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Kawasaki ZX-11D
One Year & 20,000 Miles

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I remember sitting on it for the very first time. The salesperson asked me if I needed any help.  The bike was in back, with all the other used bikes where the mechanics tinkered away.  They worked noisily nearby working on their respective bikes.  I was lost in the moment. "Um, no, that's okay.  I'm just looking," I replied not wanting him to ruin my moment.  It just fit.  It was 1994 and the D model had just come out (in '93).  And the talk went on and on.  It was the undisputed 'King of Speed'.  The 'fastest production motorcycle in the world'.  It was also one of the most beautiful motorcycles I had ever seen.   At the time, I was racking up thousands of miles on my Yamaha Venture and buying a sportbike was the last thing on my mind.

But the seed was planted.

The King of Speed and Yours Truly near Susanville

Sportbikes have always fascinated me.  Being a child of the 80's- they all came of age back in those days.  I'll never forget seeing an '86 GSXR go zooming by with that odd looking tail end. That was even before I knew I would become immersed in this whole motorcycle thing.  It would be over a decade later before I would even own a sportbike.  But it's funny how those things never leave you.

It all began...

My first year in college- one of the guys had a solid cream colored CBR 600.  At the time I thought it was a gorgeous motorcycle (ironically, nowadays the '90 CBR seems very dated).  I used to Rollarblade past it purposely just to get a good look at it.  I'd pass it by- over and over, drooling.

Pic care of Jeroen de Roos' ZX11 Repository- Link below
The British Ad for the King of Speed

In 1999, I began to act on my quest for a ZX-11.  I had pictures of it all over my armoire.  Each morning, pictures stared glaringly back at me.  I had read and reread the magazine articles from my vast magazine collection on the ZX-11D debut.  And all those articles were tacked to the wall.  I discovered the central ZX10/ZX11 site on the web (thanks for the pic at left) and drooled all over my keyboard reading every ones comments and enjoying the endless pics.

I have always paid cash for my bikes and this was the most expensive prospect I'd ever undertaken.  I wanted to spend $6000.  It was a lot of money and it would take awhile to save up that much.  I also wanted to get married.  So it made sense to buy the bike first.  Right?

Which one...

I started doing research.  I wanted a red bike.  I had the option of dark green, (which looks black to me).  Or black.  All in solid colors.  But the black came out in '98.  Too new for me.  Plus I needed to find the lowest miles for the best price.  In the fall, an all stock '94 was in the Cycle Trader for $5000.  I wasn't ready to buy yet and didn't have all my money.  It would have been a great deal.

I had no idea what it felt like to ride or even what it sounded like for that matter.  I knew the seating position was much more extreme than my FJ1200 but everything I read regarded it as a capable sport touring machine.

Riding Patterson Pass Road near Livermore
Click the pic to check out Patterson Pass Road

Riding the General's Highway through Sequioa National Park
Click the pic to check out Sequoia National Park

The purchase... Ode to Joy!

Finally an ad appeared and Sarah and I headed for San Francisco to look at it.  It wasn't perfect but used bikes never are.  The guy had just paid 14K cash for a pristine Ducati 916.  His daily rider was a KLR650.  Oddly- he was a very short man eroding any credence to the adage- short people can't ride tall bikes.

You know that feeling when you pull up to some guy's (or gal) place with all that cash burning a hole in your pocket.  Yeah, you do know that feeling.  It felt right and I bought it without even having ridden it.  Did it matter?  This was the bike.

I remember riding it home for the very first time.  I did so gingerly.  A new bike with 135 horsepower.  You could feel it- this raw horsepower- when you opened up the throttle.  I didn't- but yet in my mind, I knew it was there.  I now owned the fastest production bike in the world.  (Okay, okay, so the Hayabusa is a bit faster- but that's what I was thinking at the time.)

The next day after you bring a new bike home is the best.  It's like having a baby.  I parked both bikes out in front of the house and admired them.  I own a ZX-11D.  No one can possibly create that emotion.  Pure childlike glee.

It felt very different than what I was used to. The racer boy positioning takes some acclimation, and the suspension was set up rather stiff, so every bump was an experience- a ballbreaker you might say.  To boot, the bike was quite loud with the competition baffle in the carbon fiber Vance & Hines- which technically, wasn't even street legal (with that baffle).

The zx-11 on Highway 58 near Taft
Headed for Ventura on Highway 58

The first week...

I couldn't keep it under 100mph which you can do in second gear (there's six!).  The acceleration was breathtaking.  Far beyond the capability of my 77 ft-lbs torque 112hp FJ1200.  The ZX-11 has a special spot on the  tach- right about 7000 rpm.  Up the on ramp & hit that 7000 rpm mark and wowie zowie- you can barely hold on!  Water is running out of my eyes and my helmet is being sucked off my head!!  Holy Moly!!

Nothing quite like it.  You have to experience a rush like that.

