000 miles. Extras: Datatag, Oxford GSI alarm system. Waiting for details on Ventura luggage brackets. Likes: Handling sharper and more focused than 1100. Dislikes: Not so sure about the brakes, expect they need more time to settle in

Name: David Eeles Age: 56 Job: HGV driver Address: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Annual mileage: In the five weeks I’ve had the 1200 I have clocked up 1200 miles

Dislikes: No security devices fitted as standard and the size of the pillion footrests. Rests should have rubber like the rider’s. The majority of my mileage is with my wife perched on the back! Extras: Datatool System III fitted, will follow this with a Scottoiler as I found this really good on my 1100. Previous bikes: ZZ-R1100, BMW R1100RS, Triumph Thunderbird, Bonneville, Triton

Name: Andrew Wayland Age: 46 JoB: Traffic Officer, Thames Valley Police Address: Buckinghamshire Annual mileage: 6000-8000 miles Likes: The new styling, unique headlights and tail lights, wider bars give it a better feel. Handles far better than the ZZ-R1100. Dislikes: It is heavy, but I’m used to that. It could do with some extra compartments for storage, a little place like that at the front of the ZZ-R1100 would be good. The underseat area could do with more space, too. I would also like to see hazard warning lights fitted. Kawasaki’s attention to detail needs to improve, more attention to plastic fittings actually fitting (nose vibration). Somewhere to comply with the law and display the tax disc at the front on the left side would have been useful – I put mine towards the back on the chain guard. A hugger for the rear wheel arch as standard would have been a big plus. Previous bikes: Honda 70, Caen, 90, CB125 and 600 Revere, Kawasaki ZZR600, ZX-6R, ZX-9R and ZZ-R1100

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