STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARTY KANE
So whats Kawasaki got in store for us with their latest version of their open class sportbike? After six years and two previous versions (1994 and 1998), the all new ZX-9R continues to be an awesome piece of workmanship.
At first glance, you notice there is some difference between it and its ancestors, simply because of the new split headlight front end and more radical angle of the windscreen.
Look further, the swing-arm is unlike any other before it by Kawasaki, and then get on the bike. The minute crack the throttle the power on tap is huge and then you have proof its more than body work.
Lets look at the technical jargon to see what is different this year.
Were drag racers and each one of us is a certified horsepower junkie. Luckily for us some of the ZX-9's best improvements are found inside the engine. The 900cc power plant now boasts a radical 12.2:1 compression ratio, up from 11.5 last year. A redesigned four-valve cylinder head features longer intake ports and new camshaft profiles to increase mid-range torque. The 35mm & 31.8mm valves breath life into the exhaust system which features a titanium canister for lighter weight.
Beneath the cylinder head, a lightweight sleeveless block guides the pistons through electroplated cylinder bores. It's lighter, but it's also stronger. Because of the added cylinder pressures... heftier wrist pins were added to increase reliability.
The lower end features a redesigned transmission and lighter rotating components. The funky shifts of the earlier models are now fixed, courtesy of a new shift drum and realigned gears. Third and fourth gears also now feature a factory undercut for more positive engagements.
According to Kawasaki, the electronics have been improved with a 16-bit processor in the control system, and the ignition rotor has been replaced with a more accurate model. I tried to confirm the processor, however I could not find a place for my mouse to plug into, they must have forgot that one!
Fuel and air are mixed together by new Keihin CRVD 40mm carburetors. These things work so well, that the throttle response is actually over crisp. As your moving through turns, or trying to power off the starting line, they take some getting use to.
Because of the split headlight assembly, a new ram air system is fed by a menacing scoop which hangs below the fairing. It's cool... and very reminiscent of an early muscle car - it just expels horsepower to the onlooker!
The tale of the Dynojet dyno indicates a peak 135 horsepower at 10,300 RPM, and the 70 ft/lbs of torque at 9,200 RPM. It's
Turning to the chassis, its the same story: stronger lighter bla bla bla.
Last years model did not have any problems for drag racing, but evidently those folks on the road course needed something different. Some of the changes include a longer steering neck, shortened neck angle (24 degrees of rake), and the axles and swing arm pivot have received increased diameters. The swing-arm has been redesigned and now uses slim but internally braced tubing - it looks wimpy, but it's a stout puppy!
The rear shock linkage features a changed ratio, and it tends to allow a more positive squat when the shock is adjusted soft for drag racing.
Stopping power has been refined, as the the front end now sports dual 310mm rotors. They are 14mm larger then last year, and the way it stops... it feels about 3" larger at all speeds!
One of the best changes for the drag racing market, is the rear wheel. It's wider by one half inch (6" from 5.5"), and that will yield a wider and flatter tire footprint. This thing is ideal for one of Mickey Thompsons drag racing tires (a 17" x 7" rear slick or MCR2 street tire).
So, with all of the changes how does it all stack up?
If you are searching for a street bike, the ZX-9R offers the best rider position and most comfortable body styles in the class. In drag racing, it also shines bright because of its well placed weight distribution and steamy engine.
I did not care for the seat much, because if you ride all the way forward, it will cause a numbness in an area I would rather not loose feeling in. After you learn to slide back however, it's just like an easy chair... and can take you for long rides with comfort.
Only two other bikes can fairly compare to it, the new Honda CBR-929 and the redesigned Yamaha R1. Both of those are great for road racing, however they leave much to be desired for creature comfort, and they are both too hard to control off the starting line (can you say wheelie?).
We did get a chance to beat up the three bikes on a road course and despite a ride which all test riders described as an uneasy feel, the ZX-9R posted the quickest lap time of the three bikes. To be fair though, the margin was so slim, youve got to call them all fairly matched with an average rider.
Paying attention to the dragstrip action, we see the ZX-9R falling in the 10.50 range at most AMA/Prostar events in stock trim. I personally managed to pinch off a 10.47-second run, but then I put a "real rider" on board and he managed to click off a 10.28 on his third run.
Looking at the strip once again, we see that by adding a wheelie bar and an after market pipe, most of these things run in the 10.0s to 9.70s. Thats a fair deal for a 900cc bike you can ride home after the race!
Likes: the brute strength of the 130+ horsepower, the feel and control of the braking system.
Dislikes: the quickness of the throttle, the rider seat, and the redigested paint scheme (when parked next to my 98 ZX-6R in the garage, you could not quickly tell them apart!).
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