Kawasaki has released details of its 2012 ZX-14R and the Japanese giant has once again gazumped the competition to retake top spot on the motorcycle horsepower ladder.

No horsepower figures have been released, but the company has stated quite clearly that the 2012 ZX-14R will be the fastest accelerating motorcycle in production and that it has the most powerful production motorcycle engine ever built.

The whole "fastest" thing is now getting beyond a joke, even with the normally squeaky clean integrity Kawasaki applies to its claims. Across its press statements and web sites, Kawasaki is claiming the following for this bike "the World's Most Powerful Sports Bike" (from the press release headline), the "most powerful production motorcycle engine ever" (from the press release), and "the fastest production motorcycle on the planet."

For starters, it is not "the World's Most Powerful Sports Bike" because there are thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of more powerful sports bikes in the world.

Even putting the word "production" in the statement is open to interpretation because the definition of production is hardly specific enough, and as you can see below, to say that safely, given the current crop of mega-beasties, means the new ZX-14R has to be putting out a LOT more than 200 horsepower at the crank. Rumor suggests that Kawasaki is talking 210 bhp at the crank for the ZX-14R.

So let's look at what else is available.

For starters, there's Kawasaki's own recently introduced ZX10-R (pictured above at its release last October in Koln), which puts out 207 bhp with its ram air effect, and the existing ZX14, which has now been around six years, putting out 190 brake horsepower and 201 bhp with ram air effect at 120 mph (193 km/h).

Then there's Horex's triple-overhead camshaft VR6, which is yet to begin production. It's claims of more than 200 bhp are believable given that it is powered by a supercharged 1200cc six cylinder engine. The bike was an instant classic the moment it first appeared at Koln Motorcycle Show this time last last year - a masterpiece of design and mechanical ingenuity that, IMHO, richly deserves success. It's an unknown quantity still, bat has as much right to make such claims as Kawasaki.

Ducati's 200 bhp Desmosedici Racing Replica had a limited run of 1,500 motorcycles and sold out before production. The entire 500 unit allocation for the United States sold out in five hours. It is the only road-going version of a MotoGP race machine ever produced, and sold for US$72,500.

One of the most intricate motorcycles ever assembled in this number, the 197.3 bhp engine was a 90-degree "Double-L-Twin" (four cylinder in non-Ducati speak), with a twin pulse firing order, with two sets of gear-driven Desmodromic DOHC valve gear controlling the four titanium valves per cylinder.

The bike has not been produced again, and with results not running Ducati's way at the moment, the company's efforts seem to have been focused on the upcoming Panigale twin cylinder road bike, which has the intoxicating raw numbers of weighing 176 kg (388 lb) wet and producing 195 bhp.

Will the Kawasaki ZX-14R accelerate faster than the lighter, similarly powered Ducati Panigale? When the production bikes get here, we'll know. One thing's for sure though - the Ducati will be very close to the ZX14R, despite being a different genre of motorcycle. As the legendary Colin Chapman was famous for saying, "adding power makes you faster on the straights - subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." He may have been referring to cars, but the basic premise is still the same.

Now, some of those aforementioned mega-beasties are limited edition models, and there's also an even more powerful set of VERY limited edition models with claims to more than 200 bhp. We might have missed one or two (let us know and we'll add them to the article), but they include:

The Confederate C3 X132 Hellcat has a V-twin engine with a capacity of 132 cubic inches (2163cc). It produces a monolithic 145 foot-pounds (196.6 nm) of torque and a lot of horsepower, reputed to be in the 200 bhp range. Only 150 will be made, selling at US$45,000 apiece.

The Asphaltfighters' Stormbringer puts out 280 bhp and there's no limit to how many will be produced, but at US$86,000, it's probably not going to be very many. It's based on a production bike (the ZX10R), but I'm not sure if it can be classified as a production bike.

Several others fall into this category of adding forced aspiration to existing production engines to achieve phenomenal horsepower figures, and then wrapping the engine in an exotic frame and the finest aftermarket go-fast and look-good bits and charging a king's ransom to own one.

The US$170,000, 257 bhp Icon Sheene is the latest in this genre, and only 52 of the tribute bike to the British roadracer will be produced - one for each year of Sheene's life. It uses a Suzuki gixxer motor with a blower and will be featured in depth on Gizmag shortly. It is not yet in production, though there is a prototype.

Still another is the turbocharged Ducati-engined Super Squalo, which also produces more than 200 bhp at a cost of around US$45,000.

Two motorcycles that definitely vie for a top three finish in the list of the world's most expensive motorcycles (and hence the more exclusive category) are the US$275,000 Ecosse Titanium, which quotes only 200+ bhp for its own engine, and the US$185,000 jet-turbine-powered Y2K, which has "more than 320 bhp" and a top speed of over 400 km/h (248 mph). You can download the brochure here.

