Kawasaki ZRX1200R

When Kawasaki launched the ZRX1200R they wrote:

Today they call it World Superbike, but back when the whole show got started it was the bikini-faired Green Monsters from Kawasaki that power-slid their way into the record books. Now Kawasaki flexes its performance muscle once again, bringing you the direct descendent of those tarmac-rippling Superbikes – the new ZRX 1200R.

Retaining the brutal charm of the original Eddie Lawson bikini-faired layout, but with a new engine pumping out, amazingly, even more power and torque. A stiffer swingarm with revised pivot location for superb handling. And further buffing up the most legendary Musclebike of all are plenty of other mods. Like an improved clutch and a rear wheel damper from the awesome Ninja ZX-12R, for smoother shifting and improved ride quality. All adding up to more take-no-prisoners ZRX performance than ever. Beyond formidable, the new ZRX 1200R. Stamp your authority on the game.

SuperBike‘s July 2006 issue’s listing says:

Looks and rides like it’s graduated from the school of bad-ass attitude. Best-handling muscle bike and arguably the most stylish, but you’ll probably wish that you’d bought a Z1000 when the going gets a bit twisty.

So, who’s right? Here’s an owner’s ‘take’ on the Kawasaki ZRX1200R.

Engine & Performance

Kawasaki claim 122PS and 112Nm of torque for the ZRX. In English that’s 120BHP and 82½ ft/lb, almost certainly measured at the crank. Dry weight is 223kg (plus 4kg for the half-faired S version). Compare that with a Suzuki GSX-R1000 (161BHP at the rear wheel and 166kg) and it’s clear that the ZRX is no pocket rocket.

RHM on the ZRX1200RLooking at the bike in the showroom, it looks like it’ll be a handful, but looks can be deceptive: whilst it may be a heavy old lump, it’s smaller physically than it looks.

I’m 6′ tall or thereabouts and 14½ stones so this photo might give you some perspective.

As with most halfway decent bikes these days, 0-60 times are largely irrelevant: quicker than nearly anything four wheels – I’d guess at around 3½ seconds. Top speed? Who knows? I’ve seen 145mph on the clocks sitting up, but take a look at that riding position and the tiny fairing. How long would you want to be maxing it out on that? If top speed’s your priority then look elsewhere: musclebikes, naked bikes and retros are not for you. The ZRX1200R’s bikini fairing and upright riding position dictate a comfortable cruising speed of around 90mph where you can leave it in top gear and just cruise along riding on a wave of torque. With a redline at 10,000rpm, maximum power is delivered at around 8,500rpm and maximum torque at around 6,500rpm, so it can be a very relaxing ride rather than a frantic scream.

RHM on the ZRX1200R at Castle CombeWhen you want to hustle, though, it picks up its skirt and rocks! I use the ZRX for trackdays and take onboard footage when I can. Take a look at this video, for instance, to see it in action on track at Mallory Park. Oh, and it’ll wheelie on the throttle in first so it’s no fat slag.

The ZRX1200R comes with two catalytic converters, one welded into the header pipe collectors and one in the silencer (which gets exceptionally hot – beware!). This, coupled with the Old Skool carbs and emissions gubbins, means that replacing the end can with a quality one or, better still, a full system will give you more than a few extra horses: with a Dynojet kit – no namby-pamby fuel injection here – freer-flowing air filter, the removal of the “snorkel” on the side of the air box and fitting a decent full system (Akrapovic is preferred), power rises from 112bhp to the low 130s at the rear wheel.

Chassis & Handling

As it comes from the factory, the bike is set up for a 75kg (~12½ stone) rider. Knowing the general size and weight of your average ZRX owner you can see why that might not be perfect.

Providing you’re not going for it on poorly-surfaced B-roads, the standard settings are OK, if making the bike a tad wallowy. I’ve fiddled with the settings to improve things substantially but a session with Steve Jordan is on the cards at a Folly trackday to sort it properly, or as near properly as possible. It’s suggested that the ZRX’s weak point is the front end rather than the rear.

Talking of which, the ZRX comes with retro-style twin shocks at the rear, unlike the Honda CB1300 or Suzuki Bandit, but like Yamaha XJR1300 and Suzuki GSX1400. These are more than adequate as standard and the twin shock layout provides the additional benefit with the ZRX of a massive amount of underseat storage.

Styling & Ergonomics

If you’re in the market for a musclebike, then this is to my mind the best looking one of the bunch. Harking back to the mighty GPZ range of the eighties (and yes, to the Eddie Lawson superbike years), the ZRX looks well ‘ard just standing still.

