Does Top Gun’s iconic motorcycle still take your breath away?

As I write this, Top Gun: Maverick is a few weeks away from its theatrical release. And that means a new generation of motorcyclists will see Tom Cruise tearing down a track on a Kawasaki Ninja. Since this is the sequel, Cruise’s vehicle is the latest supercharged Ninja H2. But this tradition only exists thanks to the origin Superior guniconic motorcycle, the Kawasaki GPZ900R. And although the OG Ninja is nearly 30 years old now, it hasn’t slowed down much.

The 1984-1986 Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R did not need Superior gun to be a revolutionary motorcycle

A Kawasaki GPZ900R or Ninja 900 like the one from Top Gun | Ondrej Trnak via Unsplash

1984-1986 Kawasaki GPZ900R/Ninja 900/Ninja ZX900
Engine 908cc liquid-cooled carburetted inline-four
Power 113 hp/115 hp
Couple 63 lb-ft
Transmission Six-speed manual
Front suspension and wheel travel 39mm anti-dive air-assisted telescopic forks; 5.5″
Rear suspension and wheel travel Preload-adjustable air-assisted monoshock; 4.5″
Seat height 30.7″
Unloaded weight 529 pounds (dry weight)
546 lbs (curb weight)
Top speed 151mph

The silver screen has etched several scenes in motorcycling culture over the years. Moments like Terminator 2Harley’s jump, Trinity’s jump Matrix Reloaded Ducati freeway blitz, and for anime fans, the Akira to glide. And then there’s Tom Cruise as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell piloting the F14 Tomcat on a Kawasaki motorcycle in 1986 Superior gun. Specifically, a Kawasaki GPZ900R, or as it’s called in the US, the Ninja ZX900/900.

Now popular tradition claims that the Superior gun the producers almost opted for a Honda motorcycle instead of a Kawasaki, Motorcyclist reports. Honda didn’t like Cruise’s tendency to ride without a helmet, while Kawasaki supposedly wasn’t fazed. However, even if this story is true, it probably doesn’t matter. In 1986, the raw performance of the original Ninja was enough to guarantee his star power.

The successor to the Z1 of the 1970s, the 1984-1986 Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R was a motorcycle technology powerhouse. It packed the world’s first production liquid-cooled inline-four engine – and as a stressed member of the chassis, no less. Plus, that 908cc engine paired with its full fairing—another industry first—made the 151mph GPZ900R the fastest production bike in the world. And to keep it planted under braking and cornering, Kawasaki gave it anti-dive forks with air-assist springs.

As the model years say, Kawasaki didn’t create the Ninja GPZ900R for a Superior gun motorcycle spot. But in an interesting twist of fate, the OG Ninja has another industry first. Instead of the era’s typical screw-on fuel filler cap, it has an aircraft-style spring-mounted one.

In short, even if you ignore Superior gun cameo, the Kawasaki Ninja 900 had a major influence on the motorcycle world.

the Superior gun poster motorcycle always feels the need for speed

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If you have seen the last Top Gun: Maverick trailers, you know Maverick still rides his vintage Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle. Or at least he still keeps it. But that’s been a long time since 1986. And while the Kawasaki GPZ900R was more innovative than, say, the contemporary Suzuki GSXR-750, newer motorcycles like the Honda Fireblade have taken the Ninja’s lessons further.

However, that doesn’t mean the OG Ninja isn’t fun to ride today. Yes, its latest incarnations, especially the supercharged H2 variants, blitz in raw speed. And like many vintage bikes, it benefits from modern tires. But a bike that can do the ¼ mile in 11.18 seconds at 121.65 mph isn’t exactly slow. Some modern sports cars can’t sprint that fast.

Plus, thanks to its aluminum frame design and that stressed-limb motor, the Kawasaki GPZ900R turns well. It’s also easy to maneuver despite its nearly one-litre engine, and those anti-dive forks help with hard braking, Motorcyclist reports. And speaking of braking, the Ninja 900 has modern-style drilled disc brakes, not solid brakes or drums. So upgrading them is a bit easier.

Still, even if you don’t upgrade the suspension, brakes and carbs, the OG Kawasaki Ninja is more than willing to roll into the danger zone today.

Despite the celebrity factor, the Ninja 900/ZX900/GPZ900R remains an affordable classic

The side 3/4 view of a red and black 1984 Kawasaki Ninja ZX900 in front of a garage

1984 Kawasaki Ninja ZX900 3/4 side | Mecum

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It may be the Superior gun motorcycle, but the Kawasaki Ninja 900/GPZ900R is still surprisingly affordable. These classic sportbikes regularly cross Mecum’s auction block in the $5,000 to $10,000 range; some even go as low as $5,000. That’s less than some newer Ninja models. However, if you want the iconic red and black livery, it’s a 1984 hue only, Motorcyclist said.

As stated earlier, there are a variety of upgrades available for the GPZ900R. And while genuine parts like fuel tanks are often hard to come by, companies like Doremi Collection make better-than-new reproductions. So you too can fly on the ground like Maverick. Please just wear a helmet.

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About Frances R. Smith

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