The ZX9R Ninja is one of the most exciting rides around, this is mainly because of it’s very lively and entertaining power delivery.

The 899cc donk is of an oversquare design allowing for big valves while providing a short stroke which in turn helps to reduce piston speeds, and increase engine longevity.  This stock 5000 kilometre ZX9R pumped out 128 SAE corrected rear wheel horsepower.  A standard Yamaha R1 had registered 131 horsepower on the same dyno a week previous to our run. 

Kawasaki, the masters’ of ram-air, have endowed the ZX9R with two ducts under the single lens headlight which feed cool air to the pressurized (at speed) airbox.  

The brilliance of Kawasaki’s ram-air system is demonstrated by virtue of the fact that even though R1′s normally show a couple more horsepower on the dyno’, the ZX9 tops the R1 by a few kph in timed top speed runs.   Both bikes will break a genuine 170 mph.  Lower RPM roll-ons however show the advantage an extra 100cc makes with the R1 getting the better of the ZX9R in that department.

The quartet of Keihin CVKD 40mm carburettors feature a Kawasaki Throttle Response Ignition Control (K-TRIC) throttle position sensor which adjusts ignition timing for all throttle settings.  Throttle response is very good, but not outstanding.

8500 rpm is the start of the sweet spot,  it maybe a factor of the ram-air, but at 8500 rpm things take a definite trip on the wild side.

The ignition system uses compact, plug mounted ignition coils.  In other weight saving endeavours Kawasaki have made recyclable magnesium covers for the cam, clutch, generator, pulser and drive sprocket.

A brushed titanium muffler caps the four-into-one exhaust system.  The bike is reasonably light (183 kilos dry – 211 kilos wet) but does not feel as light as say a GSX-R 600 which is only a few kilos lighter, but then again it feels nowhere as heavy as a TL1000R.

Aluminium triple clamps secure the 46mm, predictable and fairly compliant, conventional forks.  Racer boys will definitely want harder fork springs though.  The rear shock copes admirably when trying to put the power through to the rear tyre, high speed bumps don’t seem to unsettle the rear at all, but the front does become very light.   However, it never seems to get out of hand and is predictable.

The handling has a definite road bias, but can still be hustled quickly through the tight stuff.  Some short-shifting is necessary if the bends aren’t too far apart, in order to arrive at the next bend with the front wheel on the deck.  Very amusing indeed.

Through really tight stuff, a well ridden ZX6R, GSX-R 600, R6 or CBR6 will eat the ZX9 alive, as is the case for most of the high powered road-burners.  Handling nirvana is a 600 and if corner speed is everything to you they may be a better choice.  However, If you get off on sheer  adrenaline thrills, the major league power delivery of the ZX9R will win your heart.  On the ZX9 150 kph wheelies are too easy,  200 kph wheelies are not out of reach.    But monos are very irresponsible readers’, and of course they are no fun at all.  Geez I am a bad liar.

The standard fitment of Bridgestone BT56R tyres provide awesome stability but this comes at the expense of nimble handling and fast turn in.  I prefer to use the aggressive 207GP Dunlops which seem to transform the ZX9R into a much more nimble mount.  Stability of course suffers – but luckily the ZX9 has stability to spare and it never really gets out of hand.

 The front brakes consist of 296mm discs clamped by powerful six-piston calipers.  Out back a 220mm rear rotor is employed.  The brakes have great bite with no fade.  I have heard people say that the brakes are too powerful.  The fact is with a bike capable of the sort of speed the ZX-9R can get to – the more brakes the better as far as I am concerned.

Clutch take-up is good and progressive.   The gearbox is very smooth, only giving a false neutral when you are bit too limp with your shifts. 

Instrumentation is quite good – an electronic speedometer/odometer is driven by sensors located on the countershaft sprocket nut (so you know how fast your wheelies are), electric tachometer, LCD clock (oh yeah !), odometer, trip meter, and coolant temperature gauge with LED warning light.

On the more practical side of things the Ninja has nylon bungee straps attached under the pillion seat

Simply remove the pillion seat and poke the straps over the fairing and re-install the seat.  Now you have 4 perfectly adequate tie-down points for your swag etc.  No need to worry about taping the bodywork up at the sides to protect them from rubbing. 

However if you are carrying anything at speed, and what you have used to tie your gear to the straps can stretch… It does pay to put a piece of tape on the paint-work just behind the pillion seat in case of rubbing as your load moves backwards.

The Ninja is also quite comfortable, I would say it is nearly as accommodating in this respect as a VFR for the rider.  Pillion’s are not so well catered for but still not too badly done by when compared to other sportsbikes. 

The tank range is very good.  I ran it dry at 321 kilometres but have heard reports of people getting 350 kilometres out of a tank on long stretches.  The advertised tank capacity is 19 litres, however this figure is closer to twenty, after switching to reserve you have about 50 kilometres to find fuel. Normally hard riding will see you get around 200 kilometres from the tank however if you really get stuck into it the tank can be drained in as little as 140 kilometres. 

Quality of finish is quite good.  The fairing below the screen seems very resistant to stone chipping (much more so than the VFR). 

The Ninja is great on the road and no doubt one of the fastest road-burners on the market, but it would not make a great track tool.  The 600 set, Blade and R1 are faster on the track.  Road riding is of course a different matter and the tides turn in favour of the ZX-9R.  Where do you ride most ?

The C-2 tested here has now been superseded by the new E1, (which has slightly better suspension).  Thus the C-2 is now on the second-hand market and can be picked up fairly cheaply.

The model pictured here is a blue ’99 model with corresponding graphics, personally I feel that the ’98 model in blue is the pick of the bunch in the looks department, but of course that is all up to the individual.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine

4-stroke, DOHC In-Line Four, 16-valves

Measured Horsepower128 SAE corrected horsepower at the rear wheel (see dyno charts)
Displacement899 cc
StartingElectric
Bore x Stroke75.0 x 50.9mm
CoolingLiquid
InductionKeihin CVKD40 x 4 with Kawasaki Throttle Responsive Ignition Control (K-TRIC)
IgnitionDigital
Transmission6-speed
FrameAluminium perimeter design
Rake/trail24 degrees / 94 mm
Suspension, front46mm cartridge fork with adjustable preload, 14-way compression and 12-way rebound damping adjustability
Suspension, rearUNI-TRAK® with remote-reservoir shock, threaded preload adjustment, 20-way compression, 20-way rebound damping adjustments
Wheel travel, front119 mm
Wheel travel, rear130 mm
Tyres120/70ZR17 (front), 180/55ZR17 (rear)
Brakes, front/rearDual hydraulic discs/Single hydraulic disc
Overall length2040 mm
Overall width718 mm
Overall height1155 mm
Ground clearance160 mm
Seat height810 mm
Dry weight183 kilos
Fuel capacity19 litres
Wheelbase 1415 mm