Long term test Kawasaki ZZR1100
Source: Motorcycle Sport & Leisure, April 1998
Used with kind permission of Nick Green
It happened very quickly, and before I had realised what was happening, like all the best love affairs. At the time I was the proud owner of my second FJ1200, a 3XW ABS. Comfortable, torquey and solid; would I ever be drawn from her? Appaling fuel consumption, poor handling and oh so boring looks were the down side, while that legendary reliability was not at all it had been cracked up to be - the ZZR1100's reputation on the other hand caught my imagination.
My first impression of the ZZR was how light she was compared with the FJ. Once aboard, the ZZR felt small and very nippy compared with the Yamaha. The FJ was no slouch, but this was simply miles better. My fate was sealed when it achieved 56mpg, thus beating the FJ's paltry thirty-eight to each gallon. The handling's not bad for a standard bike either. I began using the ZZR at every opportunity, started up the ZZR Owners Group and became convinced that I had made the right choice.
I call it the Gentleman's Express, but really the ZZR is all things to all riders. Tours brilliantly, handles quite well in standard form, economical and so very reliable. But as the magazines have said, the bike is really all about engine, engine and more engine. Smooth and flexible around town, but will sweep you up to 140mph and beyond very swiftly indeed. There's a slight lag at 4,000rpm, but once beyond 6,000 the performance is simply breathtaking. It's worth remembering that nine years after the ZZR appeared, Honda's Blackbird managed a 'paltry' 177mph, yet a standard ZZR was timed by MCN at 180!
Fuel consumption, as already mentioned, is excellent. Some ZZROG members have seen the high '50s and I've even managed 60mpg at times, though thrashing the bike sees this plummet to 44mpg. The flashing low-fuel lights on the C model are a real pain as it comes on far too early. D's had a gauge, which is an imporvement but still inaccurate - it hardly moves for 130 miles, then plummets to empty! Still, the D model (introduced December 1992) receive a larger 24 litre tank, which gives a good range. So it's just as well that the bike is comfortable enough for 200 miles non-stop without numb but syndrome setting in. Helen and I have often done this distance with little if any discomfort. I'd say the seat and riding position are more comfortable than those of the FJ1200. It does favour taller people, though I know of many owners who seem quite happy - some have fitted bar risers to reduce wrist strain.
ServicingHigh quality and regular servicing is the key to very high mileages on this engine. Some members have seen over 150,000 miles, whilst one ZX10 rider (with its early derivative of the ZZR engine) has enjoyed 200,000 virtually trouble-free miles!
Obviously, to get these sort of mileages, you need to take good care of the motor - the highest quality synthetic oil should be used, changing the oil and filter at no more than 3,000 miles, preferably less. Remember to use both drain plugs! I beleive this to be the single most important service item available to any engine.
Shims should be checked at least annually but in any case every 8,000 miles. Most shims need changing during the miles of a new engine and you will notice a gradual settling down until around the 30,000-40,000 mile mark when few changes are needed at all. That is, if your friendly mechanic has even bothered to check them. Fraudulent servicing isn't unknown here, even more so for the ZZR600 where the cams have to be removed to replace the shims. My advice is always ask for all valve clearance measurements, ehat shims if any were swapped around and prior to the service ask if exchange shims are available. New shims are around £5.00 each, which can soon knock up the price of a service.
The gearbox is quite positive although a little clunky. C Models did have a 2nd gear problem, which can be identified by thrashing the bike up and down through the box. If there is a problem it will jump out of 2nd gear. Not all bikes were affected, but if yours has done 10,000 miles and the problem has not shown then it probably won't.
Camshafts on D models have caused some problems with pitting. There are no consistent causes - it may be due to poor oil change procedures and/or failure to warm the engine up before thrashing. It is always worth a look at the toip end of the engine if you're looking to buy.
Exhausts. The left side of the OE exhaust system comprises four downpipes, a collector box and the left-hand silencer! The right-hand side is just the silencer. So beware, if you see that very cheap system with 'only' damage to the left-hand side! You would need a mortgage for an OE system so it is prudent to look after the one you have. Downpipes are usually the first to rust, but regular cleaning and polishing of the whole system, with an annual internal application of old engine oil helps. Whilst in the general area of the downpipes, thoroughly clean the radiator and oil cooler, as both get covered in road crud. A Fenda Extenda helps here.
Tyres are an emotional subject, especially on a heavy bike like the ZZR. I have found that a Bridgestone BT57 on the rear and a BT56 on the front is a great combination. Use 36psi in the front and 42psi in the rear. The BT56 really sharpens up the steering and improves feedback. I achieved 8,500-9,000 miles from a rear and around 9-10,000 on the front! This is only achieved by running correctly set-up and modified suspension though (see below).
OE discs last at least 40,000 miles given the correct maintenance and usage. Favourite replacements are the excellent EBC Pro-lites.
Calipers cause little problems when cleaned and maintained regularly. If allowed to deteriorate thouhg, look out for some very expensive bills. I always replace the caliper spring retianing bolts with high quality stainless steel cap heads, as the OEs are of poor quality and generally have rounded heads. Likewise, we replace the master cylinder reservoir cap screws with stainless countersunk screws.
