Skip to main content

Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) - Review & Buying Guide

Bike journo for a quarter of a century









Overall BikeSocial rating


Kawasaki’s ZRX1200 is one of the finest four-cylinder retros ever built. The Japanese marque has a real knack for nostalgia, packing the very essence of its brand into brilliant, classically styled roadsters that also deliver the punch and usability of more modern machines – the latest Z900RS being a prime example.

The 1997 ZRX1100 set the standard, blending the ‘Eddie Lawson’ lines of an early ’80s Z1100R (itself a nod to Lawson’s much modified, double AMA championship-winning Z1000R racer) with the forceful low and midrange drive of a ZZ-R1100, all wrapped in a modern twin-shock chassis. Unsurprisingly the ZRX11 became a worldwide hit, even inspiring a 400cc version for Japan’s home market.

Keeping competitors at bay required an uplift, however, and four years after its launch the ZRX gained 113cc to become the 1165cc ZRX1200, only this time in two flavours – the bikini faired R and a new half-faired tourer, the S (there are actually three models if you include the naked, round headlamp ‘C’ model, but that never made it to the UK).

That extra capacity lifted an already impressive roadster into the class’s defining offering, and the ZRX remains a strong choice today on the ever-buoyant modern classic market. Mint examples of the R can demand as much as £9000 (almost £3k more than when new) because a) owners tend to hang onto them, such is their appeal, so consequently b) demand often out-strips supply, keeping prices strong.

If R prices don’t agree with your wallet, the S, with its larger fairing and better distance capability, can be had for considerably less coin – sometimes thousands less for similar age/mileage/condition, simply because they don’t quite live up to the bikini-faired R’s ELR looks. And that makes them something of a steal, especially when you consider an S packs the same meaty 122bhp motor, identical chassis with show-piece underbraced swingarm (just like Eddie’s racer), piggyback twin shocks, sumptuous seat and 12-pot front braking set up. On top of that, the S comes with superior mirrors, an updated three-dial dash with additional fuel gauge, and a screen that’s fit for all day M-way cruising.

But whichever ZRX you chose, you can’t lose. Here’s why…

  • Still the most stylish big retro out there

  • Punchy motor

  • Great fun to ride – especially the R

  • R model prices are getting salty

  • Can quickly loose its lustre if not meticulously cared for

  • Previous owners; too many favour polished rims and bolt-on tat

Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) Price

The ZRX1200R was a development of the previously popular ZRX1100, first launched in 1997. Enlarging the ZZR-1100 derived engine by 113cc endowed Kawasaki’s retro styled roadster with enough extra oomph to make an already excellent machine noticeably better. The half-faired S was launched alongside the 1200R, and while it doesn’t enjoy quite the same visual presence as its bikini faired sibling, the S’s extra wind and weather protection gives it the edge over distance. That said, a huge chunk of the ZRX’s appeal is aesthetic and in the UK at least the S couldn’t match the R in terms of sales. It creates less demand on the used market too, with prices more subdued than for the R. A wise buyer might therefore buy an S and convert it to R spec – and still be quids in…

ZRX1200R values: Rough £3000-£4000; Tidy £5000-£7000; Mint £8000-£9000

Evolution of the previous and much admired ZRX1100. Increased bore and stroke raised capacity from 1052 to 1165cc. Styling and chassis the same (visually) as the 1100, with Eddie Lawson style under-braced swingarm, twin shocks, steel cradle frame, bikini fairing and tear drop style clocks, although a longer swingarm and revised swingarm mount changed the geometry slightly. Only minor detail changes made throughout production run, the most notable being the change in 2005 from black mild steel headers and brushed aluminium finish silencer to full stainless steel system. 223kg dry weight, 122bhp. Colours: green/white/blue, blue/white/black, red/white/black.

ZRX1200S values: Rough £2500-£3000; Tidy £3000-£5000; Mint £5500-£6500

Half-faired touring version of ZRX, launched in 2001 alongside the 1200R. As well as offering greater protection from the elements, thanks to the frame-mounted fairing and taller screen, the S also features ZX-9R-style three-dial instruments with a brushed metal surround. Slightly heavier than the R, at 227kg. Same 122bhp motor and chassis. Not as popular in the UK as the R; dropped from UK market at the end of 2003, although still sold in Europe until 2006. Colours: blue/white/black, red/white/black, graphite/gold/black, red/silver/blue, silver/red/blue.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) Engine and Performance

Kawasaki have long favoured evolution over constant revolution. The ZRX’s liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16v inline-four motor is a case in point, tracing its lineage back to the ZZ-R1100 that first appeared in 1990. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just tweak it.

