The ZX-12R had troubled beginnings, none of which were of its own making. Delivery delays, forced engine reconfigurations both prior to, and after release, politics…
Looking to build a hyper sports motorcycle (a new term that was coined for this breed of motorcycle) that would hold the mantle of the fastest production motorcycle on the planet, the pre-production units were indeed faster than Suzuki’s iconic Hayabusa (a bike the Kawasaki had smack-bang in its marketing cross-hairs).
When the big Kwaka finally made it to showrooms (after a long delay) in 2000, the bike featured a detuned version of the engine fitted to the prototypes – due to the fact that some European legislators had got wind of the rumoured top speed of approximately 310km/h and were threatening to ban the bike.
Suzuki, as a consequence, kept the ‘fastest’ title, although our discussions with owners quickly descended into a controversial bunfight on this point. This only serves to prove that the theory of ‘build the fastest and they will argue’ was as true in 2000 as it is in 2020.
Kawasaki worried even further with its 2001 incarnation, fitting limiters to keep optimum speed to 300km/h. An agreement followed among major Japanese manufacturers to voluntarily limit their bikes to 299km/h.
While the numbers are largely academic, the move was eminently wise (although roundly criticised by motorcyclists at the time). This allowed the governmental furore to settle down and the simple fact is, the ZX-12R remains one hell of a fast motorcycle.
Dry weight at launch was 213kg and power figures claimed 131kW at 10,500rpm and 134Nm at 10,200rpm. Yes, big top-end was the order of the day.
The engine is an 1199cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, in-line four. What you would expect from Japan at the time, and indeed, the likely configuration were the bike to be launched today.
The ZX-12R was extensively wind tunnel tested, and was substantially narrower (due to the unique frame design) than any machine in its class at the time.
It’s a substantial motorcycle and therefore, the entire ZX-12R model range offers real world appeal for those of bigger stature.
In the never-ending chase for lighter weights, sports bike manufacturers continue to miniaturise their offerings – no such silliness besets the ZX-12R. If you are of heft, this one will fit. Of course, if you are size-challenged, we’d be looking elsewhere.
After those aforementioned teething issues, the first of the ZX-12R lineage (A1) was relatively well-received, although it has to be said that it was flippin’ expensive at $19,390.
Off the shop floor complaints centred around erratic throttle response from the bottom of the rev range. The ZX-12R was easy to stall as a consequence.
Interestingly, this bike escaped the dreaded speed limiter, and is capable of 305km/h. This significantly adds to the allure for a collector and should be borne in mind for a used purchaser.
For those looking to by-pass the speed limiter, this is relatively easily done. Google ‘yellow box speedo recalibrator’, and all the information is there. The unit basically tells the engine that it is doing a different speed than it actually is, and, hey presto – no more speed limiter. But we didn’t tell you this, okay?
In December 2000 the ZX-12R was recalled to replace the overflow pipe inside the fuel tank as it could crack and leak. In October 2001 another recall addressed tyre valve nuts, which could crack from corrosion or stress leading to a loss of pressure. A small problem that could lead to a big one very quickly.
Check the rear shock. These were known to lose damping relatively early in their life cycles. Factor this in when haggling, if there is little damping, you’ll be up for a shock. Pass on the cost.
In 2002 Kawasaki updated the ZX-12R (B1) with new bodywork, ram air intakes, gearbox tweaks, retuned the engine for more off the bottom, and strengthened the crankshaft. Oddly, you couldn’t buy the bike in Kawasaki Green.
The 2002 bike was more refined, although power was slightly down due to that heavier crank. A narrower flywheel was also used, as were oval throttle pulleys, which helped in the low to midrange.
In January 2003 the bike (B2) was recalled because oil could seep through the electrical harness connected to the stator, allowing oil to make its way the rear tyre.
All recall details are available from Kawasaki if you are uncertain whether or not any work has been carried out.
The 2004 model year saw radial brake calipers fitted to the ZX-12R (owners suggest that the brakes were greatly improved by this), and Kawasaki engineers again fiddled fuel-injection to boost throttle response.
From 2004 until the bike’s discontinuation in 2006 there were no major changes to Kawasaki ZX-12R (B4-B6F).
Areas to check on the ZX-12R pertain right across the model range, rather than problems and idiosyncrasies that normally beset particular models. This is a good reason to consider the ZX-12R – the important stuff was right from the beginning.
The main reason for this is the fact that he ZX-12R drivetrain is the bike’s strong point. It is the choice as the base unit for drag racers worldwide, and there can be no better recommendation – quarter-mile nuts gain serious output figures and the Kawasaki engines hang together under huge stresses. Gearboxes and clutches are as strong as they get. Tough as.
There are issues though. If the bike has K & N style aftermarket filters, check the fitment closely. Mechanics report, due to the shape of the monocoque which restricts tight fitting, they leak.
Ensure the fuel-injection light is not illuminated. ZX-12Rs have a tendency to break throttle position sensors and it is impossible to buy them individually; you will have to buy a full set of throttle bodies and this ain’t cheap. If the light is on further diagnosis is recommended prior to handing over the shekels.
Front guards strike the underside of the upper fairing when pushed hard. Look for telltale signs here. If there are witness marks, you are looking at a bike that has spent some time with its front wheel in the air, with the subsequent hard landings putting big stresses on the front end of the bike.
The bolts that secure the top fairing often come loose. This pops off the fasteners on the inner fairings. Look at the point where the fairing frame assembly meets the main frame and ensure these are well secured and in good condition.
Fast. Wickedly, angrily, aggressively fast. This is a testosterone charger, a tour de force – there is little about the ZX-12R that is subtle. You’ve got oodles of horsepower and, you’ll never need more than the Big Z possesses. Trust us.
The bike has two stages of power – from around 2000rpm, easing in the midrange and then gathering up a momentous head of steam again at 8000 through to redline. It’s a very exciting thing to ride.
This is a great used buy. Underrated and less fancied than the Hayabusa, but with no good reason. That’s good news for you, used prices reflect that fact, and there are real bargains to be had.
This one comes highly recommended.
Hmmm. We reckon around eight to ten grand. A super plum with very low kays might go for a bit more, but not a lot. The bike is on its way to cult status. You are not going to go away disappointed if you do your homework.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.