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ZX-14 World Press Introduction
Thursday, March 16, 2006 -























Ride along with us as we attend the World Press Introduction of the all new 2006 Kawasaki ZX-14.

Dragbike.com (Scott Valetti & Brock Davidson) heads to Las Vegas to get a first hand look at the ZX-14 on February 27th & 28th. While we are on our trip, we will be bringing you up to speed on the ZX-14 in the timely manner allowed as a web-based information source. We will be testing the bike at the Strip and on the road course. As we’re sure the ZX-14 will hold it’s own on the road, we are more interested in how it handles itself on the drag strip from the perspective of a Sportbike drag race enthusiast.

For us at Dragbike.com, the introduction of the Kawasaki ZX-14 is one of the biggest deals since Suzuki introduced the mighty GSX1300R Hayabusa in 1999. Does the ZX-14 have what it takes to knock off the long reigning Hayabusa in the motorcycle drag racing world?

We have some questions that we want to have answered:

• What kind of ET will the ZX-14 produce in stock trim for the average rider?
• What kind of MPH will the ZX-14 produce in stock trim?
• Is the power delivery user-friendly at the strip, or are minor rider mistakes rewarded with very poor E.T’s?
• Does the clutch feel rider friendly?
• Will the clutch and associated components hold up to repeated hard launches at the drag strip?
• Is basic maintenance easily performed i.e. oil changes, spark plugs, etc? Are there any “race features” built in i.e. programmable shift light, etc?
• Is the stock ECU re-programmable from the factory or must the aftermarket world be relied upon exclusively?
• How "buildable" is the engine for normally aspirated applications?
• What type of platform has Kawasaki given us as a basis for extremely powerful drag race machines?
• And of course…is there room for a nitrous bottle?!

Throughout the day as we are putting the ZX-14 to the test, we will be delivering you updates so check back often for the latest!

02.26.06 - ARRIVAL

The World Press Introduction of the all new Kawasaki ZX-14 is underway here in Las Vegas, Nevada, the gambling capitol of the world. In a town known for high stakes wagers and professional boxing, we at Dragbike.com must wonder if it is a coincidence that Kawasaki chose this particular spot on such a large planet to strap on the gloves and challenge: “The Current Unnn-Disputed Heavyweight CHAMPION of the WORLD”- The Suzuki HAYABUSA!!!

Hello, it’s me, Brock Davidson and the above is about as close as you are going to hear in the form of mainstream magazine gibberish from this racer-turned-temporary keyboard jockey. As always, I tell it like I see it with minimal dramatization and hype. I see what I see, and I feel what I feel and have no problem telling others about it, usually whether they want to hear it or not.

Now, if you are wondering…**NO** …I did not jump ship or turn on Suzuki in any way shape or form! I was simply invited by Dragbike.com to attend this introduction as a technical expert. I have based my company, Brock’s Performance Products, on supplying aftermarket performance products to the fastest Japanese motorcycles for years. As a recognized industry expert, who better to provide insight into the new ZX-14? At least that is the general idea as far as the staff of Dragbike.com is concerned.

Gamble is term thrown about loosely here in Vegas which usually relies HEAVILY upon luck. As a drag racer, I personally prefer to better the odds by betting on events or results in which I have some input. During the meet and greet in the hotel lounge followed by dinner with over 35 of the most respected moto-journalists in the industry, it’s obvious that Kawasaki also shares this philosophy.

After some brief words by key individuals involved in the creation of the new ZX-14, it is evident they feel they have the means to dethrone the current champ. The display of confidence and pride among the Kawasaki employees, especially the engineers and designers, was very strong. These fine folks believe they did their homework and are anxious to prove they have the product to back it up.

To me, one of the best indications of this self-assurance comes from the fact that DRAG STRIP testing is a MAJOR part of the introduction proceedings. Drag associated terms prevailed in the dining room during formal and informal conversation. It is obvious--these guys can’t wait until we get the new ZX-14 on the drag strip (or lie detector as I like to call it.) They have even altered the schedule of events to be sure the drag portion of the introduction goes on for all journalists on Monday, as poor weather is predicted for Tuesday. This means the drag strip is actually more important to them than the road/oval course. FINALLY!!! Priorities in a sequence we can appreciate!

Special Note: It was brought to my attention over dinner earlier that Rickey Gadson and Ryan Schnitz both had input on the addition of a built-in, programmable RPM activated LAUNCH LIGHT on the earlier “pilot” or pre-production versions of the ZX-14. Not only was it added to the production versions, but Kawasaki “fine tuned” the drag use only operation after top secret drag strip test sessions with both riders!

