The Kawasaki ZX1100 Ninja is a rarely seen beast these days. A descendent of the ground-breaking GPz900 Ninja, via the ZX10, this bike was the Kawasaki powerhouse flagship from 1990 (as the ZX1100 C series) through 2001. In fact, up until 1996, it was the fastest, standard motorcycle in the world.
This street missile of a motorcycle featured a liquid cooled 1052cc inline four cylinder motor with the usual 16 overhead valves and Keihin CVK carburetors, which ducted air from the front of the bike and pressurized the airbox to create supercharger like characteristics at certain buttock-clenching speeds. The whole gambit was held together by a robust pressed aluminum perimeter frame and enclosed by an aerodynamic cowling with the Kawasaki “Ninja” logo flashily applied for full stars in the eyes effect.
As an older bike though, how does this powerful heavyweight fit in to the modern world of motorcycling? In January 1996, Motorcyclist magazine reported a standing ¼ mile of 10.25 seconds and 135.7mph, with a top speed of 175mph – the fastest bike in the test that month. So its straight-line performance is closely trailing some of the current superbikes.
But the ZX1100 does more than go fast. It’s actually quite a good touring bike, too. There are a number of aspects that are immediately apparent: the riding position is leaned forward, but sedate, not hunched over with your chin on the tank; the stock seat is firm, but comfortable making it a bike that you can sit on all day (although those of us wiser, more mature and shall we say aged riders, may feel it in our knees).
Gauges are good old-fashioned mechanical needles, featuring speedo and tach (with two trip counters, although the second was replaced by a digital clock on 1995 models onwards), fuel and water temperature gauges.
Prior to take off, a few twists of the throttle draw air in through the gaping maw at the front, and the airbox booms sonorously beneath the tank. Engine response is smooth with no EFI type snatchiness from the carburetors, just a firm and easy ride that is well balanced and gives a planted and stable feel. And despite weighing in at 600 lbs. wet, this bike is easy to maneuver through the city and in moving traffic. However, a lightweight moped it certainly isn’t; while power rolls on smoothly at lower rpm, a rider needs to be deliberate and careful as sudden, sharp changes in direction might catch out the unwary rider.
The city is not where this bike belongs or where you are going to spend time on it. No folks, this is a bike that needs space in front of it. Get it out of town and onto some sweeping bends and open roads; twist the throttle, and feel the bike crouch down and take off. Your heart will leap into your throat, and as the needle swoops round the dial of the rev counter, so the road markings will blur like the stars during a Millennium Falcon hyper leap. If you enjoy that, pop it into the next gear, twist the throttle and feel it crouch down and rush away again. There is acceleration and power in spades, and as you feel yourself pushed firmly into the seat, and the needles on the gauges continue their climb, you WILL grin widely enough to crack that nice Arai helmet. Sure, there are faster, more powerful bikes around today – but this one is twenty years old for crying out loud. Crazy retro fun is what it is.
As for chassis feel, handling and steering are adequate and predictable, but heavy, so while is a superb bike for sweepers and bends, it may take a bit of work in tight turns.
If you can find one, the ZX1100 makes for a very good sports touring machine for a low outlay of cash. The engines are solid, and one that hasn’t been thrashed will last a long time. Add to that adequate power and space available to supply modern electronic accessories, and fuel consumption of around 40 mpg’s with a 200-mile range, (unless your entertainment is to go chasing down squids like a man who is demon possessed), then you have a very good long distance machine.
One big downside to picking up such a bike is availability of luggage systems of course. Givi used to make a rack system, but alas these are rarer than rocking horse poop these days, and the molded in rear turn signals can make strapping on bags a bit of a chore. Even so, there are good options for tailbags now, and with the addition of a set of handlebar risers, even the taller among us can feel comfortable and relaxed while atop this nuclear reactor of nineties motorcycle power.
In short, the ZX1100 Ninja still provides a world of heavy weight, somewhat agile sports touring fun, with power, brakes and chassis to match. Ride it all over, but don’t expect to wrestle it around the tightest bends without a bit of effort, and you can have yourself a low cost, high speed rip roaring time, with a wheelie any time you want it, and no fear of shenanigans if you don’t.
Consider it a gentleman’s super rocket then, and enjoy a little near classic, high power fun.