Assault of the Ninjas!

2012-Kawasaki-Ninja400RcAccording to EPA certification documents, Kawasaki is preparing to drop a whole new set of Ninja models into the US market, as well as the big 1000cc version of the Versys.  Nothing has been announced by Kawasaki, but the US government isn’t subject to company secrecy rules, so this cat is out of the bag.

Kawasaki now has approval to sell the new Ninja 300R, the Ninja 400R that has been available only in Canada until now (the 2012 model of which is shown at left), a brand new version of the ZX-6R that is powered by a 636cc powerplant, and the new Versys 1000 that is currently a European-only model.

Now, the fact that that the EPA has approved all of these models doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be sold here. I’m not sure at all what purpose the the Ninja 400R would serve, for example, as it’s essentially the current Ninja 650R with smaller cylinders, meaning it has the same weight and size of the 650 with substantially less power, but not a substantially lower price. The Ninja 300R, however, pumps out 7HP more than the 250R.

The Versys 1000, on the other hand, should be a no-brainer for the US market, as the Versys platform is arguably one of the best all-rounders out there, and the increase to 116.4HP on the 100cc version should make it just about perfect for…well…just about any kind of street or highway riding you might do.

Finally, the ZX-6R is interesting in that the 636cc engine now makes it—officially, at least—ineligible for the AMA’s Daytrona SportBike racing class, which limits 4-cylinder bikes to 600cc displacement. The extra 36ccs displacement also add horsepower, brining the new model up to a claimed 129.4 HP.

There is a bit of a down note to all this, sadly, as both the Ninja 400R and Versys 1000 are NOT cleared for California emissions approval, so they cannot be sold there. I suspect Big Green will move quickly for CARB certification, however, if the big Versys sells well in the other 49 states, which it should, as it is, by all accounts, a great motorcycle.

The comparo I’ve been waiting for

Back in 2007, Kawasaki took the sport-touring world by storm with the introduction of the Concours 14. Ever since, it’s been the darling of the motorcycling press, and generally regarded as the king-hell sport-tourer. This year, though, BMW strikes back with the new bikes based on the 1600cc I-6 engine, and they’ve received rave reviews.

The thing is, when you ride a bike by itself, it often seems more impressive than it would by riding it side by side with something else with which to compare it. So, what would happen, and who would win, if some testers rode the Concours 14 and the K1600GT side by side? Well, thanks to Motorcycle.Com, we now know. They spent a couple of days riding the two machines side by side, and have written up their impressions, as well as providing some video.

We’ll get to the video down below. In the meantime, the key takeaway from this comparo is probably this:

Compared to the Kawasaki Concours 14, the K16 simply blows the doors off its Japanese counterpart from the word “go.” It’s astounding to say that the ZX-14 engine is weak by any means, but when stacked against this competition, the Kawasaki simply feels, well, slow.

The K1600GT is the motorcycle that made the Concours 14 seem slow. That says a lot right there. But there’s more. Apparently the K1600GT blew away the Kawi in several other areas, too.

Once above 5 mph, the GT changes direction with absolute fluidity and grace, though the K16 won’t be mistaken for an S1000RR in the weight department. That said, its linear steering and sporty chassis were a hit among both our testers, especially compared to the heavy-steering Kawasaki…

BMW claims the K16 (in both GT and GTL form) makes 70% of its available torque at just 1500 rpm. That’s quite a lot of power with the engine barely spinning. What that means in the real world is that no matter if you’re just leaving a stop or cruising on the highway in sixth gear at 80 mph, when the throttle is twisted, the Beemer moves…

Yes, only 123.4 horsepower. Dyno chart junkies might scoff at that number (especially compared to the Kawasaki’s 131.8 peak horsepower), but from the saddle the abundant amount of torque makes it easy to forget any horsepower disadvantage. What we didn’t expect, and what may be even more surprising, is just how smooth and well balanced the K16 engine really is. Propped up on the center stand and with the engine running, full-throttle blips produced no visual movement from the bike whatsoever. None….

ABS intervention from the BMW felt much less intrusive than the Kawi, to the point where you almost forget it’s working. It’s truly a step above where ABS technology was just a few years ago…Simply put, BMW has nailed the ABS on the K16…

We’ll just say it right now: we’re in love with the K1600GT as it does everything a sport-touring motorcycle should do, and it does it incredibly well.

