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Ever since it was launched in 1984, Kawasaki’s ZX-9R has been labelled as the ’nearly bike’ of the big-bore sports category.

However, though its ’second division’ status suggests inferiority, make no mistake, the Kawasaki is still a very capable motorcycle. And one well worth considering.

Chris Moss takes a fast ride down memory lane.

In any comparison test with other cutting-edge sportsbikes the ZX-9R has always come bottom of the list. During its eight and a half year history it’s been bested first by Honda’s Blade, then by Yamaha’s R1, and more recently by Suzuki’s GSX-R 1000.

Criticisms have mainly pinpointed the bike´s heavy weight, and soft suspension. But let’s put those grumbles in context for a moment, and face some realistic facts.

Most of the ZX-9Rs can still be ridden extremely hard. And on the road at least, can usually stay in touch with the ’superior’ opposition, especially with a decent rider on board. It’s only on the race track where the big Kwack really loses out noticeably. And even then, not by a country mile.

The ZX-9Rs are good looking bikes, especially the later versions. Their relaxed and roomy riding position, generously sized and protective fairing, allied to their plush seat and suspension make them excellent longer distance sports tourers. Thrashing down to the Bol, and then having a good old scratch round the backroads in the south of France is just one of the ZX-9Rs many real-world abilities.

Much was expected of the Kawasaki when the original B1 model first hit the showrooms in 1994. But the Fireblade had changed the standards by which superbikes were judged two years previously, and by comparison, the ZX-9R was seen as a flabby, mushy and overweight failure.

But it did have some virtues. And even though it was limited to the manufacturers’ voluntary 125bhp power ceiling, the motor was a gem. The 899cc four has a searing top end surge that will send the bike to a genuine 175mph. And the howl from the ram-air intakes and big end can always makes sampling the horsepower an absolute delight. It can be derestricted by fitting ZXR750J carb tops to allow the carb slides to open fully. But most riders won’t feel the need as the B1 feels so potent in standard trim.

They might want to spend some money improving the handling of the first B1 version though, as the rear end of the bike can give problems if it’s used very hard. Under extreme pressure the bike will wallow and feel vague. And though there are many theories as to why that’s the case, fitting a new shock and some latest spec tyres vastly improves the handling.

Luckily, the later 1996 B3 model featured a new swingarm, shock, and linkage, which banished the problem pretty much completely. The newer version also had the benefit of sharper six-piston brake calipers, and a full power engine, making de-restriction totally unnecessary for anyone other than total speed freaks.

SPOTTING AN OLDER ZX9R BARGAIN


There aren’t so many B-spec models around these days. Bearing in mind that the earliest versions are all five years old or more, give anything you’re interested in a very thorough inspection.

The bike’s finish isn’t a strong feature so neglect is easy to spot. Expect the usual wear and tear, but if there’s lots of corrosion and paint missing, then look elsewhere. Rotting exhaust pipes are common. As are seized brake calipers, which can lead to warped discs if the problem isn’t rectified quickly enough. Engines are normally very reliable, and can clock huge mileages if they’re looked after and serviced regularly. So check the service history carefully.

Also look to see if carb heaters have been fitted. If not, the bike will suffer from carb icing in the winter and be a pain to use at slow speed. Headgaskets have been known to go, so check the engine oil level inspection window for any milky residue, and test that the engine temperature doesn’t run too high - both signs of gasket problems.
Steering head bearing were never lubed well by the factory. Checking the steering action at a standstill with the front wheel off the floor will reveal any stiffness or notchiness.

 

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NAUGHTY NINETIES BLASTER


If you fancy a newer and sportier version of the ZX-9R, then the 1998 C models are a good bet. They’re significantly lighter, have over a 140bhp at the crank, and boast much sharper styling and higher spec. They also have a titanium silencer - a first for a production bike.

Overall, they’re significantly faster and more capable sportsbikes than the B models. But luckily the improvements to power and handling didn’t compromise the comfort and practicality of the bike, which still allows plenty of long and comfortable trips, whatever the pace. Pillions will be especially pleased by the twin grab rails.

Fully CompBottom end power is a bit fluffy, and if an aftermarket can is fitted then the quirk can be made worse. Careful adjustments to the carburation with a jet kit can cure this.

Suspension is still a bit soft, but it’s much better than the original B1 model. And with careful adjustment the bike’s handling can be made sharper and safer.

