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Shooting straight by Mike Emery ~ Straight Shooting by Nelson & Riles

2006 Kawasaki ZX-14

The usual Nevada adage is, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Kawasaki would prefer I tell you the whole sordid story on the ZX-14 so lets step away from the 2Dub norm here by visiting the Las Vegas Motor Speedway drag strip and throw in a pretty interesting scoot around the NASCAR "bowl" at the same speedway. I'd like to have brought things back into perspective with a street report, but I couldn't drag (pardon the pun) myself away from the 1/4 mile to do so.

As it turns out, there were a couple of things made for each other in life - Las Vegas and Elvis Presley theme weddings - Kawasaki ZX-14's and drag strips, both daft in their own right and both thoroughly recommended.

I can't say I am a drag racing fan, I just didn't get it, there seemed to be minimal skill involved in a typical run and I've been thrown out of my local drag strip more times than I can remember for wheelieing the quarter on whatever bike I was riding. The big plan at this event, quite honestly, was to do that very same thing. A plan was hatched with a fellow journo' that we'd see who was the wheelie king and get the fastest 1/4 mile time on one wheel - it didn't happen - my very first run ended with a 10.52 and from that moment on I was hooked - hook, line and sinker - more on that later.

Kawasaki's intent with this bike was a not so subtle dig at Suzuki's Hayabusa. That's it, plain and simple - a 1400cc middle finger indeed. The Kawasaki legacy, since the flexi-flyer days of the original H1, is to build the most powerful, brutal motorcycles in existence. The Hayabusa came on strong back in 1999, overshadowing the ZX1100, and even the newer ZX12R to some extent. The bird was big, but it flew pretty well. The new ZX-14 is intended to silence the Hayabusa owner with some impressive numbers. The model concept was not to be a little better, but to be a whole lot better. This bike is also here to represent the flagship model in the Kawi' line-up. Is the bike up to the task? Lets go find out - (follow me I know a short cut).

Lets start with that motor shall we? For starters it's a no-nonsense displacement king of the sportbike class and Kawasaki's largest sportbike engine ever at 1352cc's. The basis of evolution is a bored and stroked 12R with an additional balancer for harmonious harmonics. The tranny is stacked to keep things compact and despite it's ‘roided internals, enjoys a slightly slimmer profile that the 12R. It's rigid mounted too, rather than the old 12's rubber mounts, for a nice rigid feel. The internals are unremarkable outside of its displacement, but it does have an interesting technological twist with the cam chain tensioner - it's aided by oil pressure to ensure an optimally tensioned tensioner tension at all times. (all versions of tension covered, I think)

Cuddling that motor is an all new "next generation" (better than Captain Kirk?) frame, based on an aluminum monocoque design. This frame is no sporty twin spar, its over-the-top style, in the literal sense rather than the figurative. The plus side to this potentially plus size frame is that it is narrow, it's light and it's rigid too. Further compactness is promoted with the airbox within the frame, with easy side access (no more gas tank removal). Even the battery comes in its own little "house" within that frame, low too - to aid with a lower center of gravity. The big 5.8 gallon gas tank is also centrally mounted to all these goings on and extends in front of, and below, the seat. Can you say mass centralization? Goblessyapeople.

Screw more technical stuff - let's push the starter and see what happens... The Kawasaki media staff are a really cool bunch of cats, knowing us as they do, they concocted a little plan to go thrash the shorts off of the bike at the NASCAR home field at LVMS. I must admit, to me it seemed a recipe for disaster, the deal was five laps per session going around the speedway as fast as the ZX-14's legs could carry us, until we got tired or until one of us got into the wall. The downer (apart from the no right turns) was we weren't allowed to do it as a group. Did I mention Kawasaki knew us? Anyway, one at a time we were let out to go forth and do what we do, and boy was it spooky. The 1.5-mile oval offered no real fun at 186 electronically limited mile-an-hour, the problem was you didn't know where you were on the tire. The only real indication of lean angle was when you couldn't grab an upshift (usually 5th to 6th) because you couldn't get your foot under the gearshift - weird stuff.

Weird stuff aside, the fun stuff started happening as soon I was up to speed though, in an attempt to "see where I was" in relation to the asphalt, I started to hang off road race style and soon found a knee puck. Next minute I'm dragging my knee on the banking at 150mph and feeling right at home due to the familiarity of that bum-crack seating position. I not sure what they make my Shift sliders out of, but I swear I could hear and smell sizzling bacon.

As soon as I passed this nugget on, my fellow silly bug.. err' Journalists did the same. There were stories of lurid buck-fifty front end pushes starting to infiltrate my group, but we're talking about a big bike doing silly corner speeds by very silly people. The Bridgestone BT014's behaved themselves perfectly too - however you should have seen the "Chicken Strip" on the right-hand side - big enough to feed a family of four.

It was tough accelerating from zero to banzai whilst contemplating the fuel injection and its efficiency - it all seemed to work together OK. The all new 32-bit digital fool injection offered quite decent throttle response, however, low speed acceleration (read wheelieing down the pit straight) revealed a dead spot down below 4K, probably due to Senor EPA.

Actually, power all round was a little lame till you started to charge 5,000RPM then it started to get a little lively in the pajama department. With 190 PS (185BHP) on tap, you might want to be pointed in the right direction when you open that quartet of 44mm throttle bodies, let's call that 200 PS (195BHP) with some wind blowing through the front door.

