ZX9R – Getting it back on the road

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My other half had been toying with the idea of getting another motorbike but could not decide what to go for. 

I bumped into a friend and he said did I know anyone who wanted a Kawasaki ZX9R as he was selling his his. He had owned it for the 17 years but for the last seven it had not been used and had just sat in his garage. It is a 1995 model. Hmm, I might know someone …..

We went to have a look and the rest, as they say, is history. Giles took one at it and I could tell he loved it. Home it came with us in the back of a van.

A little bit of history about ZX9R – it was developed by Kawasaki in response to Honda’s introduction of the CBR900RR Fireblade. 

The Fireblade had a 900cc engine which was placed into a 750cc sport bike chassis combining big-bore power with sport bike handling but most importantly it had a weight saving gain of almost 30 kg against Kawasaki’s ZXR750. 

Rather than design a completely new model, Kawasaki combined their class-leading big-bore ZZR1100 with their class-leading ZXR750 but seemed to overlook the important weight detail when they built the first ZX9R.

The result was a big motorcycle, it made around 125 hp, between 10 and 15 hp more than the Fireblade, but this power advantage could not make up for its size, weight and reduced agility. With a top speed of 168 mph it sure is fast though!

So why wouldn’t ours run?

* the carburettors were all gummed up

* the inside of the fuel tank was full of rust

* the oil and water hadn’t been changed for the past seven years

* the rear brake was seized

* the front brake light switch didn’t work

* the front brake fluid was very old and gooey

* flat battery

* general service needed all round

So, nothing particularly major was wrong with it, it was probably more of a recommissioning job that needed doing to the bike to get it up and running.

The first of many lists of items to be ordered appeared on the worktop for the parts ordering fairies and a few days later parts started appearing on the bench in the garage!

The first thing tackled was the fuel tank. This was taken off the bike completely and flushed numerous times with water to remove the loose scale and then an acid product to treat the rust was left in for a couple of days. This was then flushed again with water to neutralise the acid (this part took place on the grass – apparently he wasn’t thinking about the grass at the time and we now had a very attractive brown patch on the lawn!)

Luckily, after the flushing had taken place, it was established that there was no need to line the tank as the tank didn’t leak. A new fuel gauge sender was needed though as the corrosion inside the tank had corroded the winding away.

Next job was the carburettors. Again these were taken off the bike and stripped and cleaned with carb cleaner (this took place in the workshop now as the lawn was now out of bounds). The other half did not have access to an ultra sonic cleaner which would have been perfect for the job but now one of these has since been obtained because apparently you don’t when you’re going to need to do the job again! Hmm….

The carbs were then reassembled and the float bowl levels re-set and put back on the bike with an additional disposable filter in case there was any more rust to come out of the tank.

The recommissioning continued with a strip and rebuild of the rear brake caliper which was seized solid with a new seal kit and a fresh coat of paint. The front brakes were free and fine so these were just bled and also given a fresh coat of paint.

The clutch fluid was changed by bleeding fresh fluid through rather than draining it dry, to avoid air locks.

Next up, the oil and water were treated to a fresh change and a fresh set of spark plugs put in.

Lastly, the old battery was taken out and the compartment cleaned before a new battery was then added.

When we got the bike, it had a DataTool alarm which only appeared to have two settings – armed or service mode. In service mode it beeps loudly every 30 seconds and as it arms itself automatically you could not stop this happening. It also flattens the battery quite rapidly, and apparently it is one of the most annoying things ever and had to be removed. Our auto electrician friend came round and took out the alarm and the accompanying wiring. No more annoying noise – sorted.

Then the big day came when the bike could be started – whoo hoo! The bike started almost straight away but was just running on three cylinders. Sparks were checked for on all four cylinders and the bike was run with the air filter off which showed that fuel was getting through to all four cylinders.

Unfortunately, the compression tester was too short to reach down through the incredibly long spark plug holes and the other half’s home made adaptor to try and get round that wouldn‘t give a particularly accurate reading, so in the absence of other issues, the carbs were taken back off and stripped again but nothing could be found wrong with them.

Whilst putting the carbs back on, it was noticed that one of the valve stems was particularly coked and so in the possibility that it might have been a sticky valve, it was soaked in lots of WD40 whilst spinning it over on the starter, the carbs were then put back on, fired up, and the bike was now firing on all four but still with a hesitation flat spot around 2,000 rpm.

The bike was then taken out on road for a test ride by Giles who fell in love with it. An MOT was put on the bike (it sailed through with no advisories) and the bike was taken for a very long test ride. You’ll never guess what happened then? Yes, you guessed right, new problems came to light!!!The front suspension had to be adjusted as it dived horribly on braking. After a bit of research on the internet on the best way to set it up and a little bit of trial and error, the sweet spot was found and it’s now perfect.

At first as the tyres were still perfectly legal, they were kept on the bike but they had obviously gone hard as there was a distinct lack of grip. A pair of Pilot Road 4’s, which we run on all our bikes, were put on, although we are now going over to 5’s. The slightly odd thing when changing the back tyre and putting the wheel on the balance machine, it highlighted that the rear wheel was slightly bent and out of true but you didn’t notice it at all on the road. Thankfully we managed to source a rear wheel in the right colour for a very reasonable price on eBay. The new tyres and wheel made a huge difference to the handling and ride of the bike especially in the wet.

The slight hesitation flat spot remained but was perfectly liveable with as we have been completely unable to find anything else wrong with it but would say it’s a likely symptom of a blocked pilot jet in one of the carbs.

Sea Foam is added to the tank every time it is filled with petrol and over time it has slowly got better but is still there slightly. Some people have said it’s a characteristic of the bike and Giles wonders if it’s possibly the Micron exhaust, but it is so slight now, that it is not that noticeable.

The bike has done over 6,000 miles since being recommissioned. Other than general servicing, it has just had a new set of forks seals because the old ones were leaking, probably due to old age.

On a ride to the pub one evening, there was a smell of antifreeze and when we got there a few drips appeared on the radiator. The other half managed to get the bike home but by then the radiator had started dripping lots. Now due to it’s age, you just can’t go and get another one so we located a classic car and bike radiator specialist who was able to re-core it. It was a bigger and more expensive job than normal (of course it would be!) as it is curved and aluminium.

All fixed and back on the road. The other half loves riding it and enjoys the performance he gets from the bike. The ZX9R is a truly lovely bike that gets lots of attention wherever it goes, it is very well looked after and maintained to a high standard – I feel this is mainly because if the other half comes in from the garage, he knows there is decorating waiting for him inside!


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