Should Hayabusa fans start trembling at Kawasaki’s pro-drag posture? Scott and I will keep you posted as we throw a leg over Kawasaki’s new ride and the testing unfolds at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Monday. Stay tuned…

02.27.06 - Day 2 Track Testing

In late 1998 the buzz in the motorcycle race community was that Suzuki was going to unveil a bike SO FAST that all of the other so called “fast” bikes would become obsolete overnight. Rumor had it that this motorcycle was named after a Japanese bird capable of diving at speeds close to 200 MPH--because the bike could run 200 MPH?!

I, personally, did not believe the hype too much. I had been drag racing each year’s newest Suzuki sportbike since purchasing my Katana in 1982. The brightest drag racers knew that Suzuki’s conservative attitude led to some of the most de-tuned large displacement motorcycles on the market; BUT, if properly equipped with the appropriate aftermarket goodies to UN-strangle the engine, Suzuki had the quickest and fastest machines money could buy to traverse the 1320’ in street trim.

I was fortunate enough to have American Suzuki’s support for my AMA/Prostar Drag race team at the time. I was “the Suzuki guy” at the Prostar races and distinctly remember being barraged with questions about the motorcycle with a name most people couldn’t correctly pronounce. After the drag races that kicked off Bike Week 1999, I was invited to attend the Daytona 200 and other festivities by my Suzuki contact.

Over dinner, I explained my experience over the excitement revolving around the new mystery machine and that I had no idea what to tell people who asked how fast it was. Surprisingly enough, my contact was one of the few who had actually ridden a prototype version. GREAT! How fast is it? I’ll never forget what he said:

‘Brock, the new Hayabusa pulls away from a ZX-11 like a 750 pulls away from a 600. It isn’t even a race.’

After such a lengthy opening into our first day of riding the new ZX-14 Kawasaki, I’m sure you are wondering if the 600/750 scenario is playing out here in Vegas. The answer is - ALMOST!

The Hayabusa is a DAMN FAST motorcycle which has rewritten every two wheeled acceleration record on the books. For Kawasaki to target this machine AT ALL takes courage, especially after the failure of the ZX-12R which was unable to get the job done. You might also want to consider that NO other motorcycle manufacturer has really even attempted to seriously challenge the Busa’s supremacy in the unlimited market. An additional item of note would include the fact that the ZX-14 has only 54cc’s larger displacement than a Busa, 1352cc to 1298cc’s respectively. The ZX-11’s 246 cc handicap to the Busa really wasn’t very comparable.

I am very pleased, as a brute performance enthusiast, to say that Kawasaki picked itself up and came out “barrels blazing” with the new ZX-14. In addition to grotesque amounts of horsepower and torque, the gentlemen at Kawasaki attacked other issues as well including comfort, style, handling, low speed agility, high speed stability and many others. But, my personal favorite is their concentration on acceleration from a DEAD STOP.

Scott Valetti and I promised to seek out answers to the questions we wanted answered about this bike from a sportbike drag racer’s point of view. We will find those answers in detail throughout the introduction and after we have the chance to really think about the ZX-14 from every aspect in which we have been introduced.

Here is a brief summary of today’s events:
Brock was able to make about a dozen drag strip passes today in addition to 10 laps around the banked 1.5 mile tri-oval at Las Vegas Motor Speedway EXACTLY as the bikes would be driven off of the showroom floor. Now I am not trying to make any excuses, but there is a reason I had not ridden a stock height, un-strapped or lowered big power bike in 10 years or so at the drag strip…it’s embarrassing! I was able to log the quickest and fastest time out of our “Team Torque” group with a [email protected] MPH. This is the actual E.T. and MPH in measured conditions equating to 3500 feet above sea level.

That being said: there is nothing wrong with the ZX-14 that TAKING ME OFF OF IT would not cure! I did not ride the bike well at all, period. I have only made a handful of passes since mid 2004 when I injured my knee, and it showed. The bike would do anything I asked. I just kept asking at the wrong time and place on the track. My guess is that most halfway decent riders would jump into the nines with the simple addition of a front end lowering strap.

All four bikes at the strip ran identically and Rickey Gadson and Ryan Schnitz would jump one them every once in a while just to show the rest of us how bad we sucked. Rickey ran a [email protected] and Ryan threw down a [email protected] Both of these current professionals have had AMPLE time to learn how to ride the bikes as tested, and this definitely showed. In the second session, a couple of journalists were able to break into the nines. One of the lighter sport riders cracked off a 9.90!