Looks like BMW has a winner with their K1600-series bikes.

And now, video!

httpvhd://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpTPihOYMn4

Bagger Cruiser Comparo

Motorcycle-USA did a comparo between the 2011 Star Stratoliner Deluxe, Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero, and Harley-Davidson Street Glide. It was close, but the Street Glide won.

Now, maybe it was a little unfair, because the Street Glide was not the standard model, but the one equipped with the “Power Pack” options package of the 103ci mill, and ABS. On the other hand, it was still the slowest bike in the comparo. So why did it narrowly win?

Comfort on long rides is second to none in every aspect. The seating position is upright and relaxed, and the saddle has the perfect profile, putting less pressure on your posterior than the other two machines in this test. Long days in the saddle are pain and ache free, which can’t be said for the Vaquero or Stratoliner Deluxe.  There is no better seat on a bagger than the Street Glide’s…

“Without a doubt the Harley is the most fleet-footed bagger in this test. It is lighter and it feels lighter. It has the shortest wheelbase and as a result is the most agile in the turns. The suspension is very good as well. On the highway it feels firm and doesn’t exactly float like you would expect. But then in the hills it feels taught and gives the best feedback of these three bikes.”

I would’ve liked to see how a Victory Cross Country would compare in a test like that.

Quick Notes

If I was to tell you how packed my schedule has been this week, you’d be so bored you’d want to slit your own throat. So I won’t. But I do have time to take note of a few things.

The ATK/Hyosung GT650R I’ve been evaluating for ATK is doing fine. I’m convinced that, given some ergos more forgiving to my 46 year-old frame, it’d be a fine commuter/city bike. It’s easy to ride, with predictable performance, and has a surprisingly comfy seat.

The Honda CBR1000RR is about the deadliest racing weapon imaginable in the hands of Casey Stoner.

Is the new Kawasaki ZX-10R good enough to beat the BMWS1000RR in a head-on comparo? No. Seems like a close call, though.

I got my FJR back from the shop on Saturday. Embarrasingly, I had managed to hang my good luck bell in the perfect place…to cut the main wiring harness with the edge of the bell in a full-lock left turn. I’m glad I was backing out of a parking space, instead of trying to do a U-Turn, when the engine went dead.

Instead of spending money on a second bike, I’ve begun wondering if I shouldn’t just get an exhaust system, PowerCommander, and K&N Air Filter.

I can still hear it. Taunting me. (Updated)

2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200
2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200

I popped into a dealership today, for reasons entirely unrelated to motorcycle buying, and I saw this 2005 Kawasaki ZZR1200, just sitting there.

It is practically spotless. It has 378 miles on the odometer. They’re asking for $6k.

I can’t get her out of my mind.

Quite apart from anything else, I’ll never see another deal like this for years, if ever. How often do you run across one of the most powerful streetbikes ever made, that’s 6 years old, in perfect condition, with less than four hundred miles on the clock.

It’s like the guy has been saving it just for me. I mean, seriously, who buys a bike like this, keeps it for six years, and only rides it for 378 miles? I can’t even comprehend that mental process.

Now, I don’t need a second bike. And it’s got all the things I’ve been staying away from, i.e., chain drive, no ABS, no accessory slots for electric stuff. But there were so few of them ever sent to the US, and they’re so distinctive, it’s just calling to me.  Cripes, you can’t even put bags on the thing, except for an aftermarket set of soft bags maybe.

But it’s such a sweet deal. I’ve got the money to buy it outright.

On the other hand, there’s a tiny, almost unnoticeable little dent on the gas tank. Maybe if I just keep concentrating that, and magnifying it in my mind, this insane desire will go away…

UPDATE:

The insane desire did not, in fact, go away. I went in at 10:00am this morning and offered $5,000 out the door.

They told me to go F myself.

It turns out that they paid $4900 for it (Kelly Blue Book wholesale is only $3500), plus another $500 for reconditioning.  So their lowest price is $6k + Tax, title, and license.  That would bring the total price to about 6,600.

As much as I am dying to have this ZZR, I can’t pull the extra $1500 cash right now. So some undeserving bastard is gonna ride away with it.

