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Does anyone really need more than 600cc's and a 100-odd horses? I asked myself this in the local dealer's showroom, surrounded by twenty, or so, hyperbikes, a salesman breathing down my neck. He didn't think anyone could get away with less than the latest 900/1000cc missile but he was out of luck.
Read the magazines, there isn't much difference between the hot 600's, take your choice according to your pleasure. Or even which colour does the trick. The mean green Kawasaki won my vote; looked better than the rival Honda to boot and even fitted me quite well. Not exactly armchair luxury but if I wanted that I would've stayed serenely secure in the living room.
The dealer had a 600 mile repossessed bike on offer. He basically wouldn't let me out of the showroom unless I agreed to a test ride. My kind of chap! After signing a couple of forms and handing over my licence, I gave the Ninja a quick blast around the block and down some nearby country roads. In a matter of minutes I'd broken all the traffic laws in the land and was sold on the bike. A total blast, a remarkable feeling of security (when the front wheel was actually on the tarmac). I've never been so far from the vertical before; at least not without visiting a hospital afterwards! It was one of those machines that made the rider look like a total hero even he if wasn't!
All smiles at the dealer's. He took one look at my grin and knew he had a deal. More forms for the finance and insurance. I'd break the bad news to the nearest and dearest by roaring up to the house on the Kawasaki; tell her it was a bargain (about fifteen percent under a new bike's retail price). The Ninja was your typical modern hotshot - sixteen valves, DOHC's, watercooling, less than 400lbs of mass, alloy frame and flash plastic. Big low profile tyres, triple discs... looked like it was doing 150mph standing still.
Modern fours are not what you expect. Below 7000 revs there was plenty of power and torque, aided and abetted by the lack of mass, the bike could be rolled along in a thoroughly sane manner and still burn off every four wheeled vehicle in sight! Expect about 45mpg ridden like this. However, use the whole rev range, the infamous Ram-Air helping along the minimal amount of cc's, it's a whole different world... and a totally illegal one, even in the first of its six gears.
And that is the major problem with the bike. 120mph is absolutely no effort; in fact, it's a major effort to ride the bike slower than this! The bloody thing wants to charge forwards, and although there is no discernible mechanical complaint when ridden at legal speeds, the whole caboodle feels much nicer, somehow, when strung out at maximum throttle. Luckily, the excess of speed does mean you can outrun the cops, something that became increasingly necessary as the days wore on...you have to disguise the numberplate somehow!
Wifey wasn't overjoyed with this regression to juvenility. Perched on a far from commodious pad, she had to intimately clamp herself on to me to avoid being thrown clear off the back under acceleration. And it has to be said that the addition or her mass to the rear of the bike much magnified the propensity of the front wheel to go airborne, though there was no discernible effect on the rate of acceleration or top speed (167mph on the clock). Any discomfort from the pillion perch mollified by the wet knicker effect my riding style had on her. It has to be said (chortling madly) that even some real hard-cases have gotten off the back weak of leg and white of face!
My high speed fun was somewhat ruined by the bike's thirst - close to 30mpg. What can you expect from a company that created those old stroker triple horrors in the seventies? Riding through the rain left me screaming with frustration - no way any of the real power could be safely used and the front tyre didn't feel that firmly planted on the tarmac, twitching ever so slightly over wet whitelines. Worse yet, the minimal mudguarding meant that road spray got into all the nooks and crannies, needing a jet-wash to properly clean the bike.
Wet weather riding needed a little care on the brakes, too, though the front was sufficiently sensitive to be easily mastered even on slippery surfaces. In the dry it could howl the rubber... probably explains why the front tyre life matched the rear's at a mere 2750 miles! The rear disc was somewhat vicious, would snap the back wheel on, resulting in some vile fishtailing that had me yearning for a change of underwear. Haven't really got used to the back brake yet!
Rider comfort was surprisingly good once my wrists adapted to the relatively low stance of the handlebars. I could do about 120 miles before my backside rebelled. Obviously, going wild on the throttle took my mind off everything other than what I was likely to hit up ahead and the additional wind force took some weight off my arms. But it wasn't in the same league as a GSXR which was totally all or nothing with regards to comfort, or lack thereof.
As mentioned, if I wanted a Gold Wing type of bike, I would've bought one. Overall, I've enjoyed the Ninja since the first moment I spotted it in the showroom and have found it to be totally addictive. I've done two to three times my normal mileage over the past couple of months - which kinda says it all.
A great mixture of facts and humor make this review a must read, even if you didn't want to buy the bike ;-) As it is, I just bought one and can already agree with much of what you have said, looking forward to my new two wheeled love affair, with a little bit of unicycle action thrown in for good measure.
cashman44 21.06.2004 21:16
Superb review ! , you certainly know your kwackers !!
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