A very handsome and imposing bike, the moment you sit on the ZRX you feel very much at home. The pegs place your legs in a very comfortable position and the reach to the bars is very neutral. The seat initially feels very plush, but after an hour or so, it does become uncomfortable. Many owners have theirs re-upholstered or replaced with Corbin and Sargent being the preferred options.

But it seems that the ZRX attracts the sort of owner who wants to ‘improve’ the looks: nearly all the members of the ZRX Owners Club have modified or accessorised their bikes in some way. For track use, I’ve replaced the footrests with Gilles rearsets for extra ground clearance. Clearly we want to make them our own.

RHM on the ZRX1200RIn terms of my own ‘improvements’, my full list is as follows:

Akrapovic titanium full system; Canadian-spec. rear mudguard; Powerbronze carbon-look hugger; Powerbronze crash posts; Clear Alternatives indicator covers; Clear Alternatives rear light with LEDs; Small numberplate (supposedly Gatso-proof); Datatool Evo alarm system and pager; Bridgestone BT012SS tyres; EBC HH brake pads (fronts); Gilles rearsets; Talon 44T Rear Sprocket; Sargent Solo seat; BSR-Aerotek braided hoses; Wyn’s Muffler Bracket; Cheapo sports watch fitted over clutch reservoir; Braking wave front discs; and RC51Rider’s Radiator shroud replacement straps.

There are more to come including a black powder-coated swingarm and maybe some Braking forged aluminium wheels.

The Final Analysis

When I was looking for a new bike, I considered buying various sportsbikes but at the time I still owned one, albeit an older Yamaha FZR1000 Genesis. I simply wasn’t using it much as it wasn’t the sort of bike I could just jump on and wazz down to the shops on. It wasn’t even much fun under 100mph which, whilst fine for trackdays, isn’t so good for everyday use.

What appealed to me was that the ZRX1200R reminded me of the bikes of my early riding years but without being too retro, i.e. it took the best of the early eighties musclebikes and brought it more up to date without discarding all the facets I liked.

It’s comfortable around town, is great for pillions, can trackday with the best of them and best of all always leaves me feeling great after a ride out.

It’s also very crashable: I dumped it up to the hairpin at Mallory and the bikini fairing was worn through a bit. The bike was still rideable as it was, but my riding kit had taken a hammering so I couldn’t continue. I’m still using the broken bodywork for trackdays just in case.

So the Kawasaki ZRX1200R is a great bike. Should you go out and buy one? Well if you do want to, you’d better make it quick. Kawasaki have stopped selling them in the USA already and I’m surprised they’re still available in the UK, though I doubt they will be for much longer. I’m told that Kawasaki only managed to sell 150 ZRXes in 2005 but then that’s probably because they’re some sort of best kept secret.

Erde Trailer

So back in January 2005 a nice man from DHL arrived with my shiny new bike trailer on his lorry and I moved the boxes into the garage where they were in the way.

I decided that I would assemble that night whilst Mrs. RHM was at work, so at 6.30pm I headed outside and began unpacking the parts and assembling it like some giant Meccano set. All went remarkably well until the last pair of guard rails whose bolts and nylock nuts were a real bugger to get at and more particularly get a spanner or socket on. Remember that the trailer is basically a bunch of aluminum channels so there are quite a few sharp edges. Anyone who’s ever worked on an old Mini would recognise my hands afterwards: bruised, cut and sore. Oh and I also had some bruises and scars on my thighs and stomach from heaving it around later that evening…

I assembled it partly inside and partly in the rain outside our small, single garage which, being a “family garage” and part of a spec. built Beazer house, is rather small and is full of:

  • five bicycles;
  • two scooters;
  • two wardrobes full of bike clothing;
  • wine and beer;
  • two brand new ST200 alloy wheels;
  • two brand new ST200 floor mats;
  • standard ZRX1200R exhaust silencer;
  • standard ZRX1200R seat;
  • a fridge-freezer;
  • a tumble-drier;
  • two music centre/separate systems;
  • DIY tools, paint, etc.;
  • kitchen roller blind;
  • pasting table;
  • Black & Decker Workmate;
  • 3 piece aluminium ladder;
  • large wooden garden table and four chairs;
  • sledges;
  • tools;
  • ramps;
  • wall-mounted kitchen units;
  • cupboardy thing;
  • data backup fireproof safe;
  • paddock stand;
  • carpets, lots of carpets;
  • assorted fluids and oils for cars and bikes;
  • general crap;
  • bag of 10 footballs, pump, bibs and first aid kit;
  • central heating boiler; and
  • a big Kawasaki ZRX1200R.

