Kawasaki ZX-12R

Kawasaki ZX-12R Ninja – A Tyre Kickers Guide

For us the ZX-12R is a strange creature, because while it promised 200mph motorcycling (it didn’t quite deliver that) it has still become a well-loved machine, perhaps thanks to its quirky looks.

It is 20 years now since the Kawasaki ZX-12R Ninja first (smoothly) appeared on the scene.

We say ‘smoothly’ as you could see that Kawasaki had spent thousands of hours in the wind-tunnel perfecting the curves of this machine – I mean, look at the mirrors? Back then, Kawasaki was the only major manufacturer that also made airplanes – and it showed: the mirrors were pointedly designed so that they would slice through the 200mph airflow…

In development, journalists heard that the machine could have as little as a 800 mile rear-tyre life, if the throttle was abused. Remember, this was pre-traction control! The ergonomics of the bike itself were a tad strange: it was large, but also a tad sporty.

That motor produced a whopping 180bhp, rising to 190bhp through that Kawasaki Ram-Air snout that could snaffle up a grouse, if one was daft enough to appear in front of it. The frame was a monocoque aluminium box – one of the first to be used on a production motorcycle (we think Kawasaki’s KR500 did the same in racing?)

The bike lasted until 2006 when it was practically overshadowed by the ZZ-R1400. Which was a shame as it was a great (albeit thirsty) bike, which – in original form – was given a strange, convoluted running-in procedure –  but was updated with the likes of fuel-injection mods, crank and flywheel changes and radial brakes in 2004. Build quality was good across the years.

Today it’s still a hot ship: 180bhp is still not too shoddy, two decades on. And, if you want one – you can find one for as little as £2500, rising to a plainly daft £9000 for a less than 1000 mile minter. We’d say go to £3k and get a clean one that’s standard.

RECALLS: A recall was made to replace the overflow pipe inside the tank as it could crack and leak in December 2000. In October 2001 the tyre valve nut on front and rear wheels could crack from corrosion or stress leading to a loss of pressure in the tyres. In January 2003 it was found that oil could seep through the electrical harness connected to the stator which could lead to fleck of oil on the rear tyre.

SUSPENSION: Stiffer on later models from 2002.

BRAKES: The six-pot Tokicos suffer from age and neglect but can be sorted (try www.powerhouse.uk)  but the radial-equipped 2004-on models are the best braked versions.

ENGINE: For a bike for the experienced, the 12R was embarrassingly easy to stall: but from 2002-on the bike gained a heavier crank and a narrower fly-wheel which helped. Max power hides at around 10,000 revs. Don’t worry if the bike seems to run hot – they all do! And try and keep the KLEEN AIR system in…

CLUTCH: Standard is fine, unless you’re upping the power.

COMFORT:  Consider this a big lad (or lass’) sportsbike. Looks fast and has a size that fits more than most modern sportsbikes!

ECONOMY: Almost as bad as the Honda VTR1000F FireStorm! 110 miles to reserve! Bad!

Kawasaki ZX-12R (2000-2001)

Colours: red, green, silver, black

Price new: £9380 (2000)

Comments: In comes the first model with wind-tunnel aerodynamics, large ram-air snout and 158bhp at the rear wheel. The frame was an aluminium monocoque and the bike also came with a labour-intensive run-in schedule.

Kawasaki ZX-12R (2002-2003)

Colours: red, green, silver, blue, black/gold

Price new: £8995 (2002)

Comments: Suspension alterations (stiffer), milder steering geometry and engine has 178bhp, allied to smoother bodywork. Ram-air snout now looks sleeker, pushing 30-per-cent more air into the motor. Heavier crank and gear-change was also slicker.

Kawasaki ZX-12R (2004-on)

Colours: silver, green, black/gold, blue

Price new: £8995 (2004)

Comments: Updates included radial brake calipers and upgrades to the fuel injection system.