The swinging arm and linkages rarely give trouble if well maintained. The factory is very miserly with the amount of grease it applies to thes areas and the steering head bearings, so even if the bike is new it is worth cleaning and re-packing all these bearings. I do this once a year. The linkages do have grease nipples, but grease doesn't find its way into every nook and cranny even when using a grease gun.
ModificationsThere are countless modifications you can make to the ZZR, all of which I think are worth doing. Let's start with the engine. A stage 1 Dyno Jet kit and K+N filtes smoothes out the slight power lag around 4,000rpm, makes the tickover smoother, throttle response sharper and brings a power increase across the range. The standard exhaust is actually very efficient, though heavy. Popular after-market systems are Micron's stainless steel 4:1, Remus and the excellent 4:2 Motad Nexxus (only available, onfortunately, for the C). ZZROG will soon be selling a fully stainless 4:2 system with Renegade race cans.
Excellent power gains can be had with an ignition advancer, nice cheap mod at around £40 from TTS. Early UK bikes were restricted, but performance across the range is unstifled with a set of pattern carb tops (£58 from ZZROG). Later D models came as standard with the full power 145bhp. Blueprinting can add another 12bhp+ to that, but if you're really serious, there are big bore kits, gas flowed heads, race camshafts, even Mr Turbo kits and nitrous. ZZROG member Hamish Jamieson has claimed an indicated 245mph from his turbo'd ZZR!
Chassis/suspension: The standard set-up isn't too bad, but I found it just a bit too soft and squidgy. The D model was a great improvement, but the front end is far too soft - the ZZR is heavy and a lot of the weight is distributed on the rear. This causes tail sag which can make the front end go light under heavy acceleration and will also make the bike stear very slowly. However, a few modifications can transform things - just having the eccentric adjusters turned around so that the rear wheel spindle is located at the bottom of its travel, which raises the rear of the bike and sharpens the steering. Simple, quick and free!
The OE rear shock is undersprung and underdamped - erplace with Hagon and the new EMC Endurance at the lower end of the market or the new superb WP or Ohlins ranges at the top end.
Now whar about the forks? These too are undersprung and underdamped, but thers are three options. First, replace the standard springs with progressive springs and upgrade the fork oil with 15W. thsi enables me, with 2-inch spacers, to set the front sag at about 30mm; rear sag needs to be no moer than 5mm. Or you could spend a bit more and the forks to Race Components where Dave parkinson willre-valve and re-spring them for around £160. This really does make a huge difference. For the very rich, try a set of WP ROMA upside-down forks. Lovely! I'm certain that ZX9 forks would fit as well. Standard wheels can be replaced with very lightweight ones - Marchessini, Dymag etc. A cheaper route is to use a ZX6R front wheel and RF900 rear.
With modifications like these, our ZZRs have surprised many a solo sports bike rider around the twisties. Even travelling two-up with luggage, riding over the Picos mountains to Albacette.
Helen Green (right)
Brakes. If you have a C model, the later discs are superior, and easily fitted. The master cylinders on the 1100 are excellent and the usual braided brake lines, with Micro PVS covers to aid cleanliness and any tears due to abrasion, improves the system even more. I find new EBC HH pads virtually as good as OE and very kind to discs. The braided line improve overall braking performance and the DOT 5.1 fluid boils much later, absorbs less moisture and does not damage paintwork so readily. I've also fitted Harrison six-pot calipers for two finger braking.
Final drive. The ZZR1100 is known to eat cush drives, though not as badly as some would have you beleive. The answer is to shim the cush drive out with high density rubber. Old car mats, welly boots and even inner tubes can be used, and they work, extending the live of the cush drive massively.
Chains and sprockets last up to 40,000 miles, as long as you fit an automatic oiler. The ease with which the chain can be adjusted on the 1100 means very few run badly adjusted anyway, though oiler still doubles the life. The Scottoiler is the most popular, and I've run one to the fron sprocket, which keeps things tidy. both the Chaintec and Scottoiler tend to cover only one side of the chain with a decent amount of oil, unless you turn the feed up to maximum.
LuggageThe ultimate hard luggage, as far as I'm concerned is the Givi system. High quality, secure, stable, water-tight and good looking, this system beats all others into oblivion. The MkII Wingrack fits better than the Mark I, which can be adapted.
Other systems used on the ZZR are Nonfango (a budget system, lower quality and less stable) Kappa (the same but fits poorly), and the excellent Ventura soft luggage. Throw-overs are a pain on any bike but more so on the ZZR which has that beautifully sculptured rear plastic that can easily become very scratched with soft luggage draped over - taped on bubble wrap will protect it. Tank bags can be a problem on the unusually shaped fuel tank, though the French Baglux system is best. A harness combined with the Alpha two-tier expandable tank bag enables large amounts of gear to be carried up front.
Finally, I have to say that the ZZR 1100 is the most complete bike I have ever ridden. Like many people I can't afford two top-range bikes, but this one fills both sports and touring roles admirably. There's a lot more I could have written about, so if you want to know more, contact me at ZZROG. Look forward to hearing from you.
Nick Green, Chairman, ZZR Owners Group
Phone/fax (01539)6 23486