It’s a very big trailer. 10′ long by 5′ wide by 2½’ tall. And 125kg.

I’d been lucky enough to nab my neighbour when he got in to lift the wheels on whilst I lifted the trailer up high enough – I’d found I could lift it with one hand but struggled to line up the wheel bolts with the holes with the other hand.

At this point, I stood back and admired my handiwork. Mrs. Blue came home at 9.00pm and I stayed outside to work on the trailer (and never did get anything to eat).

And then I looked at the chaos that is the garage and wondered how it would fit inside…

So I’m pondering my options: there’s no access to the back garden other than a 3½’ wide passage so that ruled that out. I could wheel the trailer into the garage and permanently stand the ZRX on the trailer, but access to everything else would be nigh-on impossible. I could eBay it. Or I could try to stand it up on its side against the wall.

Except that that was easier said than done. Did I tell you it’s a very big trailer? I tried heaving it up and over onto its side, but the internal width of the garage meant there wasn’t enough room to allow for it turning onto its side – I could get it to a 45° angle but not much further. So I did some measurements and discovered that if I took the front section off again, it might fit standing up on its back, although I’d still have to somehow lift it onto the back section and then manoeuvre it into position against the wall. So I set about it with the spanners and sockets and dismantled the work I’d already done. With the front section removed, I reckoned I could just about get it in place against the wall and resting against the wall units, so I put an old kitchen mat next to the wheel and heaved it up onto its side, bumping it outwards as I did so. Success! There was also just enough room between it and the wall to slot the heavy towbar section in to take up less space. 11.00pm and I was finished.

There’s a photo here, taken the following morning, showing the finished article in the packed little garage. Mrs. Blue asked me to take her bike out so she could go and grab a DVD for her booze and filum session at her friend’s house and I was able to show her that it wasn’t that tight and inaccessible :)

Now that the trailer has been used for a few trackdays, the only criticisms I have for it are that the wheel hoops at the end of the channels are a bit high, so they almost clash with the brake discs and that the channels themselves are a bit narrow, pinching the rear tyre – mind you, that may not be a bad thing.

The trailer itself is a doddle to use and very lightweight, so the occasional bit of ‘extreme towing’ at 80mph behind the Fiesta and 100mph behind the ST200 (on closed roads, of course) has been fine. Any scratches in the channels from the sidestand have been painted over with Hammerite and the trailer now lives outside in all weathers with no apparent deterioration.

Recommended.

Towbars

Anyone who saw me, Blue Rex and the trailer at any of last year’s trackdays will know I was using Mrs. Blue’s Fiesta to do the towing. This was because I drive an ancient Mondeo ST200 that Ford hadn’t seen fit to get rated for towing, so my local Ford dealer wouldn’t fit a towbar. Note that every other Mondeo was rated, just not the ST200…

Last summer, I was chatting to a neighbour who’d had a nice demountable one fitted to their Ford Galaxy, so I rang the place he’d had it done – Broadland Towbars near Norwich – and they said it could indeed be done*.

So on the 20th, I went to their place for 3½ hours whilst they fitted a rather nice Brink “Brinkmatic Classic 2506” – this involved some cutting of the rear spoiler, but it’s not really noticeable unless you’re looking for it specifically. It’s demountable so when not in use the ball section is stowed away in the boot and means the lines of the car aren’t spoiled. It takes less than a minute to fix and demount the ball section as well. Cost was £310 + VAT fitted.

So this year, I have my car to drive with all the toys and comfort and more space for crap my useful stuff in the boot. Marvellous!

*Apparently, the Mondeo ST220 is straining its clutch as it is, so if you try towing anything it breaks…

Sargent Solo Seat

One of the few issues I have with the Kawaskai ZRX1200R is its seat: when you first climb on it seems very plush and comfortable, but after 80 miles or so it does start getting uncomfortable. So I ordered a Sargent Solo replacement seat from the States.

Whereas before I’d be shuffling around uncomfortably after a relatively short while, the Sargent cossets your bum in comfort and even has space and a tube for you to stow something in the seat itself (in my case a ZRXOA rubber torch).

The seat is slightly slippery when you wear leathers but I find that quite useful when shifting my bum from side to side on trackdays.

Recommended.