‘ I bought mine in ’ 86 and have it now. It’s still fast, handles and I love it’
When it comes to socalled modern classics there’s one bike that arguably outshines even Ducati’s 916 – the hugely important, significant and successful 1984 Kawasaki GPZ900R Ninja.
The original Ninja had it all. It not only redefined the superbike in engineering and performance terms, it was great-looking, had an evocative name, proved successful in racing (mostly at the TT) and even starred in the movie Top Gun.
In fact, the huge popularity that the new Kawasaki’s all-round success created is probably the only reason the Ninja isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the 916 more often – it’s simply too commonplace to be considered a true classic.
Yet it’s that very popularity that is one of the reasons the game-changing GPZ900R was so significant.
MCN reader Chris Mckee is a major fan. “This was the biggest game-changer in my 40 years of motorcycling,” he said. “I finally got a new GPZ900R A3 in late 1985 and it was a revelation with its speed, handling and, most importantly, stability. Every superbike before would weave in a straight line at high speed. This was the first bike you could just go straight to max with absolute stability.”
Brit Mike Wood, now in Kansas, USA, is another: “I took delivery of a GPZ900R in April 1984 and it was undoubtedly one of the best bikes I have owned. It was so fast, handled better than the Ducati Pantah I’d owned before and it recalibrated my understanding of performance. I still regret selling it.”
If all of that sounds like the GPZ900R was a big deal then that’s because, engine and chassis were developed in tandem, novel, at the time, which led to the compact, liquid-cooled engine design, pioneering full fairing and more.
And third, the new Kawasaki proved to be so effective, tearing up the superbike performance rulebook at one stroke, that the Ninja became the new design template for every superbike, which followed. Liquid-cooled, 16-valve, transverse fours mounted in sophisticated, compact chassis was suddenly the required recipe for any Japanese sports contender. It still is, pretty much, today.
And that sheer longevity is probably the most significant thing about the Ninja. When launched to the world’s press at Laguna Seca, California in late 1983 it didn’t just make a good impression – it blew everyone away, running rings around the new (but still air-cooled and old school) GPZ1100 launched at the same time. And, if that wasn’t enough, drag racer Pee Wee Gleason, blew everyone’s minds by posting 10.5-second standing quarters.
From there it went to dominate every group test then decimate the TT. No wonder it proved a best seller.
But best of all, it kept on impressing and winning – for years to come. Although eventually outstaying its welcome, the GPZ9 remained in production for a massive 19 years and was truly valid through most of them. Although by 2003 it was more ageing sports-tourer than superbike, it was still decent and still fondly thought of by the many thousands who had one. It still is today.
Reader Andy Welland is one of them. “I bought my Ninja in 1986 and still have it today,” he told MCN. “In all that time I have never felt the need to buy another Jap inline four. It is still fast, handles really well and I still love it.”
MCN reader Victoria Harvey added: “Stunned by the performance figures, mesmerized by Geoff Johnson at the TT, I wanted one but in 1984 I wasn't quite man enough. Other bikes came and went but the longing remained; 12 years later at 12.01am on August 1, I took possession of a brand new A10. Husband was jealous and said, 'it's me or the bike'. I still have the bike. ‘Old Ninj’ is part of me and I am part of him.”
The GPZ9 has that affect on people. Lots of them.
Ôthis was the first superbike where you could just go straight to max with absolute stability’ CHRIS MCKEE, MCN READER
well, it was. Conceived to be a cleansheet successor to Kawasaki’s Z1 family of air-cooled, two-valve fours, the Ninja was the result of an unprecedented amount of effort and innovation. First, it was developed in complete secrecy over six years, while most modern motorcycles get just three. Second, it was cutting edge in every respect; from the outset, the
Even today the 900 is fast and fun