Both are in production, though the Ecosse's price and extraordinary specifications indicate a fair wait, as the bike sports the world's first all-titanium frame and the 2150cc polished billet aluminum v-twin donk is made in the same factory. The there's MotoGP-spec Ohlins suspension at each end, and radially-mounted 6-pot billet ISR front brake calipers (12 individual brake pads) and the price ... US$275,000. If you want to insure one, might we suggest a reputable bookmaker.

For the sake of this article, we'll presume that by production, Kawasaki is talking about readily available motorcycles from a relatively local dealership.

Which means the main contenders are Yamaha VMAX, MV Agusta's F4RR and Suzuki Hayabusa.

The MV Agusta F4RR costs US$32,500 and, unlike some previous F4 models with limited production runs, the F4RR appears to have no limit to its production run.

Yamaha's V-MAX has had many claimed figures on its horsepower output since it was first announced, but the Suzuki Hayabusa is unquestionably the bike that appears most likely to stand between Kawasaki and its claims for the 2012 ZX-14R.

Verification of the claims in relation to the Hayabusa can be had in the form of an article written by nine-time World Champion Motorcycle drag racer Rickey Gadson, who ran the bike through the quarter mile at 9.7 seconds with an exit speed approaching 150 mph (240 km/h) on a slow strip - untouched from the crate.

That puts it well ahead - about half a second behind the 2011 Suzuki Hayabusa over a quarter mile according to Gadson's own figures. On the strength of Gadson's reflections, the claims appear genuine.

I think it's fair to say that now that motorcycle manufacturers have agreed to a limited top speed (the top speed of all motorcycles is now electronically limited to 186 mph (299 km/h) by agreement of the major Japanese and European motorcycle manufacturers), we have now entered a new phase of the horsepower race which has been going on in earnest since two-strokes ruled the roost.

Two-stroke engine technology produced immense power, but spewed hydrocarbons into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Built in an era before we realized what we were doing to the environment, Kawasaki built its reputation for horsepower with the Kawasaki H1 Mach III 500cc three-cylinder, air-cooled two-stroke.

I had such fond memories of the H1 that a few years ago, while I was building a motorcycle collection, I purchased a mint-condition H1 and restored it to absolutely original. I rode it around the block a few times, but its speed was just not as awesome as it had been in the day, as I'd updated my frame of reference by riding bikes developed decades later. It was also an ecological disaster, had drum brakes, agricultural suspension, and just wasn't all that much fun.

It's interesting that the H1 was the fastest thing on two wheels just over 40 years ago with just 60 bhp. Honda's CB750 was a contender with a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). Forty years later, Superstock 600cc four-strokes from all four Japanese manufacturers can run more than 280+ km/h (174 mph+) trap speeds at Monza, indicating how much faster things have become.

After the H1 came the Kawasaki H2 Mach IV 750cc three-cylinder two-stroke. Honda's 750 four of 1968 might have been the king of the road, with its civilized manners and longevity and broad usable power, but the CB750 couldn't hope to compete against the Mach IV for performance.

Kawasaki is very unlike the other members of Japan's big four motorcycle manufacturers. Its roots are in heavy industrial and military machinery. Its factories are still staffed by thousands of people wearing the same green-grey uniforms they have worn for most of the last century.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries is an industrial powerhouse with 30,000 employees and US$15 billion in annual profits. The company is vast, with many divisions producing quite diverse technological systems: the Shinkansen Bullet train, entire energy plants, giant ships, jet engines, tractors, a range of military aircraft, helicopters, simulators, missiles, robots and space systems are just some of the genres of complex machinery that wear the Kawasaki name.

Most of the things Kawasaki builds are not seen as Kawasaki product by the public though because they are not branded. Hence, as the primary outward facing brand wearing the Kawasaki logo, the motorcycle company is required to reflect the company's brand values to the public.

Once the Honda 750 had ushered in a new era of motorcycling, Kawasaki responded with the Z1 four-cylinder 900cc four-stroke, completely redefining the limits of what was possible.

Every few years since, the company has gone out of its way to produce the fastest road bike on the market.

Verification of this thought pattern in Akashi can be evidenced in the company's other "outward facing" showing of the Kawasaki brand, the Personal Water Craft (PWC) marketplace.

Kawasaki pioneered this marketplace in the mid-seventies and the company's proprietary brand name (Jet Ski) is still synonymous with PWC to most folk. Sea Doo might own the category, and sell a lot more units, but it hasn't stopped Kawasaki from spanking them from time to time, in exactly the same way as the motorcycle division had done to the rest of the world's manufacturers.

The Kawasaki's Ultra 250X was a landmark model. The 250 bhp Jet Ski eclipsed all before it in a similar evolution of the PWC to what we've seen in the motorcycle market from Kawasaki.

