We have to ask – but has any retro machine looked as good or so ‘right’ as Kawasaki’s ZRX1100/1200?
OK, so other retro-look bikes may have had an air-cooled lump and therefore been more true to the original, some may have been faster or handled better, but we at CB-Net doubt anything looked as good: and we include the current Z900RS in that…
Kawasaki did retro first and did it well with the Zephyr range in the early 1990s. This was a family of machineS which had a 550, 750 and 1100 version, all using an air-cooled motor. Instead, the ZRX moved things on a stage. Three versions of the ZRX family were eventually launched: a naked, round-headlight ‘N’ version, a half-faired ‘S’ which was launched in 2001 and the one we fancy most – the ZRX1100R, which was launched in 1997.
All models used the water-cooled 1052cc motor from the ZZ-R1100 and detuned it to around 100-110bhp, placing it in a tubular frame, with a braced swingarm and twin Kayaba piggy-back reservoir shocks. The styling detail that made the R special was the inclusion of a small, rectangular bikini fairing, which aped the Eddie Lawson Replicas of the early 1980s. For the money, it was big and most definitely beautiful.
Originally launched in solid single colours of silver or purple, the ZRX1100R looked good, but when it adopted an ELR-esque green with stripes, it suddenly really looked the part and people loved it all the more. Other old Zed-style colours were silver with black stripes and a Firecracker red with blue and silver stripes. For any of us who remembered the 1970s and 1980s old Zeds of yore, it was just what we wanted. Better was to come when – for 2001 – the engine capacity went up to 1164cc, just prior to the ZZ-R1200 coming out and it was then that the ‘S’ version with the half-fairing was released into dealerships.
How did it fare compared to the opposition? Well, Yamaha had their air-cooled XJR1200 of 1995, which also morphed into a 1300 version, with the old FJ lump. The Yam really looked the part and later came in an ‘SP’ guise with Ohlins shocks and Kenny Roberts Yellow paint scheme. It rocked – but never had the ZRX’s power or poise. Then came Suzuki with the GSX1400 of 2001 and they even gave it strange handling like the original bikes of yore… Honda were also in on the act with the CBR1000F-powered CB1000 ‘Big One’ in the mid-1990s and later the CB1300 of 2003. But we say nothing came close to the ZRX for all-round ability and (more importantly) character.
As it used existing bits and pieces the ZRX was pretty bulletproof too – especially that ZZ-R-derived motor. The only issues could be finish on some parts, bolts and the six-pot Tokicos could lose their ‘feel’ if not kept clean.
The ZRX has been the basis of a number of very special ‘Eddie Lawson’ replica replicas… and with the ZRX engine, you could put the original ZZ-R cams back in, liberating mucho power. This popularity/tunability is reflected in a wide-ranging series of owners clubs on both sides of the pond – not unnaturally the Americans love the look of the ELR-esque ZRX.
Here’s where things go bad: prices. Rough as a badger’s botty ZRXs start at £1500. We’ve seen good, solid 1100s for £1800 – £2000 rising to £2500. We’ve also seen low-mile, late model (03-06) 1200Rs go for up to £5000-£6000.
For: Looks, size, go
Against: Pricey – those six-pots…
|Price new||£7545 (1997, 1100) £6681 (2006, 1200)|
|Years available||1997-2000 (1100) 2001-2006 (1200)|
|Major changes||1052cc motor went to 1164cc in 2001. Colour changes through all models.|
|Cost||Starts at £1500 to £6500 for later bikes.|
Verdict: The most handsome-looking retro ever…