Back in 1984, Kawasaki launched a model that would change what defined a sportsbike.
The GPZ900R marked a number of firsts. It was the first production bike to top 150mph and the first to have the now standard configuration of a watercooled, twin cam 16 valve inline four cylinder engine. And when Tom Cruise’s character Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell rode one in 1986’s iconic movie Top Gun, the legend was sealed. It was also the first Kawasaki to wear the Ninja badge, and a TT winner too. It was a real gamechanger.
Kawasaki had quite a reputation for big horsepower superbikes, going back to Z1 of 1972. In a decade of rapid evolution of the sports bike, the Z1 had evolved into the Z1000 and the GPz1100, with the mighty six-cylinder Z1300 thrown into the mix for good measure, but the 900 was more or less an all-new design.
The landscape for early 80s superbikes was for big bruisers. Honda had the CBX1000, Suzuki the GSX1100 and Yamaha took a more touring slant with the FJ1100.
Against this, Kawasaki’s Ninja was a mouldbreaker. The specifically designed 908cc inline four put out 115bhp, good for a 151mph top speed and delivered with the grunt and gusto with which Kawasaki fours are synonymous.
The chassis wasn’t particularly innovative, being a steel cradle design, and the cycle parts were very much of the era, with a 16” front wheel, air assisted suspension and anti-dive forks all featuring on the spec sheet. Later models (the GPZ900R was on sale for over a decade before it was replaced by the GPZ1000R) lost a little power due to ever changing regulations and had some small tweaks, such as the adoption of a 17” front wheel, but the iconic styling remained unchanged. A smaller capacity GPZ750R was also added to the range in 1986.
Fancy a slice of big ‘80s Kwak and you can still pick a second hand GPZ900R or GPZ750R for banger money, although mint condition early bikes are starting to realise big bucks as the original Ninja cements its place as a bona fide classic.