Depending on how you count, the Kawasaki Ninja name has been attributed to no less than 30 motorcycles since it first appeared in 1984 – but which Ninja models are the best? By rights, they’re all great and worthy of praise, since no other motorcycle is as identifiable as a Kawasaki Ninja.
Seriously, go and find someone with absolutely no knowledge of the motorcycle industry and ask them to name a sports bike. Nine times out of ten, you’ll hear the answer “Ninja?” or something to that effect. And the Ninja name is so popular and recognizable because the motorcycles that are given the legendary designation are worth talking about.
We did a count up and we’ve managed to come up with around 30 Kawasaki motorcycles that were given the Ninja bike name, give or take one or two because of odd naming conventions or because we’ve lumped a couple in together, and of those thirty we’ve managed to whittle down a top ten. In terms of scientific theory that awards a model a place on the list or not, we haven’t got any uniform methodology.
Essentially, we’ve listed the most ground breaking Kawasaki Ninja bike models, those that performed exceptionally well mechanically, those that managed to stand the test of time, and included some that were just light years ahead of their closest rivals. Naturally, we’ve omitted some models that probably should’ve made the cut, and probably included a few opinion dividers too…but that’s the nature of lists! So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Kawasaki Ninja street bike models ever made between 1984 and the present day. Are these the best Kawasaki Ninja motorcycles for sale?
The Best Kawasaki Ninja Models: The Greatest Hits
#10. The Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R
Let’s start with the obvious, the very first Kawasaki Ninja bike: the GPZ900R, or Ninja 900, if you prefer. Developed in secret for six years, the first ever Kawasaki Ninja first arrived on the scene back in 1984 and stayed with Team Green in one form or another until it was eventually discontinued in 1996, in favor of the more modern ZX-9R. The world’s first Ninja was quite the thing, powered by the industry’s first 16 valve, liquid-cooled, inline four engine, that delivered an incredible 115 hp and allowed the Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R to reach speeds in excess of 150 mph.
The GPZ900R was the first production bike to exceed the 150 mph marker, and of course, that would also make it the production bike in 1984 – a title that it would hold for four consecutive years. The GPZ900R was a revolutionary motorcycle in the speed department, but it was also a fantastic urban commuter and long-distance tourer. Thanks to smart aerodynamics and clever ergonomics, the first ever Ninja was a demon on the track, but also a very useful and practical motorcycle to have in your garage.
#09. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10 “Tomcat”
After the success of the GPZ900R, Kawasaki experimented with format, and brought the world the GPZ1000RX – which was good, but we’re here to talk about the GPZ1000RX’s successor: the Ninja ZX-10 “Tomcat.” The original GPZ900R started a trend of Kawasaki Ninjas holding the “fastest production bike” title, and like the GPZ900R and the GPZ1000RX, the Tomcat also wore the crown. Thanks to new engine internals which resulted in a higher compression ratio, new and lighter pistons, and bigger valves, twinned with the revolutionary idea of using an aluminum perimeter style frame, the Tomcat was well on course to becoming the fastest production bike.
With the addition of revised aerodynamics, the Ninja ZX-10 managed to hit a top speed of 165 mph, making it the fastest production bike in 1988. Despite its success and the amount of acclaim it garnered, the Tomcat was only in production for two years, eventually being discontinued in 1990. Why? Because Kawasaki had another, more powerful, motorcycle in the works: the ZX-11.
#08. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 ZZ-R1100
Also known as the ZZ-R1100, the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 was one of Kawasaki’s most important sports bikes. Produced between the years 1990 and 2001, the ZX-11 was once lauded as the world’s fastest production motorcycle for an impressive six years from 1990 to 1995. It managed this incredible feat by delivering a top speed of between 169 and 176 mph, defeating the previous record holder, the above mentioned ZX-10 Tomcat, by 9.9 mph.
The liquid-cooled inline four engine was capable of delivering 134.4 hp to the rear wheel and producing 78.8 lb-ft of torque at 8,000 rpm, and thanks to those impressive statistics, and the addition of ram air induction and a ram air intake, the ZX-11 could also do the quarter mile in a fast time of 10.43 seconds, hitting 131 mph in the process. Despite being one of the most sophisticated sports bikes of its era, the ZX-11 was eventually knocked off of the speed top spot by the Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird in 1996.
#07. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R
Next, we have the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R. Unlike the previous entries, the ZX-9R isn’t a speed record holder, but it was never built with speed domination in mind. When it first arrived in 1994, it was clear that Kawasaki were trying to replicate the success of the recent Honda CBR900RR – a model that rolled onto the scene in 1992 and re-defined the landscape. The Honda wasn’t built for smashing records, it was built to bridge the gap between big bore power and the agile handling of a 750, with a weight reduction being the primary focus.
Ultimately, Kawasaki’s CBR900RR killer was a failure because it wasn’t nearly as light as the Honda, and what horsepower advantage it had was lost thanks to the added weight. Luckily, Kawasaki didn’t try and sell it as a CBR900RR rival but argued that it was a superior road-going motorcycle thanks to its stability, rider comfort, and more upright riding position. With 125 horses on tap and a more than respectable top speed of 168 mph, the ZX-9R was a motorcycle that could perform exceptionally well on the track, but was more of a joy to ride day to day than a lot of the competition. And that’s why Kawasaki didn’t drop it from the line-up until 2003.
#06. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R
The Kawasaki Ninja series were famed for being fast, but during the second half of the 90s, the fastest production bike crown was firmly planted on the head of the Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R, and it seemed unlikely to move – however, Kawasaki had something interesting up their sleeves but the company was pretty tight lipped about it, and it left the press speculating. There were rumors of wind-tunnel testing, innovative ram-air technology, exceptionally high speeds and unprecedented power figures. And when it launched, the press were equally stunned again, when the Ninja ZX-12R actually managed to go toe to toe with the Hayabusa and match it punch for punch.
Which motorcycle was better? Well, that’s the age old debate and a matter of opinion – but there’s no denying that the ZX-12R could hit 192 mph. But the Hayabusa claimed higher speeds too…and ultimately the rising performance specs of modern superbikes began to frighten politicians, so the major manufacturers came together to limit the top speeds of all superbikes from 2000 onward. Because of the agreement, the Suzuki Hayabusa wears the crown of the fastest sport bike of the day…but the Kawasaki ZX-12R could technically beat it, and the next year’s ZX-12R wore a speed limiter, making it unable to challenge the Busa again.
#05. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R
Speed isn’t everything though, and fortunately for Kawasaki, they had more to offer than high-speed rockets. In fact, one of Kawasaki’s most celebrated and enduring models is its smaller Ninja ZX -6R platform: a 600cc racer. First introduced in 1995, the ZX-6R has been a crucial part of the Kawasaki Ninja street bike family right up to the present day. Forever doing battle with the likes of Honda’s CBR600RR, the Suzuki GSX-R600, and the Yamaha YZF-R6, it seems like the ZX-6R has no intention of going into retirement any time soon.
Having received numerous updates over the years, the current ZX-6R is the best so far – although it hasn’t really had a proper update since 2013. Powered by a 636cc inline four engine that produces an impressive 135 hp (with ram air) at 13,500 rpm and 46.37 lb-ft of torque at 13,375 rpm, the current ZX -6R is a force to be reckoned with. Couple the bike’s powerful engine with sophisticated modern race-derived technology and put it in an agile 600 frame, and you’ve got a recipe fit for champions. And the ZX-6R is a championship winning bike – winning the 2015 World Supersport championship.
#04. The Kawasaki Ninja 1000 (Z1000)
If you thought all Kawasaki Ninja models were geared towards racing or the pursuit of record breaking speeds, then you’d be wrong. Despite the Ninja name’s racing lineage and penchant for being the world’s fastest production bikes, the platform has other strings to its bow. In 2011, the company pulled the covers off of the Ninja 1000 – aka the Z1000S or Z1000SX – a motorcycle that was designed purely to be “a sport bike for the real world.” Unlike most of its Ninja brethren, the Z1000 was not built for race homologation, or any kind of racing purposes.
It was designed for street performance, and that’s why it doesn’t boast the same kind of race fairing as you’d normally find on a Ninja, and that’s also why it doesn’t have a sports-oriented riding position either. It’s still aggressive, but the Kawasaki engineers thought it would be a wise idea to create a powerful looking street bike geared towards real life riding – and it has been a resounding success from then until now. A Ninja 1000 ABS model is also available for those looking for a steadier rider, making it one of the ultimate all-rounder sport bikes.