Shootout: Honda CBR250R vs Kawasaki Ninja 250R

Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R
Kawasaki Ninja 250 vs Honda CBR250R

One of the things the Europeans do as a matter of course, and we in the US do very rarely, is to ensure that beginning riders are restricted to smaller-displacement motorcycles to get some experience before stepping up to the big boy bikes. All too often, this results in a new rider purchasing a Gixxer 1000 as a starter bike.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea.  I do a lot of work with the US military, and  the number of kids who come back from the sandbox without a scratch, and then promptly smear themselves and their new Fireblade across the pavement is truly troubling.

And it’s not just kids.  Because I do a lot of work on a military installation, and ride a motorcycle as my primary transportation, I had to take an MSF course in order to ride my bike on base, as per DoD rules. One of the guys in my MSF course was a 40-something Navy retiree, who had decided to buy a motorcycle, after having never ridden before.  His choice for a first motorcycle: A Buell Ulysses.  He said he trucked the bike home, unloaded it, and decided to try it out on his residential street.  He started it, gave it some gas, then released the clutch…at which point he grabbed a handful of throttle and went on a very short but terrifying “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, that ended a few seconds later in a crash.  He decided that maybe he should take the MSF course before getting back on.

The Ulysses is a great bike. Not a beginner bike.  And it’s tame compared to a literbike.

Beginners who are interested in sportbikes really do need to start off on the lighter, smaller, and more maneuverable bikes.  But, for years, the only really decent beginner sportbike was the Kawasaki Ninja 250.  Now, however, new riders have a choice, with the introduction of Honda’s new CBR250R.

Visually, the new CBR250R is a much more attractive bike.  Unlike the rather dated look for the Ninja 250, the CBR250  looks modern. Indeed, it looks like a miniature of the VFR1200F.  The Honda also has a linked ABS option, too.

So, how do the two bikes stand up to each other head-to-head? Well, Motorcycle USA tested them to find out, and the comparison makes for interesting reading.

Big Bagger Showdown II

2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom
2011 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero vs. 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom

Once again, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide shows up in a 2011 bagger showdown, this time being pitted against the Kawasaki Vaquero by Motorcycle.Com.  They compared the two bikes head to head and found out a couple of interesting things.

First up, is the issue of power.  If you shell out a cool two grand extra for the 103ci Harley PowerPak mill, then  the power and torque curves of the two bukes are practically identical. That tells us two things: That the PowerPak package from Harley-Davidson gives you competitive engine performance, while the standard 96ci engine is underpowered relative to other bikes in the class. Of course, we’re talking about heavy touring cruisers here, so power may not be your priority when it comes to purchasing.  And if it is, that $1995 premium for the PwerPak seems a bit…steep.

The other thing we learned is that Harley-Davidson’s new chassis and geometry for the baggers has really improved their handling quite a bit. The Road Glide has always been the best handling of the big Harleys anyway, so this improvement must be particularly noticeable. Having said that, the Road Glide’s suspension seems to still be a bit “meh”.

The big difference between these two bike is the price.  With equivalent engines and accessories, the Vaquero comes in at a miserly $16,499 compared to the lofty $22,149 sticker price of the Road Glide. That means for almost the price of the Road Glide, you could by a Vaquero for touring…and a Versys for commuting.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 Test Rides

Well, this isn’t something you see every day. Motorcycle USA, Motorcycle.Com and Motorcycle Daily all have the same featured top story.  Each of them have test ride reports for the new Kawasaki Ninja 1000. And they all seem to like it.

2011 Hawasaki Ninja 1000
2011 Hawasaki Ninja 1000

I’m curious to see how this bike will do in the US. The Z1000 on which the Ninja is based probably won’t sell well, because Americans really don’t like naked standards.

But the fully-faired Ninja is different. The power and performance of the Ninja 1000 slots it between the ZX-6 and the ZX10.  So it has at least supersport performance.  What is doesn’t have are the tortuous ergonomics.  Kawasaki seems to have made it comfortable enough for touring, withut neutering the performance.

In recent years, sport bike ergnomics have gotten increasingly tortuous.  The handlebars are low, requiring the rider to lay across the tank.  The footpegs are high, to allow for extreme lean angles, but that means the riders knees are pulled up to massage the ribs.  Nice for a track day or 20-lap sprint, but not so nice for a daily commute.  and touring, of course, is right out.

