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Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997): 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.



1994 Kawasaki ZX-9R B1


When 1992's Honda Fireblade ripped up the sportsbike rulebook overnight, it took the competition a while to respond. Suzuki and Kawasaki were the first to launch credible rivals, with 1994 seeing the launch of the RF900R and this, the ZX-9R B. The Suzuki was a compromise – heavy, strangely styled and never a pure sportsbike. It was a superb roadbike but wasn't really designed as a direct competitor for the Blade, just to pinch sales from it at the more sensible (and budget-conscious) end of the market. The Kawasaki though, was all business, even if it smacked a bit more of parts-bin stop-gap than the Blade's game-changing holistic design. Based on a bored and stroked version of the existing ZXR750 motor (up 2mm on the bore and a hefty 6.4mm on the stroke) in a chassis also loosely based on the ZXR and with bodywork that was kind of halfway between ZXR sharp and ZZ-R sleek, it didn't move the genre forward, but it kept Kawasaki in the game long enough to come up with a vastly improved version for 1998 – to little avail admittedly, since that coincided with Yamaha bursting back onto the pitch with the original R1 and moving the goalposts again.

The 1998 and later models share very few parts with the original ZX-9R though, so we'll deal with those in a separate article – for now we're looking at the B models only. They ran for four years, with a minor – but useful – upgrade in 1996 for the B3, which brought six-pot front brake calipers, a new swingarm, shock and linkages, a bit more power and twin pillion grabrails. These early ZX-9Rs have always been a great buy as a practical sporty road bike, and more than 25 years on from the first launch, that's still the case, but there are a few things you should know before buying a used one. Shall we?


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997) Price

At launch in 1994, a spanking ZX-9R B1 would have rushed you £8095 - only £375 more than the ZXR750 and £265 cheaper than its Fireblade rival, but a whopping £1296 more expensive than the strangely-styled but extremely competent Suzuki RF900 which was launched at the same time. By the end of its model life in late 1997 a ZX-9R was a hefty £9545 – thirty quid more than a Blade, three hundred more than a Yamaha Thunder Ace, and still nearly 1300 quid more than an RF. These days it's getting hard to accurately price an early ZX-9R, partly because so much depends on condition and how well it's been maintained, but also because there aren't that many for sale to compare. At time of writing there was just one on Ebay (tidy-looking black/grey B4 with just 14k miles, dealer sale at £2495) and one on Autotrader (very clean-looking green/white B4 with a few embellishments and 22k miles, at £2650 from a dealer). Gumtree came up with three: a streetfighter thing at £1500, a tatty grey/black B4 with 46k also at £1500, and a 41,000-mile B4 ratter held together with gaffer tape and cable ties and advertised as 'a bit of a wheelie machine... serviced before last trackday... I've lost the V5... looking for a drift car... ' at £750. Daftly, despite all the alarm bells, that last one might just be worth a shot if you know one end of a spanner from the other – cheap set of Chinese bodywork and it might smarten up nicely!


Power and torque

125bhp might not sound like much these days, when you can buy a sportsbike off the shelf with over 200bhp, but back then it seemed like a lot. It was all we were allowed under the industry's self-imposed restrictions at the time, thankfully lifted for the 1996 B3 model, which got a claimed 139bhp. For a road bike it's still plenty, and there's no need to go screaming off to the upper reaches of the rev counter to find it either – although it seemed revvy at the time, by today's standards it's a grunt-meister. Peak power's only just past 10,000rpm and there's a pretty wide spread of torque that means you can happily leave it in a high gear and drive smoothly out of bends if you don't feel like chasing full performance. The one problem that's got worse over the years is lean fuelling in the midrange, and you can't blame Kawasaki for that. Well, you can, a bit, as all ZX-9Rs run a bit weak to get through emissions rules (see Carburettors section for tips on how to improve that), but the real problem is modern fuel making it more apparent. E10 fuel – and in particular supermarket E10 which always has the full 10% ethanol content – effectively makes the mixture even leaner than it would have been on old-style unleaded or 4-star (remember 4-star...?), , causing stumbles and flat spots. We'd recommend only using 98/E5 fuel, and ideally brand name stuff from a proper fuel station, not a supermarket, as the posher it is the less ethanol it'll contain.


Engine, gearbox and exhaust

You know those old boots everyone uses as an index of toughness? This engine is tougher. Chuck Norris would hesitate to spill its pint. They're a bit mechanically noisy, and always have been, but so long as there are no major knocks from the bottom end or rattles from the top which don't go away when warm, you're unlikely to have big problems. Change the oil every 4000 miles (decent quality mineral 10w40 – they don't like synthetics, which tend to make the clutch slip) and take a look at the valves once in a blue moon and they'll go on pretty much forever. Or at least, they will if they're used regularly. There's some evidence that bikes that have been laid up for a long time are more likely to suffer head gasket failure. Even if that does happen, it's not a disaster – you can change the head gasket without taking the engine out of the frame.

