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Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003): Review & Buying Guide

By Kev Raymond

Kev's been riding since acquiring half shares in a CZ175 field bike back in the seventies, passed his test in a blizzard on Christmas Eve 1985, and got his first job on a bike mag in 1990. Likes: long distance touring and short-distance twisties. Currently owns a 1987 GSX-R1100, a 1992 Ducati 400SS, a 1973 Honda SS50, a 1978 Honda CX500, a 1988 Honda Bros special, a 1957 Mobylette and a 110cc pit bike. None of them work.



Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) [ Review & Buying Guide ]


The original ZX-9R of 1994 was a bit of a stop-gap model, designed to hold Honda's all-conquering Fireblade at bay for a few years while Kawasaki cooked up a whole new model. Trouble was, by the time that new C model arrived in 1998, it was upstaged by Yamaha's awesome YZF-R1. Shame really, as it was a big step on the from the original B model. For starters it was a whopping 30kg lighter, and with a claimed 143bhp from a completely revised engine (up from a claimed 125bhp for the original), it had plenty of road-going stomp. The chassis was a bit more compact and nimble as well, but it's fair to say that although the suspension was better on paper than the old bike's, the ride quality wasn't noticeably better. For 2000, the E1 model got a bolt-on subframe, a subtly redesigned fairing, bigger brake discs and more midrange as well as a little more power. Finally, 2002 saw a new swing arm, different seat unit, larger discs again (320mm) and a return to four-piston brake calipers as well as engine upgrades including a heavier crank, and revised carburettors to help the ZX-9R pass increasingly strict emissions tests. For 2004 it was superceded by the absolutely mental ZX-10R – impressive, with brutal performance, but nowhere near such a useable a road performer as the ZX-9R had been.

And a good ZX-9R is still a tremendous road bike, reliable and affordable as well as still being capable of shoving your eyeballs to the back of your skull when the mood takes you.


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) Price

In 1998, a shiny new ZX-9R C1 would have carried a swing ticket showing £9295, plus on the road costs. That was almost exactly the same as a new Fireblade, and a couple of hundred quid cheaper than the equally new Yamaha YZF-R1. Fair to say though, most buyers weren't bothered about that couple of hundred quid – they'd have left that ticket swinging and headed down the road to the Yamaha dealer because they wanted the R1 and they wanted it badly. Dealers couldn't get enough bikes to keep up wth demand. And the '98 R1 is still more sought-after than the ZX-9R, which is very good news for anyone looking for a bargain. Half-decent early R1s start around £2500, with dealers wanting double that and more for really nice ones, but you can get an equivalent ZX-9R for under two grand and a really, really good one for under three. Sure, you'll find a few dealers and chancers asking silly money for late, mint, low mileage examples (at time of writing there were a couple of late 5000 milers with £4500 and £5000 asking prices) but assuming you're looking for a daily ride rather than an iffy investment, £2000–£2500 gets you the widest choice of unmolested metal.


1998 Kawasaki ZX-9R C1 1


Power and torque

If you've ridden any old-school Kawasaki sportsbike of the 1990s, you'll be right at home here – it has that trademark big K feel of solid, unburstable aggression, reinforced by a deep intake growl from the airbox that turns to a spine-tingling howl at higher revs. Compared with the late 90s Fireblade, the ZX-9's power curve is stronger up to about 7500rpm, dips a bit from there to 8500rpm then takes off as the Blade tails away – the slight flat spot at 8000rpm makes the big bulge at the top end feel as if it kicks in even harder. It's impressive - so long as you don't also compare it with the same year's R1, which absolutely murders both Honda and Kawasaki from 4000rpm all the way to redline...


Engine, gearbox and exhaust

The ZX-9R motor has always had a reputation for reliability. Keep on top of oil changes and valve checks and it'll go on pretty much forever. Fortunately, it's easy to service too, with no complicated electronics and plenty of space for easy access. You don't even need to remove the fairing to change the oil and filter, which is nice. Stick to mineral oil if you can – full synth can cause clutch slip and excessive consumption. With 4000-mile change intervals you'll be glad of the saving anyway... Oh, be careful when re-tightening the sump plug – it's easy to strip the threads if you're heavy handed.

Gearbox problems aren't unknown, but they're often caused by a seized linkage pivot rather than a basic fault. If the pivot can't move freely the return spring inside the box can't do its job properly, resulting in missed gears and eventual mechanical mayhem. So, keep that pivot clean and freshly lubricated. Many ZX-9Rs have aftermarket exhausts – always ask if the original is still with the bike and grab it if the answer's yes. Also ask if the carburation's been set up properly to suit – all ZX-9Rs run weak as standard (it's an emissions thing - the later the bike, the leaner it runs) and aftermarket pipes almost always make it worse. Combine that with crap modern petrol and you have a recipe for flat spots and hesitation. Which brings us to...



Two basic problems: the lean-running mentioned above, and carburettor icing in cold/damp weather. The latter can be kept at bay by making sure the carb heating circuit is clean and free-flowing (some owners recommend removing the thermo valve in the circuit as it can be an extra restriction). If you still have problems, try posher fuel (with less ethanol) in bad weather. You can also try an additive like Silkolene FST. The ideal solution for the lean running issues is a proper dyno setup (by someone who understands carburettors rather than a laptop), but there is a quick and dirty solution which will improve things on the cheap. You need to raise the needles in the carb slides to make the mixture a bit richer in the midrange, but they're not adjustable, so you need some very thin - 0.5mm - washers with a 3mm hole and 6mm diameter. Whip the carb tops off and remove the slides, then pull the needles and fit a washer between the needle and slide. 0.5mm is a good start. Anything over 1mm is probably going a bit far but it'll vary from engine to engine. Balance the carbs carefully and tweak the pilot screws to get a steady idle if necessary, then test. Might take you two or three goes to get it right but it's worth the time.



Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) Economy

When the ZX-9R was new, no one cared about the fuel consumption. Sportsbikes were for thrashing, and who cared whether that meant you'd be getting through juice at the rate of 30-odd mpg? But things change, and as the ZX-9R's owners have matured and got (marginally) more sensible, there's also been a huge increase in fuel cost as well as more limited opportunities for exploring the bike's potential without getting seriously nicked. Even so, you'll be doing pretty well to get much more than 40mpg out of a ZX-9R, and high thirties is a more realistic average for mixed riding. That means you'll be fumbling for the reserve tap after around 125 miles, at which point you've got 25 miles before you need to panic, then maybe another six or seven before you need to push...


Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

The suspension is the ZX-9R's weak point. Even when new it was pretty crude in comparison with the R1 and Blade – stiff, overdamped, unforgiving. Odd really, because it's fundamentally good quality, just poorly developed. With the benefit of 20-odd years of knowledge though, a good specialist can transform the forks with better valving, oil and springs, and have a decent bash at the rear shock too – although a higher spec replacement is probably a better bet if you have the extra cash. Hagon and YSS both do basic spec but high quality units for under 300 quid, with posher Nitron shocks starting at around £460 and running up to over £850. C models sat a bit low at the back as well – you can fit the shorter suspension tie rods from E and F models to jack it up a bit. While you're at it, make sure all the suspension pivots are properly greased – it's common for owners to neglect them. Get that suspension sorted out and you'll have a smooth-steering, supple ride. The chassis is well up to anything you can throw at it, and although it's heavy by modern standards that gives it a feeling of stability and confidence that lets you push pretty hard in the bends.


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) Brakes

Six pot calipers for the C and E models, back to four-pots for 2002's F model, and all of them made by Tokico. The six-pots were never popular, with a heavy feel at the lever even when new, and prone to problems with corrosion and difficulty in keeping them properly bled. The four-pots are a LOT better, but still suffer with corrosion and decreasing efficiency. You can make a huge improvement by fitting Nissin four-pots as used on the Suzuki RF900 and Bandit 1200 – more power and feel, and easier to keep sweet. A Brembo master cylinder as fitted to early 2000s Aprilia Mille and Falco models is a worthwhile upgrade too.



Comfort over distance and touring

Yes, it's a sportsbike, so it's no armchair ride, but it's a sportsbike from the days before racetrack readiness trumped road useability, and it had by far the least extreme riding position of its class when new. So, it's built on a generous enough scale to provide ample room for most people, and a relatively relaxed riding position by modern standards. It's even relatively comfortable for pillions, and has a proper grab rail (the only one of its class to have such luxury at the time) so they have some chance of holding on at least. They'll have to hold on tight though, especially over bumps, because of the stiff suspension (see above). Better to leave the pillion at home though (or suggest they buy their own bike) at which point the ZX-9R makes a great solo tourer, with plenty of room to strap a big bag on the seat.


Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

The ZX-9R is mercifully free of unnecessary complication. The only thing that could be remotely described as a rider aid is the reserve tap... You won't usually see ZX-9Rs adorned with aftermarket tat either (exhaust systems excepted) but a rear hugger and front mudguard extender are both pretty much indispensable for all-weather use, and high mileage owners often fit chain oilers to ease maintenance chores.


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) verdict

The world may not have loved the ZX-9R back in the day, but it's learned to love it since. A combination of outstanding reliability, ease of maintenance and affordability make it a far more sensible choice now than it ever was when it was new. Sure, the suspension was never much good, but a few hundred quid will sort that out no problem, and then you've got something with great ride quality as well as more than adequate handling, power and brakes to have fun on todays crowded, patchily-surfaced roads as well as being able to ace the odd track day AND whisk you off for a couple of weeks of Alpine pass-storming in the summer. Great bikes, and there are usually plenty to choose from (unlike the earlier B models, which are getting rare now). Find a good one, keep it nice and you''re sorted for ease and whizz.


Three things we love about the ZX-9R…

  • Simplicity

  • Reliability

  • Affordability


Three things we don’t…

  • Carb icing in winter

  • Six-pot brakes can be troublesome

  • Finish not the best



Kawasaki ZX-9R (1998-2003) spec

Original price

£9,925 (1998 C1 model)

Current price range




Bore x Stroke


Engine layout

Four cylinder four stroke

Engine details

DOHC, 16v, liquid cooled, carburettors

Power (tested)

130bhp (96.9kW) @ 10,000rpm

Torque (tested)

72 lb-ft (97.5Nm) @ 9100rpm

Top speed



6 speed, chain final drive

Average fuel consumption

38mpg tested

Tank size

19 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

159 miles

Reserve capacity

33.5 miles (manually switched 4 litre reserve)

Rider aids



Aluminium twin spar

Front suspension

46mm conventional forks

Front suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping

Rear suspension

Rising rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping

Front brake

296mm discs, six-piston Tokico calipers

Rear brake

220mm disc, twin-piston Tokico caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17




2050mm x 720mm 1155mm (LxWxH)



Ground clearance


Seat height


Kerb weight

Approx 205kg


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