While the ZRX1100’s engine architecture is identical to the ZZ-R’s – same 76 x 58mm bore and stroke giving 1052cc – the ZRX was deliberately retuned with a focus on low and midrange drive rather than top-end performance. Compression was dropped slightly from 11.0:1 to 10.1:1, carb size reduced from 40mm to 36mm, cam timing made less radical and the ZZ-R’s sixth gear was dropped. Claimed power and torque for the ZRX11 is 98bhp and 78lb.ft compared to the ZZ-R at 147bhp and 81.1lb.ft, so in the retro this four-cylinder mill gets a far more leisurely life.

Making the 1100 into a 1200 required an increase in both bore and stroke (from 76 x 58mm to 79 x 59.4mm), taking the ZRX1200 out to 1165cc. There’s extra torque – up several lb.ft from 78 to 83 – but the most significant gain is in power; an additional 24bhp, if Kawasaki’s claims are to be believed. In 1200cc guise the ZRX motor is a fabulous unit, especially on A and B roads where it can employ its grunt to surge off corners as well as cruise with ease. Max torque comes into play at a leisurely 7000rpm so short-shifting on a 1200 is enough to haul serious road without breaking a sweat.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) Handling & Suspension

The ZRX’s chassis is old school – a tubular steel cradle frame with twin shocks – but its componentry owes more to modernity than heritage. The forks, although conventional teles, are sturdy at 43mm in diameter and fully adjustable to boot. Likewise the remote-reservoir twin KYB shocks offer a full range of adjustment, and the hollow-three spoke 17in wheels are good for modern 120/180 section rubber.

The tubular, underslung swingarm apes that of Lawson’s AMA race bike – Kawasaki extended its length by an inch between 1100 and 1200 models, to cope with the bigger bike’s extra oomph, and make it less prone to wheelie off the throttle. The swingarm pivot position was also revised for the 1200.

Handling is predictable, stable and more agile than the twin-shock chassis may suggest, but when the suspension will cry ‘enough’ when pushed like a sportsbikes. Smooth, considered inputs are the key to rapid progress on a ZRX. Six-pots front calipers are really for show – they were a ‘thing’ for a while in the 1990s, but the ZRX’s set-up is no more powerful than a quality 4-pot system.

A later Japan-only model, known as the ZRX1200 DAEG, was released in 2008, featuring fuel-injection, a 6-speed ’box, updated styling and a revised chassis.


Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) What to look for

Exhaust header pipes: Pre-2005 bikes came with black, mild steel downpipes and a brushed aluminium silencer. The downpipes rot, both inside and out if condensation gets its way, so if you look at a ZRX that’s still on its standard system, check it thoroughly or budget for a new pipe – decent used stainless pipes go for between £300-£400; quality aftermarket, like Yoshimura, much more.

Engine: A strong unit, especially if treated to fresh oil every 4000 miles. But owners do report some niggles. Starter chain tensioners can fail, causing the tensioner to come in contact with the clutch basket (you’ll see contact marks on the basket with the oil filler cap removed, if it’s an issue). Valves clearance inspection is every 8000 miles, although owners report not needing the make adjustments until over 20K.

Head bearings and front wheel bearings: Some ZRX owners – particularly those with R models – love a cheeky wheelie. But too many can take their toll on the head bearings and front wheel bearings. Check for play/notchiness.

Cam chain tensioners: You’ll know; you’ll hear the cam chain clattering. Not a huge problem or expensive fix. Go for a manual tensioner and do away with the auto system’s tendency to fail.

Radiator: Can crack near the top mount. Dirt can become trapped around and behind the radiator’s rubber mounting pads. If not regularly cleaned this can build up, allowing corrosion a foothold – worst case scenario, it’ll rot through.