What Kawasaki has done is created a motorcycle with the full-on performance of a sportbike, but a more upright, comfortable perch.  Street performance can never really match track performance, so the race-inspired ergos aren’t really necessary. In most categories in which the Ninja 1000 competes against the ZX-10 in terms of street performance, the Ninja seems to be the equal, if not the superior bike, though the ZX-10 would undoubtedly stomp it on the track.

Kawasaki also has touring in mind for the Ninja 1000, offering full sets of color-matched hard luggage. It’s hard to imagine doing any serious touring on any of the ZX line.  At least, not with an on-call masseuse and unlimited supplies of Tylenol.

It seems to have more than reasonable performance for the street–indeed, more performance than most riders can even use. At the time time, it’ll have comfort and touring capability that no pure race-bred sport bike can possibly offer. So, the question is, will American motorcyclists buy it? Or will they stick with the high-revving, pain inducing ZX line?

Another Literbike Shootout

Motorcycle USA Motorcycle.Com has posted their 2010 Literbike shootout, comparing the newest European bikes to the top Japanese 1,000cc rockets.  From Europe, they test the Aprilia RSV4 R, and the BMW S1000RR.  From the Land of the Rising Sun comes the Honda CBR1000RR and the Kawasaki ZX-10R.  Like nearly everyone else who’s riddewn it, they give the top marks to the BMW.

BMW S1000RR. If you want the literbike with the most power, best brakes, a wonderfully compliant chassis and best available options in 2010, these are the only letters and numbers you need to know.

Everybody loves this bike, it seems, in the sportbike set.

And yet, in World Superbike, where the S1000RR is in its second season of competition, its riders have been on the podium…um…not a single time.

Kawasaki Police ZG1400

I have an update to the post on Mesa, Arizona ‘s police department switching to the new Connie for duty motorcycles, thanks to a reader.  Apparently Kawasaki has nothing to do with kitting out a police version of the bike.  Instead, Wattco/Whelan is offering a ZG1400 kit for police work.  Click on the image below to enlarge it.

Kawasaki Police ZG1400
Kawasaki Police ZG1400

Wattco has lots more info here, including a video of drop-testing the crash bars.

2010 Kawasaki Concours14 First look

Pete Brissette of Motorcycle.Com got to spend a day with a brand new 2010 Concours14 that had all the trimmings, including Kawasaki’s new linked ABS system and Traction control.  He really liked it, for a number of reasons.

First kawasaki really seems to have listed to their customers about what was good and bad on the 1st-Gen C14.  The top complaints were heat management and wind protection…not enough of either.  Both issues seem to have been addressed, with a completely new front fairing design, and a taller, wider windscreen that even  has a bit of a Cee bailey-type lip at the top.

Second, Kawi stuck factory grip heater on it (they look like they come from exactly the same parts supplier as the ones on my FJR), dumped the useless little tank box, and put a real storage box in the front of the fairing.

But the big news is the linked ABS and traction control. The linked ABS system runs as follows:

But what really sets the new linked-ABS apart is the rider-selectable level of linking. For starters, ABS cannot be disabled, but by pressing the orange K-ACT button (bike must be stopped to select modes) the rider can choose the “high-combined” effect in Mode 2 or the lesser-combined effect in Mode 1.

K-ACT mode selection impacts the amount of front brake application (only one of the two front calipers are involved regardless of Mode 1 or 2) when applying only the rear brake. The amount of linking applied to the rear when using the front brake remains constant.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of this type of linking system.  I prefer the BMW partially linked system, where the rear brake doesn’t engage the front at all, while the front lever engages both.  I realize this is probably a simple matter of preference, but I don’t want the front end to dive when I hit the back brake.

The traction control system seems like a neat safety feature, as long as you remember that it is just a safety feature.  It’s not the Troy Bayliss Ducati 1098 system that’s designed to make you faster.  It’s the “you’re getting a little crazy, let’s apply some sanity” system.

By controlling airflow (via secondary butterfly valves in the throttle body), fuel delivery and ignition timing, three parameters as opposed to the two of competitors according to Kawasaki, the system limits engine output when it senses the rear wheel spinning faster than the front.

And for those wondering, yes, it is a wheelie nanny, but only when enabled. Phew!

Most impressive was how seamlessly and unobtrusively KTRC performed. When power is cut, it isn’t done abruptly, nor is reapplication of power. Rather than a stumbly on/off throttle experience, the bike simply feels like it has a fraction of its available power.

All in all, it looks like Kawi has made an already well-received bike even better.

[ad#1]