Muscle cars like the Pontiac Firebird are admirable for a number of reasons. One is, of course, its sharp styling. Another is a big V-8. But also because it reminds us of a time when cars were less complicated. Many motorcycle fans also miss the days when owning a sporting bike didn’t require extra funds for bodywork, and a chiropractor. Well, for them, Kawasaki has introduced a bike that, like today’s pony cars, offers high performance, without the complications of so many current machines. But can back to basics really be that much fun?

It can, if it wears the designation ZRX1100. That’s the name of Kawasaki’s latest shot at simplifying the sporting motorcycle. And it’s already hit the bulls eye, quickly becoming one of the top sellers. In fact, the ZRX is one of the most sought after machines of 1999. No wonder it’s sold out in most markets. A task that it could have accomplished on looks alone! Its aggressive ‘80s-era lines and eye-catching green paint, were clearly inspired by the rare KZ1000R Eddie Lawson Replica of 1982.

But the ZRX1100 packs plenty of go, to match its show. Its 1,052cc 4-cylinder engine is derived from that of the mighty ZX11 open class sport bike. But in ZRX trim, it’s been retuned to emphasize mid-range performance, with softer cams, and a quartet of smaller 36-millimeter carbs with Kawasaki’s K-TRIC throttle position sensor, as well as a drain-pipe-size 4-into-1 exhaust that ends in a massive, howitzer-size aluminum can.

And according to our test dyno at Battley Cycles of Gaithersburg, Maryland, puts a stomping 93.2 horsepower and 67.7 pound-feet of torque through the meaty 170-width Bridgestone tire, and does so with a near perfect power curve.

As well as a 5-speed transmission that was a bit notchy when first delivered. But after a thousand miles, quickly smoothed out, and delivered crisp, clean shifts at all speeds.

To bring it down from those speeds, the ZRX is equipped with serious brakes! The front wears dual 310-millimeter discs and 6-piston calipers. While the rear gets a single 250-millimeter plate with a 2-piston caliper.

And to get you around corners, there are fully-adjustable 43-millimeter forks up front, coupled with twin remote-reservoir gas shocks, also fully adjustable, in the rear. All held together by a stiff double-cradle steel frame and a trick, braced aluminum swingarm, that could have come from a real ‘80s-era superbike.

All together, it’s a package that will surprise many with its wide range of abilities. Put it on a twisty road, and its superb balance, effective suspension, and sticky tires give the 490-pound ZRX the feel of a much lighter 600cc sport bike. But with the big-bore grunt out of corners, that you can only get with almost 1100ccs worth of engine.

The wide bars and upright riding position, give you plenty of leverage, making it easy for you to quickly access the ZRX’s sporting capabilities. But the riding position, and flexible suspension, also means plenty of comfort for long highway hauls, while the vintage-style mini fairing provides more wind protection than one might think. Though we did find the thinly padded pilot seat to be better suited to short fun rides than long trips.

The more generously padded passenger section received no such complaints, though the high-mounted footpegs are only suited for a diminutive companion.

But for all its versatility, it’s the ZRX1100’s aggressive real-superbike styling, precise handling and adrenaline pumping engine that really gets us excited.

That, and the fact that you can get it all for a slight increase over the 1999 price of $7,199. Far less than you’d pay for one of today’s more narrowly focused, less user friendly 600s.

And if you just can’t get next to that glaring green paint, the 2000 model year will see this more subdued black finish added to the model lineup.

So, you might want to line up for one of those right now. The Kawasaki ZRX1100 is a breath of sporting motorcycle fresh air, perfect for those of us put off by today’s expensive, uncompromising machines. Stylish, fast and affordable. Believe us, back to basics has never been so much fun!


  • Engine: 4-Cylinder
  • Displacement: 1052 Cc
  • Horsepoewer: 93.2
  • Torque: 67.7 Lb Feet