The gearbox is tough too, and problems (neglect and abuse apart) usually have their source outside the box – specifically the gear lever pivot near the footrest. This seizes up, so doesn't allow the linkage to return properly , which in turn stops the gear selector in the gearbox operating properly. Clean and grease regularly.

Most ZX-9Rs got aftermarket pipes more or less from new, and it's rare to find one with a standard pipe now. If you do find one, cherish it, even if you swap it for something sexier.


1994 Kawasaki ZX-9R B1 2


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997) Economy

If you'd asked a hundred  ZX-9R owners about fuel economy back then, ninety-nine of them would have replied, 'Who cares...?'. And no one did care that a heavy right hand could see you down at 30-odd mpg. But things have changed – it's still possible to burn through juice at that rate, of course, but older owners, different riding habits (and more speed cameras) and the cost of fuel mean plenty of riders are easier on the throttle than they used to be. Ride as if you're on reserve and it's the middle of the night in the Highlands and you can tease more than 50mpg out of a healthy ZX-9R. Around 40mpg is more realistic in mixed riding though. That gives a decent range, and the combination of an easy-to-read fuel gauge and a not-so-easy-to-use reserve tap means there's no excuse for being caught short.



Never the ZX-9R's strong point, it's fair to say. Frame and wheel paint are prone to flaking and peeling (and disappearing altogether if vigorously jet-washed), exposed alloy parts go furry as do nuts and bolts, and hidden painted subframes rust badly. On the plus side, that means if you find a really clean, shiny one, you know it's been loved and properly looked after.


Handling, suspension, chassis and weight

There's quite a difference between the on-the-limit handling of the B1/B2 version and the B3/B4. The B1 was criticised for a lack of traction on the race track, which turned out to be down to a problem with the relationship between swing arm pivot and gearbox sprocket positions, which adversely affected the way the shock moved. That was cured with the B3, which had a whole new swing arm, linkage and shock. But to be honest you'd have to be pushing suicidally hard on the road to appreciate the improvement. The uprated suspension didn't cure one of the B1's foibles though, which was that it sat a bit low at the back. Presumably that was done to make it stable in a straight line, but it also made it a bit slow to turn, and prone to sitting up badly on the brakes (or refusing to turn in if you were trail-braking). Later (E and F) models had shorter suspension tie rods, which raised the back significantly, and you can retrofit those to B models. It's also possible to fit a ZX-12R shock, if you can find one - that's a little longer and has the same effect. While you're mucking about at the back, make sure all the suspension pivots are properly greased – they're fitted with grease nipples, but lazy owners still sometimes neglect them.


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997) Brakes

The B1/B2 has four-pot Tokico calipers, while the B3/4 got fashionable six-pots – again Tokico. Both fitments worked well when new, but they take a lot of maintenance and as seals age and dirt builds up, they get vague and hard to bleed properly. When you get properly bored with them, chuck them in the bin and find some Nissin four pots as fitted to Suzuki RF900 and Bandit 1200 – they're far superior. Other calipers with 65mm bolt centres will work too, but may need spacers – the RF/Bandit items bolt straight on. Some owners swear by a Brembo master cylinder as fitted to early 2000s Aprilia Mille/Falco models as a good upgrade too.



You know, those funny old things that used to slop fuel into our engines, in the days before the robots took over. Normally they're great, so long as they're well set up and well-maintained. But sometimes outside influences cause problems, and the requirement to get an old-school engine through increasingly tough emissions controls meant Kawasaki were forced to jet the ZX-9R's carbs leaner than they'd have liked, especially in the midrange (where most testing is carried out). Add in crappy modern fuel (see above) and free-flowing aftermarket pipes (which almost always make the mixture leaner still) you get flat spots and stumbles. The B models aren't as bad as the later ZX-9Rs, but it's still a problem. The ideal is a proper dyno set-up by someone who knows carbs inside out, along with aftermarket adjustable needles (the originals are fixed). But if you're on a budget you can make a big difference for almost no cash. All you have to do is whip off the carb tops, pull the needles from inside the slides, and use washers under the needle tops to space them up a bit, thereby making the midrange mixture a little richer. You need 6mm washers with a 3mm hole, and we'd recommend starting with a 0.5mm thickness and don't go too far in one go. A tweak of the pilot screws can also help, and balance the carbs carefull while you're in there as it makes a big difference.

