Kawasaki ZRX1200R

The blend of retro looks and modern machinery in the ZRX1200R gives Tim Luckhurst a pleasant surprise

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Engine: liquid cooled, 4-stroke, four cylinder, 1,164cc
Max power: 122 bhp at 8500 rpm
Max torque: 112 Nm at 7,000 rpm
Weight: 224kg
Transmission: five speed, chain final drive
Brakes: front dual semi-floating 310 mm discs, rear single 250 mm disc
Seat height: 790 mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Price: £6,795

Candy lime-green clashes violently with my leathers. Brash, naked bikes rarely overwhelm me and Kawasaki had not invited me to ride it. I was wandering past their trackside stand when I spotted what looked like a well-polished example of something the Californian Superbike star Eddie Lawson used to ride in the 1980s. So, being of that vintage myself, I stopped for a closer look. It was the ZRX1200R and my first instinct was to despise it. So obvious a hybrid of retro looks and modern technology could not work, could it?

At this point Kawasaki's press team employed subtlety. "I'm not sure it's your thing" said a thoughtful young man. "But you're welcome to give it a shot if you want to." He gave me the ignition keys and left me to it.

My first impression, which was to grow stronger with every mile, was that the ZRX1200R is an exceptionally nimble bike for its size. For a big, brutal, stripped-down facsimile of a 20-year-old classic superbike it felt tremendously well mannered around the first mini-roundabout and positively gentlemanly as I picked my way through a series of village streets on my way to the open road.

Here the engine tuning impressed me. The big in-line four-cylinder power unit has been tweaked to deliver optimum performance in the low- and mid-range. It pulls elegantly from 3,000rpm in fifth gear. In fact, everything about this Kawasaki is smoother than the most attentive lounge lizard. A marriage of rubber-isolated engine mounts, a counter-balancer on the crankshaft and an additional diaphragm spring on the clutch make vibration virtually imperceptible.

Many of the big, naked, bikes that are now so dramatically in vogue, set out to impress with pure aggression. They want you to know that they can wheelie, frighten old ladies and be insolent to the most expensive sports cars. Everything about them screams nerve-shredding performance. The ZRX1200R has that too. Its lightweight, electro-plated aluminium cylinder block comes straight from Kawasaki's Ninja sports bikes. It can go exceptionally fast. But it does not feel like a motorcycle that can only be properly enjoyed by a top gun Tornado pilot on temporary leave from his squadron. This Kawasaki has brought with it from the 1980s the concept of what was once known as the "standard" motorcycle. The best translation of "standard" is multi-purpose.

The classic upright riding position is comfortable over distance. The pillion seat comes with thoroughly practical grab-rails and it is not perched up high above the rider so as to expose the passenger to the sort of buffeting they endure on sports motorcycles. The little, colour-coordinated fairing leaves something to be desired at constant, high motorway speeds but it does reduce wind-noise. With a 15-stone rider and a 14-stone pillion the Kawasaki still felt sprightly and tracked accurately into corners. The big semi-floating front discs remained completely unruffled, as did the rear shock absorbers. The tank is a little too small for pure touring but not impractically so.

I am rarely willing to suggest a 122bhp superbike to novice motorcyclists. But this one is so intelligently conceived that a recently qualified rider could learn a lot on it. A large rider looking for a competent tourer on which he can also ride to work and learn track skills at the weekend could make thorough use of it. The ZRX1200R is a tremendously usable motorcycle at a very realistic price. And, for not a penny more you can have "candy thunder blue" instead of lime green.

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