It’s the American way. If 500cc is good, then 1200 is better, right? Not necessarily. I happily rode a modified Suzuki GS500 for years, but I always thought I wanted more. I eventually succumbed to the horsepower bug and traded the little air cooled twin for a big, beautiful metallic green 2001 Kawasaki ZRX1200R in classic Eddie Lawson livery.
The ZRX1200R really is a gorgeous machine, but it’s a beast. First gear sees you past the posted speed limit. Second gear flirts with triple digit speeds, and there are still three more gears to kick. Pumping approximately 130 horsepower from its Muzzy piped, jetted, and K&N filtered inline four, the big Kawasaki tripled the power output of my old GS500 while adding only about 100 pounds of dry weight. Sure, that’s a 25% weight increase when we’re talking about machines that weigh a few hundred pounds, but look at the power to weight differential.
The ZRX accelerates like its been shot out of a cannon. Snick the shifter into gear, roll on the throttle, let out the clutch, drop your weight over the tank to keep the front end on the ground, and hang on until you run out of road…which happens fast. It’s difficult to describe the feeling that comes with that rate of acceleration, but it’s a little like the joy of Christmas morning mixed with an adrenaline high and a touch of fear.
Eventually fear overcame adrenaline. Don’t get me wrong. The Kawasaki was tons of fun to ride and I’m glad I owned it, but the bike was a handful. I eventually came to realize that what I loved most about the GS500 was that it was quick enough to toss around and have some fun, but not powerful enough to throw you off unless you were really asking for trouble. On the Suzuki I could grab a handful of throttle coming off an exit ramp with my knee just off the pavement and the bike would pull hard from the apex and wind out to the far edge of the lane. Try that on the ZRX and the big Kawi would immediately step out or stand up to show you who’s boss. Where the GS required frequent gear changes to keep the engine in its powerband, the ZRX seemed to make huge power everywhere. That’s not a bad thing, but it requires constant vigilance.
I love that the ZRX1200R is not a “me-too machine”. It’s not a bike you’ll have a hard time picking out of the lineup at a bike cruise. It’s a fun, fast, pretty motorcycle that combines sportbike power in an ergonomic package.
At the end of the day though, I find it a lot more fun to ride a slow bike fast than vice-versa. For the type of riding I have the time and space to do, I could never tap the power and speed potential generated by the big green monster. And that’s really the moral of the story here. Before you give up a good thing for an object of lust, think hard about what the trade really means. For me, big power on a bike that was higher (I’m 5’6″ and the Kawi was a little taller than I’d prefer) and heavier didn’t add up to more fun. Your mileage may vary.