The introduction of a new flagship bike is a great way for any motorcycle manufacturer to head into a new decade and this is exactly what Kawasaki did heading into the 1990’s when they created the world’s first hyperbike; the ZX11 (ZZ-R1100).
With several models already pushing the limits of speed and the years of development into bikes like the 1000RX and ZX10 under their belt, the sequel was looking promising. Both bikes were evolutions of the popular and successful GPZ900R and the brand-new flagship, the ZX11 was largely the result of the lessons learned from this iconic machine.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX11 Review
Despite outwardly looking identical to the engine in the ZX10 and indeed starting off as the same unit, the engine in the ZX11 shares no parts with that of its predecessor. The power plant in the ZX11 was given a thorough going over by the engineers at Kawasaki.
They increased the displacement to 1,052 cc, the redline of the engine was also increased by 500 rpm but thanks to a stronger crank and bottom end, no loss in reliability was experienced.
The ZX11 engine’s cylinder heads kept the attributes that had come to be considered standard for the ZX series, including large valves, hand-finished ports, and a narrow-included valve angle of 30 degrees. On the ZX11, a digital electronic ignition similar to the ones used on the previous ZX models was also employed.
In addition to the advanced cylinder heads and valves designed to make the most of the inlet forces, the ZX11 took this development further than the previous models and introduced a ram air inlet system; the first production motorcycle to feature this technology.
A compact valve lift working mechanism that enables the valves to be adjusted at a steeper included angle for a straighter passage into the chambers was another new feature on the ZX11.
The aerodynamic department conducted substantial research, drawing on knowledge gained from earlier work on the GP500 racer of the early 1980s and the ZX series road bikes. A big bulbous front nose allowed for a high-top speed by reducing drag and simultaneously redirected the unwanted airflow into the ram ducts.
These drive airflow into the 15-litre air box hidden beneath the fuel tank before passing through the 40mm carbs and directly into the engine.
A sensor directly aft of the intake vent detects airflow when the ZX11 is travelling quickly, and once it reaches a given speed, additional fuel is fed through the semi-downdraft 40 mm Keihin carburettors, providing the optimal fuel mix.
All of these modifications and advancements have led to a 9.3 percent boost in power over the ZX-10. boosting its output from 135 to 147bhp.
Even with the engine cantered forward, the ZX11’s 228 kg bulk is primarily spread in the back. The poor suspension system results in tail sag, which can make the front end seem light while accelerating hard.
All but the tallest riders must stretch to get past the enormous tank, but once seated, the bike becomes significantly smaller. Once the ZX11 is moving, all of that weight and mass vanish, giving it a more agile 600-like feel than a hefty hyperbike.
In keeping with the ZX11’s origins as a sports tourer, Kawasaki provided it with a centerstand, two odometers (one for measuring fuel mileage and the other for tracking travel distance), and swing-up hooks for baggage cords.
Kawasaki Ninja ZX11 Specs list
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 16 valve, DOHC, inline four
Capacity: 1,052 cc
Max Power: 147 bhp / 108 kW @ 10,500 rpm
Max Torque: 110 Nm / 81.1 lb ft @ 8,500 rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Top speed: 177 mph / 285 kph
Fuel capacity: 21 L / 5.5 US Gal
Seat height: 780 mm / 30.7 inches
Wet weight: 228 kg / 503 lb
Kawasaki ZX11 Variants
1990 ZX11 C1 model launched.
The all-new record breaking ZX11 is launched. Available in Black/Blue and Red/Silver paint schemes.
No mechanical improvements but two new paint schemes were released: Ebony/Grey and Violet/Purple.
No mechanical improvements again but all fittings and the frame are now painted black. Paint schemes for this model were Black or Red/Ebony.
Various updates including an improved (stronger) subframe, floating front discs, larger tank and improved performance via a new exhaust system.
Nothing to note but a colour scheme: Candy Wine Red and Teal Green.
A digital clock is added to the dash and two-tone wine red becomes the new colour scheme available.
No mechanical improvements again. Plain red or luminous green are added to the colour options.
Increase in power to try and keep up with the new Honda Blackbird.
Factory fitted alarm and immobiliser now fitted as standard.
The last of the ZX11 models to roll off the production line. Now only available in Red/Grey.
2002 Model discontinued. Replaced with ZX12C (ZZ-R1200).
Buying a Used Kawasaki ZX11
The ZX11 is still a dependable workhorse; many owners report driving over 70,000 miles without any problems, and the majority of used vehicles on the market have odometers in the 40,000-mile range.
Earlier high mileage vehicles had a few instances of second gear breakdown documented, but with the 1993 release of the D model, there have been almost no cases. In general, if a C model has travelled 12,000 miles or more and the gearbox is still in good shape, there are no more concerns.
There are a handful on the second-hand market in the UK currently, the one above caught my eye as a fantastic offer in one of the better colour schemes of wine red and black the ZX11 was offered in.
It does have quite high mileage at around 65,000 but is offered with a full year’s MOT with no advisories and is a D3 variation, so comes with the improvements Kawasaki made over the original. The best part, it’s just £1,295.
For those living stateside there are even more available to you currently. This is a very low mileage offering at 11,000 miles, is the D9 variation, so the last produced and looks to be in great cosmetic condition.
It’s priced at $4,000 which might feel quite high for a bike that’s 21 years old but the value of the ZX11 has been on the increase in recently years and looks to continue that trend as it approaches classic bike status.
It’s been fun recently researching the Japanese battle of speed in the 1990s. For those engineers who had the freedom to experiment and push the boundaries of technology, the incessant desire to go faster without the consequences of emission rules or other limitations holding them back must have been thrilling.
Alongside the innovations and speed, I really get the impression that the Japanese manufacturers built their flagship 90’s motorcycles to last and the ZX11 is certainly one of these.
However, since Kawasaki had all but abandoned the Ninja ZX11 after the D model was launched and was instead concentrating on the ZX12R and ZX12C, even the later versions didn’t actually receive a proper update and the styling was never changed or modernised and looks quite dated.
In comparison, even today, the Honda Blackbird and Suzuki Hayabusa wouldn’t appear out of place among the modern, sleek-lined, LED-equipped bikes on the market.
Like many others, for me Honda is synonymous for reliability. Not a single one of the six Honda’s I’ve owned have let me down mechanically. As a result, I definitely err towards a Honda when faced with a choice of similar bikes to choose and it’s the same with the fast three of the 90’s.
I’d still take the Blackbird over the Ninja ZX11 or Hayabusa. However, that’s a personal choice and I honestly believe that Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki were going all out on these leviathan machines and that buying one today, even after two decades, would be a good decision.