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lean green retro machine

Road test by Adrian Percival

They don't make 'em like they used to- Thank goodness!!

I have just finished testing a bike that proves this old cliché wrong, the Kawasaki's ZRX1200S.This bike been deliberately built to take you back to the bikes of the seventies, but with a thoroughly modern twist in it’s tail. Honda, Kawasaki & Suzuki sold their big fours by the thousands back in the seventies, and with the ZRX1200 Kawasaki has recaptured some of that early glory -- and sales. This bike is very fast, and with little effort, as you might expect from a bike whose engine has been transplanted from the mighty ZZR1200. The frame is, as you would expect of a bike from a past era, a standard tubular cradle configuration but has twin piggyback shocks and a massively reinforced swingarm. With this bike you tend to you sit on it rather than in it, as with many modern sport bikes. There are wide tubular steel bars, a broad stepped seat built for comfort, and it actually contains more than two millimetres of padding between your bum and the base! In fact it feels exactly like those bikes of yesteryear that you may well have been riding, like the CB750, Z900/Z1000 or GS1000.

Turn the key, press the starter button and that huge exposed engine fires up with a mechanical rustle that's similar to any of those Seventies machines. Stick the big ZRX into gear, drop the clutch and open the throttle and you are greeted with something that’s nothing like those old machines. The ZRX is completely different from the old 4’s of the past, it doesn’t need to be worked hard! Those early bikes really only gave their best near the redline, the ZRX1200 is a very different animal indeed. With today’s requirements of emission and noise regulations the latest version of the old Z is far quicker, more powerful, has tons more torque and handles beautifully in comparison to any of the older bikes it tries to emulate. The Kawasaki has a bank of four Keihin 36mm CV carburettors, K-TRIC ignition control and a cat hidden in its end can, and they do an admirable job in giving this big retro a completely new feel. It's mid range performance is just huge, at anything more than 2,000rpm give it a big handful of throttle and this bike just hurtles forward like its on a mission! And the power surge is all the way up to the redline at 10,500 rpm. The ZRX’s motor is incredibly flexible, you do find yourself getting used to no a no change policy when you get out of town purely because it can! there's really no need to use any other gear except top.

So, the ZRX beats its ancestors with the utmost of ease in the motor department, but what’s it like to actually ride? The Japanese were pretty obsessed with making their bikes fast in the seventies that they forgot to make them go around corners! In fact those frames were just not capable of handling the weight and power of their engines. No the ZRX is completely different from it’s older counterparts in the handling stakes as well. While some bits of it look superficially similar to those fitted to the seventies and eighties bikes, the components on the ZRX are far more sophisticated. With the combination of a massive swing arm and those lay down shocks with their piggy back remote reservoirs and adjustment for preload and damping, they do a good job of keeping the rear wheel planted and delivering the 120 horses directly to the road. Up front a pair of std forks do their bit in stabilising the big ZRX, but they are not the same kind of kit found on today’s modern sports bike, although they do their job quite well.

The ZRX is relatively heavy at 227Kg but despite a relatively conservative steering geometry the ZRX can be made to turn in hard and it will hold its line. The handlebars are wide enough to provide plenty of leverage, so direction changes feel relatively easy. But all said the chassis works well, and when combined with that brilliant engine, the ZRX is very capable of giving a few surprises to some sports bike riders! The power of the big motor does need to be kept in check though, and although the six-pot front calipers grip a pair of massive discs, and are very strong they do need a good squeeze to get the best from them. But with a little practice you'll soon be lifting the rear wheel! The rear disc is excellent though, it’s powerful enough to lock the rear wheel when you want to, but not so sensitive that it locks it when you don't want it to. The ZRX has a tendency to induce a little lunacy from its rider, I had a lot of fun on this bike, popping power wheelies, doing stoppies and sliding the rear tire on the brakes when stopping in front of the girls school at 3.15pm! If you’re up for it then this is the bike for you, you'll have lots of fun on this big ZRX.

The ZRX is available in two models, the ZRX1200S model, as tested, or an "R" version with a bikini fairing, the Eddy Lawson replica. This is so called because the American racer used one to win Superbike races in the USA in the days when Superbike racing really did mean road bikes on the track. Your choice would depend on what you want from the bike, the "R" model might be the best for those seeking the authentic looks of a late seventies muscle bike. The "S" version isn't faithful to the seventies look, it's far too sleek and modern for that. But it does give fantastic protection from the wind at almost any speed. The space behind the fairing is completely still, even at well over 100 mph cruising speeds. Usually you get some sort of turbulence from this type of half-fairing but not so on the ZRX. You find yourself in almost complete tranquillity, this, combined with that effortless engine could have got me into big trouble. I often glanced at the Speedo in complete horror on a motor-way or open A road to find myself cruising at speeds well over 100 mph, things were quiet and calm and I honestly hadn't realized I was riding so fast, officer!


The ZRX's seventies styling combined with 21st century technology won't suit everyone. Bikers are individuals and some will want a bike that's even more retro like the W650 (and you can’t get more retro that one of those!) and others will want something cutting edge. But the ZRX is a very capable bike, and a good looking one at that. It's sure to find a market with riders who want to be different yet have a modern bike with everyday riding appeal. It commutes well, it tours, it takes most A & B roads in its stride and still retains a uniqueness that a lot of current sportsbikes don’t. Those riders won't be disappointed with Kawasaki's latest version of the seventies Z1 on steroids.



Tech Specs

  • Engine type : 4-stroke, DOHC, in-line 4, 16-valves
  • Displacement : 1,164cc
  • Carburetion : Keihin CVK36 x 4
  • Ignition : Digital w/ Kawasaki Throttle Responsive Ignition Control (K-TRIC)
  • Transmission : 5-speed
  • Frame : Double cradle tubular steel
  • Suspension, front : 43mm telescopic fork with preload adjustment and 12-way adjustable compression and rebound damping
  • Suspension, rear : Braced swingarm with twin shocks, 5-way adjustable preload and 4-way adjustable compression and rebound damping
  • Tyre, front : 120/70ZR17 tubeless radial
  • Tyre, rear : 180/55ZR17 tubeless radial
  • Tank: 19Ltrs


Motorbikes Today Rating

  • Engine: 5 star
  • Braking: 4 star
  • Comfort: 3 star
  • Handling: 3 star
  • Fun factor: 4 star

Overall Rating: 4 star


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