Also present was a strapped, lowered, and piped ZX-14 running something that smelled like VP Ultimate 4, you know - EXACTLY how a drag racer would show up at the drag strip the first day on their own personal ZX-14! They would not let us ride it, but Rickey jumped on and ran a [email protected] followed by Ryan’s stunning [email protected] Remember, this was at a measured corrected altitude of over 3500 ft with an 8-10mph cross wind. I can see 9.0’s or even 8.90’s if Ryan rides this bike at Valdosta in the right conditions.

After I sulked away from the drag strip we headed back to the tower for some lunch. Scott was supposed to perform the oval track test but after hopping on the test bike, to his surprise, they were going on a street ride.

The “street” ride wasn’t a normal “street” ride; this was approximately a 100 mile trip up Hwy. 15 and through the back road twisties into the Valley of Fire National Park.

Brock took to the high banks of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to sample the handling characteristics at high speed on the oval track while Scott sampled the street manners on a 3 hour street ride.

Stay tuned…there’s a lot more to come!

Brocks Oval Track Experience aboard the ZX-14

Admittedly, as an experienced drag racer, any turns at over 100 MPH have always been a BAD thing! I feel like I can ride a motorcycle as well as the average guy and perhaps a bit better than average on the drag strip, but on a banked Tri-Oval?! Nobody does that on asphalt. Even the road race boys only see a glimpse of the banking at Daytona. I instantly became excited about the opportunity to see how fast the new ZX-14 could go on the 1.5 mile LVMS Superspeedway and how stable it felt doing so. Besides, the chance to make my way around the same track that I have seen the NASCAR boys rub-around on television was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I intended to take full advantage of the opportunity. Go fast, turn left--sign me up!

Climbing over the pit wall to the prepared bikes, which were just waiting for us along with a crew of Bridgestone technicians and engineers, was surreal. Were they anticipating problems? Were they expecting us to ride like Mr. Daytona, Scott Russell, with white smoke billowing as we exited the turns? My excitement turned to concern. Why all of the fuss?! I had seen cars have tire problems on TV. Spinning into a wall at speed with no sheet metal wrapped around my hinny became a very unappealing thought. To my relief, Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog began his briefing with the words, “First of all, this is not a race. We simply want you to experience the high speed stability of the new ZX-14 at your own pace, and this is the safest way we could think of for you to do it.” He continued, “There will only be one bike allowed on the track during the sessions, and we will show you the course and the lines you will want to follow from our minivan before you make some laps on the bikes behind our test rider.” Sweet! Looked like Kawasaki didn’t want any Ebony, Candy Thunder Blue, or Passion Red notches in the wall any more than we did! I’m no sissy, but this is an intimidating track, and I already knew that this was/is a VERY fast motorcycle.

With the van tour and supervised test laps completed, I watched some of the other journalists circle as I awaited my turn. I couldn’t help noticing that at least one was FLYING, and the rest looked like they were cruising in comparison. It looked like fun. Once my turn came, I had already decided that I was not going to set any track records on my first set of five laps. The tour allowed me to realize that there were ZERO flat portions of racing surface; even the straights were banked at three degrees with the corners at twelve degrees. I had been around the ‘new bike/first ride’ block before and had survived unscathed for a reason.

On the trip down pit road approaching the track surface, I was surprised to suddenly notice the smoothness of the engine. Remember, up to this point, VIOLENCE in the way of multi-gear wheelies at the drag strip had been the order of the day. As I stepped through the gears to begin acceleration, the smooth power delivery, combined with stability, was reassuring. I soon began to realize that this bike wasn’t going to do anything I didn’t want it to. As my speed increased to a Speedo-indicated 155 mph on the back straight, the feeling was “Busa-ish”. You could adjust the radio or smoke a cigarette (metaphorically speaking, of course) at over 150 mph without disrupting the straight line stability, and then dive into a corner at 100 mph quite easily.

After each journalist’s turn at the oval, the Bridgestone technicians were measuring tire temps and taking notes as the bikes stopped rolling. One of them was sporting a fancy clipboard and stop watch. Hey, I thought this wasn’t a race? My competitive side HAD to look at the times from the first round. My fifty-five seconds was about the average for our group with one particular journalist, Sean Alexander from www.motorcycle.com, WAXING all of us by over 10 seconds per lap. Sean is no flyweight; my guess is about 210 lbs. After his first session, his knee puck was nearly gone and still smoking when he brought the bike back to the pits?! The chatter from the techs was also quite different as Japanese voices took over and his bike was quickly wisped away for a tire change. Afterwards, it became clear that Kawasaki knew him quite well; as he was designated as the rider to “scuff in” the new tires after changes on the remaining bikes in the test for the rest of us slow guys. Obviously, Sean is no stranger to making bikes turn, as illustrated by the photo below.

