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First bike in 16 years

Discussion in 'Bike Reviews, Questions and Suggestions' started by jerrycl, Dec 29, 2006.

  1. I just picked up my first bike in 16 years today and I can confidently say things have changed for the better.

    The last bike I had was in 1190, a Honda CX500 Sports, before my brother wrote the thing off (I think it was an 87 model). It was a horrible-handling bike with a mushy air-shocked front-end and mono-shock rear end. But the motor seemed bullet-proof, if a little under-powered, and it was as-reliable-as-you-like. Once the Honda was written off, I kinda moved on from bikes, travelled OS for a while and became a cage-driver later.

    I was just looking in the bike shop recently, more out of curiosity and boredom than anything else, when I noticed a nice-looking, new Honda 900 Hornet. It was relatively inexpensive at 12K on the road, looked the goods, and I started thinking about the good times I had enjoyed when I owned an 83 model Suzuki Katana 750 in the mid-eighties. Over the next few weeks I found myself thinking about this Hornet more and more - and, strangely enough, I found myself in the bike shop a couple of times just looking at it... :)

    Then I started to do some research on the internet. It appeared that the Hornet was a well-regarded bike - though some reviews suggested it was a little tame at the top of the rev-range and had limited gearing which reduced its top-end speed. Still, I hadn't ridden a bike in over a decade and a half, I told myself, and a modern 900cc sports bike was likely to have more muscle than my old Katana ever had. So I started thinking about how I could juggle my finances to acquire one.

    As I researched more, I came across a review that criticised the lack of adjustable suspension on the Hornet. My old CX500 Sports handled very badly and no amount of adjustment would fix it. I was concerned that if the front suspension on the Hornet was not adjustable there would be nothing I could do about it if it didn't suit me. Apparently, Hornets sold in the US post 2004 do have adjustable front suspension - but no mention of adjustable front suspension is made of this on the Australian Honda website (I'm still not sure of whether the current Hornet in Australia has fully adjustable front suspension though I noticed when I was test-riding the bike yesterday there were some kind of adjustment settings at the top of the forks - I didn't look at it too hard because by then I was thinking about another bike altogether, see below).

    Anyway, with the suspension concerns about the Hornet in mind, I broadened my search to look at a few different new bikes on the market (Suzuki Bandit 1200, Suzuki GSX1400, Yamaha FZ1, Kawasaki ZRX1200R etc...) but all of them were more than I had planned to spend. The Yamaha had some great reviews but was the most expensive of the lot. I saw the Suzuki GSX1400 in the showroom and, despite loving the look of it, came to the conclusion, after thinking about it long and hard, that it was just too much motorcycle for me (I'm 5'4" and 72kg). The Bandit happened to be out of stock the day I went to the Suzuki dealership, but I'd seen a couple of less than favourable user reviews on it. And, in any event, none of these bikes were near the price of the Hornet once on the road.

    Then I stumbled across an advertisment on Ebay (Aust) for a new ZRX1200R that sold on December 19 for 11K flat before on road costs - this was more like the amount of money I could spend. A quick search for reviews on this model bike seemed to suggest that everyone that had ever bought the ZRX was wrapped with it. Fully adjustable suspension, loads of torque, smooth power delivery etc... I telephoned the local Kawasaki dealer the first working day after Christmas and discovered he would do a similar deal on the ZRX to the one I had seen on Ebay - presumably because it would be last year's model in a few days time.

    Having narrowed my search - to basically the only two bikes in that class that I could afford (the Hornet 900 and ZRX1200R) - I headed down to the dealership to check them out. The salesman rode the ZRX out of the shop for my test ride and the first thing that hit me was that, unlike the Suzuki GSX1400, it looked small. Even though it's about the same weight as the Suzuki (at 224kg versus 228kg or so) it doesn't look large at all. However, the ZRX did look very bright Kawasaki Green and I was thinking if only they did it in a deep Navy blue, or some other less-confronting colour, it would look so much better.

    Anyway, I got on the bike and went for a very nervous test ride - I hadn't been on a bike in a decade and a half and I wasn't sure if I hadn't forgotten some riding skills. Also, given this situation, I felt a little uncomfortable riding a bike I didn't own but was only borrowing.

    Once under way, the ZRX didn't seem to have much weight at all. It didn't feel light, but it didn't feel heavy either. What I did notice was that it had an absolutely enormous amount of grunt down low - unlike anything I've ever been on, quite simply stunning. I took the first left past the dealership, into a side-street, opened the throttle maybe half way and the bike just ate-up the road in front like crazy while I was frantically snap-changing up the gears so as not to over-rev the brand-new motor. And that was it, in a couple of seconds I was out of road, travelling radically faster than I had intended on this little side-street, and hard on the picks for the T-junction - awesome!