6-pot calipers: ZRX’s are big, fast, heavy things, so the front brakes get a proper workout. Consequently, and because of the 6-pot calipers, discs can wear and/or warp with tedious regularity. Caliper rebuilds can be expensive – bigger pads/extra seals and pistons – so factor this in if you think any potential purchase could do with a brake overhaul.

Finish: Generally ok, but some of the paint/plating finish on the chassis and components can be a bit thin. Bolts and fasteners have a history of working loose – even those attaching the swingarm to the frame; you’ll know because the handling will feel odd/vague. ZRXs are all about image, so you’ll want yours looking sweet.

Bolt-ons: Aftermarket ‘upgrades’ can be a mixed bag. High quality components, such as Brembo calipers, Yoshimura pipes, Öhlins/Nitron shocks are all worth having (get the stock stuff too), but anything cheap, tasteless or adverse in terms of performance/handling/styling should be avoided or used to barter the price down. That sort of stuff does not increase a modern classic’s worth.


Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) Rivals

2002 Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit

Hugely popular naked or half-faired (S model) roadster with meaty, bullet-proof GSX-R1100 derived motor, competent budget chassis and old-school styling. Terrific value for money, especially compared to the ZRX, but corrosion/patina can be an issue, as can an excess of tasteless bolt-ons fitted by previous owners. Great choice if you’re on a budget.

2005 Honda CB1300S

Fabulous twin shock roadster blending classic style (the nod to Honda’s CB1100R is obvious) with modern(ish) punch and ride. Half-faired S version makes an excellent road tool – plenty of wind protection coupled with a creamy motor and all-day-comfy riding position. Perhaps the closest rival to Kawasaki’s ZRX models.

2002 Yamaha XJR1300

Air-cooled retro roadster with bags of attitude, style and stomp. Mega, silky smooth, unburstable motor (its roots trace right back to the 1984 FJ1100) and softly set chassis give the XJR’s ride a wafty quality. SP version with look-a-like Öhlins shocks, blue-spot calipers and speed block inspired paint is arguably the one to go for. Still top value.

Suzuki GSF1200 Bandit, 2002 | Approx Price: £1600-£3500

Read more




Honda CB1300S, 2005 | Approx Price: £3800-£6000

Read more




Yamaha XJR1300, 2002 | Approx Price: £3000-£4500

Read more




Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) Verdict

The ZRX design may be 26 years-old now, but a tidy 1200 (R or S) is still a mightily effective road tool. Immense fun to ride – that punchy motor and beefy chassis work together beautifully – and still a stylish rascal to boot, the ZRX keeps on giving.

Obviously, the R wins in terms of looks, but the S takes back points in terms of its versatility and value. If you’re handy with spanners, it’s worth looking at buying a cheaper S and converting it to R spec, although you’ll have to adapt the slightly longer wiring loom.

If you’re after something fast and fun, that’s as rewarding to ride as it is to polish and cherish, Kawasaki’s ZRX1200s tick every box.

If you’d like to chat about this article or anything else biking related, join us and thousands of other riders at the Bennetts BikeSocial Facebook page.

Kawasaki ZRX1200R/S (2001-2006) – Technical Specification

Original price£6395 R; £6595 S
Current price range£5000-£9000
Bore x Stroke79mm x 59.4mm
Engine layoutLiquid-cooled, DOHC, 16v inline-four
Power122bhp (88.9kW) @ 8500rpm
Torque82.6lb-ft (112Nm) @ 7000rpm
Top speed151mph R; 153mph S
Transmission5-speed, wet, multiplate clutch, chain final drive
Average fuel consumption35 mpg
Tank size19 litres
Max range to empty (theoretical)146 miles
Reserve capacityn/a
Rider aidsnone
FrameTubular steel cradle
Front suspension43mm telescopic forks
Front suspension adjustmentFully adjustable
Rear suspensionTwin shocks
Rear suspension adjustmentFully adjustable
Front brake2 x 310mm discs, 6-pot calipers
Rear brake250mm disc, 2-pot caliper
Front tyre120/70 ZR17
Rear tyre180/55 ZR17
Rake/Trail25°/ 104mm
Dimensions (LxWxH)2120mm x 779mm x 1150mm
Ground clearance134mm
Seat height790mm
Dry weight223kg R; 227kg S

Looking for motorcycle insurance? Get a quote for this motorbike with Bennetts bike insurance