Armed with the dangerous knowledge that we were in fact being timed, AND that my times from round one were average, I headed back out for my final round of oval testing. I instantly became frustrated at my inability to have the nads to keep the throttle pinned around the curved start/finish straight. The bike would do it…I just couldn’t. For the first time in my motorcycle career, I wanted…No NEEDED a knee puck. I had overheard Sean telling one of the other journalists that his knee added stability and feel that I really could have used exiting turn four towards the front straight. Sean was reaching the 186mph limiter right at the start/finish line. Without the drive I needed, the limiter would have probably arrived about half way between the line and the entrance into turn one. Sorry, but that’s WAY too fast for a drag racer to be entering a corner! Oh well, afterwards I was rewarded with the knowledge that I had trimmed nearly five seconds off my best first lap times from round one. A small personal victory I know, but I’m a racer. I’ll take it!

To summarize my experience, the new ZX-14 and the Bridgestone BT014 tires were better than my personal abilities everywhere on this track. I would have expected a comment like this about a production race bike such as a ZX-10R under the same conditions, but out of a full-sized “Busa Beater?” I had visions of my new ZX-14 fitted with hard bags AND running EIGHTS (yep, I said it) in the quarter mile with a stock engine, pipe and chassis mods. I was impressed and so were the other journalists present. We actually had conversations on the bus trip back to the hotel, asking each other if we could find ANYTHING negative to say about the ZX-14 after the day’s events. This was particularly frustrating for some of the other writers as they considered it their job to find imperfections and relay them to consumers before they went out and purchased their new machine. Mechanically and ergonomically, there were little or no items of note from most. Aesthetically, some didn’t like the look. Personally, I had to get used to the look of the Busa in 1999, so the ZX-14’s look doesn’t bother me at all. I am just happy there is a new big bore play toy available to keep the Ford-Chevy type rivalry going that has motivated drag racers to GO FASTER for so many years.

02.28.06 - Day 3 Track Testing

Day 2 began as a nightmare for any motorcycle drag racer jonesing to get another shot at the strip on Japan’s latest power toy. A dismal forecast with just enough breaks in the clouds to supply hope, followed by a downpour as the bus hit the interstate on the way to the track. We arrived at LVMS to meet 15 dripping wet ZX-14’s and to hear word from the Kawasaki folks that we were going to head back to the hotel and wait out the rain.

Scott and I took this opportunity to acquire the street ride galley shots supplied by Marcial Diaz and Francisco Rodriguez of Bikerspot Magazine in Puerto Rico. Since we were split up in the Day 1 afternoon session, these friendly, talented gentlemen took some shots for Dragbike.com. Thank you new friends!

After posting the photos, it was again time to depart for the track. Hope was higher as a stiff wind and sunshine had already dried the roads on the way. During lunch, a formal poll was taken as to the day’s abbreviated activities. To the surprise of most, an OVERWHELMING MAJORITY chose the drag strip! A few had to perform brief CHORES like riding the oval, the street run, or even some wheelie shots before being assured that they would indeed be allowed to return to the drag strip. OK--wheelies are cool and definitely not a chore, but since Scott and I have spent the last 20 or so years trying to figure out how NOT to wheelie, we abstained. Some of the others shirked additional responsibilities entirely at the though of rain shortening their drag strip time. I personally decided I was already an expert at the bikes street manners as a result of flying back down the return road to get another pass on the drag strip as quickly as possible! As motorcycle drag race veterans, Scott and I were indeed in heaven. Finally, mainstream magazine motorcycle journalists were truly appreciating the two-wheeled motorsport we have cherished for so many years.

Dragbike.com was chosen to ride two of 5 “oval” bikes over to the drag strip. The LVMS facility is large enough to appreciate the low speed characteristics as we weaved our way through the compound. I personally found the bike to be very comfortable and far more nimble than expected from a machine of its size. In fact, I had to double check the weight specifications to see if they had been amended from the initial 474 lbs dry because I could not believe this bike was supposed to weigh as much as my stock Busa. The ZX-14 feels deceptively small due to the narrowness of the seating area. While it feels ‘smaller’, it is definitely a full size motorcycle. The larger riders who also drag race will really enjoy the 14 on the track as well as the street. The beer-bellied crowd may not appreciate the hump on the tank…look, our first unenthusiastic comment.

