Kawasaki ZX-9R – A Tyre Kickers Guide

When first launched, this was seen and billed as a FireBlade beater – but truth be told it was a more of a Blade Bloater.

Yes, the original incarnation of the ZX-9R Ninja (the B model) was a respected machine: it was fast, it was comfortable, but it was also quite a bit heavier than the Honda CBR900RR it was effectively trying to battle.

The Ninja, at 215 kilos was in fact 30 kilos heavier than the Honda but it also pumped out a respectable 135bhp claimed – at least 15bhp more than the Blade at the time, but then you’d expect such a powerhouse from Kawasaki, when you think of the ZX-9R’s similar-cc lineage: the Z1 of 1972 and the GPz900R of 1984.

Kawasaki ZX9RSo it was big, comfy and fast – but it was also a tiny bit flawed.  The weight didn’t help the fact that – at launch at a steaming Shah Alam circuit in Malaysia – it was a bit wobbly at the back-end something seemed wrong with the shock. Journos pounced on this and the bike suffered a little as a result…

As a half-house between a sporty ZXR750 and a sports-touring ZZ-R1100, it fitted the bill well enough on British roads, but the bike went on a diet for 1998’s C-model. In came shark-like sleekness, less weight (183 kilos dry, down from 215) and more power – 140 over 125/135 claimed bhp.

It was better than 1998/99’s podgy, soft FireBlade RR-W/X and Kawasaki ruled the litre sportsbike class for all of a few weeks until the Yamaha YZF-R1 landed,  tore up the rule-book and became THE litre class sportsbike to own and lust over.

But even after the R1 arrived, there was a lot to love about the C-model ZX-9R Ninja. It was still fast, very fast, even outpacing the R1 in some road tests. Then there was the practicality side of things. The 9R seemed to be practical where the R1 wasn’t, despite the Kawasaki’s lack of bungee points or a fuel light (fuel taps… remember those?) It was also a deal more comfy than the R1.

While the R1 and Blade fought and scrapped to become top dog, becoming increasingly more powerful and lighter, the 9R developed into the E-model (with updated aesthetics, compression ratio increase) then the F-model, which had other cosmetic changes along with a new swinging arm, carb changes and brakes.

Kawasaki ZX9R blueBy the time the new millennium came round the ZX-9R Ninja had been left behind comprehensively by the opposition, but it still soldiered on until it was replaced by the crazy ZX-10R in 2004. Today the prices echo the story – this was the underdog. So while even rough R1s can command half-decent money, today you’ll find an early B-model Ninja for as little as a grand, or less. The C-model with as little as 20k on the clocks can be yours for just £1500… that’s a bargain. We’ve even seen E and F-models for between £2000-£3000 – that’s a lot of bike for the money, but the bike did have issues… read on!

BRAKES: Six-pot Tokicos came into use with the later versions of the B-series, carried through on the C and E models but disappeared on the 2002-on ZX-9Rs to be replaced by much better four-potters from Nissin. The key to keeping the brakes working well is good and regular cleaning. The six-potters do suffer from neglect more than any other caliper. Speak to www.powerhouse.uk and they can bring these much-maligned calipers back to their best.

FORKS: Do check for fork seal issues from poorly-landed/accidental power wheelies.

HEAD BEARINGS: Reports have filtered through to CB-Net that the F-model can have head bearings break up early. So check for a notchy front end and don’t over-tighten replacements.

BUILD QUALITY: Needs more TLC than a FireBlade of the same era to keep looking good… paint can be thin on the wheels. Later models are better.

MOTOR: Visceral and involving – these things are made to sound good and some models even had a deflector in the air-box channel to give better induction noise! You can see between 125-135bhp at the back wheel, with the earlier C models benefitting from a little more oomph lower in the rev-range in exhange for the later machine’s more (3-5bhp) top-end. By now any model 9R will benefit from a good check of the carbs. While the 1990s/2000s saw many a slip-on whacked on without a thought, today we’d really say ‘Keep it Standard, Stupid.’

CARB ICING: A Kawasaki trait, almost. This feels like you’re running out of fuel and it can happen even without the air temperature being that low. Early C1 models were the worst, having only one carb heating rail. Coolant from the cooling system is fed via a small pipe through a filter and to a set of brass conductors which heat the carbs. On the C2 model two rails were fitted but the problem could still occur on some bikes. Later models (E-series on) don’t seem to suffer as badly.

Tips to sort this included regular coolant filter checks/clean, bleeding the coolant system (air in the system didn’t help), the use of a fuel treatment (Kawasaki UK even developed one with Fuchs to help) and using a replacment higher-temp thermostat.

As mentioned above – any poor running will be mainly due to the carbs, so get ‘em cleaned and get them balanced. Don’t forget parallel imports were around at the time (1990s) and these non-UK models may not even have the carb-heater rail.

GEARBOX: Early models (B/C) had some reported issues with jumping out of gear, while the E/F models are more robust.

Kawasaki ZX-9R B1-B3 (1994-1996)

Colours purple/silver, green, black

Price new: £8095

Comments: 899cc, using ZZ-R/ZXR four piston Tokico brakes, beam frame, twin-ram air and (in other countries) a cool, projector beam twin-light set-up, sat under a single lens. We got a more traditional set-up. Revvy motor (12,000rpm redline), saw up to 135 claimed bhp. Today these early models can be snapped up for well under £1000. They will look and ride rough, mind…

Kawasaki ZX-9R B4 (1997)

Price New: £9545

Comments: As before, but now with Tokico’s six-pot brakes, all-important changes to the rear suspension linkage and spring rate, pillion grab handles and a smidge more power – up to 140 claimed bhp.

Kawasaki ZX-9R C1-C2 (1998-1999)

Colours: black, blue, red, green

Price new: £9545

Comments: Engine architecture (bore/stroke/redline) stayed the same, but all else was changed. Plug-top ignition coils, updated valve-train, cable clutch and re-sited generator. Chassis was right-way up Kayaba forks of 46mm, a new swinging arm and the beam frame had an updated subframe and the bike had lighter wheels and a titanium exhaust with TITANIUM etched on the end can! Weight was down to 183 kilos, while power remained around the same. Today you can bag a C-model for 1500 knicker and these have the best colour schemes of any 9Rs, too!

Kawasaki ZX-9R E1-E2 (2000-2001)

Colours: purple/dark blue, red/white/black, green/purple

Price new: £8350

Comments: Major cosmetic update sees new plastics at the front and twin headlamps with the double ram-air snouts replaced with a single snout. The bike got a small power hike thanks to a compression ratio raise to 12.2:1 and updated CRVD 400 carbs and timing changes. The frame was beefed up and swinging arm pivot and wheel spindles made larger in diameter. Ride height adjuster on rear shock.

Kawasaki ZX-9R F1-F2 (2002-2003)

Price new: £7995

Colours: blue, green, silver

Comments: Small aesthetic refinements include updated tail unit and single-piece front mudguard: grab handles now gone! A new swinging arm with a top brace extrusion is 20% stronger than before. New brakes (now Nissin four-pots) replace the much-maligned Tokico six-pots. Motor feels perkier in low to mid-range thanks to heavier crank and smaller fly-wheel to make the motor rev quicker. We’ve seen minters with less than 3000 miles on them for around £3500…