As there's a similar agreement in place between manufacturers of PWCs and the United States Coast Guard which limits top speed of PWCs to 65-67 mph (104-108 km/h) in the most important PWC market in the world, SeaDoo and Kawasaki have been slugging it out with electronically limited top speeds, and ever increasing acceleration.

Quite remarkably, the old ZX14 motor forms the basis for the 1500cc supercharged Kawasaki motor in the Ultra 300X, so presumably the next version of the 300X will use the same motor too. The needs of a PWC motor are quite different from those of a motorcycle - for starters, the engine is routinely subjected to long periods of sustained full throttle, far longer than you'd get with a motorcycle, and also from the very get-go to its top speed of 65 mph. That the strength is there to sustain such punishment should be very comforting to Kawasaki motorcycle owners too.

Mechanical robustness was already one of Kawasaki's brand values, largely due to the strength of the company's four cylinder engines, which have been one of the racing fraternity's favorites since the Z1 arrived nearly four decades ago.

Hence, in upgrading the motor for the next generation, it's interesting to see where Kawasaki has gained power and increased longevity incrementally in dozens of ways in a motor that's technologically unremarkable in its basic layout.

The swept volume has been increased by 89cc from the current model's 1352cc to 1441cc with a 4 mm increase in stroke, giving each of the four cylinders dimensions of 84 x 65 mm. Interestingly, the combustion chambers have been reshaped, and are now surface milled instead of relying on the accuracy of the casting.

The intake ports have also been reshaped to improve air-flow and for the first time in a mass volume motorcycle engine, the inlet tracts are hand polished - this method of extracting the last bit of flow available is the time-honored process of "porting" an engine, though Kawasaki already has the shape it wants, and the porting is designed to remove any minor production blemishes where they will count most.

Even the intake valves are new, being longer and using different materials than the previous model's.

The forged pistons are lighter than the old model, and by virtue of a new oil-jet cooling system that keeps the pistons cooled with a constant spray from underneath, the thickness of the piston has been reduced while the the compression ratio has been boosted from 12.0:1 to 12.3:1. This results in less reciprocating mass and higher combustion efficiency and lower temperatures.

The attention to every detail is astounding. The conrods are re-designed from a new metal with bigger small-ends and the crankshaft main journals are now 2 mm bigger at 40 mm.

The accuracy of valve control has also been increased with a stronger cam chain and the tensioner system has been redesigned, all helping to ensure the engine can run stronger for longer.

The camshafts are all new in both timing and lift and although the fuel and air are still mixed by the same Mikuni DFI, there's now automatic idle adjustment and the mapping has been tweaked to achieve lower emissions. Though 44 mm throttle bodies still supply the air, breathing has been improved by redesigning the air cleaner filter so it not only has 10 percent more surface area for improved cleaning, but 40 percent better airflow, for the improved breathing necessary in producing the world's most powerful motorcycle engine.

Just to complete the process holistically, the exhaust system now begins with all-new tapered header pipes and concludes with larger-volume mufflers with dual catalyzers to ensure emissions are as low as possible.

The cogs in the gearbox have also come in for a different manufacturing process, with different heat- and surface-treatments from the previous model, while the biggest improvement in the transmission area is in the form of a slipper clutch, which will smooth downshifting and help prevent rear wheel lock-ups when the engine is revving hard and you're on the limits of tire adhesion under brakes.

Though we haven't seen the horsepower charts, Kawasaki says the new engine has more torque at all rpm in comparison to the old ZX14, and lots more power from 4,000 rpm up.

The torque is apparently robust enough to pull away from standstill in second gear and fuel economy is 8 percent better than the current ZX-14.

The rest of the bike is revised and upgraded in every way.

The inverted 43 mm forks and single rear shock have better resistance to bottoming and entirely revised internal settings to enable better roadholding, which has also been improved with new 10-spoke wheels that each reduce unsprung weight by 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg).

Those massive disc brakes may have the same dimensions, but they're made of a more rigid material and the brake pads have also been improved.

Weight is of course the enemy of performance-related cars, boats and motorcycles, and it's interesting to see that the new ZX-14R weighs 265 kg (584.4 pounds), an increase of 8 kg (17.6 lb) over the current ZX-14. Its new weight is almost exactly the same as the 2011 Hyabusa but it has a fair bit more mid-range grunt.

The ZX14R also features KTRC (Kawasaki TRaction Control) which has three settings other than "off" to cater to different conditions and two stage Power Mode selection offers Full Power + Low Power (about 75% of Full). The ABS has also been improved to work better on bumpy roads.

While the 2012 ZX-14R might look kinda similar to the old ZX14, the whole bike is new and comes with a level of attention to internal detail never before bestowed on a production motorcycle.

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