Kawasaki GPz 900R

Low-flying Japanese cruise missile

Today we're going to talk about a bike that featured in a testosterone-loaded movie: Top Gun. In our 3rd piece of the “Four famous movie bikes” series, the Kawasaki GPZ 900R will be the main character for us. (Sorry, Tom Cruise!)


In 1986, the year Voyager 2 made the first fly-by of Uranus (tee-hee) finding new moons, movie theaters showed the blockbuster movie Top Gun, which featured one of the most famous Japanese engineering masterpieces: the Kawasaki GPZ900R.

One of the most iconic movie scenes ever created is the one where Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) races his bike nearby the aerodrome where a fighter plane takes off, making the audience wish they were in the saddle.

The Kawasaki GPZ 900R was the earliest member of the Ninja family, and it was also known as ZX900A or solely the Ninja 900. This model was manufactured by Kawasaki from 1984 to 2003. During its 19-year lifespan, it went through several iterations of form and function.

Six years of secret development were necessary to build this modern superbike. The 908-cc inline four-cylinder unit was the first 16-valve liquid-cooled engine fitted to a motorcycle and was way ahead of other manufacturers.

The power plant was able to generate a power of 86 kW (about 115 bhp) at 9,500 rpm and 63 lb-ft (87 Nm) of peak torque at 8,500 rpm.

The maximum speed the bike was capable of was of 151 mph (about 243 km/h), making it the first stock road bike to break the 150-mph barrier. The engine was linked to a six-speed constant-mesh gearbox and a wet multi-disc clutch, with the power going to the rear wheel through a standard chain drive system. 

Suspension-wise, Kawasaki used a telescopic fork and air-adjustable fork at the front and a Uni-Trak air shock at the rear — Kawasaki’s system for the rear-end single shock system, similar to Honda's Pro-Link and Suzuki's Full-Floater system.

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The vision behind the GPZ 900R project was to have a worthy successor to the Kawasaki Z1. Although it came with a steel frame, 16-inch front wheel, 18-inch rear wheel, air suspension, and anti-dive forks, the narrow and compact engine was the key to the 900R’s success. 

The engine was mounted lower in the frame, as a stressed member, allowing engineers to remove the under-engine sub-frame, thus making the bike lighter and more maneuverable.

Three months after being unveiled to the press, in December 1983, dealers entered three GPZ900R bikes in the Isle of Man Production TT race. The result? They came first and second. Well done, Kawasaki!

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