#03. The Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R
Arguably, Kawasaki’s most famous Ninja at the moment is the class leading Ninja ZX -10R. Since it first rolled onto the scene in 2004 it caused an absolute storm, receiving acclaim and praise for all those who’ve had the pleasure of taking one for a ride – in fact, in 2004, the ZX-10R was named the Best Superbike by Cycle World, and ranked first in the international Masterbike competition. Over the years this super Ninja has been blessed with numerous updates, but the formula has always remained the same: stick a powerful 998cc inline four engine into an ultra-narrow, lightweight, aerodynamic chassis and compliment it with top of the line equipment. T
he most recent revision happened in 2016, and thanks to a new five axis IMU from Bosch, sophisticated Kawasaki electronics, and the addition of a few key mechanical pieces such as a slipper clutch and revised pistons, the contemporary Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R (particularly the KRT edition) is one of the most potent motorcycles ever made. With performance specs that claim the bike has a massive 197 hp at 13,000 rpm and 83.7 lb-ft) 11,500 rpm on tap, it’s not hard to see why many professional riders opt for the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
#02. The Kawasaki Ninja H2
While the ZX-10R is the perfect choice for thrill seeking motorcyclists, if you prefer something a little more outlandish or something that’s just expensive and dangerous, then you’d be foolish not to consider the Ninja H2. This supercharged, four-cylinder liter hyperbike is so crazy that it just had to be on the list. What makes this one of the best Kawasaki Ninjas ever made is the sheer gall of it: to build something like this, make it street legal, stick a massive price tag on it, and repeatedly sell out year after year.
With a rear wheel power output rated at 189.8 hp and 91.2 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Kawasaki H2 is a veritable powerhouse. But how does that translate into real life performance? Well, with a quarter mile time of 9.62 seconds (reaching 152.01 mph in the process), the Kawasaki H2 0–60 mph time is 2.6 seconds, and it can hit a top speed of 183 mph. Is that enough performance for you? Oh yeah, and if you feel like adding a few bolt on parts, you can push the H2 to heady top speeds of around the 226.9 mph…which is just insane. But then again, if you’re willing to pay $28,000 on a motorcycle, then insane is probably your default function. These days, Kawasaki also offer a fearsome sport touring version of these sports bikes, unseating the venerable Ninja ZX-14R as the company’s top mile munching model…which is just insane.
#01. The Kawasaki Ninja H2R
And of course, in a list show casing the best of the Kawasaki Ninja family, there could only be one model in the number one slot: the Kawasaki Ninja H2R. It’s the obvious choice, but it has to be number one. For a start, no other manufacturer was bold enough to create something so outlandish: a track-only supercharged inline four that’s so powerful and noisy that some racetracks won’t even allow it.
Thanks to the H2R’s two-speed centrifugal supercharger that works in tandem with Kawasaki’s top-of-the-range electronics, the H2R has a power output so outrageous that it’s almost ridiculous to type: 310 hp at 14,000, 115 lb-ft of torque at 12,500 rpm, and an insane top speed of 255 mph.
But that kind of performance doesn’t come cheap – naturally, you’re going to have to pay out a large sum for the pleasure of owning one (to the tune of $55,000) and of course, if you ever want to ride it you’ve got to book yourself some track time, which isn’t as cheap as say…not paying for track time. This isn’t a competition about the most economical Kawasaki motorcycles though – it’s about the best Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle models…and putting anything above the H2R would be wrong.
But wait! What about the Ninja 650R, Ninja 300, Ninja 300 ABS or older Kawasaki Ninja 250R? While they were and still are fine Kawasaki motorcycle models, they’re not up there with the bigger members of the Ninja street bike family. Sure, the Ninja 300 ABS is still one of favorite beginner bikes and one we always recommend new riders invest in, they’re not the best Kawasaki Ninjas ever made. We’ll still give them this little mention though, because they’re excellent starter rides. But not the greatest! And of course, we now have the new Ninja 400 ABS too. Another future classic perhaps?