But bear in mind that even late 1990s ZX9Rs, especially higher mileage examples, may need the shock replacing and the forks rebuilt to get the best from the bike around corners. Fitting an aftermarket rear hugger is a sensible idea to keep corrosive road muck from damaging the rear shock.

More concerning, if the bike has covered many miles, is the gearbox. Ride the bike hard and change gear often to check that it doesn’t jump out of gear or hit false neutrals. If it does then walk away. Repairs are expensive.

MILLENNIUM MAKEOVER


The progress in the ZX-9R’s development continued in the year 2000 with the introduction of the E1 version. Changes weren’t radical with a bit more power, a stiffer chassis, and revised suspension and brakes. But the re-styled twin-headlight fairing, and gaping ram-air snout gave the Kawasaki a much more modern look. Even if some details like the unfashionable analogue clocks didn’t.

The 190-section rear tyre benefits styling more than handling as it slows the steering down a little. But like its predecessor, the E1 model does handle well enough, once the suspension is stiffened up slightly.

Being newer means there’s less likelihood of finding faults due to wear and tear. However carburation still isn’t perfect, carb-icing remains a bug-bear, and the fairly poor finish quality means regular cleaning and polishing is essential to keep the bike in good nick. At least the rear shock linkages have grease nipples as standard to keep them in good shape.

Like all ZX-9Rs, you should be aware that as a sportsbike it could well have had a hard life. Check obvious things like the condition of the tyres, chain and sprockets, and footrests, which will help to indicate just how hard it’s been ridden.

Checking bodywork for damage is also very important, especially on the older models. It’s not cheap to replace, and could prove simply too uneconomic to sort. But follow the general guidelines of checking out a bike’s condition and history very carefully before you hand over your hard-earned dosh, and the ZX-9R will provide plenty of thrills. Without breaking your bank or back!

Get Kawasaki motorcycle insurance for the kawasaki zx9r.



Vital Statistics


ZX9R B1/B2 1994-1995
Engine liquid cooled, 4-stroke, 16-valve DOHC four
cc 899cc
Claimed power (bhp) Power: 125bhp @ 10,500rpm
Torque: 71 ft/lb @ 9,000rpm
Compression ratio 8.6:1
Transmission 6-speed chain final drive

Cycle parts 
Frame - alloy twin-spar
Tyres - front 120/70-17, rear 180/55-17
Suspension
front - 41mm USD telescopic forks, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
rear - rising-rate monoshock, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
Brakes
front - twin 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
rear - single 230mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wheelbase - 1440mm
Dry weight - 215kg
Seat height - 800mm

Performance 
Top speed 175 mph
Fuel consumption 35mpg Fuel range - 130-180 miles

Buying Info 
Current price £2500-£3750


Vital Statistics


ZX9R B3 1996-1997
Engine liquid cooled, 4-stroke, 16-valve DOHC four
cc 899cc
Claimed power (bhp) Power: 135bhp @ 10,500rpm
Torque: 73 ft/lb @ 9,000rpm
Compression ratio 8.6:1
Transmission 6-speed chain final drive

Cycle parts 
Frame - alloy twin-spar
Tyres
front 120/70-17, rear 180/55-17
Suspension
front - 41mm USD telescopic forks, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
rear - rising-rate monoshock, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
Brakes
front - twin 320mm discs, six-piston calipers
rear - single 230mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wheelbase - 1440mm
Dry weight - 215kg
Seat height - 800mm

Performance 
Top speed 175 mph
Fuel consumption 35mpg Fuel range - 130-180 miles

Buying Info 
Current price £2500-£3750


Vital Statistics


ZX9R E1 2000-2001
Engine liquid cooled, 4-stroke, 16-valve DOHC four
cc 899cc
Claimed power (bhp) Power: 144bhp @ 10,500rpm
Torque: 75 ft/lb @ 9,000rpm
Compression ratio 8.6:1
Transmission 6-speed chain final drive

Cycle parts 
Frame - alloy twin-spar
Tyres
front 120/70-17, rear 190/50-17
Suspension
front - 46mm USD telescopic forks, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
rear - rising-rate monoshock, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound damping.
Brakes
front - twin 310mm discs, six-piston calipers
rear - single 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Wheelbase - 1415mm
Dry weight - 183kg
Seat height - 810mm

Performance 
Top speed 170 mph
Fuel consumption 35mpg Fuel range - 120-170 miles

Buying Info 
Current price £4500-6000

 

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