ZX-11 For The Long Haul

How to make a 176-mph sport-tourer

Source: Cycle World, august 1993


Not every motorcycle meets the Cycle World definition of a sport-tourer. Take Kawasaki's ZX-11, for example. With a top speed of 176 mph, the big Ninja is blazingly fast. It's also very competent sportbike, even if its limits aren't as lofty as those of front-line repli-racers. And unlike those narrowly focused motorcycles, the 11, with its moderate riding position, large fairing and 6.8 gallon fuel tank, is a pretty versatile machine.

By CW standards, though, a true sport-tourer must have hard saddlebags. Kawasaki doesn't offer accessory hard luggage for the ZX-11, so we ordered a set of GIVI Maxias from Capital Cycle. Manufactured in Italy, the plastic Maxias are impressively engineered, stylish, lockable, and each is capable of swallowing two full-face helmets.

Capital Cycle also imports color-matched Bagster tank covers. Available for a wide range of models, the naugahyde cover is designed to be used with Bagster's line of detachable tank bags. We tried the Alpha, an expandable 30-liter unit that clips to the cover and features a map window and a self-contained rain cover. Both bag and cover performed well, though their color- match with the ZX's dark-maronn paint was less than perfect.

Our next goal was to improve the ZX's ride quality. In stock form, the ZX's non-cartridge fork suffers from excessive compression damping and too-soft springs. Ridden quickly on a bumpy road, the bike's suspension reacts harshly, transmitting road irregularities directly to the rider. For a relatively inexpensive solution, we sent the fork ans shock to Lindemann Engineering, a northern California firm that specializes in suspension modification.

Jim Lindemann disassembled the fork, polished the tubes, replaced the seals and shortened the stock springs. The damper rods were modified for a more appropiate rebound/compression ration, and oil level was set at 140mm from the top of the tube using 10-weight Rock Oil. This combination proved nearly ideal, although the fork bottomed lightly during hard braking. Adding an additional 10cc oil per leg solved the problem.

At the rear, Lindemann revalved the shock -also suffering from harshness- for less compression damping. Using the stock spring, the shock was reassembled with fresh oil, then re-presssurized. With preload set to give 1.5 inches of sack, and rebound damping on the number two position (out of four), the rear suspension is noticeably more compliant than stock and provides a solid platform for either solo or two-up sport-touring.

In the past, we've complained about the 11's front-brake system, citing its tendency to fade after repeated use at high speeds. To improve the situation, we swapped the stock rubber brake lines for Fren-Turbo Kevlar hoses from Indigo Sports. We've used these lightweight lines before and found them durable and easy to install. At the same time, the stock brake pads were replaced with a set from EBC. After carefully bleeding the system, lever feel was improved and the tendency to fade greatly diminished.

With less than 3000 miles on the clock, the stock Bridgestone Battlax Radials were wearing thin. Although we were pleased with their steering and traction characteristics, the stock tires weren't as durable as we had hoped. Looking for additional mileage without giving up performance, we levered on a set of Continental Z-rated Radial 2000s, a 130/60 front and a 180/55 rear. Although traction with the Continentals was good, the front tire made the ZX stand up when trailing the front brake during cornering, most likely because of its quarter-inch of additional width. They do, however, appear to be long lasting; after 2300 miles of all-around use, half of that at full-tilt sporting pace, ours still have plenty of life.

For a more sport-touring-oriented riding position, we ordered a set of replacement handlebars from Heli-Modified. A full 2 inches taller and 1.25 inches more rearward than stock, the Heli bars are nicely finished, easy to install and retain the stock cables and switchgear. Although the are expensive, the Heli Bars are a considerable improvement over stock, making 500-mile days a relatively painless affair.

A Corbin Gunfighter & Lady seat was the next addition. The seat mounted easily using the bracket from the stock saddle, and fit precisely. With its stiff pan and dense foam, the Gunfighter is significantly firmer than stock. For this reason, Corbin suggests a 1500-mile break-in period. Even after 2300 miles, though, some staffers felt the seat was still overly firm. Others found the seat's shape and level of comfort to their liking.

We also fitted a Zero Gravity windscreen to our project ZX-11. Although it offered good coverage, the stock screen was wavy and difficult to see through. Optically correct, the Zero Gravity screen fit perfectly and has a more pronounced lip that provided more wind protection than stock.

J&M's voice-activated intercom system offers hands-free communication between rider and passenger. Besides its individual systems, J&M also sells full- and open-face Arai helmets with microphone and stereo speakers pre-installed. We ordered a matching pair for use with J&M's Dynavox II amplifier. To this we hooked one of Sony's just-released portable MiniDisc players, housed in the tankbag.

Compact and easy to use, the 1.8-pound Sony MZ-2P plays pre-recorded MiniDiscs and features a buffer memory that stores audio data for up to three seconds. Should the optical pickup be jarred out of position, the correct information is played from memory, virtually eliminating shock-and-vibration- induced skipping. The 2.5-inch Minidiscs are encased in tough plastic cartridges and store up to 74 minutes of material, about the endurance of the player's rechargeable battery.

While the Sony MiniDisc performed flawlessly, the J&M intercom system had one drawbakc. The stereo speakers worked very well, but the intercom's voice-activated microphones were a bit too sensitive, often mistaken wind noise for conversation. For fully faired touring bikes, that's not a problem. But for sportbikes like the ZX, it can be a bother.

We didn't have any problems with the Passport 3100 WideBand radar detector and Passport 1000 laser detector ordered frim Cincinnati Microwave. Less than 3 inches wide and 4.5 inches long, the 3100 WideBand monitors X-, K- and Ka-band radar signals and feature a mute mode, LED strength meter, a city/highway switch and an adjustable volume control.

Similarly sized, the Passport 1000 attached to the 3100 with velcro, and has an LED meter and an adjustable volume control. Via an accessory interface cord, the 1000 can be linked directly to the 3100. Both the radar and laser detectors were wired through J&M's audio override system which interrupts conversation or music with an amplified warning signal through one of the helmet's earphones. Under ideal conditions, the 3100 WideBand was able to sniff out radar about a half-mile away, giving enough time to react to all but instant-on guns. The 1000 Laser was less capable, sounding-off only 400 yards from the source. In testing with a cooperative police department, the cop's laser gun always won, making the detector, in our view, a questionable purchase.

And that completes our project Kawasaki ZX-11. The modifications -some simple and inexpensive, others more involved and extravagantly priced- have transformed the world's fastest sportbike into a competent sport-tourer. Especially if you've got to get someplace in a big hurry.


By: Matthew Miles