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The ZX12R Challenge

Doing 200 MPH on a motorbike isn’t easy. Few bikes have that kind of poke and you would not even attempt such speeds on ordinary roads clogged with traffic and forested with Gatsos.

But as I sit waiting for the lights to change on this cold December morning, I’m looking forward to doing just that. Not on the public highway, of course – that would just be silly. No, I’m on my way to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire, scene of so many speed feats in the past and the location, I hope, of one of my own.

Over Christmas, while most people were thinking about getting as much booze and grub down them as possible, all I had on my mind was the prospect of seeing the magical two-zero-zero on the speedo of the 196 BHP, tuned Kawasaki ZX-12R I’m now sitting on.

Now the moment has almost arrived, and I can’t wait. But it almost didn’t happen. Heavy snowfall over Christmas meant I looked destined to stay at home, looking wistfully out of the window while I polished off the last of the turkey sandwiches, rather than blasting down an airstrip at speeds most people find difficult to comprehend.

I wasnt the only one who would have been disappointed, either. Len Paterson of Cylinder Head Shop, who had spent many hours preparing their project bike for my 200 MPH attempt, would have neen equally gutted. But today, as the snow melts away, it looks like that omens are all on our side.

On the ride to Bruntingthorpe, I get a chance to reacquaint myself with the ZX-12’s abilities on real roads and at rather less eye-popping speeds than I’m planning later. AS I wait for the green light, the rev counter needle flickers at tick-over and I blip the throttle, drinking in the deep note of the exhaust.

A courier pulls up next to me at the front of the queue of traffic. His worn-out workhorse creaks to a halt, its engine rattling away still on full choke. Its bodywork is caked with as many layers of road grime as its rider, with greasy Dayglo bib. He looks across, nods approval, then shouts, “I bet that shifts, mate.” He’s right, you know – it does.

But it’s with a certain amount of gingerness that I pull away from him as the lights turn green. Even with the fat 200-section rear tyre, the bike’s immense power has the wheel slipping and sliding on the rough Tarmac.

But once you get get going, the bike is more civilised than you’d think. You don’t need to venture above 5000 rpm to keep this souped-up ZX-12R scooting along at triple figures with no hiccups.

Though the Cylinder Head Shop machine has gained at extra 31 bhp over the stick bike’s “meagre” 165 bhp at the rear wheel, it’s not a total animal. At sane speeds the motor just purrs along, and though the air is bitterly cold, I can tuck myself in behind the bulbous, aerodynamic fairing and ride along almost chill free.

Cosy inside the bubble of warm air, I take advantage of the fast-drying roads, passing car after car. Their drivers and passengers stare – trying to read the graphics displayed on the blue fairing panels.

This Kawasaki is just as comfortable as the stock bike. The tuners concentrated on extracting maximum power from the engine, but sensibly they left the bike’s friendly nature well alone.

Outwardly, only the lightweight Akrapovic four-into-one exhuast system and new paint make this ZX12-R stand out from the crowd. But behind the bodywork it’s a very different story – and I’m about to find out exactly what it’s capable of as I pull into the gates of Bruntingthorpe.

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