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Future collectibles – Kawasaki ZRX1100/1200R

(October 2020)

Kawasaki ZRX1100R

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen


Kawasaki’s ZRX hero nakeds were eighties throwbacks

Remember Eddie Lawson? The quietly-spoken American rider dominated world GP racing in the late eighties, winning the title four times on two different brand motorcycles (Yamaha and Honda in 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1989). Before that, he was famous for winning his home country superbike championship two years on the trot, the first in 1981. That was for Kawasaki.

ediie lawson z1000

In some circles it’s that 1981 victory he’s best remembered for. That’s because Kawasaki USA spotted an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Its problem was it had a stockpile of Z1000J road bikes it couldn’t shift – they were looking old hat in a fast changing market. So a bright spark called Mike Vaughan suggested turning them into Eddie championship replicas. Can’t be that hard, can it?

Before you knew it, trailerloads of the things were being dressed up with GPz1100 mini fairing, tank and tailpiece, plus a Kerker exhaust and given a coat of paint in Team K’s bright green livery (above). There were some other subtleties, but you get the drift. They were an instant hit and today a real one is quite valuable.

Move on to the early 1990s and Kawasaki’s leading naked bike is the Zephyr 1100. In shape it was vaguely reminiscent of the original Z900/1000 series but it wasn’t winning fans, so Kawasaki tried another approach. Enter the ZRX1100R (top pic) in 1997, though Australia didn’t see it till 1999.

Kawasaki ZRX1100R

This had the profile of the original Eddie Lawson replica and you could get it in green – among other colour schemes. Powering it was a variant of the ZZ-R1100 engine, which in an act of near-criminal waste had been detuned to 72kW (96hp). Hot-rodders quickly learned that much of this could be restored, with the assistance of a set of ZZ-R cams.

Otherwise the chassis was pretty conventional: big twin loop steel frame, twin shocks on the rear, working a big braced aluminium swingarm. Six-spot Tokico brakes handled the stopping duties up front.

The end result looked good and performed well enough, though it was criticised on two fronts: soft suspension rates and disappointing power.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

In 2001 Kawasaki had another crack at it, this time with the ZRX1200R (above). Now the company shouted from the rooftops how it had comprehensively re-engineered the engine and in fact the whole motorcycle. Yeah, yeah, but it looked basically the same.

Here’s Kawasaki’s own summary of the engine upgrades: “If you didn’t know any better, you’d be excused from thinking that bumping up the big ZRX’s displacement to 1200 wasn’t such a big deal. Just bore it out a bit, stroke it a few mil and slap on some new decals, right? Wrong!

“The new aluminium cylinder with its bigger bores is wider, necessitating wider cases, a longer crank, a wider head and valve cover, and a whole slew of other new components.

“In other words, we went to a lot of trouble to make a bigger, better ZRX. And the first time you whack open the throttle on the new bike you’ll see that it was well worth the work.” Fair enough.

Capacity had gone up from 1052 to 1164cc and, more importantly, the power was up to 91kW (122hp) while torque had been boosted around 15 per cent. Still not massive figures, but the difference from the saddle was big and what was on tap felt far more accessible.

That engine went on to power the ZZ-R1200.

One really nice upgrade too was the stainless steel four-into-one exhaust. Some clowns were silly enough to throw them away. If you do decide on a swap for a performance pipe, hang the old one up in the shed – it’s worth something.

As for the chassis, the pivot point for the much beefed-up rear swingarm had moved, the steering geometry altered and the spring and damping rates boosted. This was a very different motorcycle, despite appearances.

Look closely and you’ll spot some oddball styling influences that go all the way back to 1981. For example piggy-back reservoirs on rear shocks were de rigueur for race bikes of the period and were a popular aftermarket fitment for road motorcycles.

However the real time-warp piece is that massive reinforced swingarm. It too is a seventies and eighties superbike throwback, where teams took to adding these massive ‘bridge’ structures to swingarms in an effort to stop them flexing. So despite the liquid-cooling and the build date, there’s still quite a bit on board the ZRX1200R that tips its lid to Eddie’s ’81 victory.

What’s it like as a ride? Big happy naked bike sums it up. It’s narrow and maneuverable, so long as you’re happy to ignore the 220kg dry weight, which probably translates to around 240 wet.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

The power is right off the bottom end with acres of midrange and a respectable though not record-breaking top end. Really, 240km/h would pull it up and it should be able to manage a standing 400 in the very low 11s.

Here’s another little blast from the past: it runs a five-speed transmission, which seems to be plenty.

It’s a fairly tidy handler – easy enough to tip in and very stable once heeled over. The suspension is a couple of generations back from what you’d expect now, as is the braking. That said, I use one regularly as a runabout because it’s quick, fuss-free and smooth.

People do hot them up, though you can forget the ZZ-R1100 cam swap – they won’t fit this engine. The most popular route is aftermarket exhausts and, for the really keen, a set of flat-slide carburetors. Production ceased in 2007.

Prices start at around $5000 for a reasonably tidy 1100 with substantial miles, while owners of mint 1200s with low miles are asking over $10k. That’s a pretty big price band, and suggests you need to go in with your head and not your heart in charge of your wallet.

The fact is both the 1100s and 1200s are fun toys, though the latter is better developed. That whole early superbike look seems to work across the generations of potential buyers and the Lawson lineage is likely to help the ZRXs become pukka collectibles. If in doubt, go for green…


Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Our ZRX1200R

We had one in the shed for a few years – a terrific machine. See the story.

Kawasaki ZRX1200S

What about the S?
Kawasaki also built a ZRX1200S, which was essentially the same as the R but with a larger frame-mounted half fairing. It’s a better mousetrap as a distance bike, though don’t expect it to hold the same collector interest as the ‘Lawson look’.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Other variants

Two more variants have been pointed out to us by readers.

ZRX1200R final edition

Kaze Otoko sent us a pic of the 2016 ZRX1200R DAEG Final Edition, above.

And Tony Jones sent us the one below of the C model with the round headlight. Thanks, folks.

Kawasaki ZRX1200C

Kawasaki ZRX1100/1200R

Look good

Not so good

Kawasaki ZRX1100/1200


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four

CAPACITY: 1052/1164cc

BORE & STROKE: 78 x 58mm/79 x 59.4mm
FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x Keihin CVK36mm

TYPE: Five-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Steel twin-tube cradle

FRONT SUSPENSION: 43mm conventional telescopic fork, full adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION: Preload-adjustable twin shocks, full adjustment

FRONT BRAKE: 310mm disc with six-piston caliper

REAR BRAKE: 250mm disc with two-piston caliper




WHEELBASE: 1450/1465mm

FRONT: Cast alloy with 100/70 ZR17 tyre
REAR: Cast alloy with 180/55 ZR17 tyre


POWER: 72kW @ 8000rpm/91kW @ 8500rpm
TORQUE: 92Nm @ 6200rpm/112Nm @ 7000rpm





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