History of the Kawasaki Ninja

Kawasaki is this year celebrating 50 years in the U.S. market, and as part of its celebrations it's been sharing a number of stories from its past, such as the history of its most iconic model.

Just as the 1973 Z1 motorcycle launched Kawasaki into the four-stroke Superbike era, the 1984 Ninja 900R sportbike upped the game with a sophisticated combination of aerodynamic styling, a racetrack-bred chassis, and liquid-cooled four-cylinder performance. With dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and a counterbalancer, the Ninja was a game changer.

With a quarter mile time of 11.18 seconds at 121.65 mph, and top speed of 151mph, it was the quickest and fastest production Kawasaki motorcycle to date. The Ninja 900R frame saw Kawasaki’s first use of the engine as a stressed member The wind-cheating bodywork set the Ninja 900R motorcycle apart visually, and its one-year-only red and charcoal paint scheme made the ’84 model unmistakable.

What really set the Ninja 900R apart was its name. Mike Vaughan, then Director of Marketing for Kawasaki U.S.A., had lived in Asia and was familiar with Ninja warrior mythology, legendary for their strength and stealth. He had named his Columbia 22 sailboat Ninja a decade earlier, and when product planning started considering names for the new streetbike, Vaughan immediately thought: “Ninja!”

Dr. Ohba, then President of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, with the Kawasaki Ninja 900R

The Ninja 900R worldwide press launch occurred in Monterey, California, on December 7, 1983. Riding opportunities included a dragstrip competition at the Monterey Jet Center, followed by open lapping on the fast, original nine-turn Laguna Seca course, with 1983 AMA Superbike Champion Wayne Rainey in attendance. Dr. Ohba, then President of Kawasaki Heavy Industries, was also present for the launch. You might say it was a big deal.

(Ten years earlier, Papa Wealey himself was on hand for the launch of the Z1 at Laguna Seca, and managed to not soil himself.)

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