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Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Our bikes - 2003 Kawasaki ZRX1200R

(May 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen; pics by Ben Galli Photography

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

See the video

Getting Green

A bit of Eddie in the shed

History. It’s all about history. Well, that’s how it felt when I finally got a quick spin on the now sorted Zed. There were thoughts of former GP star Eddie Lawson and years of failed attempts to own a big naked Kawasaki. I suppose you now want an explanation. Okay, here we go, come into the shed, mind the footpeg…

Eddie Lawson the motorcycle racer first got on my radar thanks to a Kawasaki marketing campaign. Kawasaki in the USA wanted to capitalise on Lawson’s 1981 and 1982 wins in the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) superbikes series and dress up KZ1000 air-cooled fours in the winning green livery.

The glaring colours, which dated back to the seventies, were already familiar to Australians, thanks to local race stars like Gregg Hansford.

Typical of Kawasaki, the motorcycles that adopted the new style from 1982 were fast and conservative in their design. For example, they were still running two-valve heads when competitors were running four-valve units.

Eddie Lawson Kawasaki KZ1000

So there was no special technology. The real ones out of the USA had cut-down seats and Kerker exhausts, retrofitted by dealers.

Over the years, they’ve become valuable and, though I’ve bought a lot of equivalent big naked bikes over the years, a real Lawson replica has so far escaped me. It’s not over yet, but good ones are worth more than I’m prepared to pay.

It’s worth talking about Lawson for a moment, because I believe he’s one of the most under-rated racers on the planet. That may be because he’s always been a little publicity and media-shy. He’s a contemporary of Freddie Spencer, who famously won a 500 and 250 GP world title in the same year.
Lawson got his AMA titles, then went on to win four grands prix world gongs, three with Yamaha and then switched to Honda and got another. He did it partly to annoy his critics (who called him Steady Eddie) and partly to prove it really was him, and not just the bike, that won championships.

‘Quiet Eddie’ would have been a better handle, because he just did the job and went home again. Admirable. That said, it took the flamboyant Valentino Rossi to come along some years later to prove you could win and make racing fun again.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, the Kawasaki. Okay, so having given up on the true licensed Lawson replica (I hope Kawasaki slipped a cheque under Eddie’s pillow for that one), we move on a couple of decades to the early 2000s.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki releases an 1100 four-valver along the way and then the ZRX1200R in 2001, another naked bike that looks suspiciously like the original, though there is no mention of Lawson. It’s got similar paint, and a liquid-cooled engine.

Given the extra cubes, the march of time and hopefully technical prowess, plus those extra eight valves, it produces more power - a breath-taking 92kW, or about 123 horses. That’s a whole 25-ish more than the original. Disappointing? Not really.

Prior to the Kawasaki, I owned a couple of nicely-developed 1981 Suzuki GSX1100s. They had four-valve heads but still only claimed around 100 horses. If you ignored the what would now be regarded as gothic handling characteristics, they were quick and happy motorcycles. Dead easy to ride and still capable, even 30 years after they were made, of putting a big smile on your dial.

The problem was I sold them and had nothing you’d call a big happy naked bike in the shed. Scoff if you like, but there’s nothing to beat a big reliable inline four Universal Japanese Motorcycle for day-to-day satisfaction.

With none of those thoughts in mind – I went to pick up the long-suffering SR500 Yamaha (another story) muggins wandered into the Stafford Motorcycles emporium in sunny Melbourne and damned near tripped over a ZRX1200R in Lawson colours.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

The cosmetics were tired but the engine sounded fine and the price was spot-on. Dammit! I only came to pick up one motorcycle, not two.

A quick scope revealed there was paint and trim to be tidied up, but everything was there. Fine. The dodgy-looking aftermarket exhaust had to go, and I ordered another online.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

It was a stainless steel item out of the UK (but I suspect manufactured in China) branded Black Widow. It arrived quickly and cost just $700 landed, complete with a removable baffle. It looked okay, but I suspect I stuffed up by ordering one for a ZRX1200 rather than a ZRX1200R – the muffler mounts are different.

Anyway, young Don Stafford likes a challenge and quickly made up an alloy bracket to solve the problem.

Then old bike syndrome set in. While he was trying to work out the required jetting, one cylinder went to lunch. It didn’t sound mechanical and a bit of searching revealed a corroded ignition wire connection.

Don has a ton of experience in sorting race bikes and the like, which showed in that it took only two educated guesses to get the jetting spot-on with the new pipe on board.

The result is damned good. A lazy 120-ish horses may not sound like a lot these days, but delivered the right way it’s plenty. There’s easy low-down power, very solid mid-range, and still enough top-end to get your attention. You can blitz the high side of 200 kay quick and easy. Fantastic.

What I like most is what these old-style big fours deliver. They’re slim enough to flit through traffic, are comfortable, and can blitz pretty much anything at the lights. Then you can turn it at the horizon and have lazy day or three away.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Handling and braking (six-spotters on the front) are fine but not perfect. Those shortcomings are more than made up for by the general easy-going nature of the monster.

Now the tuning is sorted, it’s time to clean up the cosmetics. Some buffing and touch up paint will sort a lot of the issues, but I reckon I’ll get a mobile painter in to sort out some of the bigger panels that need a freshen-up. Watch this space...

Kawasaki ZRX1200R


Big green and friendly
Not the sharpest crayon in the box

Kawasaki ZRX1100R

Buyer Guide

See our ZRX1100-1200R buyer guide

See the video

Kawasaki ZRX1200R 2003


TYPE: liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline four
CAPACITY: 1164cc

BORE & STROKE: 69 x 66mm


FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x 36mm Keihin carburettors


TYPE: five-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Steel twin-tube cradle

FRONT SUSPENSION: Conventional 43mm telescopic fork, 120mm travel

REAR SUSPENSION: twin KYB shocks, 120 travel

FRONT BRAKE: 310mm discs with six-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE: 250mm disc with two-piston caliper





FRONT: cast alloy with 120/70 ZR17
REAR: cast alloy with 180/55-ZR17


POWER: 92kW @ 8500rpm

TORQUE: 108Nm @ 6750rpm

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R

Kawasaki ZRX1200R


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