Big Bullies

The fastest production motorcycles in the world meet head to head

Source: Sport Rider, February 1997<
(Excerpt from the original article)

What the Kawasaki gives away in handling and refinement, it makes up for with brute horsepower delivery. Unlike the Honda's smooth stream of quiet but rapid acceleration, the Eleven unleashed its 130.92-horsepower fury in a frantic mix of throaty exhaust and valvetrain noise.
The complication of correctly jetting ram-air-induction-equipped carburators (a performance enhancer Honda chose not to deal with) are evident as the Kawasaki rumbles away in first gear, then encounters a lean stumble from 3500 to 4000 rpm at partial throtle settings.

Kawasaki ZX-11 Temp Gauge
Musclebike feel and power deliverySlightly less refined than the Honda
Dominant reputationExcessive high-speed compression damping
 Speeding tickets

Honda CBR1100XX Temp Gauge
Top speed and mondo motorBogus nonadjustable front end with excessive compression damping
Quality workmanship and attention to detailLimited touring range even with the 5.8-gallon gas tank
Incredibly light steering feel for a 500-plus-pound motorcycle 

... For years we've been saying the ZX-11 has too much high-speed compression damping, hammering the rider over sharp-edged bumps requiring higher shaft velocities. This remains true on the '97 model.

Test notes: ZX-11
Hard to adjust spring preload on rear suspension
Lean stumble near 4000 rpm hurts around-town friendliness
Huge, 6.3-gallon gas tank allows 200 miles between stops
Suspension Settings
Front: Preload: standard sag; rebound: one out from maximum
Rear: Preload: standard sag; rebound: number 3

Test notes: CBR1100XX
Honda's stacked headlight projects the best high/low beem combination we've used
U-lock storage under seat
Only adequat paint quality on our preproduction unit
Suspension Settings
Front: Ha! There aren't any
Rear: Preload: standard sag; rebound: one out from maximum

... Forty-four pounds separates the ZX-11 from the CBR. Although the Kawasaki's added weight is apparent when transitioning the bike at speed, it steers remarkably well for such a large motorcycle.

... Kawasaki needs stronger brakes on a motorcycle this formidable, and the Honda's powerful binders do an excellent job of hauling the CBR1100 down from speed.

So what we have here are two very different tools designed to perform the same task. It's kind of like shaving with a Buck knife or a Norelco. Either way, the job gets done. Kawasaki still has a winner om its hands. The ZX-11 has some rough edges but is one of the best big-bore sport-touring motorcycles on the market. It's just that the Honda is better. It's faster, better handling and highly polished. And when you fit all the pieces of the puzzle together, the result is a more complete package.

Sport Rider Ratings
Engine Power Delivery 8.5 10
Engine Smoothness 9.5 10
Transmission 9.5 8.5
Brakes 8.25 9
Suspension 8 8
Chassis & Handling 8 9.25
Ergonomics 8.75 10
Instruments & Controls 8.75 8.5
Quality 9 9
Fun to Ride 8.5 9.75
Rating Totals 86.75 92