2006 Kawasaki ZX-14 - Dragstrip Test
By Kevin Duke
While we wait for Kenny to rifle through his thesaurus as he writes our First Ride article on Kawasaki's powerful new ZX-14, we thought we'd bring you our impression of how the 1352cc beast handled the rigors of dragstrip abuse during the bike's press introduction in Las Vegas. Kawasaki calls the 190-hp (claimed) grande ZX the most powerful streetbike in the world, and its ETs at the dragstrip back up the claim.
We arrived to Las Vegas Motor Speedway's "The Strip" after scaring ourselves silly trying to hold the ZX-14's throttle fully open around the banked oval NASCAR course. I'm much more comfortable on a 'strip, and I was anxious to see how quick I could go on the ZX after besting the journalists in attendance at the Harley-Davidson Destroyer launch. The first half of the assembled journos had already finished their runs, and I was surprised to hear that no one had yet been able to go quicker than 10 seconds.
There to greet us were a couple of racing legends. Rob Muzzy, the mustachioed one who has won AMA roadracing national championships (and a World Superbike title with Scott Russell), has spent the past several years toiling in the dragracing scene, bagging even more championships while selling his Muzzys branded performance parts.
And then there's Rickey Gadson, a dragracing legend who was at LVMS to tell us which way to point the ZX. A seven-time champion, Gadson knows a thing or two about what it takes to make a quick run. When Gadson sees three-time AMA dragracing champion Ryan Schnitz make a pass on the ZX-14, in less than 2 seconds he predicts the run will be a 9.79. Turns out it was a 9.78-second pass, just one-hundredth of a second off his forecast!
Straight away, the ZX-14 proves to be an excellent dragracing platform. On my first two passes, I ran nearly identical 9.98-second trips down the quarter (a 9.985 and a 9.989), both culminating in a matching 143.23 mph trap speed. Getting into the 9-second bracket on my first run on the bike is one thing, but logging equal runs back to back is incredible. Obviously, the mega ZX is super easy to launch, or that kind of consistency simply wouldn't be possible.
Helping keep the launches consistent is the ZX's superlative clutch, imperative for getting the most out of any run down the strip. The lever actuates a radial-pump clutch, an industry-first according to Kawasaki. Like radial-mount brake master cylinders and radial brake calipers, this type of arrangement generally results in more feedback through the lever. Feel through the ZX's clutch lever was as good as or better than any hydraulic clutch I've sampled.
Kawasaki also didn't skimp on the clutch pack itself, a beefy unit comprised of nine large-diameter steel plates that can handle the abuse of a claimed 114 lb-ft of torque. In testing, Kawasaki performed more than 60 passes on a single stock clutch pack without any signs of failing. Not once were any of my runs spoiled by an inconsistent clutch, despite motojournalists mercilessly abusing the 14's clutches for about a day and a half. A direct shift lever (no linkage) ensured positive shifts even at full throttle.
My pair of nines were the first sub-10-second runs of the event, and they were followed by a 10.09. And then on my last pass of this stint, I logged a 9.90 at 143.4 mph, a mark that would remain unbeaten by anyone else. Still, my group would provide plenty of competition.
Kawasaki had four ZXs running constantly, and they were taken out by an editor for four runs in rotation before being passed off to the next rider. But since there were several publications in attendance (and several with more than one rider) and I had to rotate MCUSA's spot with Kenny, I only got two four-run stints in on this day.
The pressure was on for my second time aboard, as I now had to bag a 9.8-second run. That's one of the cool things about dragracing: No matter how quick you run, you just know you can knock it down another tenth.
I ran a disappointing 10.08 on my first run, then got a killer launch on my second. My 1.723-second 60-foot time was my best yet, but it developed into a wheelie that just wouldn't die. The front end finally came down somewhere north of 100 mph, which became interesting when a nearly motionless front tire (from the hard launch) tried to gain 99 mph in a nanosecond. It felt like the front wheel landed in a tar pit, moving over uncontrollably a couple of feet across the strip before it regained composure! A relatively dreadful 10.26 was the result. Still determined, I clocked another 10.08, then finally got back into the nines with a 9.97.