The suspenders on the big ZX looked to be the right stuff too. The front forks are 43mm inverted with 13-way compression, 11-way rebound and, of course, preload adjustability. The rear has a new linkage and although I have no notes on its adjustability, it kept my bum off the rear wheel admirably. By the way, coming into turn one at pretty much flat out, no brakes were needed and a gear change certainly didn't upset the chassis, nor did the consequent throttle roll-off/on. Drive snatch seemed nonexistent but let's reserve judgement until we get this bike in stop and go, around town traffic.

Off the bike now and looking over the ZX-14 some more, it's easy to dismiss the technology on this vehicle. Proof? How about that wiring loom... it's CAN (Controller Area Network). I'm hoping to get this right by describing it as a more efficient wiring loom (less wires) and basically split into high and low voltage wires that utilizes a multi-cast serial bus standard offering ISO standard transmissions up to 500kbs... Phew. The information passed along these wires is labeled with a unique identifier, the ECU performs an acceptance test to determined the signal's destination and sends it off on its merry way. Get this, if two signals are sent at the same time, instead of the ECU pressing Cntrl/Alt/Delete and calling it quits, it'll deliver the most important one first - it's a miracle, I tell ya'. By the way, this system takes care of the RPM, coolant temp, gear position and other "clever stuff" - This thing's sexier than a T-Mobile hotspot and a cup of hot chai in Starbucks.

Whilst on the subject of electronic frivolity, you have a ton of relevant information at your beck and call, via the ultra tricky LCD readout. Stepping back in time, we have a set of analog gauges for speed and RPM - sure they're archaic, but I never struggled to see where I was in the RPM range or how fast I was going to go to jail.

Nestled between these antique roadshow exhibits was a good size LCD screen showing, gas range, fuel consumption (both average and current), battery voltage and a gas gauge.

For ultimate drag racing friendliness you even have a clutch engagement sensor light set within the tachometer so you can set an indicator to your preferred drag race start RPM, oh, and there's a programable a shift light too.

The trip to the drag strip beckoned . . . as mentioned my first run yielded a 10.52 sec pass. I thought about this for a second and I felt that it wasn't inconceivable for this bike to carry my royal British carcass to a sub 10 second run - I then set out to hit that delusional goal. I eventually did a 10.246 as a best and followed up with 5x10.2's, 5x10.3's and 8x10.4s and 5x10.5's shall I go on? All this, by the way, at a drag strip 3500ft higher than sea level - Also, the skinny little buggers in our group consistently got 9 second passes.

The bike was so consistent it was astounding - I even fluffed a start and wheelied all the way up to just before the finish line for a 10.9. I'm sure that 113.5lbs of Torque can dig you out of more holes than you realize. Oh, and the clutch is definitely your friend on this bike - it's a radial master cylinder and feel was exemplary. I finally fried the clutch on the second day and I calculated 90 runs on the bike (not all mine) before it finally called uncle - that, my two-wheeled flubbers, is a clutch abused by the journalistic equivalent of a herd of fat donkeys' most with no drag experience outside of dressing up in ladies clothes (not guilty on that one either).

Being a cheeky little monkey, I continued the acceleration path up to the end of the drag strip, to test the brakes, my nerve and my hacking abilities (the slide-ways style, not Jamie). At an indicated 170mph at the end of every run, I was hard on the radial (caliper and master cylinder) brakes down to a 15mph hairpin left. The 310mm petal style rotors were well up to it, sliding the big monster sideways probably wasn't the smartest end to each drag run, but I had an audience (the ambulance driver and EMT) so I was happy. To the big Kwak's credit, it took all the abuse that I could throw at it, and some. I feel silly saying this, especially with its size, but it is quite nimble considering it's 27 feet long. However, for a big bike, I never felt I was wrestling it around to make it do what I wanted, although it would shake its head when I took too many liberties under a full head of power.

So let's finish up with styling and ergonomics shall we? One of my fellow journalists got caught by "teacher" with the word FUGLY on his notepad. I have no idea what that means or why he had to stand in the corner with the dunce's hat on for 15 minutes. What I do know is that this bike has a face that only its mother would love. I suppose the downside to slipperiness is a styling clue based on wind tunnel practicalities rather than style points. The look does grow on you and like the ZX10R, it looks better in person. The bike will come with a seat cowl as standard at the back end and a set of four headlamps on the front that will be the brightest lamp set-up you've ever seen.

If you stare at this long enough -
you'll start to see "things".

The bike is also covered in various protrusions, I mean who'd have thought that if you stuck George Foremen grill's here and there you'd get aerodynamic excellence? I wonder if big George gets a cut of every bike sold in the US? These are the things I'm paid to contemplate, people.

Before I forget, this is a skinny bike too and I can get down and out of the wind as and when I needed to. The handlebars are also perfectly placed for a sport tour, they are neither clip–ons nor risers, they just kind of merge in between the two positions.

So I believe we have a winner here, with a taller windscreen you can go far and fast - faster too, especially with the 186MPH limiter removed. If Kawasaki sees fit to produce a decent set of luggage bags this bike will probably be in the limelight for a long time. The fact that I could take this bike to any Wednesday/Friday night drag strip and kick some sportbike arse, is the jelly on a peanut butter sandwich. Yet this bike might win just as many Iron Butt classes as it will Drag races - Think of this bike as an Elvis Presley in his chubby years, he was big, both literally and metaphorically. This bike has the same hairy chest but does without the sequins and big collar.

Mike Emery

A big thanks to Rickey Gadson and Ryan Schnitz for the drag strip advice, and to Rob Muzzy for the moustache grooming tips.

Source: Two Wheel Freeks
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