Negative comments about the ZX-14 from a sportbike drag racers perspective will be few and far between. In fact, we will just get the subject out of the way right now. Haters will need to pay close attention, because this won’t take long. The shift/launch light is too small and needs to be placed higher and more centrally located. The shift lever is not as ‘fine-tunable’ to the rider foot size/preferred shift angle as well as a linkage style set-up would be. There is not much room under the seat for storage; a Power Commander will fit, and that’s about it. Last of all, a couple of the test bikes were not as smooth at low revs as the rest. Considering the ZX-14s that were present had been hurriedly air freighted in especially for this introduction, my guess is perhaps a slightly ‘off’ adjustment of the throttle position sensor? The other 90% of the bikes tested responded flawlessly. That is it for imperfections from drag racer standpoint. We tried finding more; they simply aren’t present as far as Dragbike.com is concerned.

As the bikes were readied for the drag strip, I asked if it would be possible to strap down a couple front ends to get a better idea of the performance as you would see it at the race track. In fact, I even brought along two AMA/Prostar approved tie down straps and radial mount bracket kits to make the idea more feasible. I explained that even a novice drag racer would not be caught dead at the strip without a strapped front end. Why leave all of that E.T. on the table AND look foolish in front of your buddies on the quickest production motorcycle on the planet?

No dice. For press introductions the bikes are to remain completely stock as driven away from the dealership. Strapping the front end or any other no-stock ideas will have to wait for a private test. I assure you, Dragbike.com will get on that ASAP.

I personally have absolutely ZERO ambition to learn how to ride a motorcycle differently than I have prepared them for the last 15 years. In fact, I briefly entertained the idea of BOYCOTTING the days testing. I’ll take my shovel and play in another sandbox. That would show them. Damn it! I just wasn’t strong enough. I HAD to get back on the strip with this bike.

My times began just where the previous day had left off--ugly 10.20’s and brutal frustration. Scott had graciously allowed me to take all but a couple of the passes on Day 1 as his wrist is still not 100% flexible from last year’s 180 mph crash. Today would be different. He knew he could better his laps from yesterday - 100% or not.

My 10.18 was the early quickest until the others arrived from the wheelie photo section. I was watching the action and pouting like hell as I tried to figure out how to go quicker without the ability to “bring the bike to me” through mechanical changes when Scott clicked off a 10.12 @ 142. He came back around and logged a 10.09 @ 143. Go Scott!!

Just then, Steve Atlas from ROADRACING WORLD threw down a 9.90 @ 144. Ok--this guy is only about 125lbs, and we had a stiff tail wind, but faster than Rickey’s 9.92 from yesterday? As Scott and I discussed the disappointment of not being the first journalists in the nines on Day 2, Kevin Duke from MOTORCYCLE-USA.COM ran a 9.89 @ 145. Shortly afterwards, he backed it up with a fantastic 9.79 @ 147.01 MPH. Even Schnitz and Gadson were impressed, and I know Scott and I were. These guys can ride a motorcycle VERY well, but there is no doubt Kawasaki gave them the gun. They just needed to pull the trigger. We also have to mention the "Mad" Mike Harris ripped off a 10.31 (admitted 240lbs.) and Scott Rousseau of Cycle News put down a 10.20. These guys are no fly weights.

On my last attempt for the day I desperately tried something new. I simply attempted to flush from my mind most everything I knew about launching a bike from a dead stop. The guys who were flying probably had no idea what a front end lowering strap even was; they were just trying to launch a motorcycle from a dead stop. Not knowing how much better it could be done did not clutter their mind. After no burnout or dry hop, I ignored the launch RPMs and just revved the bike until it seemed about right. Then I let the clutch go as if I were pulling away from a stop sign and screwed on the gas. The result--10.02 @ 144.52. Great--talk about kissing your sister?! I finally get smart enough to let the bike do the work for me and get so close to the nines that a trip to the toilet before hand could have produced at least a nine-ninety-something. There are plenty of tall buildings in Vegas…maybe I will jump off of one. On the other hand, NO WAY!! I’m not going to miss out on getting one of these bikes down the track while set-up properly.

I stepped on the scale this morning to see 186 lbs, which equates to right around 200 lbs suited with helmet. Less weights at the gym and more running is in my future. I can’t take being ‘slow’. The good news is that I guess we were able to find out what an average guy can run on a completely stock 2006 ZX-14.

Scott and I will return soon with details on the other aspects of the all new Kawasaki ZX-14. Styling, riding experience and especially the engine and clutch mechanics which we know drag racers want to hear about, BUT after the AMA/Prostar season opener in Valdosta.

Until then, see you soon--from the VERY lucky staff at Dragbike.com.

Source: Dragbike.com
 
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