Also while you're in there, take the time to clean out the whole carb heating circuit – the filter (behind the engine, underneath the right hand carb) blocks easily, and in extreme cases the whole circuit can get clogged.  Even when everything's working properly you may have a problem with carb icing on cold/damp days, and you might find that removing the thermo valve (in the pipework by the left frame rail) and replacing it with an 8mm joining piece will help keep the carbs warm in winter. A shot of Silkolene FST can help as well.



The ZX-9R's bodywork was never the most robust, and 20-25 years on you'll struggle to find one that doesn't have the odd broken lug or stress crack somewhere, or hasn't been repaired at least once. The good news is that for around £350-400 you can get a complete set of aftermarket plastics, including screen and all bolts and fittings, posted straight from a well-known totalitarian state on the other side of the planet. And the quality is surprisngly good – not as good as new OE, of course, but better than 90% of 25 year-old OE plastics.



Comfort over distance and touring

It's a sportsbike – you don't expect comfort. Happily though, you get it whether you're expecting it or not. The ZX-9R's from a time when sportsbikes were mostly designed as roadbikes, and converted to racebikes later where appropriate. That means the dimensions and riding position are designed around real human beings, not skinny teenage racing snakes. Even the pillion accommodation is reasonably generous, although legroom's a bit limited.



Nothing inherently iffy, but with any 25-year-old bike you're likely to find issues with poor connections, tired wiring, failing switchgear etc. Poor frame earths are very common. Charging problems may be down to bad connections, but if not then things can get expensive. It's a car-type generator with carbon brushes rather than an oil bath type, and although brushes are cheap enough (about 20 quid from Wemoto) if the problem is the built-in regulator or rectifier, that can run into hundreds.


Rider aids and extra equipment/accessories

Sorry, what did you say? My ears are still ringing from the intake roar. Rider aids? Really? You're having a Steffi Graf... This is proper old-skool stuff from the days when ABS was for big touring bikes only, and even racebikes rarely had quickshifters. Sensible mods include the usual suspects (front mudguard extender, rear hugger, chain oiler for those doing serious miles), but a lot of ZX-9Rs got the full range of '90s 'improvements' back in the day – everything from tinted screens to garish anodized bolt kits and worse. These days owners are more likely to be wanting to put their bikes back to standard than to over-accessorize. That said, there's still a hard core of owners modifying their bikes to handle, go and stop better, often using bits from more recent Kawasakis. There's a huge amount of knowledge and goodwill out there – we'd suggest heading straight to to immerse yourself in it. You need to register as it's members only, and the security question at registration is a bit crap, but stare at it long enough and you'll get it. Well worth the effort – there's a specific B-model sub-forum and you'll learn a lot, fast.


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997) verdict

If you want a good, old-fashioned sportsbike that's roomy enough for long distance comfort, reliable enough for everyday but still has enough shunt to roll your eyeballs back into your skull when you wind the throttle on hard, then an early ZX-9R has a lot going for it. The standard chassis and engine can be massively improved with fairly simple bolt-ons from more recent bikes, without spending a fortune or compromising daily practicality. Best of all if you're on a budget, they're more affordable than a lot of more common, more popular 90s sportsbikes.

The biggest problem, though, might be finding one to buy in the first place. There are plenty of later versions in the usual advertising places, and good ones are still shiny enough to find a slot on showroom floors around the country, but the original B models have mostly slipped down to local small ads, word of mouth and enthusiast forum ads (again, a wanted ad on might come up trumps), with only the occasional really mint one making its way to national advertising. So you might have to dig a bit to find a good one, but once you do, you might find it's all the bike you need.


Three things we love about the ZX-9R…

  • Outstanding reliability

  • Howling intake roar

  • Surprisingly practical


Three things that we don’t…

  • Finish is a bit cheap

  • Rear suspension needs work

  • Original brakes hard to keep sharp


Kawasaki ZX-9R (1994-1997) - Technical Specification

Original price


Current price range




Bore x Stroke

73 x 53.7mm

Engine layout

Four cylinder four stroke

Engine details

DOHC, 16v, liquid cooled, carburettors


125bhp (93.2kW) @ 10,500rpm


71 lb-ft (96.2Nm) @ 9000rpm

Top speed



6 speed, chain final drive

Average fuel consumption

40mpg tested

Tank size

20 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

176 miles

Reserve capacity

35 miles (manually switched 4 litre reserve)

Rider aids



Aluminium twin spar

Front suspension

41mm inverted forks

Front suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping

Rear suspension

Unitrak rising rate monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Adjustable preload, rebound and compression damping

Front brake

310mm discs, Tokico four-piston calipers (six pot from 1997)

Rear brake

210mm disc, Tokico single piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70 ZR17

Rear tyre

180/55 ZR17




2085mm x 725mm 1165mm (LxWxH)



Ground clearance


Seat height


Kerb weight

approx 235kg


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