The wondrous HIghway 447 from Reno to Alturas
Nevada's Highway 447

Note the Vance & Hines SS2R on Hamilton Road to Lick Observatory
Hamilton Road - Note the Vance & Hines 4 in 1

That first month... 

The carbon fiber Vance & Hines SS2R 4in1 w/ competition baffle was a beautacious sound.  A sweet melody flowed from the pipe announcing my arrival at the next stoplight as I split lanes up to the front.  Little kids in backseats crane their necks just to get a look at the glowing red rocket on wheels. The driver can't help but look over (and wonder why the darn thing was so loud). -more on the Vance & Hines-  Light goes green and I'm roaring past 50 mph by the other side of the intersection.  Oh yeah!

The stock seat was terrible so my fiancÚ and I scheduled an appointment with Corbin Saddles in Gilroy, California for each of our motorcycles.  $250 bought a Gunfighter Solo Saddle (no frills). That solved that problem. I then set out to modifying the motorcycle for distance riding. Taller windshield, Hyper-Lights and so on.  Read more about my modifications on my ZX-11 Mods page.

It feels like...

Riding the ZX-11D on a daily basis was a very new affair. The bike feels very long. The reach to the bars is a long one although the weight on the wrists isn't too excessive, and much less then that of the Hayabusa (my next bike).  At stop lights, the clutch pull is tight enough to encourage putting it in neutral and sitting up right. The bike has a 'positive neutral finder' which I quickly grew to love.  My first bike with this feature.  Ever sat at a stoplight and clunked the gears back and forth trying to find neutral?  Roll to a stop in first- one up and the transmission always shifts into neutral.  The bike sits there idling and it's here you notice just how big this bike is. It seems to stretch out in front of you. The gauges sit there quietly waiting to come to life. The motor is a wonderful sound, even with the stock exhaust.

Pulling away from a stoplight, you have this very strange sensation of just a glimpse, a tiny glimpse of how much explosive horsepower you're sitting atop. It's like a thought being whispered into your ear by some unknown voice. The little round grip there on the right, twist it, just twist it. The bike feels heavy at slow speeds yet all the while begging to be let loose. Riding in that racer boy position, the front tire still seems somewhere out in front of you. This isn't a 900RR where it feels like you're hunched over the front tire.  Flowing down the freeway, little kids in cars stare as you pull along side captivated by the bold solid red bike. They wave feverishly vying for your attention. You wave back and roll the gas. You've arrived.

That's what the ZX-11 feels like.

Nine months later and 15,000 miles- I had fallen in love with the 6.2 gallon gas tank.  I can easily ride about 230 miles before worrying about filling up.  And the gas mileage amazes me.  It will hover between 40 to 45 miles per gallon with a very relaxed riding style, some even say they get 50 mpg.  Nonstop one tank at a time freeway riding will also produce this.  Yeah, it amazes me too!

Highway 50 near the summit above South Lake Tahoe

Tune & Service...

At the time of my first tune and service, I chose a local shop I had never used before with a tiny bit of trepidation.  It always makes me nervous to use a new mechanic. (Like trying to find a good doctor.) All the carbs were in great shape, the valves needed 5 shims total and I'd developed an exhaust leak that went from a tiny sound to full on clanging of the manifold against the engine block in a matter of days.  How is this possible I wondered.

Also, I had never had an exhaust leak like this nor have I ever heard of one.  I want to blame my former mechanic who put on the exhaust system when I removed the Vance & Hines, but who knows why?  Ordered all four exhaust manifold gaskets (something my FJ1200 didn't have when I swapped motors myself) and that cured the problem. The problem turned out to be the #1 cylinder- there was a 1 inch chunk missing from the thin brass donut-like gasket.

Road 306 near Stonyford in the Central Valley
Road 306

Only strange thing is the top end was so noisy after the tune-up, like the sound of everything churning inside there sounded like a truck when the bike was at idle.  At speed, obviously the revs and exhaust drowned out the sound.

I disliked the instant change so much I would have paid another $225 to get rid of it. 3000 miles and a month later, the sound diminished.  One too many shims?  Is my mechanic an idiot?

The chain was so badly stretched, I was oiling it every 300 miles as I save up the dough to get a new one. (Owners manual recommends every tankfull of gas.)  I doubt anyone had changed it for the life of the bike.  30K on a chain is pretty impressive.  My previous Tsubaki chain lasted 10K on the FJ1200.  So a chain &  sprockets every year is pretty much what I've come to expect for this much horsepower.  Getting a new chain is like getting a new girlfriend.

Some rear brake pads, a new rear tire and zoom zoom.  Total of $772.  $225 for the tune & service including the spark plugs.  Another $25 for the synthetic oil & filter.  $112 for the rear tire. (Front is $89 for Metzeler Z3 from Motorcycle Accessory Warehouse.  Same tire from Chaparral is $112.)  $20 for the mount & balance.  (I take the tire off & bring it to the shop) $87 for the Tsubaki chain.  $70 for the front & rear sprocket.  $30 for set of rear brakes.

And my renewal for the second year on insurance was $568 from Reliant (Northland out of Minneapolis).  First year was $800.  And no, I don't have anything colorful on my record.  Knock on wood.  Danger lurks around every corner.

Three months and time for a new tire
Three months later

Headed up Clinton Road
Headed for Bishop via Clinton Road

Gripes and Whines...

The bike is rather hard to ride two-up for long rides.  At least according to my 5'4" wife with its racer-boy seating position which pulls the pinion rider forward.  The stock saddle is also slightly sloped forward which further contributes to her disdain.  On the FJ1200- we traveled in every direction two-up and did rather well as long as we stopped often.  The big Ninja though, doesn't work so well for two-up.  A Corbin would solve this.

And in stop and go traffic, the clutch pull can seemingly become rather stiff but normally I never notice it.  Also, I really don't notice all the vibration in the handle bars the original reviews mentioned (compared to?)- or the fading brakes which this model was supposed to be famous for on the track.  I just point the bike and go.

The Longest Day...

Long trips were a bit more difficult (compared to what?...).  My longest was a brisk 782 mile non-stop ride from Crater Lake, Oregon, out to the coast, and then southbound back to Sac. 16 hours of riding only stopping long enough for gas.  I think I stopped for a couple minutes in Coos Bay, Oregon to munch on a Power Bar.  And except for Hwy 101- it was all on country roads.

Kings Mountain Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the Pacific
Kings Mountain Road

But I was in a hurry and was riding as stealthily as I felt was unnoticeable from the local constable(s).  The almost 800 mile ride really did me in.  I was sore for about 3 days and it took 2 days to get the feeling back into my right hand.  I added a throttle lock right after that.  Solved that problem.  That's still the longest non-stop-one-day ride yet on this bike.

Daily Riding...

The only tough thing about the ZX-11D is yes, it is rather heavy.  At 514lbs dry, and a whoppin' 601lbs wet-  it has some heft for a super bike.  Backing it up in parking lots just works for me at 5'9".  If I were shorter, I'd have to push it backwards.  All the original reviews mention this heft but in the same breath glossed over it smoothly by saying quite simply-

Who cares?

It's the King of Speed!

The only time I ever notice the sheer mass (keep in mind I prefer this and it weighs a lot less than my 700lb+ Venture) is in the sweepers if it's a rather flickity road- say Cottonwood Rd for example -pic- is where I'll feel it.  Very high speeds combined with back forth left-right-left curves.  Just flat out speed.

End of the line on La Porte Road 35 miles from Quincy
La Porte Road

Swapping rubber
Another set of tires...

On the other hand, a ride like the Pacific Coast Highway is much different and the big ZX-11 is riding tall.  The Big Sur area is up down, left right, straights, valleys, steep hills, hairpins- you name it.  Horsepower rules all.  And 135 will do just fine.

Heft can be good though, and the ZX plows through the bumps and rarely feels unsettled.  As long as I have traction that is.  And there have been times in the sweepers where I can feel the front tire sliding.  A very strange feeling.

In heavy winds, little bikes like our Kawasaki EX500 are pushed all over the place, but the big Ninja just flows right through unsettled.  How it'd do in Texas, I'm not sure.

In the summer heat of 100+ degree days, the bike will absolutely roast my legs and yeah, I sweat buckets in my leather jacket since I am bit of a fanatic about wearing protective gear even in 100 degree temps.  The fairings are designed just so to pour out the heat. It's like riding in a sauna.

Avoiding rocks on Rock Creek Road north of Placerville
Avoiding rocks on Rock Creek Road

All in all... 

I can honestly say that owning the ZX11 has really been great fun. Not riding for as much as two days brings a tremendous rush when I get back in the saddle.  (And yes, we Californians are spoiled and I have been riding year round- rain or shine for the last eight years.  Rain is actually quite exciting if not rather dangerous.) Just to hit the starter and fire up that 1052cc motor and let 'er warm up a bit.  It's the feeling I suppose. The racer boy position.  The sound of the exhaust.  The wind.  The whole experience.

Highway 1 Big Sur Coastline on the Pacific
Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway

But as for the ZX11 as an all around bike- I would tell anyone who is considering it- that this is a great opportunity to pick up one with low miles and relatively little money.

Now that the Hayabusa, XX Blackbird, and the ZX-12R are here- this little number is going to be rather quickly on the great buy list.

The bike would be a Hayabusa!

Have your ever done something really exciting?

Breathtaking.

Like bungee jumping, scuba diving, skydiving, hell even something as simple as a roller coaster ride.  And imagine that thrill you felt- for merely a few moments.  Now let's say you could recreate that feeling for hours on end.  What a wonderful world that would be!  That's motorcycle riding.  It's just a nonstop thrill.  Imagine putting this motor between your legs- bolt some wheels to it- one for the front, one for the back- and then get on this contraption and ride it.  You aren't inside of it.  You're riding it.

That's motorcycling.

Breather near the top of Old Priest Grade headed for Yosemite

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