The beginning

It all started around 1996: there were rumours that Kawasaki was working on a follow up for the ZX-11 / ZZ-R 1100: a bike that would be even stronger and faster.
Graphic designers put their thoughts about the new bike on paper and came up with the following impressions:

zx12 zx12
Artists impressions of the ZX-12

Magazines tried to trick Kawasaki representatives into making statements about the new bike, but they revealed nothing:

Interview with Seiji Igawa, general manager of the marketing division of Kawasaki Heavy Industries

October 9, 1997
Q: Are you going to launch next year the ZX-12. A bike that's going to beat its competition regarding horsepower and weight?
A: It's possible. We're considering it. We're momentarily doing a lot of tests in Japan. But you say a 1200. It could be an 1100 as well of course. Because the ZZ-R 1100 needs a refreshment and refinement.

Source: Weekblad Motor, #41 1997

Because of this silence from Kawasaki and the stronger getting rumours it seems that magazines got a bit carried away and invented their own follow up for the ZX-11:

ZZ-R Aims To Hit 200mph

April 7, 1998
From: Motorcycleworld

KAWASAKI aims to crack 200mph with an all-new ZZ-R1100 sports tourer to snatch back the world's fastest production bike crown.
It leads a range of hot new models from the Japanese giant revealed over the next four pages. Kawasaki ruled the high-speed roost from '90 to '96 with the 176mph ZZ-R1100 it still sells. But the £9550 rocket was topped by Honda's £9495 178mph Super Blackbird. Kawasaki is determined to hit back with a bike capable of 200mph to be launched in the year 2000. Not only must it beat the Honda, it must also edge ahead of Suzuki's planned 185bhp four-cylinder GSX-R1200, which could also be capable of cracking the double- ton.
Power will come from a new motor based on the current in-line four, 1052cc ZZ-R engine. Kawasaki will bore it out to 1109cc for extra power and the compression ratio will be lifted from the current 11:1 to 11.9:1 to improve power at the top end of the rev range. The bigger bore size will allow Kawasaki to fit larger valves to boost high-speed breathing. High-tech ceramic-coated bores reduce friction and cut wear, and allow closer piston tolerances, increasing power. Coated bores also weigh less than traditional iron cylinder liners.
Bigger 42mm Keihin carburettors will replace the standard 40mm items, delivering more fuel to help increase power.
In stock trim the new bike will be tuned to produce at least 165bhp at the crank - around 148bhp at the rear wheel. The current ZZ-R1100 produces 136bhp, while the Super Blackbird produces 145bhp at the rear wheel and 162bhp at the crank.
But to beat the 200mph barrier the bike will need more than just brute power and Kawasaki aims to introduce a host of high- tech, wind-cheating aerodynamic parts. The bike has been extensively tested in the wind tunnel. Poor aerodynamics are the biggest barrier to extreme speeds. The faster you go the more important they become. Kawasaki reckons a slippy fairing is easier to produce than extra horsepower.
Its angular looks give it a distinctly futuristic style. It has fins on its front mudguard to reduce drag and send cooling air on to the brakes. The fins will improve high-speed stability by helping to keep the front wheel firmly on the ground. A small spoiler above the screen helps smooth air-flow around the rider's head and shoulders. The bike has a radical new front end. Instead of standard forks, the ZZ-R boasts a single-sided front end, like that seen on Honda's FN-1 concept bike seen at last year's Tokyo Show (see separate story).
It's another way in which the bike will stand out in the crowd and it also cuts the frontal area of the bike, aiding its aerodynamics.

The single-sided front end means only one disc can be fitted - but twin four-pot calipers bite on a massive 355mm rim-mounted disc.
It will be a true sports tourer capable of scratching with the best. It will weigh around 210kg (462lb), that's 23kg (50lb) less than this year's ZZ-R. It's around the same as Triumph's soon-to-be released T695 sports tourer, which is based on its T595 sportster. It will retain a twin-spar aluminium frame but use the engine as a stressed member to save weight. The new ZZ-R1100 has a 24-litre (5.3-gallon) fuel tank for a 210-mile range. And it has a fully-adjustable rear shock with a remote reservoir and remote pre-load adjustment to make changes for two-up riding easy.
The bike will be launched at the Milan Show in September 1999 and will cost around £10,500. A range of touring and aftermarket accessories, including performance exhausts, luggage and engine kits, will be available early in 2000.
A Kawasaki spokesman said: "There will be new models aimed at European markets. We're certainly not standing still." The new models in MCN this week are all aimed at clawing back sales.
Kawasaki's UK market share has fallen from 20 per cent in 1993 to less than 13 per cent last year. Sales are now the lowest of the big four Japanese makers. Kawasaki is a huge company, with interests in everything from steel to space rockets. It even dwarfs Honda. But the motor cycle division has been steadily losing sales.
Kawasaki has decided to tackle its problems in a very un-Japanese way. Rather than cut prices and broaden its model range - the route Suzuki has taken to new-found growth - Kawasaki is concentrating on the bikes it does best and hoping to boost sales by dominating those parts of the market it chooses to enter.
Kawasaki's Martin Lambert, said: "The concept of niche marketing can easily be catered for by a flexible company like Kawasaki."