    I didn't notice any frame flex on the ZRX - unlike my old Katana which had quite a bit of frame flex, though I can remember thinking at the time that the Katana handled quite well generally (hmmm). In fact, to my way of thinking, the ZRX handled beautifully - though I admit I was/am comparing it with bikes I had ridden 15 and 20 years ago. The seat-height and riding position seemed perfect, brakes were good, and it was predictable - though very powerful. I returned to the dealership grinning and said to the salesman "there is nothing at all wrong with that bike - it's all good". Evidently, the bright Kawasaki Green had grown on me during the ride.

    Next the salesman brought the Honda 900 Hornet out, a beautiful looking bike (candy red). I got on it keen to see how it compared to the big Kawasaki. It was immediately noticeably lighter than the ZRX (the specs suggest it's a full 30kg lighter at 194kg) and I felt much more confident riding it. It handled well, had reasonable power (I didn't rev it right out as it was new, but power was good under about 6k), and it rode very well. The sound from the Honda's stock exhaust was nicer than the noises made by the ZRX - it almost sounded sporty whereas the ZRX produces no really-exciting sounds with the stock exhaust.

    But what clinched it for me was when I got the Honda onto a straight section of road and wound it up to 100kmh. I found myself looking for a sixth gear as it was revving at 4k at this speed - after a couple of attempts at shifting up I realised that that 5 gears was all there was to it. By comparison (and maybe this was why I was looking for another gear on the Honda), the ZRX only revved at 3.3k at 100kmh. And, while the ZRX seemed to idle along lazily at this speed, it had more than enough grunt from 3.3k to accelerate quite well from 100kmh in top gear - more than enough for a typical passing manouver - without changing down.

    So, now a day later, I've got a bright Kawasaki Green ZRX in the garage with 300kms on it. I'm very happy with the bike so far, I even find I like the colour :)

    One thing I did notice when riding the ZRX after I picked it up today was that, out on the highway at 120kmh, the wind is very strong (buffets my head around). My old Katana had a tiny little perspex fairing and I remember thinking at the time that this did just about nothing as far as deflecting the breeze. But there was definitely less wind on the Katana than the ZRX (maybe the prone riding position on the Katana made the difference). The CX500 also had a small fairing - similar in shape to the fairing on the ZRX, but larger I think. I don't remember the wind being too strong on the CX500 either. Anyway, after twenty minutes or so at 120kmh on the ZRX I was getting sore neck muscles - maybe I'm just not used to it. I did find that if I hunched over the tank a little the buffeting wasn't anywhere near as bad - but I'm not sure I could do this for hours on end on a long trip. I have to get past the run-in before I find out how bad the wind-rush is at higher speeds.

    Wind problems aside, this bike rocks - running it in is no problem at all because it performs so well under 4,000 rpm. The handling also seems superb - better than anything I've ridden in the past (except maybe my old GSX250 that seemed to handle like it was on rails - when it still had corner clearance that is). My only concern with the ZRX is that there is way-more-than-enough power to get into some very serious trouble. With that in mind, I'm considering taking it slow, or trying to, for some time to come.
  2. HI jerrycl

    Great intro post :cool:

    I often ride with a guy whose got a ZRX - he loves it - it is his second one after an "incident" on Thunderbolts (NSW)

    The wind thing can be a real b!tch though, possibly try another helmet for noise, but in regards to the sore neck, hopefully your body is just getting used to a postion it hasn't been in for a while

    Stay safe and enjoy the new bike.
  3. welcome,
    happy riding on the new kwaka :)
  4. I had a 10 year break from riding while working overseas. When I got back and bought a bike again, one friend said "welcome back to the land of the living". I think that best describes riding - like your alive again.

    Enjoy the bike!

    Another thing I've been told, after a long pause between rides, you tend to ride very carefully for the first few months, but the next few can be the most dangerous (when confidence can exceed skill).
  5. Good yarn, Jerry, although as a baby-Hornet owner, I'm naturally disappointed that you didn't buy the 900; a quick tweak with the sprockets would have sorted the gearing issue, but never mind.

    For your wind problem, get one of these...

    {I have no connection with MCAS, just have one of these fairings}.
  6. Yeah, I think this applies to a lot of things. I've heard that fatal tractor accidents spike just after about three years of operating experience - just when the farmers feel they know their beast.

    The reason I ended up on a Honda CX500 at the end of the eighties was because I was riding the Katana like a complete idiot and realised it was just a matter of time before my number came up. Hopefully, with a bit more maturity I'll have more self control this time around...

    One other thing I'll say about this ZRX is that the mirrors do not stand far enough apart to clear your arms sufficiently when you are riding (i.e. all you can see in half of each mirror is your arm stretching to the handlebar). Rear vision is very poor. I'll have to invest in some mirror extenders.
  7. congrats on the kwaka good choice. After a number of bikes over the years i upgraded from a 1975 z900 to a 2002 zx9 and yeah take it easy for a while :wink: For any questions on your bike or handy hints try looking at www.ksrc-au.com :grin: