Second Hand – Kawasaki ZRX1200R 2001-2009 | Bike Tests | Used Bikes
The Kawasaki ZRX1200R is a Universal Japanese Motorcycle with benefits
American ace Eddie Lawson’s stunning Superbike successes on the Kawasaki GPZ1100 prompted the factory to produce an Eddie Lawson tribute bike, the Z1000R, in the early 1980s. And the launch of the Kawasaki ZRX1200R in the new millennium provided ample proof that Fast Eddie’s fame was still a potent drawcard for Kawasaki almost 20 years on.
The ZRX1200R really looks the part as a big, old-school, naked muscle-bike, wearing its Lawson-tribute green paint job with pride. Although they were also available in red livery, the green one had to be quicker. Surely…
Beyond the ZRX’s appealing retro styling, there’s a heap of eye candy to enjoy once you start checking out the details – massive six-pot front brake calipers, handsome piggy-back traditional twin shocks, and the very sexy braced swingarm.
The standout feature of the ZRX though, both in appearance and performance, is its 1164cc liquid-cooled ‘gruntmeister’ engine. It looks a treat with vestigial cooling fins highlighting the black engine castings, and it produces a class-topping output of 91kW. Even more impressive for day-to-day riding is its muscular torque curve that just keeps on giving from below 3000rpm all the way to the redline.
The engine and five-speed gearbox is housed in a strong welded-steel, double-cradle frame. The 43mm Showa fork is adjustable, as are the twin shocks.
An upright riding position behind aluminium handlebars on a reasonably comfortable seat is perfect for commuting, giving the rider great control over the bike, plus a good view of the road ahead and the antics of nearby traffic. At 790mm high, the seat makes the bike accessible to most prospective owners.
The compact bikini fairing and screen are surprisingly effective at protecting the rider from wind loads during fast open-road action.
While the ZRX is a bit hefty at 223kg dry, once you’re on the move it’s not an issue – if anything, it makes this competent-handling bike feel more stable in fast touring on imperfect country roads.
The engine is a charmer, combining smoothness with really gutsy performance. On one hand you can ride it like a twist ’n’ go scooter, seldom needing to change down a gear whether you’re trickling through traffic or pulling a rapid pass at highway speeds. On the other hand, ridden in anger, it marches past classmates like Bandit 1200s, XJR1300s and CB1300s. And if you’ve got diplomatic immunity you can enjoy its surprisingly high top speed (for a naked) of around 250km/h.
Throttle response and general fueling provided by its Keihin carburettors are excellent. Clutch action is good, gear shifting is accurate, if a little notchy – they all clunk into first from neutral – and braking is quite powerful and progressive.
Although a ZRX can be a bit thirsty when stirred, the 19-litre tank is good for a safe range of 270km-plus in calmer touring mode.
The softish front suspension, fine for most riders most of the time, can be improved for those who simply must beat sportsbikes through the twisties. Stiffer springs and re-valving will do the job.
Here’s a little trap to avoid: the sidestand can dump the ZRX on its side if the bike rolls slightly forward, so park it pointing uphill or consider grinding a couple of millimetres off the sidestand-stop to make it more stable.
Also sold alongside the ZRX1200R naked from 2001-2004 was the ZRX1200S version that ditched the retro looks in favour of a modern fairing, with a matching instrument panel replacing the clock-style tacho and speedo. The ZRX-S was otherwise pretty much identical, apart from costing $1000 more.
Emotion and hubris aside, the ZRX1200R is a well-designed, super-reliable machine that’s quite a versatile allrounder. Truth be told, though, if you simply can’t get enough of big, charismatic, old-school muscle bikes, this is your motorcycle.
1. The ZRX12’s engine provided the basic architecture for the 110kW version in the super-quick ZZ-R1200 sports-tourer
2. The lovely braced swingarm was designed to resemble aftermarket swingarms that were popular on modified roadbikes in the ’70s
3. While exports ceased in 2009, an injected ZRX1200 continued to be produced for the domestic Japanese market until 2016
4. The big Zed’s steering can be sharpened by rotating the eccentric chain adjusters through 180º, to raise the rear ride height
How the ZRX built its muscle…
1973 – The release of its first
four-cylinder four-stroke, the 900cc Z1, sets Kawasaki on the road to real success and lays the foundation for all its subsequent fast fours.
1982 – Kawasaki releases the limited-edition Z1000R Eddie Lawson tribute model, closely resembling the American champ’s Kawasaki superbike that he raced to success in 1981-82.
1999– Kawasaki releases a new big-bore naked, the ZRX1100, again recalling the Eddie Lawson glory days of the 1980s, paving the way for the faster ZRX1200R that followed.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The ZRX1200R is a robust, well-engineered motorcycle with a bulletproof engine.
According to our sources in the trade, there’s no pattern of known problems.
Because the 1200 motor is remarkably quiet mechanically, treat any rattles or the like with suspicion.
As always, adjust your offer to cover worn consumables such as tyres, chain and sprockets, steering-head bearings and brake pads, as well as brake rotors that are close to minimum thickness.
The ideal prospect has been well cared for and comes with a full service record.
Capable DIY owners can look after a lot of the normal servicing on a ZRX1200R.
Being a naked, it offers pretty good access to most of the mechanical stuff once the fuel tank is removed – although some tasks such as servicing the air filter can be a pain.
Normal servicing every 6000km, with the big one including valve clearance checks at 24,000km.
Valve-shim changes, when needed, don’t require removal of the camshafts.
$4100 – $6900
WORDS ROB BLACKBOURN
PHOTOGRAPHY AMCN ARCHIVES