By Alan Dowds and Jason McClean
Source: Motorcycleworld

Even these made up specs didn't tempt Kawasaki to reveal more:

Interview with Seiji Igawa, general manager of the marketing division of Kawasaki Heavy Industries

October 1, 1998
Q: We'd expected the introduction of the ZX-12 by now. Where is it? Or have you been waiting for the introduction of the new Honda Blackbird and the Suzuki GSX 1300 R?
A: You say ZX-12, but maybe it is a ZX-13. We cannot introduce the bike at this moment. We're still testing. I don't want to say more.

Source: Weekblad Motor, #40 1998

After waiting for more than 2 years and hearing all kinds of rumours reports got a bit more substantial and weren't far away from the truth:

Fastest Production Bike Ever?

October 18, 1998
Our spies overseas have told us that an all new, more powerful, faster Kawasaki ZX-12 is on its way. This all powerful ZX-12 is designed to be the fastest production streetbike ever to leave the doors of a manufacturer. Not only is the bike sporting a giant inline four cylinder 1200 cc engine, but it is said to be lighter and smaller than the current ZX-11 and all of the other bikes in the open class. The ZX-12 will have a small frontal area contributing as much to its high speed abilities as its wonking big mill. We don't yet know if it will be available in green, but we'll report more as soon as we find out.
Source: 2WF News

Than, at last, februari 13 1999: the first drawings appeared on the Internet that looked like the ZX-12R we know now:

Soon after this revelation there followed more real pictures and spy shots:

March 5, 1999

Last week, we were proudly the first to offer the scoop on the upcoming Kawasaki ZX-12. Due out sometime in the year 2000, the new model is said to have a horsepower rating around 170 horsepower, rear horsepower. Though this model is yet to hit the U.S. shores, it has been tested in Japan with very impressive results.

A Kawasaki official confirmed it's existence, and commented about the extreme acceleration which was demonstrated on an oval track in Japan.

The following photos were supplied by a Japanese resident through an American racer, Todd Martin.


March 18, 1999

Kawasaki pulls no punches in bid to win speed war THESE pictures – never seen in the UK until now – show that Kawasaki’s ZX-12R will be going all out to trounce Suzuki’s 195mph Hayabusa.

And the sneak pictures show how close we were with our artist’s impression last week. We accurately predicted how the bodywork, headlights, ram-air scoop and exhaust of the bike would look.

This pre-production prototype was spied in a factory workshop and the most radical feature appears to be the frame – which has a gap in it!

This supports last week’s story in MCN which predicted the ZX-12R would have a spine section in the frame above the engine and between the steering head and the swingarm supports.

The picture, above, clearly shows the traditional beam frame has been chopped in the middle, exposing the fuel injector system.

A huge airbox casting, which sits above the engine, becomes part of the frame’s spine and the usual twin spars each side of the engine have been junked.

If it is light enough, which means beating the GSX1300R’s 215kg (474lb) by a hefty margin, the ZX-12R will not only accelerate quicker, but could prove to handle better.

Speed is the name of Kawasaki’s game, and the low, pointed nose shows how it has been made to cut into the air. The front mudguard extends further forward than usual and wraps around the inverted forks to clean up the airflow.

The belly fairing and aerofoil wings on the sides of the bodywork show how designers have fought to reduce the bike’s drag coefficient.

The ZX-12R has a ram-air scoop under the headlights, extending directly into the area where there is the highest air pressure at speed.

According to factory insiders Kawasaki has now decided to use a fuel-injected 1195cc engine which could make as much as 180bhp. The GSX1300R makes a claimed 179.5bhp and has so far clocked 195mph on a test track. Experts believe it will go faster still.

Kawasaki is desperate to regain the crown for the fastest production bike, which its ZZ-R1100 lost to Honda’s Super Blackbird.

The ZX-12R was due to be launched last year, but was held back to allow technicians to get more power.

The bike is now expected to debut at September’s Milan Show in Italy. It should cost around £8000. The Hayabusa costs £7699.

Kawasaki UK refused to comment on the new bike.


March 21, 1999

Pictures from

Pictures from

May 21, 1999
Pictures from

The world knew by now that the ZX-12R was out there somewhere, and started hunting it down. Video shots of a static bike appeared on a television show, and a German magazine was able to get real close:
August 5, 1999

Picture from Speedvision TV show, grabbed and uploaded by Tbone.

August 15, 1999

Pics from the German Magazine "Motorrad", #17, August 7, 1999. Click on them for a larger image.

The following specs were mentioned in the article:
Displacement: 1198cc
Horsepower: 182hp @ 10,500 rpm
Torque: 135 Nm
Weight: 225kg (incl fuel)
Colors (in Germany): silver/black and red
Vmax: 310 kmh (~194mph)
Catalytic converter

About a month later the first more or less official pictures appeared in the magazines and all the biking websites had something to write about it. See e.g. Motorcycle Daily

September 23, 1999

Pics from Motorcyclist, November 1999 issue.

click for larger picture

Then at the end of september 1999 Kawasaki released the first official pics and specs. The exact hp and weight numbers stayed however a mystery for quite a while.
September 29, 1999 was the first to publish details about the ZX-12R: