Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998)

After selling the 2nd GS1000S a couple of years ago, the garage was too empty. The Katana was lonesome. And having only one steed in there, means I could hardly call it a 'stable', could I. Tsk, tsk.

Trawling through the adverts on Gumtree in July 2011, what did I spy but this ZX-9R for sale in my suburb. I phoned the number. I went and looked. And what did I find, but this bike with only light crash damage on the left-hand side, and a paltry 26000 kilometres (= 16000 miles) on the clock.

The story? Well, the owner had moved to WA from interstate, let the licence drop, and then moved back East. Now he was facing a major palaver to get it trucked back across the continent, then fixed, then re-licenced, to get it back on the road. So he was asking a reasonable price in order to move it on, but there wasn't much interest. After a bit of haggling (taking into account a leaking fork seal, cracked and leaking LHS engine cover, stuffed tyres, & dead battery) he was willing to drop the price even further. So what I had here, folks, was a bit of a bargain!

Once I'd paid it off, done the minor fixes, and popped on fresh rubber, I nipped off down to the licensing centre, and got it registered without too much trouble at all.

I initially thought the Micron muffler would be a problem (it does have the naughty words 'NOT FOR ROAD USE' stamped on the underside, ahem) — but no, that was OK by the man with the clipboard, as it wasn't an overly noisy system.

What did cause him a little concern, however, was that the rear mudguard had been shortened by a previous owner. "It's supposed to be a 45 degree angle or less from the rear axle up to the end of the mudguard," he said. I blinked.

"What you could do," he said helpfully, "is duck off somewhere, screw on a flap, come back and I'll pass it without you having to do all the paperwork, fees, etc. again." That was very good of him; but the prospect of all that palaver wasn't that attractive. I blinked again.

"But I suppose you'd just be unscrewing it and taking it off when you got home, hmm?" "Well... yes!" I said; no point in fibbing, these guys must get more than their fair share of it.

"Tell you what," he said, "I'll see what I can do..." — which turned out to be that he just ignored it. "You might get pinged for it one day," he said as he handed me the licence papers. "I'll just deal with that when it happens," I replied, and thanked him for his good help. Wouldn't it be great if all examiners were as reasonable as this guy?

I wasted no time in racking up 150 quick kilometres that afternoon, and discovered (not surprisingly) that the Kawasaki went like a cut snake, and handled like any perimeter-framed Kawasaki (ie. brilliantly).

Anyway, on 17th Feb. 2013 I sold it to Warwick's uncle Watto, who was thrilled to take possession. And why did I flog it? Because I am a GS/X addict and this project came along that I couldn't resist. Need to fund it somehow...

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Mikey's Katana vs. ZX-9R review

Well after blatting around town on the ZX9 for the last few weeks, and then today (2 Dec. 2011) finally getting out on the open road for a decent blast (Armadale, Beverley, York and then home; a round trip of about 290kms), I think I'm finally in a position to jot down a few thoughts about the ZX9 from the point of view of a long-term Katana owner.

So, how does the late 90's ZX9 C1 compare to the mighty GSX1100SZ Katana from the early 80's? Has anything improved? And just as importantly, has anything been lost in those 17 years of motorcycle development?

First a few obvious similarities. Both are Jap inline-4's, with DOHC's and a host of other engine configuration features in common, such as the alternator sitting on the left-hand end of the crank, the timing guff being parked under the cover on the right-hand end, etc. Probably the main differences in terms of engine layout are that the camchain runs up the right-hand side of the motor on the ZX9, and up the centre on the Katana. There's also the small matter of water-cooling vs. air-cooling. And finally, all that air pump/anti-pollution palaver which sits atop the ZX9's donk. One day I will figure out how to neutralise that tree-hugger rubbish, but for the moment it will stay.

And that's about it for similarities. The ZX9 is a whopping 50kg lighter (183kg dry, as opposed to the Suzuki's hefty 232kg). The alloy perimeter-framed Kawasaki is just so much tauter and well-behaved when scooting over the rough stuff; it never seems to come even close to wagging the 'bars. I mean, look at that frame; can you imagine it flexing? Never. And those fat forks don't have much give in 'em either, you can bet. The tyres are wide and grippy, helping to tip the bike into corners with confidence and precision. And the power... maaaate, useable power over 4K, very good over 6K, and moving into insanely good over 8K. The suspension is so much better at dealing with those rough bits of tarmac, too; you can feel it working instead of reacting, if that makes sense.

Compared to the Katana's 5-speed box and the oodles of torque everywhere, the ZX9's six cogs need regular swapping on the fly if you're not to end up bogged down in too tall a gear. I guess the Katana's grunt seems to have made me a lazy rider in some ways over the years. On the old Kat you really don't need to think about what gear you're in, because that 1170cc of relatively long-stroke torque is just so forgiving, soaking up rider laziness with aplomb. Want to overtake? Just twist the grip and you're off like an Exocet missile. Get it into top gear, then you just roll the throttle on and off for mile after blissful mile. The ZX9 goes like twice an Exocet, mind you, but you have to think ahead and make sure you're in an appropriate gear before you twist the throttle to get it all happening. Thankfully, this is no problem; it just calls for a different riding style and approach, that's all.

At higher speeds (which I'm not going to put into print here) the ZX9 is smooth and stable, inviting you to hunker down behind the screen and centre-punch the horizon. At these speeds, meanwhile, the Katana's motor is buzzing with vibration (probable cause is the oversize piston kit) and the whole plot is a touchy affair indeed; you really do have to be very careful about what input you provide. That's tubular steel frames, skinny forks, and bendy swingarms for you. But the ZX9 just scoffs at these speeds. The road feels 5 lanes wide on the Kawasaki, whereas the Katana can be a bit of a white-knuckled affair (and yes, I DO have the old girl's running gear up to scratch), and you feel like you're threading a needle with every bend you line up for. Basically, there isn't much margin for error at all on the Suzuki.

So I'm pleased to report that our talented Japanese cousins didn't rest on their laurels after turning out the Katana in 1981/2. The venerable inline-4 motorcycle has stood the test of time, and has been honed and improved with each incarnation. I wonder what the 2012 ZX-10 will be like to ride, hmm?!

But anyway, is the ZX9 really any better than the Katana? Well, unquestionably it is better in so many ways. The handling, the 'round-town civility, the open-road competence — it's all better on the Kawasaki.

And yet here's the thing. If I had to get rid of one tomorrow, which would it be? The 1982 Katana with all its idiosyncrasies and old tech., or the 1998 ZX9 with its awesome abilities that are so hard to fault?

Dear Reader, the Katana is the one I'd keep. It's raw, it keeps you on your toes, that exhaust is a howling banshee, and all that grunt WITH the power is an addictive combination. Yes, your heart can jump into your mouth when she threatens to tank-slap over the rippled bitumen mid-corner, but that's about as bad as it gets. And finally, the Katana has that gutsy old skool aura that you just can't buy any more.

Besides, there are plenty of discerning souls out there who'd agree with me. Just the other day I parked the Katana down at the shops and a bloke walked up, looking at the bike in knowing appreciation. "One of the best bikes ever made," he said, eyes drinking in the old machine.

I know exactly what he means.

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Some handy ZX-9R links

Specifications and review of the ZX-9R at Motorcycle Specifications.

The Kawasaki ZX Forums can be useful.

And here's a nice sharp-resolution microfiche at Ron Ayers Motorsports.


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