Unfortunately, the day was coming to a close and my shot at running a 9.8 was over. Well, almost. As a bonus for getting the quick time of the day, I got the nod to take a crack at a lowered ZX-14 equipped with a Muzzys exhaust and Power Commander that was on hand. Let me tell you, the slammed bike was drastically easier to launch, and despite not knowing how it was going to react, I ran an easy 9.57 at 149 mph without really trying. Schnitz ran a 9.17 on the same bike.
The ZX-14 is built low to the ground, with a seat height nearly 1 inch lower than the outgoing ZX-12R at 31.5 inches. And although it has a large 5.8-gallon fuel capacity, the reservoir is in the rear of what looks to be the tank and extends below the seat. This is part of what keeps the center of mass low, reducing the tendency to wheelie.
As luck would have it, rain spoiled the next day of testing when we were supposed to be riding the ZX on the street. When the rain finally subsided after noon, we instead went back to the dragstrip for more passes. My photo obligations ("Ahh, do I have to do another wheelie?") resulted in arriving late to the party at my favorite Vegas strip. That meant just one more four-lap stint to log an even quicker ET.
When I came up to the line, I told Gadson that I wasn't going to be happy unless I bagged a 9.8 before the day was through. To help inspire me, Ricky told me to leave the line as soon as the green light comes on, as opposed to the "go whenever we're ready" departures previously prescribed.
Apparently, Rickey knows what he's talking about. I made a clean pass and it felt quick. When I motored back to the pits, Kenny was there to greet me with a beaming smile, telling me I had just posted a 9.89.
"Okay, I gotta go get a 7," I told him and Gadson, referring to a 9.7-second run that became my new goal. I wasn't sure how I was gonna do it, but I was going to give it my best shot.
I again rolled up to the line and pre-staged, getting my body set for its hurtling through space. Setting the revs at the prescribed 4000 rpm, my left hand became twitchy on the clutch lever as it prepared for launch control, the balancing of a quick exit with the smallest of wheelie. My launch felt strong as I modulated the clutch to keep the front end down, and three power-shifts later the speedo was reading 150 mph and it was all over.
A rider can't see the timing lights at the far end of the strip, but I knew I had clicked off a good, clean run. As I neared the pits, I could see people waving and yelling, and soon I came to learn that I had clicked off a 9.78 at 147 mph. Remarkably, that's only a tenth of a second slower than the best time logged by Gadson or Schnitz on a stock ZX! The fact that I wasn't able to better that time on my next two runs did nothing to diminish my elation. When corrected for temperature and altitude (as do all magazines), my run computed to a 9.46 at 152.0 mph. Pretty damn impressive for a bone-stock motorcycle, and easily better than a stock Hayabusa.
So it seems as if I might've missed my calling, although I must admit it doesn't hurt that I only weigh as much as a bingeing Kate Moss. This was the third press event at a dragstrip in which I've been the quickest journalist. In 2003, I posted the best time on the Patrick Racing Yamaha Warrior dragbike and won the final elimination round in heads-up competition on stock Warriors. Then late last year, my 9.55-second run on Harley's outrageous race-only Destroyer was a time that couldn't be beat.
It's interesting to compare the acceleration of the Destroyer to the ZX-14. With a wheelie bar and a 7-inch wide drag slick, the Destroyer does its name proud and demolishes the ZX with its stupendous 60-foot time, a massive 32% quicker. By the eighth-mile mark, the big Kaw's greater peak horsepower is pulling back time on the Harley, but it's not enough to beat it through the quarter despite going through the traps 9 mph faster.
Kawasaki ZX-14 H-D Destroyer
60-ft 1.713 second 1.164 second
330-ft 4.349 3.953
1/8-mile 6.447 @ 117.39 mph 6.065 @ 120.55 mph
1/4- mile 9.783 @ 147.04 mph 9.550 @ 138.24 mph
After our time aboard the new ZX-14, we're predicting it will supplant Suzuki's Hayabusa as the dragracing platform of choice. But don't take our word for it. Less than one week after our test of the ZX, Rickey Gadson set a new national record of 178.12 mph on his way to winning the newly created AMA/ProStar Super Street category in its debut event at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Ga. He recorded a blistering 8.482 second pass on his modified ZX.
"I have 108 wins to my credit," said Gadson, "and this has to be one of the most memorable of my career. The ZX-14 is awesome and it doesn't get any better than this."
Yeah, Rickey, I kind of know how you feel.