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As I write this, Top Gun: Maverick is just a few weeks away from its theater release. And that means a new motorcycle rider generation will see Tom Cruise blast down a runway on a Kawasaki Ninja. Since it’s the sequel, Cruise’s ride is the latest supercharged Ninja H2. But this tradition only exists because of the original Top Gun’s iconic motorcycle, the Kawasaki GPZ900R. And though the OG Ninja is almost 30 years old now, it hasn’t slowed down much.

The 1984-1986 Kawasaki Ninja GPZ900R didn’t need Top Gun to be a groundbreaking motorcycle

A black-and-red Kawasaki GPZ900R aka Ninja 900 similar to the one in Top Gun in front of an airplane
A Kawasaki GPZ900R or Ninja 900 like the one in Top Gun | Ondrej Trnak via Unsplash
1984-1986 Kawasaki GPZ900R/Ninja 900/Ninja ZX900
Engine908cc liquid-cooled carbureted inline-four
Horsepower113 hp/115 bhp
Torque63 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Front suspension and travel39mm anti-dive air-assisted telescopic forks; 5.5”
Rear suspension and travelPreload-adjustable air-assisted monoshock; 4.5”
Seat height30.7″
Curb weight529 lbs (dry weight)
546 lbs (curb weight)
Top speed151 mph

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

Now, popular lore claims the Top Gun producers almost went with a Honda motorcycle instead of a Kawasaki, Motorcyclist reports. Honda didn’t like Cruise’s tendency to ride helmetless, though, while Kawasaki supposedly wasn’t fazed. However, even if that story’s true, it likely doesn’t matter. In 1986, the original Ninja’s raw performance was enough to guarantee its star power.

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

As the model years tell, Kawasaki didn’t create the Ninja GPZ900R for a Top Gun motorcycle spot. But in an interesting twist of fate, the OG Ninja has another industry first. Instead of the then-typical twist-off fuel filler cap, it has an aircraft-style spring-mounted one.

In short, even if you ignore the Top Gun cameo, the Kawasaki Ninja 900 was a major influence on the motorcycle world.

The Top Gun poster motorcycle still feels the need for speed

If you’ve seen the latest Top Gun: Maverick trailers, you know that Maverick still rides his vintage Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle. Or at least, he still keeps it around. But it’s been a long time since 1986. And while the Kawasaki GPZ900R was more innovative than, say, the contemporary Suzuki GSXR-750, later bikes like the Honda Fireblade took 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 it in raw speed. And as with many vintage bikes, it benefits from modern tires. But a motorcycle than can run the ¼-mile in 11.18 seconds at 121.65 mph isn’t exactly slow. There are some modern sports cars that can’t sprint that fast.

Furthermore, thanks to its aluminum frame design and that stressed-member engine, the Kawasaki GPZ900R turns in well. It’s also easy to maneuver despite its near-liter-sized engine, and those anti-dive forks help with hard braking, Motorcyclist reports. And speaking of braking, the Ninja 900 has modern-style cross-drilled disc brakes, not solid ones or drums. So, upgrading them is a bit more straightforward.

Still, even if you don’t upgrade the suspension, brakes, and carbs, the OG Kawasaki Ninja is more than willing to ride 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 side 3/4 | Mecum

It might be the Top Gun motorcycle, but the Kawasaki Ninja 900/GPZ900R is still surprisingly affordable. These classic sportbikes regularly cross Mecum’s auction block in the $5000-$10,000 range; some even go for under $5000. That’s less than some new Ninja models. However, if you want the iconic red-and-black livery, that’s a 1984-only shade, Motorcyclist says.

As noted earlier, there are a variety of upgrades available for the GPZ900R. And while OEM parts like fuel tanks are often tricky to find, companies like the Doremi Collection make better-than-new reproductions. So, you too can fly on the ground like Maverick. Just please wear a helmet.

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